The Unsolved Murders of the Jennings 8

            On May 20, 2005, retiree Jerry Jackson was fishing from a bridge over the Grand Marais Canal on the outskirts of Jennings, Louisiana when he saw the outline of a human body in the water. At first, he remembered seeing reports of mannequins being stolen and assumed that was what he was seeing. What changed his mind was a simple fact: mannequins generally don’t attract insects. Jackson immediately called authorities to the bridge, which was quickly inundated with over a dozen investigators and law enforcement agents (Brown).  Loretta Lynn Chaisson Lewis, 28-years old, was pulled from the canal shortly after (Ott), wearing a white short-sleeved blouse, blue jeans, and blue underwear. Unfortunately, Lewis’s remains were heavily decayed and no evidence was found of injury beyond some blood under her scalp. She was identified through her fingerprints (Brown).

            Lewis was the first of eight known sex workers who’s remains would be found on the outskirts of Jennings, Louisiana from 2005 to 2009. That June, the remains of Ernestine Marie Daniels Patterson, 30, were found in another canal, south of Jennings (Ott). Two men were briefly taken into custody in relation to her murder, Byron Chad Jones and Lawrence Nixon. Nixon was related to another victim, Laconia “Muggy” Brown. Jones and Nixon were charged with second degree murder in the case of Ernestine Patterson, but the charges were dropped. Several witnesses were known to have implicated a specific crime scene, but authorities failed to examine the scene for more than a year after Patterson’s murder. When they finally investigated the scene, they reported no evidence of blood was found on the scene. It is likely that the lack of proper investigative work relating to the crime scene investigation contributed to the case against Jones and Nixon falling apart (Brown).

            In mid-March of 2007, 21-year old Kristen Gary Lopez was found in a canal outside Jennings, just as the two previous victims were (Ott). Frankie Richard, a 58-year old ex-oil worker and strip-club owner known to work as a pimp in Jennings (Brown), and his niece Hannah Conner were arrested in relation to the case, but as before the charges were dropped. The lack of evidence in the case led to their release. Witnesses would later claim to have seen Lopez in a truck the day she disappeared. This would likely have not been unusual, considering the work she did, but the truck in question was bough by a chief investigator from an inmate known to have been friend with one of the victims. By the time these witnesses came forward, the truck had been washed and resold, making it impossible to get any evidence from the vehicle. The investigator in question was removed from the case and fined, but placed in charge of the Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff’s office evidence. Sergeant Jesse Ewing became aware of the truck when two inmates told him, on tape, what they knew about the truck. Ewing sent the tape to the local FBI office, which then relayed the information to the taskforce supervisors. Soon after, Ewing lost his job (Ott).

            Four more known sex workers were found in or near Jennings between the discovery of Lopez’s remains and the formation of a task force in December of 2008. Whitney Dubois, 26, Laconia “Muggy” Brown, 23, Crystal Shay Benoit Zeno, 24, and Brittney Gary 17, were all found with virtually no signs of trauma. Most of their remains were heavily decomposed by the time they were found and the coroner marked the deaths as possible asphyxiation (Ott). Of the victims up to this point, Patterson and Brown were the only ones with a discernable cause of death: their throats had been slit. All the victims were known to have lived in poverty and struggled with mental illnesses, and all had ties to each other (Group) and law enforcement. Several of the victims were known police informants, Brown even being interrogated by investigators in 2005 in relation to Patterson’s murder. She reportedly saw Lewis, the first victim, floating in the Grand Marais Canal before Jackson found her. Lopez was also interviewed by detectives, in 2006. Her mother, Melissa Daigle, believes Lopez knew what was going on. Victim’s Lopez and Gary were cousins, and Gary lived with Benoit in South Jennings before her 2008 murder. The victims all worked from the Boudreaux Inn, a well known inn in Jennings that was central to the drug and sex trade in the area. Not only did the victims all work from this hotel, all but Patterson were known to have worked or been associated with Frankie Richard (Brown).

            The taskforce formed in December 2008 was formed of Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies (Ott). At the time, seven of the eventual eight victims were already dead and a reward of $35,000 was being offered for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator. When the taskforce was formed, the reward was increased to $85, 000. From the moment the taskforce was formed, the focus was put into the theory of a serial killer (Brown)(Group). Unfortunately, the taskforce’s formation was not enough to prevent another death and in August of 2009, Necole Guillory, 26, was spotted off I-10 near Acadia Parish (Ott). The investigators had been warned by other Jennings sex workers at the end of 2008 that they believed Guillory was possibly in danger of being the next victim. Guillory was the mother of four children, who lived with other family members, and was known to have been paranoid. Before her death, she was noted as having been hesitant of going out alone, and a witness supports the claim that she was scared of someone and likely knew who killed the other victims. Guillory had the same ties to the other victims, and had even been seen by Patterson’s father right before her death. He was possibly one of the last people to see her alive. Her mother had filed a missing persons report on August 19, 2009, the same day she would be found. Like other victims, Guillory had seemingly known what was happening in Jennings. She frequently told family that police were responsible for the murders, but would not name who was involved out of fear. Brown’s sister, Gail, had a similar story about her sister, who reportedly told her family that she was investigating a murder with an officer. The officer had told her she would receive $500 to tell him what happened, and Gail Brown believed this officer killed her sister. A witness would later claim that Brown, like Guillory, seemed to know she was going to die. She had told the witness before her death that three officers were going to kill her (Brown).

