Massage therapist beaten, strangled during appointment with client, police say

Kayla Ann Denham, of Baton Rouge, was scheduled to meet a client at 5 a.m. June 5 at a home in Denham Springs, the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office said. Before leaving for that appointment, the Delgado Community College student did one thing that helped break the case open. 

“Ms. Denham was able to share her location with her boyfriend, which really helped with the investigation,” Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard said. 

According to WWL-TV in New Orleans, an arrest affidavit in the case indicated that Denham had a “bad feeling” about the appointment. She texted her boyfriend, identified in Denham’s obituary as Harrison Schmidt, and asked him to keep his cellphone on in case she needed him. 

The Baton Rouge Advocate reported that Denham’s boyfriend grew worried when she didn’t return from the appointment and, when she failed to answer her cellphone, went to the address, looking for her. 

Initially unable to find any trace of her, Schmidt left. He returned that afternoon, at which time he drove down a gravel road beside the home’s driveway.

Schmidt found Denham’s car parked in a wooded area, the Advocate reported. He called 911, and detectives who responded to help find the missing woman talked to a resident at the home who said she knew nothing about Denham or the morning massage appointment. 

The detectives spotted a smear of what appeared to be blood on the kitchen floor, WWL-TV reported. They obtained a search warrant for the house and all structures on the property. 

Searchers found Denham’s body inside a shed on the property, the news station said. 

An autopsy revealed that Denham died of blunt force trauma to the head associated with strangulation. 

“Detectives, through this ongoing investigation, were able to locate a person of interest,” Ard said in a news release

The sheriff did not say what led investigators to that person, identified as Christopher Landry, 25, of Denham Springs. Landry has been charged with second-degree murder and obstruction of justice. 

WWL-TV reported that when questioned by detectives, Landry told them that he beat Denham in the head with a pipe and strangled her after she gave him a massage that included a “sexual favor.” He said he attacked her after he returned from the restroom and saw her grab his computer bag, which contained his wallet. 

“Then Christopher grabbed the lifeless body of Kayla Denham and put her body in a plastic container and placed the container with the body in the shed, then placed a tarp over the container,” the affidavit said

Landry said that after hiding Denham’s body, he destroyed her cellphone and threw her purse into the woods. 

Ard told WWL-TV, however, that Landry’s version of events is not supported by the evidence investigators have uncovered. He cautioned against believing what the suspect said happened. 

“The victim cannot speak for herself,” Ard told the news station. “We must rely on evidence to find the truth.”

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Denham, who studied occupational therapy at Delgado, was not licensed by the state as a massage therapist, WWL-TV reported. 

It was not clear why Landry met Denham at the address where she was killed, since it is not the address listed as his home in arrest documents, the news station said. 

Landry has a history of drug-related arrests, but no history of violent crimes. Facing mandatory life in prison on the murder charge, he was booked into the Livingston County Jail in lieu of $250,000 bond. 

Denham’s family issued a statement last week through her cousin, Michelle Guglielmo Gilliam, who is acting as a family spokesperson. 

“We are in shock about the loss of our beloved daughter, granddaughter, sister, cousin and friend,” Gilliam said, according to the Advocate. “Kayla was a wonderful young woman who always shared a beautiful smile on her face and love in her heart. She will be greatly missed, and we ask for privacy during this very difficult period of mourning for the family.”

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