During a five-year span, the bodies of eight women turned up in the swamps and waterways of Jefferson Davis Parish in Louisiana. Thanks to a new Showtime docuseries, Murder in the Bayou, there is renewed interest in the unsolved murders.
The five-part true crime doc takes an in-depth look at the cases collectively referred to as the Jeff Davis 8, and the possibility that Jennings, La. had a serial killer operating for years in the area.
The Jennings victims, in the order of their deaths, are:
- Loretta Lewis, 28
- Ernestine Marie Daniels Patterson, 30
- Kristen Gary Lopez, 21
- Whitnei Dubois, 26
- Laconia Brown, 23
- Brittany Gary, 17
- Crystal Shay Benoit Zeno, 24
- Necole Guillory, 26
Many people in Jennings, La. don't think it's a serial killer, though.
While the task force assembled to solve the cold cases in and around Jennings seemed to be looking for a serial killer, family members and acquaintances of the victims don't think any one person is responsible for killing their loved ones. All of the women were on the margins, involved in drugs or survival sex work, and many of them not only knew each other, but had sex, at one point, with the same man.
Yet some of their loved ones think the true culprit is not a single man but several corrupt members of local law enforcement engaged in a cover-up.
The basis for the docuseries is a two-year-investigation conducted by journalist Ethan Brown, who wrote the book Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8?
Brown's investigation revealed that all the women had a lot in common but the one thing that connected them all is that they had been police informants for narcotics investigations in the area. One of the victims, Kristen Lopez, was also a witness in 2005 to the fatal police shooting of a drug dealer named Leonard Crochet.
Several other people connected with the case were also allegedly present during the shooting. One was Alvin "Bootsy" Lewis, who was connected to two of the victims. His girlfriend, Whitnei Dubois, was the fourth victim and the first, Loretta Lewis, was his sister-in-law.
While Jennings is by no means a large city, for a town of over 10,000, the number of connections among victims and other people of interest in the case definitely seems more than coincidental. But is it just due to the nature of their circumstances or is it something more along the lines of a conspiracy?
The task force's interviews with witnesses indicated several people close to the victims suspected police were responsible and two alleged that evidence was removed in the case of Kristen Lopez. The officer who took those statements, Sergeant Jesse Ewing, feared the tapes would disappear and sent them to a private investigator. He tells Brown this move led to him being charged with malfeasance and sexual misconduct so that he could be forced out after 20 years on the force.
The women accused the sheriff's office's chief criminal investigator, Warren Gary, of being "good friends" with local drug dealer and strip club owner Frankie Richard. They suggested Gary helped Richard cover up the murder of Kristen Lopez, who was not the only victim acquainted with Richard.
In fact, Richard himself admits he had at one point in time had sex with most of the eight victims. The exception was the youngest victim, Brittany Gary. However, she was friendly with his kids.
Who are other suspects in the Jeff Davis 8 murders?
In the case of the second victim, Ernestine Patterson, two men were charged with her murder but it was later dismissed. One, Lawrence Nixon, happened to be the cousin of fifth victim Laconia Brown, and the other was Byron Chad Jones. Jones was later arrested in 2010 for allegedly stabbing a woman in the mouth.
In both instances, charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence. This is possibly due in part to the fact detectives didn't test the crime scene for blood evidence until 15 months after the murder.
While the docuseries will by no means solve these cold cases, it is sure to shed new light and interest in giving justice to these eight women.
Murder in the Bayou premieres Sunday, Sept. 13 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.