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True crime. Casually done.

The Jennings 8: Part 2

Dodgy Dealings Down South

Welcome back to Jennings, Louisiana: the site of eight connected murders from 2005 to 2009; a hotbed of crack and prostitution; and as we discovered at the end of Part 1, a town plagued by persistent scandals of police misconduct and corruption.

When we left off, Ethan Brown had just discovered that lead investigator Warren Gary purchased a truck involved in one of the murders, allegedly for the sole purpose of scrubbing it clean of evidence. If it was intentional, that’s an absolutely terrifying prospect (and if unintentional, a glaringly stupid thing to do). 

This was front page news in town once the Louisiana Ethics Committee got their hands on Gary, but all things considered, it wasn’t a particularly surprising headline at all. In fact, I’d be surprised if the local journalists didn’t already have their templates already set up for a story just like this; they’d been covering regular corruption scandals for about two decades already.

According to Ethan Brown, the problem of corruption in Jennings stretches back to the 70s, when the drug scene in Louisiana underwent a boom. Street drugs were making their way to New Orleans en masse; pretty soon some cops got tired of busting filthy rich smugglers and decided to line their own pockets as well.

And that’s how you end up with a police department which has a longer rap sheet than half the criminals they arrested. Let’s do a little bit of naming and shaming, shall we? Get your notepad ready, because the web of dodgy dealings is vast, and plenty of players in the Jennings 8 case are wrapped up in it.

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What Thin Blue Line?

We begin in 1990, when two balaclava-clad burglars broke into the Jeff Davis Sheriff’s Office. After prying open the metal mesh door to the treasure trove of illicit goods inside, they managed to lift 300 pounds of confiscated weed out of evidence. Depending on the quality, that could have been anywhere from $75,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars in value at the time.

sheriffs office
Sheriff’s office illustration. By Rivers Langley, is licensed under CC-BY-SA

But burglars never got to cash in — they were caught soon after. During interrogation, one of them revealed the alleged masterminds behind the heist: everyone’s favorite pimp-who’s-totally-not-a-pimp Frankie Richard, and chief deputy sheriff Ted Gary.

Sounds like the deputy might have given the tip off to Frankie after a big bust, and he set a couple of his goons on the job. But nothing ever came of those accusations. 

Other officers were more direct when pilfering the evidence rooms. For example, Detective Donald “Lucky” DeLouche of Calcasieu Parish allegedly got sticky in the mid nineties, handing out confiscated drugs to suspects. 

And the depravity of this boy in blue wasn’t limited to using the evidence room as an adult ‘pick and mix’. In 1997 he was accused of child molestation against his own kid, and sexual assault against his girlfriend, but never prosecuted, He ended up moving to Jennings a few years later, and joined the local PD… rising to the rank of chief… 

Putting that kind of greasy guy in a position of power is rarely a good idea, and the results were painfully predictable. While serving as chief, DeLouche forced a female officer to take a video of herself getting her nipples pierced, and gleefully shared it around the office. 

The chief’s conduct gave the green light for everyone underneath him to act like a bunch of animals as well. Male officers would routinely harass female cops, then threaten them with violence and sexual assault. In 2003, eight of these women filed a civil rights suit at the federal level against the sheriff. 

Poor old DeLouche then had to face up to the consequences of his behavior, at a time when his alleged pedophilia was making the headlines again; his ex wife made fresh allegations during a custody dispute… including that he filmed some sexual acts… with the family dog… On a scale of ‘good cop’ to ‘bad cop’, where exactly does that kind of behavior rank?

Jennings’ populace wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of a canine molesting frat bro keeping them safe, so DeLouche was forced to resign as police chief amidst the scandal. However, since he was never actually fired, he wasn’t barred from serving in future. 

After the attention died down, he just popped up again in another parish, with a clean start!

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Naughty Sheriffs

At this point, the cops are starting to look very much like the bad guys of this story; the idea of collusion between cops and the drug trade looks a lot more likely in the light of all this. And obviously not all of them were at it… but a hell of a lot of them were. In fact, even the sheriff himself was involved — more than one of them!

In ’93, Jeff Davis Parish Sheriff Dallas Cornier found himself the subject of a whopping indictment: 36 federal felonies relating to the embezzlement of public funds. He had apparently siphoned off $250,000 (worth almost double that today) in order to buy himself guns, boots, and trucks. The result? A $10,000 fine and one year of probation.

For comparison, if a car thief in Jennings nicked a $25k ride, they’d be looking at a maximum 20 years and a $50k fine under Louisiana law. And that’s one tenth of the value stolen by the good sheriff. Goes to show that if you are the law, then you often don’t need to worry about the law.

And how about the shady sheriff’s successor? This was Ricky Edwards, the guy in charge during the Jennings 8 murders. He got himself in a spot of bother in 1996, when a hispanic couple filed a lawsuit against him and his office. Their complaint related to an illegal stop and search while driving down the I-10, carried out by one of his top deputies. 

The TV show Dateline launched an investigation at the time, concluding that unconstitutionally seizing assets from Latino drivers was basically a part of the culture in Jeff Davis Parish at the time. He was out of office by the time Ethan Brown came to town, with a seat on the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association for his valiant service. 

