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Jennings Serial Killer – A Full Report

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

You don't know who you can trust anymore...

These were some of the last words Brittany Ann Gary said to her mother before she went missing.

"They can be your friend," the 17 year-old girl had said, "You just never know."

On November 15, 2008, Brittany's decomposing body was found on Keystone Road just off Hwy. 1126 in Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana.  The teen had been missing since November 2; last seen on a surveillance video at a local Family Dollar Store.

Brittany had good reason to be mistrustful.  She had good reason to fear her friends were not who they said they were.  Brittany's cousin, Kristen Lopez, had disappeared in March of 2007 and her best friend, LaConia "Muggy" Brown, had gone missing that same May.  Both young women, 21 and 23 respectively, had later been found murdered - their bodies dumped in rural areas and left to nature's whim.

The three of them hailed from a small town in southwest Louisiana known as Jennings; the parish seat of Jefferson Davis Parish.  The "city", if it can be truly called that, is just over a scant 10 miles in length and is comprised of only around 11,400 citizens.  The railroad - which runs straight through and divides the area into "north" and "south" portions - was laid down in 1880 by railroad contractor, Jennings McComb, for whom the city is named.  Brittany, Kristen, and Muggy lived on what is known as (yet not acknowledged by the local custodians of law and government as) the "south side" of that same railroad track.

From Jennings and, also, hailing from the "south side of the tracks" were Crystal Benoit, Whitnei Dubois, Ernestine Patterson, and Loretta Chaisson.  Like Muggy and Kristen, just as Brittany a month ago, these women disappeared suddenly.  Some time later they, too, were found dumped in a canal or on a gravel road; their bodies too badly decomposed by the harsh Louisiana elements and abundant wildlife to reveal any evidence of exactly what had happened to them or who had done it.

The former address of these murder victims is a detail that is, unfortunately, essential to understanding how and why the discovery of young Brittany's body - being the seventh such victim to be found in similar circumstances - has local law enforcement still reluctant to call their deaths the work of a singular serial killer.  And, also, why seven bright, young lives so brutally snuffed out has - to date - received little to no media attention.

Everyone cares about the dead girls.

Mayor Terry Duhon assures the public that they care about these young women, who had their lives so viciously taken, and their suffering families, whose lives have been forever ruined.  They care about "the dead girls", he says.  There is not cause for alarm, though, he assures an anxious public; these killings are "only being targeted to the substance abuse world".

The victims have been said to have lived a "high-risk lifestyle"; a term bantered about by local law enforcement and even the media.  Drugs and possibly prostitution were facets of their daily lives.  It was not who they were, but it was a part of how they lived.  Murder was not the only fate these unfortunate life choices brought upon these young women; after a terrible death, each must now suffer pillory.

Pillory - laying one open to public ridicule and/or scorn - may be a fate worse than death.  It tarnishes the image of the deceased; it leaves a permanent, negative mark on their existence.  People, other than those closest to them, may not remember the bright, loving person each of these once were; they will instead be remembered as "druggies" and "whores".

The "good" people of Jennings, Louisiana - those on the "north side" of the tracks - have naught to fear Mayor Duhon assures them.  The local law enforcement agrees.  Live a "clean" life, and you won't put yourself into a position to be brutally murdered.  As Parish Sheriff Ricky Edwards cautions:

"Drugs and prostitution are both illegal. If you are living that lifestyle, you need to get out of it and not put yourself in danger, even with someone you know."

It would seem - from their public statements - that local government and law enforcement believe, in some small, niggling way in the back of their mind, that these women came to this evil end due to their own bad judgments.  That, had they not been using drugs or selling their bodies, they would not have ended up dumped on the side of the road like yesterday's trash.

Let me remind you all that no one can predict when a serial killer will strike, or who he will choose as his next victim.  Serial killers are just as prone to kill men, children, young women, and housewives as they are people that live on the "wrong side of the tracks".  A "high-risk lifestyle" may be a dangerous one to live; it doesn't, however, mean you are bait for a mass murderer.

