Is it possible to find justice in a town where the people in power are the ones suspected of the crime? Showtime's new documentary series Murder in the Bayou aims to explore how a series of unsolved murders — the Jennings 8, also called the Jeff Davis 8 — leads to the revelation that the true criminals in town may just be the law enforcement and government officials themselves. It's a case so unbelievable that all the Jennings 8 theories agree — something incredibly shady went down in Jefferson Davis Parish, Lousiana.
Based on author Ethan Brown's book Murder In The Bayou (which began as a 2014 Medium post), the five-part docu-series investigates the unsolved murders of eight sex workers whose bodies were discovered between 2005 and 2009 in drainage canals and on back roads in and around the town of Jennings in Jefferson Davis Parish. In examining the lives of the young victims — and the violent sex and drug trade they were a part of — the series uncovers the secrets of a troubled town.
When it comes to unsolved murders, usually you can find different and wild conspiracy theories online about who the perpetrators are, how they did it, and why. The Jennings 8 murders are unusual though in that arm chair detectives and Brown himself, that it was corrupt cops who covered up the deaths and made it impossible for the women to get justice.
This suspicion is built into one of the earliest reports of the murders, a 2010 New York Times article entitled "8 Deaths in a Small Town, and Much Unease." Writer Campbell Robertson found that in 2007, the Jennings chief of detectives made a deal to buy a pickup truck from an inmate. A witness later said she saw one of the murder victims in that same truck on the day of her disappearance. But by that point, the detective had already washed and resold the truck. So the detective was taken off the investigation, but then moved over to supervise the evidence room for the entire office.
One user theory is that either the cops have to be involved in the murders, or the cops are just plain incompetent: "When you look at unsolved cases usually what makes this difficult is that there is no connection between perpetrator and victim. The fact that the victims all knew each other very much suggests that they knew their murderer."
Another Reddit user wrote that they believe its "drug dealers/gangs cleaning up loose lips" but that it's possible that corrupt cops in Jennings were also "notifying the dealers who the snitches were."
Another user confirmed they're pretty sure cops were involved in some way: "I live in Louisiana, not to [sic] far from Jeff [sic]. Everyone hear [sic] is pretty damn sure LE [law enforcement] is involved."
That cops willfully mishandled or covered up evidence is something that comes up in Brown's article as well. One of the main suspects that he names is Frankie Richard, a 58-year-old oil-rig worker turned strip-club owner. Brown reports that all but one of the victims was associated with Richard, and he was briefly charged in one of the killings. The charges were dropped though after witnesses provided conflicting statements, and a key piece of physical evidence was mysteriously mishandled. In the New York Times article, Sheriff Ricky Edwards also claimed it couldn't have been Richard because he was "in rehab when one of the victims died."
Disturbing coincidences like this abound in the case. Brown writes that two other men—Byron Chad Jones and Lawrence Nixon —were implicated by several witnesses, but were ultimately let go because the sheriff’s office did not test the alleged crime scene until a full 15 months after the murder. By then, of course, they found no traces of blood or evidence.
Most worryingly, Brown found that many of the Jeff Davis 8 women who provided information to law enforcement about the other victim then later turned up dead themselves. When Brown asked Sheriff Edwards about this, Brown said that Edwards "stammered a non-denial." “I wouldn't respond," Edwards told Brown. "I won’t comment on it.”
To this day the Jennings 8 have still not found justice. Unfortunately, this is very clearly one of those cases where reality is likely worse than any fiction that theorists can cook up.