Sure, a few people got murdered on his watch, but Sheriff Edwards had his priorities straight. Had he not dedicated himself to the indiscriminate harassment of out-of-towners, who knows what horrible fate would have befallen the people of Jennings? 

Edwards was replaced in 2011, but the misconduct didn’t end in Jennings after his departure from office. In 2013, city police chief Johnny Lassiter (a man who in pictures appears to have a perfectly rectangular head — it’s quite marvelous) was accused of malfeasance in office, obstruction of justice, injuring public records, and stealing drugs and cash from evidence. 

The scandal first broke three years before the charges were brought, and the chief stepped down. At that point, a state police audit revealed the evidence manifest was short $4,500 in cash, 1800 pills, 380 grams of coke, and a few pounds of weed. Yes, it’s terrible behavior for a cop, but I bet you’d have loved an invite to his parties. 

And if you’re wondering how long the comedown from that much stolen drugs lasts, it’s about 5 years — that’s how long Lassiter got behind bars. Bear in mind, the Louisiana Prison Service’s newest inmate was the guy heading up the local police from 2006 to 2010, during the Jennings 8 murders. 

And while he may have not lifted every piece of the missing goods with his own two hands, his complicity meant that a huge amount of drugs flowed right out of the police station and back onto the streets. If your police department is technically one of the town’s most successful drug distributors, then your town has a real problem.

So where the hell were all those missing drugs going exactly? I’ll let you decide for yourself, but let me take this moment to remind you of of what a senior task force member told a witness back in ’07: 

“Don’t worry about Frankie, because he works for me.” 

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The Jailhouse Brothel 

Ethan Brown was pretty damn successful in drawing a link between the town’s pimp overlord Frankie Richard and local law enforcement. On top of what you already know, multiple sources testified that he was good buddies with several cops, and he was even the alleged accomplice of that deputy in the 1993 heist. 

So how about the murdered women? What was their experience with the police like? Well, predictably, it wasn’t very pretty at all. While their colleagues over at the station were running an unregistered dispensary, the jailers at Jeff Davis Parish Jail were dabbling in a bit of light human trafficking. 

According to the Promise for Justice Initiative, corrections officer Allarate Frank was convicted of criminal malfeasance for taking bribes in exchange for access to female prisoners. At the time, some well-behaved (or wealthy) male inmates were allegedly allowed to walk around freely, and women who agreed to have sex with them were rewarded with special privileges. 

As part of the same extended scandal, it was revealed that Jefferson David Parish Deputy Eric Philips raped multiple female jail inmates, while Deputy Jacquelyn Varner arranged for a male inmate to rape two different female inmates — this is quite literally torture, of the kind you hear about in war zones. To make matters worse, a jail nurse who raised concerns about the misconduct was fired for taking a stand!

Later at least 6 women came forward to report being raped by jailers, and offered up to male inmates for a price. Yet many of the authority figures involved are now continuing their career in alternate jurisdictions to this day — Allarate Frank even ran for police chief of Eunice City a few years ago! You can still find his eyesore of a campaign website online.

And if you put these pretty simple pieces together, I’m pretty sure you can guess who some of the women trafficked in Jeff Davis Jail were. The Jennings 8 all had regular brushes with the law, meaning several of them were victims of the prison prostitution operation. Arrest a woman for prostitution, then prostitute her in the jailhouse — justice served, another job well done.

Warden Terry Guillory was also reportedly involved in the trafficking, including against the final victim in the Jennings 8 case, Necole Guillory. They share the same last name because they’re cousins… which means the lawman allowed his own cousin to be bought and sold on his watch. 

And get this — when task force investigator Warren Gary purchased the suspected murder truck from that inmate, it was allegedly Warden Guillory who brokered the sale! To say that things seem suspicious would now be a gross understatement. 

So given this thick layer of muck on the hands of the law enforcers of Jennings City and Jeff Davis Parish, is it possible that some people in power might have wanted to keep the women quiet, by any means necessary? 

That’s quite an explosive claim, but not an uncommon one. In fact, several police officers were actually among the most promising suspects in the case…

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Good Cop, Bad Cops

So, which of the roster of Jennings’ finest were up there on the board of suspects? We’ll start with a familiar name, Terry Guillory. Back at the time of the murders, the warden of the jail was actually part of a law enforcement power couple, with then-wife Officer Paula Guillory.

According to witnesses from the local drug scene interviewed by Ethan, the Guillorys were regulars at Frankie Richard’s house of fun off the clock. The ragged pimp never denied this fact, but clarified: 

“They never hung out at this house unless they came for police business or unless they was coming to buy crack in the middle of the night from somebody else. I didn’t sell it. I smoked it.”

Thanks for clearing that up Frank. And on another note, is there such a pandemic of boredom in Louisiana that everyone and their gran is smoking crack?

It seems to be a pretty open secret that the couple were directly involved in the local drug scene, partly as users, and potentially in some other capacities. When Ethan Brown linked up with the original renegade PI Kirk Menard, who had been working the case since 2008, he also had some interesting things to say about policewoman Paula. 

He alleged that it was she who hired the Jennings 8 as informants. And yes, managing snitches was a part of her official responsibilities in the city PD. However, she denies ever having any female snitches on her payroll. Since the identity of informants is extremely sensitive information, there aren’t any publicly accessible records to prove one way or the other.

