Schanda Handley and her daughter, Isabella Cumberland, were at their home on a quiet street in Lafayette, Louisiana, on August 6, 2017, when two men appeared at their front door. At first glance they looked like deliverymen, which was a welcome interruption, since Handley had been anxiously awaiting a clothes steamer she had ordered.
“I was so excited,” Handley told David Begnaud, CBS News lead national correspondent and “48 Hours” contributor. “I was like, ‘Oh, my steamer.'”
Her joy was transformed into terror, when instead of dropping off a package, the two men held Handley at gunpoint, handcuffed her and threw her into the back of a van.
She recounted the details of her near-death experience to Begnaud in “The Kidnapping of Schanda Handley,” an all-new “48 Hours.”
“They hooded me as soon as I went into the van,” Handley said. “It was a van that didn’t have the windows in the back.”
Cumberland watched helplessly as the men sped off with her mother.
“As they’re driving away with her, did you think that was the last time you’d ever see her?” Begnaud asked Cumberland.
“I thought there was a chance,” Cumberland answered.
Handley said one of the abductors was straddling her in the back of the van, forcing pills into her mouth, while the other erratically drove them out of town. She recounted beginning to lose consciousness, as she says the men threatened to sexually assault and then kill her.
“And I started praying,” Handley recounted.
Her prayers were answered when Deputy Chad Martin with the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office — who had just clocked out of work and was unaware of Handley’s kidnapping nearly 60 miles away — spotted the van and attempted to make a traffic stop. The kidnappers exited the highway and tried to get away. After making a turn onto a dead-end road, they got stuck in the mud and continued to flee on foot. As Martin investigated the van, he discovered a barely conscious Handley in the back.
“She looked at me,” Martin recounted. “She said, ‘Are you the real police? Are you the one that’s gonna kill me?'”
Martin assured Handley that she was safe. A day later, her kidnappers’ remains were discovered in a waterway not far from where they had abandoned the van — having drowned as they attempted to escape. Even then, Handley believed that the mastermind behind the plot was still at large and a danger to her.
“She had said that she believed that her husband is the one that had paid them to kill her,” Martin recalls Handley telling him shortly after her rescue.
Investigators began looking into Handley’s estranged husband, Michael Handley, and discovered that in the months leading up to the abduction, Schanda had called the police numerous times on Michael, and had even been granted a restraining order. They also found a rapidly accumulating list of evidence pointing to his involvement in the kidnapping itself. They learned he had rented the van a day before the abduction, and had also purchased the handcuffs used to restrain Handley during it. He was arrested after a four-day manhunt. He was charged with multiple kidnapping counts, as well as conspiracy to commit second-degree murder.
Then, as prosecutors were building their case, Schanda made a damning discovery of her own while she was cleaning out a remote property the couple owned in Mississippi. It was a camera that Michael had been using for security. But, with a motion activated recording feature, it turns out he had accidentally turned the camera on himself.
“All put together, what did the camera record?” Begnaud asked Schanda.
“I mean, hundreds of hours,” she responded.
Prosecutor Kenny Hebert watched the months’ worth of video documenting the time leading up to the kidnapping. Hebert said that on at least one occasion, Michael was recorded expressing how his wife needed to die. In a video clip from just two weeks before the abduction, Michael was caught on camera with one of the kidnappers, Sylvester Bracey, planning Schanda’s abduction while they chatted in the living room of the Mississippi property, Hebert said.
“[Michael Handley] specifically says, ‘It’s almost impossible for anyone to get in here,'” Hebert said. “To which Bracey responds, ‘And it’ll be impossible for her to get out.'”
On top of the other physical evidence, Hebert said, they now had documented proof Michael had plotted Shanda’s kidnapping — theorizing his ultimate plan was to have her killed.
“I thought, ‘I must have done somethin’ right in the world,'” Hebert said about the video evidence.
In July of 2021, Michael Handley pleaded guilty to second-degree kidnapping, and was later sentenced to 35 years in prison. A small relief to Schanda, who said she fears the day her now ex-husband will eventually walk out of prison.
“I’d rather he never get out,” Schanda said. “Once Michael’s out, I’m no longer free.”
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