New information in string of 8 unsolved murders in Southern Louisiana originally thought to be the work of a serial killer, suggest a sinister role played by the local police.
In south central Louisiana, in a small town on the edge of Cajun country, a string of eight young women were murdered between 2005 and 2009.
They all knew each other. Some were related by blood, others shared apartments; they frequented the same bars and low-rent motels. They used – and abused – drugs together.
And over the course of 4 years, they were all murdered. Loretta Chaisson Lewis, 28, Ernestine Patterson, 30, Kristen Lopez, 21; Whitnei Dubois, 26; Laconia “Muggy” Brown, 23; Crystal Benoit Zeno, 24; Brittney Gary, 17; and Necole Guillory, 26.
The police have been unable to solve any of these cases, which gives them one of the lowest case solving rates in the country. The national average for case clearance (a charge being laid) is 64%, the average in Jennings, Louisiana is 7%.
The families of the victims, fed up with the lack of performance by the police, have since hired Private Investigator, Kirk Menard.
Menard has investigated the final resting place of each of the victims and the disturbing circumstances tied to each one. “This all points to something very local,” Menard said. “Someone right in the center of this if you go by geographical profiling. That’s it’s someone right in the center of this area, who knows this area.”
“I think we have more than one killer here,” he said. “All the victims knew each other. They all ran in the same circles. All of the same names keep popping up. I think there are multiple people involved.”
The lack of arrest in the killings, along with the unscrupulous history of the Jennings Police has led to concerns of the townspeople suspecting that the police are involved in these murders.
Just last year, former Jennings Police Chief Johnny Lassiter, who served during the time period of the killings, pled guilty to stealing money and drugs from the evidence room. Lassiter, who is awaiting sentencing, could not be reached for comment.
A few years before that, Jefferson Davis Deputy Paula Guillory was fired after being accused of the same thing.
In fact, a 109-page report by a multi-agency task force created in 2008 to solve the killings contains dozens of interviews in which witnesses suggest police involvement.
The document, obtained by WWL-TV, has been heavily researched by author and private investigator Ethan Brown.
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“They’re getting tons of information about specific cops and deputies and their involvement in these homicides,” Brown said. “Misconduct has really marred this case really from the get-go on the part of law enforcement.”
Brown, who uses his investigative skills as a true crime writer, has delved deep into the murders and just published a lengthy article about the case on the newly launched website Medium.com. In his opinion, police misconduct directly torpedoed chances for a break in the case.
Take Guillory, the fired deputy. When she was dismissed for mishandling evidence, she was a detective and key member of the multi-agency task force put together to solve the murders.
The missing evidence? It came from a drug case against a man who would turn out to be – and still is – a lead suspect in the killings.
Guillory did not return calls for comment.
Perhaps the most glaring missed opportunity to get a break in the cases can be found in a 2007 ethics violation by Jeff Davis deputy Warren Gary, the department’s chief criminal investigator at the time.
Gary was fined $10,000 for buying a truck from a parish inmate, then immediately selling it for a handsome profit.
The disappearance of the truck would prove to be a major blow. In a case with almost no physical evidence, two witnesses told deputies that a recent passenger in the truck was Lopez, the third victim.
The truck reportedly was used to carry Lopez’s body to a canal on the edge of a rice field, where her badly beaten body was found.
At the time, the sheriff’s office said the purchase and quick sale of the truck was unfortunate, but not intended to thwart the Lopez investigation.
But two witnesses, cited in interviews, told a detective precisely why it was critical to keep the truck as evidence.
“Two witnesses came forward to speak to a detective, then with the Jennings P.D., named Jessie Ewing, and said that the chief investigator at the sheriff’s office purchased this vehicle in order to dispose of the physical evidence in the case,” Brown said.
So, what happened to Gary, the criminal investigator, after the ethics fine? Instead of being demoted or disciplined, Gary was promoted to commander of the evidence room. Gary finally left the department in 2012 when Sheriff Ivy Woods was elected to take over from then-Sheriff Ricky Edwards.
Contact information for Gary was unavailable.
While this new information doesn't prove the direct involvement of any specific police officer, one can logically conclude that the incompetence and corruption that is rife within the department, has at best, inadvertently prevented actual justice, and at worst, deliberately stifled it.