Even if she wasn’t the handler of the murdered women back then, she would eventually come under suspicion for an entirely different reason. Her personnel file is filled to the brim with complaints from her colleagues, accusing her of all kinds of misconduct — one detective is even absolutely certain that she actively leaked information about an ongoing investigation.

But it was a classic Jennings case of sticky fingers that eventually brought about her downfall. Paula (a key Jennings 8 task force member, by the way) was in charge of turning over evidence after a raid on Frankie Richard’s home in 2009. This was as part of an unrelated investigation into a burglary syndicate he was running with his mother (aw, that’s sweet). 

When Paula signed off on the inventory, $4000 of stolen gear was missing. Was she to blame? Maybe, maybe not. Bear in mind that Jennings had another expert in evidence cataloguing who also served on the evidence logging team in this case: automobile aficionado Warren Gary. 

In the end, it was Paula who took the flak, and ended up fired. She still rejects the accusations outright, claiming that she reported the missing goods as soon as she realised. But who knows if she’s telling the truth. Either way Frankie boy is appreciative. He told Ethan: “In fact I thank her for doing that. If she had handled her business right, my momma would still be in jail.” 

He’s referring to the fact that the case eventually fell to pieces due to a flurry of misconduct in the department. Frankie and his mummy dearest walked free.

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A Killer on the Inside?

There’s clearly reason to believe that Paula Guillory and her husband had connections to Frankie, or even other criminal elements in the town. And once again, this means an integral Jennings 8 task force member could have had reason to actively impede the investigation. 

It’s the sort of thing that should have gotten her purged from the team long ago. I mean, they’re said to have gone to his house to buy crack, and Terry Guillory supposedly dabbled in the pimping profession himself at his jailhouse. That’s what they call a catastrophic conflict of interest.

So when the theory of a police officer (or officers) killing the women for fun started doing the rounds, the disgraced Paula and her hubby were popular candidates: “I’ve heard many rumors. That me and [Terrie] were serial killers,” she said in her interview with the journalist.

But perhaps that’s a bit too much of a stretch. While Paula was undoubtedly a shitty police officer,  neither she nor Terry’s names come up in any of the original witness interview transcripts. However, the same can’t be said for her one-time colleague, Sheriff’s Deputy Danny Barry.

Back when the task force was reporting zero new leads, much to the chagrin of the public, the interview transcripts were actually telling a very different story. David Barry was directly identified as a potential suspect by no less than three witnesses back in 2008, on the same day! This information was never made public at the time.

And even if he wasn’t a killer, certainly had some explaining to do. The reports focussed around the niche sexual interests of Barry and his wife, who had a strange idea of a good time. Ethan Brown lifted these quote directly from witness interviews back in November 2008:

“[He drove] a small blue sports car […]. Barry would drop off his wife, Natalie, and she would get the girls. The couple would ‘spike’ a drink and then take the girls back to the Barrys”

“Danny Barry had a room in his trailer that had chains hanging from the ceiling, and [set up so that] a person could not see in or out of the room.”

Yep, the couple allegedly cruised for women to drug, and bring back to their… trailer park sex dungeon. Stay classy, Louisiana. 

Is it too much of a stretch to imagine that someone capable of drugging and raping women might graduate to murder? Plenty of people in town thought so — the idea that Danny and Natalie Barry might have ended their sessions by asphyxiating the helpless women became one of the more popular rumors.

But of course, this angle was never officially followed up on by the Sheriff’s Department — at least, not as far as the public records indicate. Even if new evidence comes to light now, it’s too late to prosecute: Danny passed away in 2010, in a tragic BDSM accident… Only joking it was a heart attack or something.  

So apparently it was possible to go a full 12 years at the Jefferson Davis Sheriff’s Department while regularly drugging and raping streetwalkers. What exactly would it take to have you booted out!?

We’re about to circle back to the nitty gritty of the Jennings 8 case, and look at the incident which really blew the cover on the potential of police involvement as early as 2007. This was when one officer  discovered that perhaps the most dangerous thing you could do as a police officer in Jennings, was tell the truth…

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The Fall of Jesse Ewing

None of what we just covered paints a particularly pleasant portrait of the Jennings City PD, or their superiors at the parish Sheriff’s Department. Even the public were suspicious that the person who killed the women might actually have been living off their tax dollars — someone directly involved in the investigation to find the killer.

But it’s worth noting that not every officer was involved in dodgy dealings. There were those on the force that actively reported the deeds of their colleagues, which must have felt like bashing your head against a brick wall over and over. One officer ended up losing his entire career as a result.

This is our ‘good coop’, Sergeant Jesse Ewing. He was an officer in the city police force back in 2007, and a key part of the early task force. Back then, they were still just investigating the Jennings 4. 

And that year, Sergeant Ewing received word that two women down at the jail had some important information to share about the killings. So he went down to the jail alone, armed with just a tape recorder, to conduct some interviews. 

It was actually the testimony of these two anonymous witnesses that revealed the Chevygate incident regarding Warren Gary and the murder of Kristen Lopez, with which we ended Part 1. Not only that, these two witnesses told our good cop that “higher-ranking officers” of the police were complicit in a cover-up of the facts all along. Ethan Brown got the chance to hear these tapes, and wrote: 

“They provide highly specific information about the murders of two of the prostitutes—Whitnei Dubois and Kristen Gary Lopez—as well as local law enforcement’s alleged role in covering up Frankie Richard’s role in at least one of the killings.”

