Detective hot on trail of ‘cold’ case

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 19, 2002


ST. ROSE – Twenty years have come and gone, but for Maj. Sam Zinna of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, the murder of a Kenner teen-ager is as fresh today as it was when the boy’s body was found near the Destrehan Canal, shot in the head.

Zinna, now 46, was a young detective back in 1982 when the remains of James Michael Botsay, 18, of Kenner, were discovered with a single gunshot wound. Botsay had been missing for 25 days.

Zinna, in fact, was the lead detective on the case, his involvement dating to when Botsay’s 1975 white Ford Mustang was found abandoned along Airline Highway on Oct. 26, 1982.

The case was never closed; as a homicide case never is until there’s a trial and conviction of suspects. This case was officially suspended in 1987, when Zinna was moved to Internal Affairs within the department, then attended to the FBI Academy, then into administration.

However, the sad remains of the teen-ager haunted him, and he always sought that resolution. Zinna continued some activity on the case until 1989, but then had to wait until opportunity presented itself.

“I never really had the opportunity to follow up on little things,” Zinna said.

That came in May 2001, when he was moved to head Criminal Investigations Bureau, placing him in charge of the detectives. Then, when he was ready, in January 2002, he reopened the Botsay case.

It all began on the evening of Oct. 23.

Botsay, the son of James and Barbara Botsay of Kenner, and a male friend were bar-hopping in New Orleans’ West End, where the pair separated for a time, checking out the girls and drinking. Ninety minutes or so after their arrival at one bar, the friend noticed Botsay in the company of a young girl.

Later in the evening, the friend and Botsay were apparently confronted by two slightly older men who claimed Botsay had “ripped them off” in a drug deal.

Botsay then handed the men a plastic packet containing pills, apparently Quaaludes, and the friend pulled Botsay away and departed for home.

The following evening, Oct. 24, 1982, Botsay left his home in Kenner, which he shared with his parents and siblings, and said he was going to LaPlace to visit a girl. Zinna said, as far as the family knew, the youth had never been to LaPlace, nor knew anyone from there. Nevertheless, Botsay departed at about 5 p.m.

Zinna continued that two teen-age girls, ages 17 and 14, were planning to hitchhike from LaPlace to California. The 14-year-old, a runaway from Alexandria, was identified by Zinna as apparently the same girl Botsay had met at the West End bar the night before; while the other, from Beaumont, Texas, claimed to not know the younger girl before that day.

Zinna’s investigation located the two girls, one of whom told him they were picked up by Botsay in LaPlace, while the boy was in the company of a man, who was apparently one of the two men Botsay “ripped off” at the West End bar.

The girls were soon dropped off in LaPlace, and Botsay was last seen with the man.

Botsay’s vehicle was found abandoned on Airline Highway at 8:16 p.m. that same evening. At 1:32 a.m. on Oct. 25, Zinna found Botsay’s car abandoned on Airline Highway. Based on that, Zinna believes Botsay was killed sometime between 5 p.m. and 8:16 p.m. on Oct. 24.

Botsay’s mother reported her son missing on Oct. 25, and called the Kenner Police Department at 11:26 p.m. She started her own search and a family friend found the vehicle, still parked on Airline Highway. It was locked and was not out of gas nor had any engine trouble.

Destrehan Canal, near the present-day Ormond Country Club Estates, ran along largely-undeveloped marshland. Access was along the canal bank servitude to the area where Botsay’s remains were finally located on Nov. 18 at 10:30 a.m. by two soil conservation employees.

Barbara Botsay is gratified that Zinna has not forgotten her son. “With the killings, robberies, everything, I really appreciate him taking the time,” Botsay commented.

She remembered her son as a giving person, loving to his family, but a typical teen-ager in many ways.

He was popular with girls and he loved to party.

“He always had girls calling him and always had friends at the house,” she recalled.

However, she acknowledged his experimentation with drugs, especially marijuana, and how she even threw out two marijuana plants he tried to grow “as a science project.”

On the night he left home for good, she was on her way to Baton Rouge to a Tom Jones concert while her husband went to work. Later, when young Botsay failed to return home, she called police, only to be told it was “too early” to be considered a missing-person case. Meanwhile, the car had already been spotted, abandoned on Airline near Ormond.

As it was, nearly a month passed before he was found – “a terrible, horrible month of not knowing.” Her eldest child, daughter Joan, was married and living in Florida. Her youngest child, Dawn, age 11 at the time, was heartbroken at the absence of her big brother.

“Kids at that age think they’re invulnerable,” she recalled of her son.

Zinna has since re-interviewed both girls, both now in Texas. He also obtained descriptions of the two men Botsay was seen with at the bar from Botsay’s friend.

One is described as a white male, age 20-25, 6 feet in height, 150-160 pounds, with shoulder-length brown hair and a mustache. He was seen at both the bar and in Botsay’s vehicle the following day.

The second man, seen only at the bar, is described as a white male, age 20-25, 5 feet 6 inches in height, 170 pounds, with short, brown crewcut-style hair.

He is still seeking information on the case, and anyone who believes they recognize the two men are urged to call Zinna at 985-783-1135.

“I think what brought me back, I had some things unresolved,” Zinna said. “I just want to find some answers.”