Grisly account of unsolved murders in a small Louisiana town.
New Orleans–based investigative reporter Brown (Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder that Rocked New Orleans, 2009, etc.) spent two years unraveling the stories behind the impoverished, addicted sex workers murdered in hardscrabble Jennings, Louisiana. While media and police inflated fears of a serial killer, the author argues the murders resulted from collusion between corrupt law enforcement and drug dealers, seeking to punish the women for informing. “It should have been obvious all along,” he writes, “that the Jeff Davis 8 killings were not the handiwork of a serial killer…[since they] all knew one another intimately.” Brown focuses on Frankie Richard, an aging pimp whom the author interviewed extensively; although Richard proclaims his innocence, Brown documents connections among him, the victims, and cops who conveniently mishandled evidence against him. His portrait of law enforcement is damning, identifying powerful officials “who were accustomed to maintaining inappropriately intimate connections with those on the wrong side of the law.” Although a task force was launched in response to public anger, Brown accuses them of ineptitude and misconduct; in one startling example, an investigator bought, cleaned, and resold a truck that may have been used in one murder. The author views these seamy details as congruent with a culture of police violence and a regional underground of drugs and criminality that treats such women as disposable; distressingly, the victims themselves seemed to concur, with the mother of one noting, “I think she could feel that they were closing in on her.” Brown’s writing is clear and approachable, and his research is meticulous, even as locals grew hostile toward his investigation (his final chapters argue connections to political figures beyond Jennings). Although he presents few concrete answers to these mysteries, readers will be shaken by the unpleasant implications of a narrative bearing similarities to the first season of True Detective.
Compulsively readable true crime provoking questions about policing, poverty, and the ritualized brutality of the rural South.