Jesse Ewing was already suspicious of his colleagues at this point (probably because they were a roving horde of sex pests and thieves). So he decided to keep this new information on the down-low. The rogue copper instead went to a local PI (most likely Kirk Menard) who forwarded copies to the FBI outpost in Lake Charles and the Louisiana Attorney General.

They feds then rode into town on white stallions, and arrested every single corrupt cop for misconduct and murder. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Only joking, Ewing’s gambit actually misfired horribly.

The FBI and Attorney General actually ignored the content of the tapes, and sent the copies right back to Jennings. More precisely, straight into the hands of the Jennings 8 task force. Jesse Ewing had breached proper procedure, and the insubordinate officer now found himself at the mercy of his superiors (who as you know, were of dubious integrity).

The moralistic sergeant was charged with malfeasance in office and dismissed from the force. To cap it off, one of the witnesses he interviewed came forward with a sexual assault claim relating to the day of the interview. 

Obviously if it’s true he’s pretty much as scummy as the rest, but is it at all possible that a corrupt cop might have leaned on the woman to log a false claim, and smear the reputation of the turncoat? She was in jail after all, and her life could end up pretty miserable if she never complied. 

Whether Ewing really was guilty of harassment or not, he was now blackballed from the profession after 20 years of service. He told Ethan Brown:  “I felt screwed for doing the right thing.”

This is what actually happens to maverick cops in real life. Rather than hijacking helicopters and throwing villains off rooftops like in the movies, they just end up shunned and disgraced. Meanwhile, the bad eggs in our story somehow ended up with new jobs and squeaky clean records…

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The Tapes 

All in all, I’d say Sergeant Ewing’s career kamikaze mission wasn’t in vain. After all, his efforts meant that those tapes were preserved for posterity, rather than being ‘accidentally’ damaged or misplaced. 

These tapes have never been released to the public — only the police, the PI, and Ethan Brown had ever heard them. So when he published his online exposé on the case in 2104, this was the first time that the ins and outs of the accusations were exposed in depth. For the first time, the public had an insight into the final days of two of the victims — and potentially, knowledge of exactly how they died! 

It begins with Tracee Chaisson, the local prostitute who reported the pimp Frankie Richard and his niece Hannah Conner to the police in Part 1 (implicating herself in the process). The police weren’t the only ones she shared her story with. 

The anonymous speaker on one tape claims to have heard the full story from Chaisson herself, not only regarding the Lopez case from March 2007, but the murder of Whitney Dubois two months later. The story goes that Chaisson, Dubois, Frankie Richard, and Hannah Conner, were enjoying a bit of crack-enhanced bonding time (as is apparently the custom down south).

At some point, Frankie made sexual advances on Dubois, but she rejected him. And Frankie apparently doesn’t handle rejection well. 

Chaisson said she witnessed first-hand as ol’ Uncle Frankie’s violent temper exploded — he began viciously beating Dubois: “he got aggressive, he started fighting with her, and when she started fighting back he got on top of her and started punching her.”

His niece soon joined in, battering the helpless woman to the point of unconsciousness. It was allegedly Hannah who ultimately ended the woman’s life, holding her head back of victim number 4 and drowning her.    A crime of violent, drugged-up fury — it doesn’t sound like much of a stretch at all.

Perhaps this was the event which ultimately encouraged Chaisson to come forward.  After all, who knew when Frankie would decide to turn his murderous rage on her. But as you already know, it wasn’t the murder of Dubois that she reported…

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The second-hand story on the tape was eerily similar to the Chaisson’s official testimony, entered into evidence in the Lopez case. Once again Chaisson claimed to have witnessed the killing first-hand, which unfolded much the same as the other one. Her testimony was helped by the fact that the police already placed the victim with the scumbag suspects in the day leading up to the murder. 

The glob of syphilitic smegma known as Frankie Richard admitted that yes, he had been with Kristen Lopez, however he claimed they parted ways before her death. To hear him tell it, he had been staying with Lopez and Chaisson in a room at the infamous Boudreaux Inn for several days, but kicked them out: 

“Kristen come give me a hug and said, ‘Uncle Frankie, you don’t want me back your room. And I said, ‘No, because you don’t have no respect, you want to steal everything.’”

Said the guy who once ran a burglary ring with his mum. Anyway, Chaisson corroborated Frankie’s story at first, but in a tearful second interview the transcript tells a very different story. Ethan Brown explained:  

“Richard and Conner had, on another drug-addled night, killed Lopez in a fit of anger, beating her severely by a levee near the Petitjean Canal on the outskirts of Jennings and then drowning her.”

Both witnesses on the tapes reported this same story: one of them via Chaisson, and the other from Hannah Conner’s drugged-up confession. Two different sources, with the details mostly intact between versions. That to me seems pretty damn telling — yet it appears as if these witnesses weren’t actually called up when the cops were building their case against the pimp…

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A Brief Breather

Okay, so after a quick dip in the dirty dirty sewage of Jennings police corruption, we’ve gravitated right back towards the man at the center of it all. We’ve seen how Frankie’s alleged ties to the police seem to have saved him on more than one occasion.

