Loretta Chaisson Lewis, 28, was the first to die. She was reported missing on May 17, 2005. Three days later, fishermen found her body floating in a canal off Highway 26 in Jennings, Louisiana.
Her father, Thomas Lewis, recently posted a plea on a Web site established in September by the Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff’s Office to draw attention to the killing of his daughter and the deaths of seven other women in the area. Police say the slayings may be linked. “We love and miss her,” the father’s message said. “She was a loving mother, wife and daughter. If you have any information about her death, please let someone know.” There have been eight killings in four years in a small town that averages one homicide a year. The victims’ bodies were dumped on the outskirts of Jennings — population 10,546 — west of Lafayette, Louisiana. Townspeople are perplexed. They’re asking themselves, “Is there a serial killer among us” That seems likely, authorities say. “Based on an analysis of the investigation thus far, we believe the homicides may be linked to a common offender,” Sheriff Ricky Edwards said in a recent news release. The victims ranged in age from 17 to 30 and had similar lifestyles. They were drug abusers who in some cases resorted to prostitution, “trading sex for drugs,” Edwards said. The throats of two of the victims were slit and the others died “from some sort of asphyxiation, according to the coroner’s office,” he said. The bodies of all but two of the victims were either nude or partially nude, the sheriff said, but the coroner’s office has not determined whether any were sexually assaulted. One month after Lewis’ death, the body of Ernestine Patterson, 30, was found in a drainage canal. Two young women were killed in 2007, Kristen Lopez, 21, and Whitnei Dubois, 26. Mike Dubois, Whitnei’s brother, criticized the slow pace of the investigation. “How can there not be anything” he asked. “I want justice, not just for my family, but for the families of all the girls. We live in fear that someone else is going to get killed.” But Edwards said his department and investigators from the neighboring parishes of Acadia and Calcasieu, the state attorney general’s office, the Louisiana State Police and the FBI are doing everything they can. “This investigation is intense,” he said. “We are following up on all leads. I assure you that we are working tirelessly to solve these murders.” In 2008, the bodies of three women were found: Laconia “Muggy” Brown, 23; Brittney Gary, the youngest victim at age 17; and Crystal Shay Zeno, 24. Zeno’s mother, Sarah Benoit, posted this message on the Sheriff Department’s Web site: “How beautiful you are. Your smile is forever a reminder of how special you are. It has almost been a year, but it seems like yesterday that you were taken from us. If anyone has any information on my daughter’s death, please come forward. Without closure, not knowing who could have done this is very frightening. I pray every day that God will give the task force what they need to solve these cases.” In the most recent case, the body of Necole Guillory, 26, was found in Acadia Parish, off Interstate 10, in August. Edwards believes this represented a change in the killer’s modus operandi. The bodies of all the previous victims were left on the side of smaller, rural roads. “It’s likely whoever’s responsible changed behavior because of increased attention in the public and the media,” he said. Investigators think the offender has significant ties to Jefferson Davis Parish and is known to its residents, because he has demonstrated a strong familiarity with the area, Edwards said. Of the victims, the sheriff said, “All of these young ladies had substance abuse problems and would go anywhere to fulfill their addictions.” But he said he stopped referring to their “high-risk lifestyle” after the family of one of the victims expressed outrage and accused his department of not caring about the women. “Jennings and Jefferson Davis Parish is hurting and grieving the deaths of eight women since 2005,” the sheriff said. “The investigative team continues to pray for Loretta, Ernestine, Kristen, Whitnei, [Laconia] ‘Muggy,’ [Crystal] Shay, Brittney, and Necole and your families.” He encouraged anyone with information to visit the site, www.jeffdaviscrimes.net, or contact the task force at 337-824-6662. In the meantime, the families continue to wait for news. Benoit, Zeno’s mother, has distributed more than 1,200 fliers in the community urging everyone to attend an October 17 prayer vigil at Lake Arthur. “It’s called Community United in Prayer,” she said. “Everyone is invited to pray for the victims and their families. It’s a healing for our community.” “We try to shoulder each other up,” said Dubois, Whitnei’s brother. “It’s not the time to be quiet. It’s time to say ‘enough is enough.’ ”