It would appear, under heat from the media and public, that Jeff Davis Parish authorities are taking an interest in these "high-risk lifestyle" "dead girls".  The FBI has been called in; experts are on the case.  Perhaps if they had been doing so sooner, young Brittany would still be alive.

It will happen again.

The distraught family of Whitnei Dubois warned us all.  They were frustrated with a lack of answers as to what had happened to their dear Whitnei.  They searched for the words to explain to her 5 year-old daughter that she wasn't coming home ever again.  Unsure how else to get help, they went to the media to tell their story.

Brittany Dubois, Whitnei's sister, told them:

If they don't find out what happened, it's going to continue to happen.

Brittany Gary was obviously aware of this when she told her mother she worried about being able to trust her friends; she "was scared" her mother has said.  Brittany knew all of the victims, was related to and very close to two of them, and - perhaps more importantly - the Gary family had connections to all of them.  Could Brittany have been murdered because she knew too much?

LaConia "Muggy" Brown knew something, too.

She knew her time had come.

Muggy's sister - Kendra - says Muggy feared for her life days before she went missing.

"She knew her time had come," Kendra Brown told a local news station after her sister's lifeless body was identified by tattoos once inked into her skin.

Muggy Brown was last seen at her grandmother's house.  Hours later her body was found near a rural police shooting range on the edge of Jennings's city limits.  A city police officer found the young woman dumped on East Racca Road - her mutilated body doused in bleach.

A familiar face?

Muggy's death was different.  Though reports on nearly all of the victims have been inconclusive due to advanced stages of decomp, Muggy's body was nearly still warm when it was found.  Did the killer want her found sooner?  Why leave her within miles of a known police shooting range?  Was he taunting police, or was this a message to other young women in the area who knew too much?

Jennings - as we've already concluded - is a small town.  Splitting it in half and looking at only the "south" side makes it even smaller.  The "high risk" lifestyles these young woman are said to have led put them running in the same circles in a very small radius.  It is un-doubtable that they, at the very least, knew of one another.  It isn't presumptuous to assume that they, at least, had a passing acquaintance with each other.

In fact, we do know that three of the victims were closely related.

Muggy Brown and Brittany Gary were best friends.  Muggy, murdered and quickly disposed of in an obvious place, was killed in late May.  She was killed only weeks after Whitnei Dubois was found on a rural road south of Jennings; Whitnei's was the first body to be left on a road instead of in canal.

In November, Brittany - scared for her life and after telling her mother you could not trust even people you knew - was taken.  In a grassy field off Keystone Road, and in the same general area as the other young women had been found, Brittany's young body was discovered.

Brittany had had an intimate connection to these murders since 2007, when in March of that year her first cousin, Kristen Elizabeth Gary Lopez, became the third victim.  Kristen, only 21 years-old, was last seen by her family on March 8; ten days later her body was found in the Petitjean Canal.

Furthermore, Ernestine Patterson, the second victim, was an employee at a local Wendy's managed by none other than Teresa Gary; Brittany Gary's mother.  Whether Ernestine and Brittany actually knew one another is anyone's guess, but the connection is nonetheless noteworthy.

No connection.

Despite the seemingly obvious connections of the victims, the small radius of body drops, the exact same method of murder in the two cases where cause of death could be determined (slit throat), local law enforcement have been more than reluctant to dub these cases the work of one person.

Parish Sheriff Ricky Edwards will, however, assent that there is one connection:

We believe the person is not randomly picking his victims. They are all linked by the high-risks (sic) lifestyles in which they have been involved in.

Obviously there are many more connections than this, though it appears local law enforcement are having a bit of trouble moving past the impression that these women are somehow to blame for their own murders.

While admitting this may be the work of one "the person", police are still loathe to claim they have a "serial killer" on their hands; detectives insist they are "ruling nothing out", but continue to tell the media they "don't have enough evidence" to link these murders to a lone murderer.