Not only that, the series of scandals wracking the town have shown how officers who were absolutely integral to the Jennings 8 investigation appeared to have vested interests in the local underworld. 

That means your choices are currently:

A — murdered for informing on the drug trade

B — killed for fun by a sadistic cop

C — killed in a drug-fueled rage by a pimp

D — murdered for informing on jailhouse human trafficking

E — something else entirely 

I’m not casting a vote, but I will tell you this. On camera in 2018, Frankie Richards himself sided with the ‘snitches get stitches’ theory, saying: “These girls lost their lives because they seen something, heard something, knew something that they was not supposed to know.” He claims the deceased officer and sex dungeon owner Danny Barry was probably to blame.  

So to recap, the police say it was probably Frankie, Frankie says it was probably the police, and we… we still kinda think it might be both of them. The only question remaining is why? The whistleblowers from the jailhouse brothel scandal weren’t the same women as the Jennings 8. And as far as I can find, those women haven’t faced any fatal repercussions.

And despite researching the case for many years, Ethan Brown doesn’t make any direct accusations, or argue for one strict interpretation. You kind of get the impression that he’s just uncovered the tip of the iceberg, so even if he wanted to make a complete theory, he couldn’t. 

But there’s one last puzzle piece he offers up — one final killing, that might well be the root of the entire Jennings 8 case. 

Take my hand and follow me — we’re going to buy some crack…

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A Botched Bust by Briggs Becton 

It’s April 19th 2005, and you’re starting to get that overwhelmingly sad feeling in your chest again — you’re shaking— you’re getting snappy — you’ve got a headache that feels like it’ll split your skull right down the middle — in short, you need some crack, ASAP. Well don’t worry, I’ve got your back, I know a guy at 610 Gallup Street, down on the south side. 

We pick ourselves up from your favorite perch (the dumpsters out the back of Denny’s, of course) and head down towards the train tracks, walking in the dark. After a pleasant little stroll, we’re standing out front of a pretty rough looking single-story house — a rickety wooden structure with peeling paint on the outside. 

My guy opens the door — Harvey “Bird Dog ” Burleigh (don’t ask me how he got the nickname, I have no idea). We’re invited in to take a seat in his dimly-lit front room, which is filled with that sweet chemical stench you came for. There are a few familiar faces here tonight — about a dozen or so folk from around town. Some of them are chatting, some are lazing around on the shabby furniture, or sleeping among the mess of stained blankets and trash covering the floor. 

I introduce you: “Hello everyone, this is my mate Simon. He’d like some crack please.”

Say hello Simon. 

Among your new friends tonight are Tracee Chaisson (who I told you about before), Kristen Lopez (who would eventually become victim number 3), and Alvin Lewis (the boyfriend of Whitney Dubois, future number 4). There’s also another local dealer there you should probably meet: a gawky, pony-tailed guy called Leonard Crochet. 

People are coming and going every now and then, so after a few minutes some prime real estate opens up on a nice comfy armchair. We get you sat down, and sorted out with a lovely bit of crack from Bird Dog’s stash. You whip out your trusty crack pipe and get to work. Suddenly, all is right with the world again. 

But just as we’re starting to enjoy ourselves, dark forces are conspiring to spoil the party. Unbeknownst to us, an informant is currently calling the Jennings City PD to report “ongoing drugs activity” at the crack house. The cops are extra interested this time, because Tracee Chaisson is currently breaking the terms of her probation just by being here.

Fast forward another (thoroughly enjoyable) 24 hours, and you’re still sinking into your nice comfy armchair, but you’ve burned through all my spare cash and once again we’re out of crack — I’ll add it to the tab. All we can do is curl up in the dark, and try to keep the bad thoughts at bay. 

It’s approaching 10:20pm, and with the curtains drawn, the room is now almost pitch black, save for the glow of a lamp from the kitchen. I’m cosily curled up in the foetal position, sleeping off that monster comedown as best I can. But annoyingly, we’re both about to experience the most stressful alarm clock of our lives.

No, that’s not the throbbing in your head — it’s the sound of a handheld battering ram smashing into the front door. The flimsy thing caves in after a few hits hit, and a group of cops flood through shouting “Police!” and brandishing their guns. Which is really just rude — people are trying to sleep here.

Everyone jolts and spins around as the cops swarm in. One of the first officers through the door is scanning around the room with his shotgun; the light blazing from the flashlight affixed to the under barrel is a bit sore on the eyes. But this isn’t our first drug bust, so after the initial fright, we don’t panic.

That is until the officer with the shotgun aims his weapon at Leonard Crochet, now standing up at the far end of the room. He barks out, “Show me your hands!” 

A thunderous bang fills the room. 

Oh my god, they killed Lenny!

You bastards!

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The man on the other end of the 12 gauge that day was Louisiana Probation and Parole agent John Briggs Becton. As we’re all being slapped in cuffs and loaded into a police van, an ambulance is hurtling towards the house in an attempt to save the middle-aged crack slinger’s life. By the time it arrives, he’s already dead.

