In 2011, investigative reporter Ethan Brown grew transfixed by and began probing into eight unsolved murders that occurred in and around the small town Jennings, Louisiana between 2005 and 2009. Known as the Jeff Davis 8 (so-named for the parish where Jennings is situated), the women’s bodies surfaced in drainage canals and on desolate back roads. These murders remain unsolved, long after law enforcement arrested and cleared a few suspects, including a notorious pimp and drug dealer named Frankie Richard. Brown has been working this case for eight years, which led to a 2014 Medium article (that caused quite a stir) and his 2016 book, Murder In The Bayou. The best-seller is the launching point for Showtime’s new docuseries of the same name.
It’s worth pointing out that this case has become known as the “real life True Detective case,” given the striking similarities between the HBO series’ first season and what actually went down in Jennings. We initially interviewed Brown — who has long maintained that the evidence eliminates the possibility of a serial killer (as law enforcement has insisted) and instead suggests a sinister conspiracy — around the time of his book’s publication. His extensive findings included a tie between then-Congressman Charles Boustany and the Boudreaux Inn, an establishment run by a close Boustany associate and where all eight Jeff Davis victims turned tricks as part of the same local prostitution ring. It follows that Brown’s research also pointed toward a long-standing pattern of local law enforcement misconduct and corruption.
As a co-executive producer of the five-part docuseries (that began airing on Sept. 13), Brown was gracious enough to sit down with us again and discuss his mind-boggling time spent working the case and how the series goes even further than his book.
It seems really important to touch on the structure of this Showtime docuseries. There’s no narrator. How did that come about?
I don’t want to speak for the filmmakers, but from my perspective and likely the perspective of everyone on the team, I think, without fully speaking for them. We wanted this to be the folks in this case — the family members and the people who populate this case in Jefferson Davis Parish, really at the center of this piece. And a narrator, even with all the interviews, would really undercut that. Again, not speaking for the filmmakers, but I think they wanted a very natural kind of narrative flow, and something that would seem to be ongoing, which is the direct nature of the case. Even though this happened in 2005 and 2009, there is nothing really that’s come of it in terms of justice. It’s a very ongoing kind of case, and having a narrator would put this in the past, which is where it doesn’t belong. It’s very much in the present.
A few years ago, you told us that this case was your “slow-burn project.”
You picked the case up in 2011, and it’s still burning. All the Jeff Davis 8 murders remain unsolved, almost 15 years after the first homicide.
Did you have any inkling that this would be as much of a slow burn?
That’s a good question. I think yes, in some ways. When I started looking at this soon after pitching my editor, what was so interesting about this case, both to me and my editor, was that almost on a weekly basis, we would come back and say, “Wow. How does it happen that every time we talk, there’s another layer added to his?”
At that point, had you made the connection with then-Congressman Boustany?
No, that was years later. In the very beginnings of me looking at this, when I was pulling public records requests, we’d talk about how the folks in town were talking about a police shooting that happened with an unarmed man that occurred just before the [Jeff Davis 8] homicides began in 2005. When you hear some of these stories, there was a sense of, “Can this be true, really?” And by the way, this was the shooting of a man named Leonard Crochet in 2005 that had been turned into this monumental event that kicked off these murders. I pulled every document that I could, and I found that only Kristen Gary Lopez, Victim #3, was present when this happened. In town [talk], it had been that all eight victims were there, but the shape of that incident was still a thing. It was still true. So there are so many examples of pulling on a thread and something tumbling out. Very early on (the Medium piece wasn’t published until 2014) there was a sense of this being unending. Did I think I would still be on it in 2019? I don’t think so, but at the same time, just the threads aspect of this — pulling on one and opening up a whole world — was there from the beginning.