“Somewhere, somehow, somebody’s going to pay,” was the tagline for the 1985 Schwarzenegger action movie Commando. This classic stylized bloodbath orbited around a retired special operator named John Matrix whose daughter is kidnapped. The archetypal evil mastermind takes the little girl in an effort at motivating Schwarzenegger’s super-soldier character to overthrow a small island nation-state on his behalf. The central theme, should you wish to think this deeply about it, explores the limits to which a devoted father might go to protect his child.
According to www.moviebodycounts.com, for his era, Arnold Schwarzenegger was Hollywood’s deadliest actor as determined by total on-screen kill count. Commando was his bloodiest movie by the same metric. His record has since been eclipsed by more modern fare, but he was the unchallenged 1980’s king of gory vengeance. As an aside, one scene that was proposed but later cut had Schwarzenegger chopping a henchman’s arm off with a machete and then beating him to death with it. His dialogue was to have been, “Thanks for lending me a hand.” Sheesh…
John Matrix logged seventy-four kills in Commando. Among them fifty-one people were shot, seven were blown up by emplaced explosives, and five others succumbed to hand grenades. Another five met their gory demise thanks to an M202 rocket launcher.
Two faceless disposable bad guys got cut into pieces by thrown circular saw blades, one person was stabbed to death, and one particularly unfortunate rascal was impaled on a hissing steam pipe. As an aside, Schwarzenegger’s youthful daughter Jenny was none other than 13-year-old Alyssa Milano, the modern face of the Me Too movement.
Commando was actually a pretty silly movie. The guns were cool, but the dialogue seemed like it was penned by a Third Grader, and the acting simply reeked of cheese. I’m nonetheless not too proud to admit that I had a life-size movie poster from the film plastered on my dorm room wall back when I was a college student. However, a year before Commando hit the big screen, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, saw a very public example of just how far one real guy might actually go to avenge a crime committed against his child. That guy’s name was Gary Plauche.
Leon Gary Plauche was born on November 10, 1945, in Baton Rouge. He served in the US Air Force and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant. After leaving the military he became a heavy equipment salesman and also worked as a cameraman for a local TV station. Though he had a temper, he was known for his affable demeanor and quick jokes. Plauche fathered four children—three boys and a girl. Gary was separated from his wife June in the early 1980s. This was predictably hard on his kids.
In 1983 Gary’s 11-year-old son Jody began taking Hapkido lessons from a 25-year-old ex-Marine named Jeffrey Doucet. Jeff Doucet had humble beginnings. He dropped out of school in Ninth Grade and, as a child, lost a sister to a rattlesnake bite. The discipline and exercise intrinsic to the martial arts seemed good for Jody. Doucet took the kid under his wing and cultivated a bond that appeared to be therapeutic given the circumstances. Doucet was a regular visitor at the Plauche home and frequently gave Jody a ride to the dojo for training.
Authorities later determined that Jeffrey Doucet had been molesting the young man for more than a year. In February of 1984, Doucet kidnapped Jody and took him to a motel in Anaheim, California, near Disneyland where he sexually assaulted the kid repeatedly. Meanwhile, the authorities scoured the country looking for them both.
Doucet eventually allowed Jody to make a collect call to his mother. The cops traced the call to the motel and staged a raid. Law Enforcement officers hit the hotel room, rescued the child, and took Doucet into custody without incident.
Jody was returned home on March 1, 1984. Once he was safe the details of the protracted abuse came to light. Gary, who was 39 at the time, was interviewed by a news crew in a ghoulish effort at ascertaining his feelings on the situation. He told the interviewer that he did not know what to do and just felt helpless.
Two weeks after Jody returned to Louisiana, Jeffrey Doucet was extradited from California to Louisiana to stand trial for child molestation and sexual assault. Doucet’s Flight 595 out of Dallas landed at Ryan Field in Baton Rouge, and Doucet was led through the terminal in handcuffs. Meanwhile, wearing a baseball cap and dark glasses, the aggrieved father Gary Plauche stood nearby at a bank of pay phones speaking with his best friend. He cryptically whispered into the phone, “Here he comes. You’re about to hear a shot.”