Now, John Briggs Becton found himself in a real predicament here. None of the people arrested that day corroborated his story in the interviews — not a single person saw Crochet make the jerky movement towards his belt line that Becton interpreted as a threat, not even his fellow cops could confirm. What’s more, the investigators were “unable to locate any items in the immediate vicinity of Crochet’s location in the residence which could have been construed as a weapon.”

In short, it seems like the jittery parole officer was acting on panicked reflex, or in the midst of some trigger-happy Call of Duty flashback. Thank god he snapped out of it before landing a 5 kill streak and calling in the air strike. 

It seemed like he knew he’d fucked up right away — just after shooting Crochet, he approached the dying man as he gurgled though his last breaths. “Oh shit,” Becton muttered. According to one report, Crochet was then flipped onto his front and handcuffed! As if the buckshot in his chest wasn’t enough to pacify him.

 It seems like Crochet’s death was entirely preventable and unnecessary, and with no testimony backing up his version of events, surely Becton would be severely disciplined for his mistake, right? Of course not. He simply wasn’t punished at all. In Becton’s report, he wrote that the dealer “then made a sudden movement with his hands toward his belt line.” 

The parish grand jury took his word for it, and accepted that he felt threatened enough to justify lethal force. This meant a “no true bill” ruling, amounting to zero wrongdoing.

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The Fallout

Where things get really interesting though, is how Ethan Brown makes this episode a kind of Book of Genesis in the Jennings 8 story. After all, the very first victim showed up just one month after. Could it be that this one event started a cascade of corruption and violence that left 8 women dead and potentially many more related parties? Frankie Richards suggested so: 

“Most of them girls was at a raid […] when that Crochet boy got killed. Most of the girls that are dead today were there that night.”

That’s not that’s not entirely confirmed — all the people I mentioned by name were listed on the official arrest record from that day (only one of the Jennings 8 saw it firsthand). But who knows who else came and went in the days leading up, or when you were conked out on that armchair. All the other victims were certainly at least adjacent to the drama that unfolded that night.

Things are heating up nicely. But I have one question: since the police clearly had the capability to clear the trigger-happy parole agent of any wrongdoing without the need for a scorched-earth massacre of local street criminals, why bother?

Well, if you can believe it, Brown allegedly heard it was an act of retaliation. He cites an anonymous source who told him that the snitch who reported the activity at the crack den, later insinuated that Leonard Crochet had recently refused to traffick the crooked Jennings PD officers’ drugs. This snitch seems to believe that Crochet’s death was actually a planned hit. 

Meaning that, if this extraordinary claim is true, the other victims could have been collateral damage — a bit of tidying up which ended up getting out of control. Because after this incident, the murders and suspicious deaths started really racking up. It potentially became a game of witness whack-a-mole, killing witnesses to the first murder, then killing witnesses to that murder, and then that murder, and so on.

This theory is supported by the fact that, according to some of the transcripts obtained by the journalist, some of Jennings 8 were actually interviewed by the police about the murders that preceded their own! And nobody drew attention to the fact that witnesses with apparently privileged information about the killings were suspiciously dropping like flies.

Apart from the women themselves, there was also the death of our beloved dealer, Harvey Burleigh. He actually turned up dead shortly after telling a relative of Whitnei Dubois that he was investigating her killing (getting close to an answer).

And of course, as the web of intrigue spread out, people who weren’t a part of the drug bust started mysteriously dying too. There’s the case of Russell Carrier, from Lafayette. He called the Jeff Davis Parish Sheriff’s Office in September 2008 to report seeing three men walking out of the patch of woodland where the sixth victim was found soon after. 

These were a Mr Mouton, a Mr Ivory, and a Mr Williams — associates of Frankie Richard, the first of whom is also a suspect in the Lopez case. That sounds like another key piece of testimony for a case of massive criminal conspiracy — very promising! 

But unfortunately it never made it to court. On October 10th, tipster Russell Carrier decided to lie down on the train tracks, and take his own life. Investigators never gave a reason for the man leaving the bar that day and ending up on the rail.

Could happen to anyone really. Who among us hasn’t gone for a nice public nap, only to almost be bisected at the waist by a freight train? 

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Another Quick Breather

So now the picture is coming into clearer focus, even though it’s still too complex to take in all at once. 

1: We see people offering a hand in murder investigations suddenly turn up dead in and around Jennings. 

2: We know for a fact that some of the Jennings 8 had information about these deaths and other dodgy dealings. 

3: they were all alleged police informants, who would have had the established channels to relay that information to the task force.

And 4: The task force and/or associated agencies may have been infected with underworld moles leaking information.

As we mentioned at the very beginning, during the final days of Lopez’s life she was in a paranoid state. Her mother is quoted as saying: “They were scared, them girls. I think she knew about it and was too scared to say.”

Now we have a better idea of what “it” might have been. Same with the mother of Necole Guillory, the last victim: “She used to tell us all the time it was the police killing the girls […] She knew, she knew, she knew, and that’s why they killed her.”

Necole even appeared to know she was next. Just days before her death, her mum asked her what kind of icing she wanted for her birthday case — her 27th was just a few days away. Necole replied: “Momma, it doesn’t matter — I’m not gonna be here.”

