Last week, we told you about Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8?, the new book by investigative reporter Ethan Brown on the “real life True Detective” case that drew lots of attention in 2014 following the publication of a Medium piece by Brown. The book explores the unsolved murders of eight sex workers who were all killed in Jennings, a town of about 10,000 that resides in Jeff Davis Parish in southwest Louisiana, between 2005 and 2009. The murdered women — who all plied their trade out of the same roadside motel, the Boudreaux Inn — have come to be known as the Jeff Davis 8. Local authorities originally pushed the theory that the murders were the work of a single serial killer, but Brown’s five-year investigation reveals that something far more sinister may be at play.
As we noted last week, “the police incompetence and misconduct meticulously outlined by Brown… are downright staggering, even knowing what we know today about how pervasive police corruption is in some parts of the U.S., to the point where it feels as though Jennings, Louisiana isn’t a place that could possibly exist in the United States of America in 2016. It comes off as the type of depraved, sordid, unsettling place you’re more likely to find in a third-world country ruled by a dictator.” Additionally, Murder in the Bayou reveals that the Boudreaux Inn was run for years by Martin “Big G” Guillory, a member of Rep. Charles Boustany’s congressional staff, and alleges that Boustany, who’s currently running for Senate, himself was a client of some of the murdered sex workers. Boustany has denied the allegations in the book through his spokesperson, and yesterday his wife publicly defended him in an email to supporters.
“He’s a good man, a loving husband, and an incredible father to our two children,” Bridget Boustany says in the email. She went on to allege that Brown’s book is the work of her husband’s political opponents, charging that “Charles’ opponents have resorted to lies about him,” adding that the explosive details in Murder in the Bayou are nothing more than “false attacks aimed at bringing down a candidate who threatens to take the lead and win the race for U.S. Senate.” In response to Bridget Boustany’s email, Brown said, “I stand by what I reported in my book.”
Recently, we sat down with Ethan Brown — a former New York Magazine staff writer who now also works as a private investigator — to discuss Murder in the Bayou and how he first learned of the Jeff Davis 8 case and became captivated enough by it to devote five years of his life to investigating it. Brown also details how he essentially accidentally stumbled upon the connection to Rep. Boustany detailed in the book.
How did you first become aware of the Jeff Davis 8 case and when did your fascination with it start? You obviously dove in head first and devoted a few years of your life to it.
So, the origins of the story, or my interest in the story, begin in the summer of 2011. I became professionally friendly with a guy named Kirk Menard, a licensed P.I. who had done some work on the case. I think Kirk had done some sporadic pro bono work on the case on behalf of one of the victim’s families. Anyway, I became professionally friendly with Kirk and went out there to Jeff Davis Parish at his invitation in the summer of 2011. Actually spent about a week out there. I did not have any idea what I was doing out there other than the case seemed interesting.
What were you doing at the time?
My wife and I had just had our son. I was working at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center. I was staff investigator there. I had accrued vacation time, some time off, and I said, “I’ll just…”
So you used your vacation time, your time off, to go poke around in murder cases in Jennings, Louisiana?
[Laughs.] Yes. Actually, you know, I went with nothing really in mind other than meeting people. I rode around with Kirk and met people. Did some more reading about the case; Campbell Robertson at the New York Times had reported on it a bit. Here’s the actual hook of the entire thing for me: I was riding around one night with Kirk. This was like July of 2011, same trip. First trip there. We were on Hobart Street in south Jennings and I remember this very well. There was an odd guy named Bowlegs that Kirk introduced me to who was hobbling around Hobart Street. He dated at least two of the Jeff Davis 8 victims. I met him around sunset one night in early or mid July and I vividly remember meeting the guy because he was a character. He was a hobbly, south Jennings hustler guy, right?
It was just a funny — an odd little meeting, even for Jennings. A good example of the weird culture of the area. These odd white dudes that are like, you know, street hustlers, little white dude gangsters, basically, you know? He was one of them. I was introduced to him by Kirk. Said hello. Went back to my hotel that night. The next morning very early I got a call from Kirk that Bowlegs had been murdered.
I had just met him hours earlier. That had never happened to me, ever. In all of my time writing about crime or working as an investigator. I’d never met somebody who was murdered hours later. So that in itself was fascinating.
Then Kirk suggested we meet up at the crime scene, which was a very, very fresh crime scene. We meet at the crime scene and I’ll never forget it. I wrote about it a little bit in the book. There were multiple people going in and out of the crime scene. Removing items out of the crime scene. There was no crime scene tape. There were no cops around. It was mind-blowingly strange. Now, number one it’s a murder case, obviously. Number two the guy was connected to the Jeff Davis 8. And it’s a free-for-all at the crime scene. I just thought, “My God, what on Earth is going on in this Parish?” Then that afternoon I met with a bunch of people, including cops, former cops. They said to me, I don’t want to quote them exactly because this was five years ago, so I’ll paraphrase: “Welcome to Jeff Davis Parish. I’m sure you’ve never seen anything like this in your life.” I said, “Right.”
And you’re someone who’s devoted a good part of your life to investigating crimes…
I have never seen anything like this in my life. That was the hook for the story, honestly, this one murder.