The killer knows a thing or two about covering his tracks.  All of his victims were left exposed to the Louisiana elements; the early ones - even more detrimentally - left in water.  The rapid decomposition left little in the way of evidence; police claim they were unable to determine a cause of death in most of the cases.  Crystal Shay Benoit's battered body, found September 11 of this year in a dry canal southeast of Jennings, was so badly decomposed that it took two months to identify her.  If a cause of death was found, it has not been released to the public.

The same holds true for all of the women, excepting Muggy Brown and Ernestine Marie Daniel Patterson, who was found June 18, 2005 in a canal six miles away from the first victim; Loretta Lynn Chaisson, had been killed a month earlier.  Ernestine and Muggy were the only two black victims, and reports I have gathered indicate both suffered death via a slit throat.  Method of murder for the other victims has either been inconclusive or not released to the public.

Local law enforcement's reluctance to claim a serial killer is not to say that the murders have been ignored.  Though they may take crime on the south side of the tracks a little less seriously, efforts have been made to catch the killer(s).

Byron Chad Jones and Lawrence Nixon were originally indicted in 2006 for the death of Ernestine Patterson; charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence.  I have been unable to find much more information on this or the two men.

The last person to see Kristen Lopez alive was 32 year-old Tracee Lynn Chaisson (if there is a relation to victim Loretta Lynn Chaisson, I have not yet found it though I believe there may be).  Tracee called and reported Kristen missing, and was later arrested as "accessory after the fact" for her murder.

It began when Frankie Richard, 51, and his niece, Hannah Conner, 22, of Jennings were arrested for Kristen's murder in May 2007.  The 2nd degree murder charges were later dropped for both after Tracee gave conflicting statements to the police; however, Richard and Conner - uncle and niece - were then being looked at for the three previous murders; those of Loretta Chaisson, Ernestine Patterson, and Whitnei Dubois. At the time, investigators said the names of Frankie Richard and Hannah Conner "have come up often in this investigation".

All have since been released and charges dropped, and I have been able to find little to nothing on them since.

Diligence or Apathy?

As Jennings Daily News Assistant Editor Scott Lewis wrote:

There's no moral outrage. There's no sense of 'What can we do to stop this?' thrumming like a live wire through our community.

Hits to this blog - 20-40/day - searching for information on the "Jennings serial killer" and related queries give me hope that Lewis is wrong; at least on a statewide level.  People want answers; they care about what is happening.  I could be wrong, much to my - and I am sure Scott Lewis's - chagrin.  Perhaps it is just curiosity, but I want to believe that it is moral outrage, anger, and sympathy that fuels the search queries I see for the individual victims' names.

Echoing the sentiment was local resident and business owner, Ardon Jay, when he was interviewed for an informative article on the case by The Daily Advertiser.  After stating his belief that the case "would have been solved" if the girls had hailed from the north side of the tracks, he added:

Just because these aren't rich girls and they did drugs and sold their bodies doesn't mean they're not somebody's daughter.

Though local law enforcement, and more, are working the case, the general public still get the impression that their drive to solve the murders is less than if the victims had been middle-class, white women.  Whether that assumption be true or false, it is the feeling the public has and the vibe they have been getting. Part of the problem, admits Sheriff Ricky Edwards, is a lack of high-end paraphernalia and equipment:

I wish we could wave the magic wand and have all of those resources that are shown on TV available to us - that don't exist, some of them - at our disposal, but we don't.

According to The Daily Advertiser, though, the law is very much devoted to solving the cases, if not avenging the murdered women:

Edwards insists that his office aggressively follows tips. Five agencies outside of the Sheriff's Office have involved themselves in the investigation - the Jennings Police Department, Louisiana State Police, Federal Bureau of Investigations, Calcasieu Crime Lab and Calcasieu and Acadia sheriff's offices. Most of them became involved with the case after the second death.

Stephen Kartsimas and Steven Reed, two Rapides Parish sheriff's detectives, have also been noted as closely following the case and attempting to link it - if possible - to similar cold cases in their area.  According to the detective, six women's bodies have been found in their area (between Lake Charles and Lafayette) since 2005; the latest just this past September.

