Ethan Brown's explosive new book, Murder in the Bayou, looks at the murdered women known as the Jeff Davis 8 in a Louisiana parish. The book details how the bodies of eight women were found in the crawfish ponds, canals and dumped on the side of the road in Jennings, a Louisiana bayou town of 10,000. Law enforcement quickly came up with a serial killer theory but Brown has discovered a web of intrigue, cover ups and closely guarded secrets surrounding their murders. I talked to him about the book, the murders, and where his work has taken him over the years.
This book and story has been in the works for a minute, right. The five years that it took me to do the book never felt stretched out or over done in any way, because the spine of the book is the requests I made to the DA's office, the sheriff's office and to the Louisiana State Police under Louisiana's public records docs, so it's kind of a state version of foray. These record requests take forever. I think the book pushes the case along somewhat I hope and I think the book humanizes the women. I first became interested in the story in the summer of 2011. I was communicating about the case via email with a private investigator who was working on the case. I decided to go out to Jeff Davis's parish to look at the case. I was there for several days during the summer of 201, meeting people and talking about the case with a number of people. When you think about this town, Jennings, where there are 10,000 people, that is tiny, so imagine for a moment eight victims dumped around a very small town over four years approximately, 2005 to 2009.
I've watched your career and you've covered a variety of different stories from street hustlers in Queens to these murders in the bayou. Generally speaking I like stories that I feel are so good that I have to really deserve them, that I have to work to get to their level. Queens Reign Supreme, the basis for that is the federal indictment of Murder, Inc., but that story is great not because it's about a federal indictment. It's a great story because it's a federal indictment that reaches back decades before to these major drug business players who really haven't been written about.
Shake the Devil Off was about an Iraq war veteran who came home from Iraq and happened to stay and not evacuate during Hurricane Katrina and he became a momentary Katrina celebrity and then had a huge downward spiral that ended in him killing his girlfriend and then himself. I'm drawn to the stories that challenge me and are going to push me to meet greatness.
Louisiana is known for its high incarceration rates. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The public defense system is in a state of collapse. They have extraordinary legal penalties for a number of things. They have something called the multi-bill, it's sort of like a three strikes you're out kind of law. Prosecutors are now charging people with second-degree murder who's given or sold somebody heroin that ends in an overdose and second-degree murder in Louisiana is life without parole sentence. The DA's office in New Orleans has a decade long history of withholding exculpatory evidence.
You can order the book here.