Police: Couple killed man's mother, hid body in crawlspace

Police: Couple killed man's mother, hid body in crawlspace
Thomas Bienville, left, and Austa Bienville are seen in this photo.
TACOMA, Wash. -- The search is on for a man and his wife accused in the death of the man's own mother, whose body was found inside a crawlspace of their home.

Thomas A. Bienville, 39, and Austa M. Bienville, 31, have been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Laurie Hughes.

On Tuesday investigators found 65-year-old Hughes' body inside the home she shared with her son and daughter-in-law. She was inside a crawlspace inside the garage, the access to which had been blocked by a cupboard, according to the statement of probable cause.

Hughes' body was wrapped in bed sheets, and was accompanied by "a spent 9mm shell casing, a pillow with an apparent bullet hole through it, Ms. Hughes' wallet, checkbook (minus the actual checks), and photographs," the statement said.

Hughes was last seen by her co-workers on April 14. When she failed to report to work on April 16, her employer called her cell phone, detectives said.

Austa Bienville answered the phone and said Hughes could not report to work because she was ill. In the following days, the daughter-in-law called Hughes' employer at Swedish Medical Center daily, reporting Hughes remained sick, according to the investigators. On April 18, she added Hughes had fallen ill with "laryngitis so she would be unable to talk on the phone," the document said.

Two days later, an officer with the state Department of Corrections went to the home in the 1700 block of E. 64th St. to check on Thomas Bienville, a registered sex offender who'd recently failed a drug test while on community custody.

The DOC officer told investigators when he knocked on the door, no one answered even though he heard noise inside the house. A neighbor later reported seeing Thomas Bienville walk out of the home and drive away.

In the following days, police officers attempted to conduct welfare checks on Hughes, who'd not been seen in several days. They could not find anyone associated with the house, however. A neighbor told the officers Hughes had once said she "was fearful of her son because of his 'hatred of women' and ability to be violent," the document said.

Then on Tuesday, the Bienvilles' landlord called police and said his tenants had changed all the locks to the home, forcing him to crawl in through a window when no one answered the door.

The landlord told detectives Hughes' "false teeth were in a glass near her bed on the dresser, and that her keys and wallet were still in the residence," the statement said. The landlord added he had to force open the locked door of the bedroom belonging to Thomas Bienville.

Detectives obtained a search warrant and entered the home. They noticed "a large quantity of probable blood evidence on the floor," of Thomas Bienville's bedroom, and saw that the bed was missing a comforter and a sheet, according to the document.

Investigators also noted a "swipe of blood low on a doorway leading from the dining room into the kitchen as if someone had dragged something bloody against the door."

While examining the kitchen and the adjoining garage, detectives discovered the entrance to the crawlspace in which Hughes' body was found.

An autopsy revealed Hughes sustained a non-lethal blunt force trauma to the head and a single gunshot wound to the chest.

Thomas Bienville has a long criminal record that includes convictions and jail time for rape and second-degree assault domestic violence, and failure to register as a sex offender.

Investigators said two of his prior convictions for the "most serious 'strike' offenses" could make him eligible for a life sentence without the possibility of parole under the state's three-strikes law.

The two suspects are believed to have fled the state. Arrest warrants for both suspects have been issued in addition to the warrant the DOC has issued for Thomas Bienville.

Anyone with information on Thomas and Austa Bienville's whereabouts is urged to contact authorities immediately.