Son publicly cleared more than 30 years later by RPSO in death of his father
RAPIDES PARISH, La. (KALB) - More than 30 years after 11-year-old Cody VanAsselberg was accused of shooting and killing his father, August ‘Gus’ VanAsselberg, 36, of Elmer, he has been publicly cleared by the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office, the agency that first investigated the case, and the one that reopened it last year.
“He was so ashamed of everybody thinking he killed his daddy,” said Major Mark Baden, a cold case detective with the sheriff’s office who reopened the case in 2022.
That clearing means a new start for Cody, who is now in his 40s.
“This is one of those situations where without a doubt you can say he had nothing to do with it?” asked reporter Brooke Buford.
“He had nothing to do with it,” said Baden.
That revelation is on the heels of a dark family secret. It is hard for Cody to go back to the early morning of Aug. 2, 1989, the day his father was shot and killed in bed.
“It was just horrible,” Cody told us.
According to the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office and reports written at the time by deputies and detectives who are no longer with the office, the call came in around 7 a.m. about VanAsselberg shot to death in his bed in the family’s trailer on VanAsselburg Road in Elmer.
The weapon was a .38 pistol that belonged to Cody’s mother, Valerie. According to reports, as Valerie told deputies, Cody had fallen asleep in the living room the night before. Some time around 2 a.m. the next morning, she placed him in the couple’s bed, and she fell asleep in the living room.
“The gun was still in the bed with the father,” Baden told us. “She cuts the light off and then the next morning, about 8 o’clock, she turns the light on, with a cup of coffee, drops it, and screams, ‘Oh my god, you’ve killed your daddy!’”
Valerie told detectives in those early reports that before she made the gruesome discovery, she asked Cody to put the gun back in the drawer.
“I remember waking up to my mom screaming, ‘Why did you do it?’ I remember bawling, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about!’” said Cody.
Cody ended up in the Renaissance Home for Youth for nearly a year. But, he said he never knew the exact reason why. Since it was a juvenile case, it wrapped up quickly and quietly. The records from that time really do not exist anymore. As the sheriff’s office told KALB, there was not enough evidence to prosecute the case.
As Cody got older, he and his sister, who was also in the trailer that night, often questioned their mother about what exactly happened to their father.
“She just said she didn’t even want to talk about it,” said Cody of the conversations with his mother. “She just shut down. We couldn’t get anything out of her.”
Last year, married and living out of state, Cody and his wife, Angela, made a call to the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office to get those answers.
“He always wanted to know,” said Angela, of the couple trying to get information from the file. “We had a support network in place for him, so when he did find out, there were enough people to help him get through it.”
That call led them to Baden, and what he read in the old reports bothered him. He wanted to take a new look at the case. So, he did some interviews with people who knew the family and then he and another detective, Will George, went to pay a visit to Cody’s mom.
Here’s part of the first interview Baden and George did with Valerie last year.
“I don’t want to sound stupid or goopy, but it’s like a big blur,” Valerie told the detectives. “It was 30-something years ago. I don’t remember much of what took place that day or my mind won’t go there.”
There were some tough questions in the nearly two-hour-long initial interview.
“Did you shoot Mr. August?” Baden asked her.
“No sir,” Valerie replied. “Why would I do that?”
“Well, that’s a question we have to ask,” Baden told her.
Baden also brought up some new information - $20,000 that had gone missing from Gus VanAsselberg’s business account around the time he was shot.
“Do you remember anything about $20,000 missing?” Baden asked.
“No sir,” said Valerie. “No sir.”
Baden was not buying it.
“I let her know that she was lying to me, that I would be back,” Baden told us. “She needed to seek the truth.”
One of Valerie’s daughters was present for that initial interview. Before Baden even made it back to the office, the daughter called him.
“She was very upset that her mom confessed,” Baden said of the call.
Baden returned the next day and got a written confession and one on tape. Valerie told him that she was an abused wife looking for a way out, and that involved taking $20,000 and a plan to leave.
“I laid there scared to sleep,” Valerie told Baden and George in the second interview. “Half the time I didn’t. When I got up, it was like I was on automatic mode. I got up, walked to my desk, took out my gun, went back to the bed and I don’t know if I was gonna do it to myself or him at that point.”
“What happened next?” Baden asked.
“I can’t understand you, ma’am,” he said.
“I shot him,” Valerie said.
Valerie said she did not remember telling Cody to put the gun in the drawer and claimed she did not realize she pointed detectives at the time toward her son.
“What?” she asked.
“You directed them to Cody,” George told her.
“Yes, ma’am. All the statements and everything we have you kind of pushed them towards Cody,” Baden said. “We need to get that right so we can give him some closure.”
The revelation rocked Cody to the core. He told us he was just as shocked about the claims of abuse she made about his father and said he never witnessed it.
“Just the fact that I had to hear it from someone else, it was horrible,” Cody said of learning of the confession. “But, I felt relieved finally someone is knowing the truth.”
Baden wrapped up the case that summer and sent it to the Rapides Parish District Attorney’s Office for grand jury consideration, hoping to get a second-degree murder indictment. But, before it could get to that point, Valerie died in October of health complications.
Cody said he never got an apology from his mother, and he has come to terms with that. But, now with a public clearing of his name from the sheriff’s office, he can finally move on.
“I can at least breathe and not have that cloud hanging over for that long,” said Cody.
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