Yet there is another, more personal, reason for getting involved:  Detective Kartsimas is on a personal quest to identify a "Jane Doe" whose body was found off I-49 near the Lena exit 11 years ago and to catch her killer.  The Jennings area killings definitely "raise a red flag" for Det. Kartsimas, and he - along with Detective Reed, head of the new Cold Case Task Force - have asked the Rapides Parish Sheriff's office to make contact with Jefferson Davis Parish officials.

Other items of interest...

In all of the dozens upon dozens of articles, small pieces, message board discussions, and blurbs I have been able to dig up online about this case and the victims, there have been a few other items of interest that gave me pause.  I bookmarked them each and have returned to them many times, wondering how they fit in to the pattern of this mystery.

Though these only came up once, maybe twice, in everything I have read, I personally believe there is something to this information.  Naturally, I could be completely off-base, but felt it should be included here so that those searching for information could draw their own conclusions.

The Gary Family Connection -- It would seem that the Garys have a connection to all of the victims.  Though I read this actual statement in a few places, I have only found a few definite connections:

  • Kristen Gary Lopez was the latest victim, Brittany Gary's, first cousin
  • LaConia "Muggy" Brown was the latest victim, Brittany Gary's, best friend
  • Ernestine Patterson was an employee at Wendy's, where she worked under Teresa Gary - Brittany Gary's mother

Teresa Gary has said that all of the victims were connected to her family "in some way", and that the Garys knew all of them.

The Truck -- Posted on a message board, I found a copy of an article written in November 2007  (I was unable to find the original), that talked about a truck that may have been used during the murder of Kristen Gary Lopez in March of that year.  Whether this information is still valid - considering the charges against Kristen's possible murderers have been dropped - I cannot say.  Still, since it involves this case, I am including it.

As posted on the Websleuths message board by user "capoly":

Detective cleared
Truck he purchased from inmate linked to March slaying
Author: DORIS MARICLE; AMERICAN PRESS
November 27, 2007

JENNINGS - A veteran Jeff Davis Parish sheriff's detective has been cleared of wrongdoing in connection with his purchase of a pickup truck that may have been involved in the slaying of a local woman.

The finding follows a seven-month state police investigation of Detective Warren Gary's purchase of the truck from an inmate. ..............

Gary bought the truck from Connie Siler, who had been arrested on worthless-check charges, after she was released from jail on March 30............

State police investigators were unable to get a statement from Siler, who is now in Yuba City, Calif., according to the report. .........

Siler was interviewed as a "person of interest" in three of the four slayings of young women whose bodies have been found dumped in rural parts of the parish over the last two years. .......

Gary told investigators he bought the truck for $9,000, the amount he had available without having to take out a loan. He later sold the truck for $15,000 to a grant writer - the ex-wife of a state trooper in Lake Charles - making a $6,500 profit. ........

Cassidy said it was not until after the transaction and Gary's resale of the truck that authorities learned from a witness that the truck may have been involved in the death of Kristen Elizabeth Gary Lopez in March. A forensic exam of the vehicle was made, at which time potential evidence was retrieved from the truck. Lab results are still pending, he said.

Other Notes -- These are just a few notes I jotted down while doing my research; some of you may find them of interest or be able to connect dots that have eluded me.

  • After Chaisson, "some clothes" were missing from each of the bodies; particular articles of clothing  (indicating a fetish) were missing from the partially-nude bodies (obviously the nude bodies had nothing on them).  What this/these item(s) were has not been released to the public, though I have read on certain discussions that all of the victims' shoes were missing
  • All but one were in "advanced stages of decomp"; the one found w/in hours of death (Brown) had been doused with bleach
  • All had "elevated levels" of cocaine & alcohol in their systems
  • Most autopsies were ruled "inconclusive"
  • All bodies dumped in rural but public (easily found/well-known) locations
  • All of the victims grew up within blocks of one another
  • Gary & Lopez were cousins
  • Gary’s body was the 7th body to turn up yet the 5th to turn up in 2-3 mile radius within the last 3 years
  • The first 3 bodies were discovered in canals

The Victims.

