Slidell area reeling in wake of slaying



Owner of dry cleaners found dead in home

09/07/02

By Paul Rioux
St. Tammany bureau/The Times-Picayune

As detectives continued searching for clues Friday in the Slidell area home of a businessman killed there the night before, neighbors in the upscale subdivision gathered on street corners in disbelief, and the man's employees mourned the loss of a generous boss.

The wife of Louis F. Ferrari, 61, owner of the Corporate Cleaners dry cleaning chain, found him dead Thursday night in their two-story brick home in the French Branch Estates subdivision east of Slidell, authorities said.

Ferrari's white 2000 Lincoln Town Car, which apparently was stolen by the killer, was found abandoned Friday morning on the south side of Slidell, sheriff's deputies said. Detectives released few other details about the investigation, including the cause of death and whether any suspects have been identified.

"To be murdered in your own home is a horrendous crime," said St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office spokesman James Hartman. "The motive remains unclear, but dozens of deputies and investigators are involved in the case."

The car was recovered about 10:30 a.m. on an overgrown dead-end street.

"People drop off stray dogs and trash here all the time," said Nancy Hirschfeld, who lives nearby. "But this morning, I found a murder's stolen car."

Hirschfeld said she noticed the car about 7:45 a.m. but didn't immediately realize it was the one detectives had been looking for in connection with the killing.

Patricia Ferrari discovered her husband's body when she returned home about 6:30 p.m. Detectives think he was killed between 5 and 5:30 p.m., Hartman said.

The couple founded Corporate Cleaners more than 20 years ago and built it into a chain of about a dozen dry cleaning shops in Slidell, Covington, Mandeville and Hammond, said Kathy Smith, an employee at one of the Slidell stores.

"Mr. Ferrari was a kind-hearted, generous person," Smith said. "All of the employees loved him, and he was always willing to help them out if they got in a bind and needed an advance on their salary."

Smith described Louis Ferrari as a hard-working, hands-on businessman who had no plans to retire anytime soon.

"He worked six days a week and never took a vacation," she said. "He was here early in the morning and checked back in the evening after visiting the other stores. It was like clockwork."

On Friday, an American flag flew in front of the Ferrari home, which was cordoned off by yellow police tape. Neighbors in the subdivision of $175,000 to $350,000 homes said they were stunned by the killing.

"I'm in a state of shock," said Philip Norman, 19, who paused on his way to work Friday morning to talk about the killing with several neighbors a block from the couple's house. "It seems so surreal. This is just too quiet of a place for something so horrifying to happen."

Some residents said they were particularly disturbed by the possibility that the killer may have cased the neighborhood before striking.

Several people reported seeing a suspicious blue van in the area about the time detectives think Ferrari was killed, and one man said he saw a similar vehicle circle the block a few times the day before.

"It's scary to think that it could have been a random thing and that any one of us could have been the victim," said a woman who asked not to be identified.

Others were concerned about how their children will react.

"With the anniversary of Sept. 11 coming up, we've had to reassure our children that they are safe," one man said. "Now we have to tell them that the neighbor they wave to every day has been murdered."

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at (985) 898-2338.

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Paul Rioux can be reached at prioux@timespicayune or (985)
645-2852.

http://www.nola.com/news/t-p/sttammany/index.ssf?/newsstory/t_slay07.html



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