            In fall of 2009, Sheriff Edward’s of the Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff’s Office acknowledged publicly that a serial killer may have been operating in the area. However, Ethan Brown’s investigation brought this into question (Ott). According to FBI criminal profilers, serial killers usually aren’t visibly connected to their victims. Many times, the victims have little to do with each other. In retrospect, it is clear that the local law enforcement was heavily corrupted and often operated questionably. The crime rate in the area says much about this, as there were nearly 20 unsolved murders in the small area since the 1990s as of 2014, when Brown wrote his Medium article. This is an abnormally low clearance, unacceptable in most normal Sheriff’s Departments across the country, and an abnormally high murder rate for an area so small (Brown). Ethan Brown, a New Orleans-based writer and author of the book, Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8?, came to know about the case from an article in the New York Times detailing the frustrations of family members of the victims. In mid-2011, he began investigating the murders after heading to Jennings himself. He held extensive interviews with family members, known suspects, and even members of the taskforce. He was able to examine public records and uncovered evidence that pointed away from the serial killer theory being pushed by local law enforcement. He began to theorize that the killings were a complex cover-up, orchestrated by authorities. The victims knew each other well, had similar life stories, and relatives claimed many of the victims had seemed abnormally frightened or anxious before their disappearances. He learned in his interviews that family members believed the victims couldn’t rely on police protection, despite working with police as informants (Ott).

            A member of the sheriff’s office, David Barry, was pointed to by multiple witnesses. He was known by witnesses to have taken his wife and gone around the south side looking for sex workers, whom they would drug with spiked drinks and bring home to a sex room in their house. Barry died in 2010 and was only sat down for one interview, no charges ever being brought against him. Frankie Richard remained a suspect for many following the case, as he was known to have had sexual relationships with multiple victims (Ott).

            After Brown published his article on Medium, he got a deal for a book, which would be published in 2016. A contact told Brown during this time that they had heard, more than once, that he would never get the book out. Understandably, Brown was hesitant to continue investigating in Jennings for some time after. In the end, his book was published and dropped a major bombshell: then Louisiana Congressman Charles Boustany owned a hotel in Jennings with a less-than-respectable reputation. He was known to have had sex with three of the Jennings Eight victims at this hotel. Boustany sued Brown and his publisher for defamation, but dropped the charges in December of 2016 after he lost the senate election (Ott).

            To this day, the case of the Jennings Eight, also referred to at the Jeff Davis Eight, remains unsolved. What happened to these eight women will remain only known to the perpetrators until such a time as the case is solved. Is there a serial killer out there that was operating around Jennings, Louisiana from 2005 to 2009? Was it a police cover-up? Did the victims know something that resulted in their deaths? Did Lawrence and Dixon have something to do with the murders? Or perhaps Frankie Richard? Until further notice, the answers will remain unknown.

Group, Rebel. “Unsolved Jeff Davis 8 Case Blamed On Unknown Serial Killer–But The Solution Is Closer To Home”. Prnewswire.Com, 2019, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/unsolved-jeff-davis-8-case-blamed-on-unknown-serial-killerbut-the-solution-is-closer-to-home-300946446.html

Brown, Ethan. “Who Killed The Jeff Davis 8?”. Medium, 2014, https://medium.com/matter/who-killed-the-jeff-davis-8-d1b813e13581#.f5oc6bevp.

Ott, Tim. “Jeff Davis 8: The True Story Of The ‘Murder In The Bayou’ Killings”. Biography, 2020, https://www.biography.com/news/murder-in-the-bayou-jeff-davis-8-true-story.

Bureau of Investigation, Federal. “MURDER VICTIMS | Federal Bureau Of Investigation”. Federal Bureau Of Investigation, https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/seeking-info/murder-victims?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=5dc2f92522fae1accb396a6945367315de05008e-1622430899-0-AROSuL8tOYs1HvgQJsO-WPsk_nCqYAisYqOQwUTy_MpEf30pah1CQ7p3mM0Puu5G_W-w15K7XFrHYc9oB9wwtanhm8TkGTdckn5eUSyHMzc4JYZ6Yfu3_DXIy0PpI4JQVQY-eRfeca2iObszqSx8bgvtK6_WmqFN6V783mKCGaB7Ypo8v0X3mDqRZPIU56vlTiT4pFUfYoZHhwnCJ6sXnkGK6Qb3B-iivvz7Q9bW4MZlzPiVN_uFTawf5TmtAH5cM14kFhvoDG45gZmjP4j8wPEQlmuf0dItEVV2m66F35_kbs0bPZjbk9CwedXMKuOsla-RczgvRLQTKRaJavr247L4BOWcUI43QE2RP4AYVQLTJXtwO1F3V1K3B6Ft-pY2dLJ9ZcnaKqO18gRPgoMLp6SlwpooNb1LKo-mac5_vQ0zwcR50JiSz4LTmpNyn-ftQCh1qGauDHevEhrPuWBbNxoUBi0jJBrj_Z3E7UtgIdFQO7I3sbZzQjIqQXagBZss3w.

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