And the same for Laconia Brown! Ethan uncovered previously-unreleased task force testimony from one of her friends, who said Laconia was worried about three murderous police officers who were killing witnesses. Her sister later revealed the victim claimed to be “investigating a murder with a cop; the cop wanted to give her $500 to tell what happened […]. I think it was a cop that killed my sister.”

The accusations of police involvement were so ubiquitous by 2009, that Sheriff Edwards demanded every single member of the task force be swabbed for DNA, to silence what he called ‘baseless rumors’ (aka directed accusations against specific dirty cops). According to Brown, it appears as if they kept the results of those tests purely internal (which kind of defeats the entire purpose).

The possibility remains then, of a deep, bloody conspiracy between crooked cops and underworld thugs, lining each others’ pockets and watching each others’ backs. And given the explosive effect of Ethan Brown’s investigation, those rumors will now likely never die…

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The Book and Aftermath

Brown went on to publish his findings on Medium in 2014: one of the most-read true crime pieces on the web. He attributes its success to the premier of True Detective season 1 shortly before, which bears some striking similarities to the real-life case. The real story soared into the public consciousness on the back of that show’s success, flooding Ethan Brown’s inbox with interview requests.

However, the article was met with mixed reviews in the town of Jennings itself. After his piece blew up, read by people from all over the world Sheriff Ivy Woods — the new boss in Jeff Davis Parish as of 2011 — responded with a counter-post on his office’s website that rejected the journalist’s meddling:

“It is unfortunate out-of-town journalists are taking information and twisting it to support a fictional conspiracy theory to gain followers and sell a story. […] “Well, I don’t dispute the Sheriff’s Office has had problems, but the past is the past,”

Or in other words, “yeah sure, some of our dirty cops may have waged a campaign of terror against local prostitutes, but that was like five years ago — let it go man.” As a result of this backlash, Ethan’s allies in the local paper cut off contact with him, and he no longer even felt safe vision the small town: 

“I actually felt like I was being targeted by cops or sheriff’s deputies to be killed or harassed or assaulted or whatever and I found it terrifying.”

Whenever he drove out that way, every car following a little too close behind started to look a lot more sinister. Every footstep approaching behind was charged with a new anxiety. The words of the guard at Frankie Davis’ seemed more pertinent now than ever: 

“You a bold-ass little man, dog. Don’t get caught in Jeff Davis Parish at night.”

So he stayed away… for a while…

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The Downfall of Congressman Boustany 

One day, Ethan received a call at his house in Louisiana — a publisher wanted to pick up his story for a fully-fledged book deal. The Medium article is long enough in itself, but to flesh out the pages of a bestseller our hero needed to tie up some of the loose ends which had been stuck on his mind since bidding the town of Jennings farewell. 

And during his final research push, he discovered the perfect bit of marketing material that catapulted the story of the Jennings 8 into the stratosphere. Remember that shady little hellhole of a motel that we visited at the start of the story, the Boudreaux Inn? A bit of digging into the title deeds revealed that the underworld of Jennings might have had associates far higher up the ladder than previously thought.

He heard a rumor that this one-stop-shop of vice was secretly owned by “people involved in politics”. A long time spent levying public record requests eventually revealed a name: Martin Guillory. He was a staffer for a goddamn Louisiana congressman: Charles W Boustany Jr of Lafayette (40 miles east of Jennings). 

What does a political field agent need with a seedy motel-cum-brothel in his portfolio? Well, in his expanded and updated version of the story from 2016, Ethan makes the unbelievably bold claim that the good congressman himself was actually semi-frequent customer! And the craziest part of all — he reportedly had sex with no less than three of the Jennings 8 at one time or another. 

If you’re getting a bit of deja vu here, then it’s probably because of that True Detective connection from before. Near the end of the season, the fictional investigation ends up implicating a powerful state senator in a web of murder and deceit. Life wasn’t imitating art, it was blatantly plagiarizing it. 

Sure, Boustany wasn’t quite a senator, but he might have been, if Ethan never dropped that career-ruining bombshell. The congressman was actually locked in a battle for a Senate seat when the book was released, two years after the original article. 

At first he tried to ignore the allegations, but later came out swinging with a defamation lawsuit: “It is all total lies — and everyone, even John Kennedy [his political opponent], knows it” 

By this point the damage was done. He lost the race, and dropped the lawsuit shortly after. Now, it’s important to point this out: nobody’s definitively saying that the congressman ordered or had a hand in any of this violence… but it is a really bad look to even have your name mentioned in the same sentence. 

In the UK, our political scandals are usually far tamer — so what, our old prime minister once put his genitals in a pig’s head, at least he doesn’t associate with murderers. (probably)

_______________________________________

Where Are They Now?

Now, as we approach the 14-hour mark in the Casual Criminalist Jennings 8 saga, we find the story winding down to a close. We’ve exhausted nearly every bit of intrigue, and it’s about time we packed up our shit and got the hell out of Jennings. 

All that’s left is to explore where exactly things stand now. 

Whatever conclusions you draw from Ethan Brown’s investigation, it’s clear he’s done a pretty damn good job. Dirty secrets have been laid bare, and feathers have been thoroughly ruffled. His crusade to solve the Jennnings 8 murders got even more attention in 2019, with the release of the two-part documentary Death in the Bayou: The Jennings 8.