In the immediate aftermath of what was to come it was assumed that local Law Enforcement officers had tipped Plauche off regarding the timing and location of the transfer. Plauche enjoyed friendships with many of the local cops, so this was not an unreasonable assumption. It was later determined, however, that a former co-worker from the local ABC television affiliate WBRZ-TV was Plauche’s source of intel. Then as now tragedy sells, so the media slathered the sordid story with attention.
This bit is all pretty unsettling when you think about it. Humans in the Information Age are drawn to calamity like politicians to other peoples’ money. Throughout this whole ghastly episode, TV crews hounded the major players in search of that Pulitzer-grade image that might graphically capture one man’s anguish in the face of something so epically horrible. At 9:30 pm with the manacled child molester Jeffrey Doucet passing just behind him, Gary Plauche gave the world those images.
Plauche retrieved a small revolver of unknown make from his boot, stepped alongside Doucet, placed the gun to the right side of his head, and fired a single .38-caliber hollowpoint round. The cops subdued him immediately. Plauche’s friend Deputy Sheriff Mike Barnett can be heard on the tape asking him, “Gary, why? Why, Gary?”
Plauche tearfully answered, “If somebody did it to your kid, you’d do it, too!”
The sex criminal Jeffrey Doucet fell into a coma and died in hospital the following day. Video footage of the horrific scene has taken on a life of its own. Michael Moore used it in his anti-gun documentary screed Bowling for Columbine. The clip also featured prominently in an unsettling compilation of real-life video killings titled Traces of Death 2 released in 1994. It was viewed more than 20 million times on YouTube prior to its removal.
Gary Plauche was charged with murder in the second degree but subsequently pled no contest to manslaughter. He was given a seven-year suspended sentence along with five years’ probation and 300 hours of community service. He completed all of this in 1989.
Opinions were mixed on the outcome of the Plauche case. Some felt that shooting a man in the head in cold blood in an airport warranted more than probation and community service. Others believed that the circumstances surrounding the crimes committed against his child absolved him of responsibility. Plauche’s defense team made a compelling argument that Doucet was a charismatic manipulative predator who had used Plauche’s family challenges to take advantage of his son.
Psychological assessments alleged that Plauche was so traumatized by these events that he was unable to discern the difference between right and wrong at the time of the killing. Any parent can imagine the unfettered anguish this might precipitate. The judge in the case, Frank Saia, ultimately agreed and opined that Plauche represented no risk of further criminal behavior. He felt that sending Plauche to prison would serve no material purpose for the state.
It was later revealed that Doucet and Plauche’s wife June were having an affair at the time. This revelation just served to muddy the waters further. However, forensics determined that Doucet’s assault on Jody occurred just as had been alleged.
In 2019 Jody Plauche released a book titled, Why, Gary, Why? The Jody Plauche Story. The book was described thusly, “Through his own incredible story of using his past for good by helping others, he shares how any reader who has suffered great trauma can move on and not let the past define him or her.”
I’ve not read it myself, so I can’t comment on its contents. However, the excerpts I have found do yield insight into Jody’s subsequent attitudes about the shooting.
He wrote, “I think for a lot of people who have not been satisfied by the American justice system my dad stands as a symbol of justice…My dad did what everybody says what they would do…Plus, he didn’t go to jail. That said, I cannot…condone his behavior. I understand why he did what he did. But it is more important for a parent to be there to help support their child than put themselves in a place to be prosecuted.”
In his final interview prior to his death, Gary Plauche showed no regret for killing Jeffrey Doucet and stated that he would do it again if given the opportunity. In 2011 Plauche had a stroke as a complication of diabetes and was placed in a nursing home. He died in 2014 at the age of 68.
Of his father, Jody wrote, “A lot of people remember the guy who shot somebody. I remember someone who would pick up stray animals…someone who was just a kind soul, a gentle person.”