As I get more information, I will add it.  The main point of this post - other than providing a concise place for information on all that has happened to date concerning this case - is to bring attention to the young women who were murdered.  They deserve to be remembered; they deserve to be vindicated.  Nothing they ever did caused them to deserve this; nothing they did made them responsible for their own deaths - their lives were viciously, unfairly ripped from them and their loved ones must pay the cost.  Remember them, honor them, and, yes, vindicate them.

I wish I could give you more information on these women other than tidbits of information on the last moments of their life.  If anyone who knows any of the victims would like to contribute something, I would be more than eager to hear from you.  Please give me something more to write about these young women; I want to know about their lives and not just focus on their deaths.  I want people to know them as people not as doped-up women living "high-risk lifestyles" and trading sex for drugs.  That is not who they were, even if - as I have said - it was a facet of their lives.

Loretta Lynn Chaisson - Three days after she went missing, 28 year-old Loretta Chaisson was found floating in the Grand Marais drainage canal.  Cause of death undetermined and/or unreleased.  Loretta's partially-nude body was found May 20, 2005.

Ernestine Marie Daniel Patterson - Ernestine was the first black victim and the first whose cause of death is known and has been released.  Her body was found just six miles from where Loretta's had been left less than a month earlier in a drainage canal off of La Hwy 122, southeast of Jennings.  29 year-old Ernestine Patterson's body was found June 18, 2005.

Kristen Elizabeth Gary Lopez -- The 21 year-old was missing for ten days before her body was found in the Petitjean Canal, just off of La Hwy 99 and 10 miles south of the town of Welsh.  Cause of death has not been determined and/or released.  Kristen Lopez was found March 8, 2007.

Whitnei Charlene Dubois -- Mother of a 5 year-old daughter, 26 year-old Whitnei was found, nude, on a lonely gravel road just three miles southeast of Jennings; near the secluded intersection of Bobby and Earl Duhon roads on May 12, 2007.  She was the first victim to be left on a rural road rather than in a canal.  A cause of death has not been given, nor has much else been released about what happened to Whitnei.  Her sisters, Brittany and Taylor, search the Internet - and occasionally post online - in their desperate search for answers.

LaConia Shontel "Muggy" Brown - Known as "Muggy" to family and friends, 23 year-old LaConia Brown was last seen by her grandmother.  Only hours later, a city police officer stumbled upon her body - nude and doused in bleach - in the middle of a gravel road on the city/parish border that led to a known police shooting range.  Her body, found on May 28, 2008, was located two miles south of where her best friend, Brittany Gary's, body would later be found.

Crystal Shay Benoit Zeno - Crystal's body was so badly decomposed by the time it was found it would be two months before the young woman could be identified.  The 24 year-old had been left in a dry canal a couple of miles southeast of Jennings.  Her cause of death is either undetermined or unreleased.

Brittany Ann Gary - The 17 year-old was described by her mother, Teresa Gary, as "a quiet but goofy girl who was easy to talk to and could get along with anyone".  The Gary family had "left to find a new life" in Texas and had stayed with relatives in Lufkin and Houston.  Whatever they were looking for they must not have found, for they returned to Jennings, Louisiana less than a week before Brittany went missing.  Brittany - who knew the other victims - was "scared" and, as she told her mother, mistrustful of people she might once have considered friends.  A walking trip to a local Family Dollar Store on November 2 to purchase minutes for her cell phone was the last anyone heard from Brittany.  Her body was found November 15, 2008 in a patch of high grass ½ mile S of LA 1126 on Keystone Road.

In closing.

I would - as mentioned - like to write more on each of the victims; to have something in print online that will come up when people search for them - something that isn't disparaging and fractional.  They deserve to be remembered as people - not just "murder victims" and certainly not as "drug addicts" or "whores"! If you can help me write a piece on each individual girl, please contact me (skatoolaki@gmail.com) and we will work out an interview via phone or email; any info provided can be done so anonymously, of course.  Thank you.

In closing, I believe all of you can agree when I say I share the desperate plea and shared concern voiced by Brittany Jones, Whitnei Dubois's sister:

We need answers and this has to stop!

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