Who Killed the Jeff Davis 8?
An investigation into a real-life True Detective case
On May 20, 2005, Jerry Jackson, a slim, gentle-voiced African-American retiree, prepared to cast a fishing line from a hulking bridge over the Grand Marais Canal on the outskirts of Jennings in southwest Louisiana. But as he peered down into the muddy rush of water, he spied the outline of a human body.
“It had come up on the news that someone had stole some mannequins,” Jackson told me, “so I thought that one of the mannequins ended up in the water somehow.” Jackson focused his eyes on the figure. “I saw flies,” he said, “and mannequins don’t attract flies.”
Panicked, Jackson dialed 911. More than a dozen deputies and detectives from the Jefferson Davis Parish sheriff’s office quickly arrived at the foot of the bridge. Hours later, a dead woman was on the banks, clad in blue jeans, blue panties, and a white short-sleeved blouse; her body was decayed but showed no evidence of injury aside from a small patch of blood under the scalp. Fingerprints later identified her as 28-year-old Loretta Lynn Chaisson Lewis, a local prostitute.
Between 2005 and 2009, the bodies of seven more women would be discovered around the swamps and canals that ring Jennings, a staggering body count for a tiny sliver of a town of about 10,000. Along with Lewis, the victims were Ernestine Marie Daniels Patterson, 30; Kristen Gary Lopez, 21; Whitnei Dubois, 26; Laconia “Muggy” Brown, 23; Crystal Shay Benoit Zeno, 24; Brittney Gary, 17; and Necole Guillory, 26. Both Patterson and Brown had their throats slit; the other bodies were in too advanced a state of decomposition to determine the cause of death, though the coroner often suspected asphyxia. The victims were mired in poverty and mental illness; and all had hustled Jennings’ south side streets for drugs and sex.
In December 2008 a multi-agency investigative team (MAIT) of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies was formed to solve the killings. At the time there were seven dead women, and the reward for information leading to the guilty party’s arrest was increased from $35,000 to $85,000. From the outset, the task force was searching for a serial killer.