The current Sheriff Ivy Woods agreed to be filmed for the piece, and still denies that any officers involved with the task force had anything to do with the killings. He maintains that Ethan Brown is an “author of fiction stories” who “just wrote the book to make money and embarrass the people of Southwest ­Louisiana.”

But in reality, this story basically tells itself. There’s so much muck accumulated around the city’s controversy-plagued law enforcement that it’s hard not to suspect that some of them at least knew what was happening. 

But to this day, every one of the Jennings 8 murders remains officially unsolved. 

_______________________________________

The only fresh evidence I’ve been able to find is an article from June 2020, about three men murdered in Port Allen (roughly 100 miles east of Jennings) from 2017 to 2019. We don’t have time to get deep into all those today, but suffice to say they bear a striking resemblance to the story we’ve just been wading through. 

According to HL Arledge of the West Side Journal, police officers on the first case failed to find the first victim Fatrell Queen’s body for hours following the case, because it was in a closet… a closet which had no doors… 

They then left some key evidence behind like bloodstained clothing and a bullet casing, and then barely bothered conducting any interviews. The victim’s mother thought “they acted more like they  [already] knew who did it.” 

Consider the fact that Fatrell was rumored to be a federal informant, and was also involved in the street-level drug trade, and we’re almost telling the exact same story all over again. That’s why the writer Arledge starts with something ol’ Frankie Richard said to him in an interview years prior: 

“No serial killer got them young girls in Jennings. Them people responsible kill snitches up and down I-10. In Lake Charles, Baton Rouge, Hammond, just all over […]”

And therein lies the rest of the iceberg. What higher-up players in the drug smuggling trade might be involved here, who we’ll never know about? And is the story of the Jennings 8 part of a wider one that has actually claimed far more victims over the years?

Perhaps the real answers lie so deep in the conspiracy that we’ll never even get a glimpse of the puppeteers that are really behind the whole affair — all we get is a brief window into the murky world of their dealings; the intersection of their illegal trade with law and order; and maybe even a glimpse of connections running right up into the state government itself.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this story still has a few rug pulls left up its sleeve…

_______________________________________

Wrap Up: Goodbye Frankie

That brings us to the end of the story of the Jennings 8 (for real, this time). All in all, it’s a patchwork of violent, drug-fueled episodes which form a confusing collage. But try your best to take it in all at once, and it’s clear that there is some seriously dodging dealing going on down on the bayou.

And for all the wild and wacky occurrences we’ve covered, in the end it all comes down to eight untimely deaths, and the families robbed by them. Ethan Brown has established himself as an advocate for these marginalized woman, and their unjustly diminished humanity. He told the Oxygen Network in 2019. 

So even if their deaths have to go forever unsolved, at least they can be granted the dignity of some simple human empathy. The same should be expected by the thousands of people who find themselves in the same vulnerable circumstance today — exploited by pimps and dealers, arrested, then beaten and abused in jail cells as well. It takes more than a one-man journalistic crusade to break those painful cycles. 

Although, as much as I preach peace and understanding, I am giving you all a free pass to suspend your sympathies regarding one individual: Mr Frankie Richard. Whatever happened to that cretin, in the end?

Well after speaking for the 2019 documentary, he decided to celebrate his big TV debut with a bit of overindulgence. Just days before the premiere, he suffered a heroin overdose at his home. The police soon swooped in to collect a hoard of prescription pills, crack, meth paraphernalia, and a woman (who he was apparently pimping at the time).

This was the first big arrest against the aging pimp in a while, probably signaling that his days of power and immunity were on the wane. That era came to a conclusive end on March 22nd 2020, when he died of natural causes at 64 years old. His online eulogy reads:

“Frankie liked to cook, eat, joke around, dogs (“Pit Bulls”), and muscle cars. Frankie loved spending time with his family and friends. Frankie was loved by many and will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved him.”

Very tasteful of them to leave “pussy and crack” off the list. Goodbye old friend — you’re pimping angels in heaven now. 

[shed a tear]

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Dismembered Appendices

1. While plenty of Jennings cops seem shady, Officer Phil Karam is the most infamous of all. In 2000, he made an off-duty emergency call from the house of fellow cop Ken Guidry. When the cops arrived, Officer Karam told them “I done them both” (meaning he’d killed Guidry and his wife) he then opened fire on his colleagues, killing one and injuring a second.

2. How the hell did Tracee Chaisson come out unscathed from all this? Well, apparently she was once threatened by Leonard Crochet’s sister, who shouted “You’re gonna be number 9!”. And according to my own research, she was the victim of a (probably unrelated) tragedy: her biological son was gunned down in a gangland “execution” at a music venue on Main Street in 2019. Nice to see Jennings is still Jennings.

3. Although, perhaps we’ve been too harsh on the little town by portraying it as a super-condensed pit of vice. In 2019 it was also ranked as Louisiana’s 7th-safest city. That’s either testament to the town’s progress… or the general degradation of the rest of the state — I cannot say for sure.

4. And last up, Ethan Brown published his original article on January 31st 2014. That exact same day, 27-year-old Lacie Fontenot was found dead near Lake Arthur (also in Jeff Davis Parish). The sheriff refused to dub her the ninth in the sequence, despite the fact that she had close ties with many of the original victims! Maybe we’ll cover that one fully in Part 36, scheduled for November next year.

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