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Louisiana Police Hunt Elusive Serial Killer

Mar 4, 2010 – 7:23 PM
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David Lohr

David Lohr Senior Crime Reporter

(March 4) -- Investigators in southwestern Louisiana have been hunting for a serial killer blamed for the deaths of at least eight women in the past five years.

Despite the formation of a task force, the involvement of a private investigator and the utilization of a world-renowned criminal profiler, the case remains unsolved and the killer could strike again at any time.

"There are investigators from several different local, state and federal agencies putting their time and energies into following up on new leads, reviewing and revisiting old leads, and utilizing both old and new technologies," Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff Ricky Edwards told AOL News. "We are committed to finding justice for our victims."
Murder victims from Jefferson Davis Parish, La., Ernestine Daniels Patterson, Kristen E. Gary Lopez, Whitnei Charlene Dubois, Necole Jean Guillory, Crystal Shay Benoit Zeno, and Laconia Shontell Brown,
JDSO Multi-Agency Investigative Team
These six women are among eight victims that police believe were slain by the same serial killer in southwestern Louisiana. Clockwise from top left are Ernestine Daniels Patterson, Kristen E. Gary Lopez, Whitnei Charlene Dubois, Necole Jean Guillory, Crystal Shay Benoit Zeno, and Laconia Shontell Brown.

At least one victim was asphyxiated and two appeared to have had their throats cut. Authorities were not able to determine the cause of death in many of the cases.

As in most serial killings, the victims all shared similarities and many had high-risk lifestyles involving substance abuse and prostitution, investigators said.

"If you look at any city in the U.S. that has high incidences of prostitution, drug addiction, homeless people, runaways, etc., it is fertile ground for violent offenders," John Douglas, a retired FBI agent who specialized in criminal profiling, told AOL News.

"It's a low-risk crime for the offender because the offender does not have to search very hard to find a vulnerable victim. The victims, in fact, are risking their personal safety when they approach unknown people because of their desperate need for money, food, and/or drugs," he said.

The victims are:
  • Loretta Lynn Chaisson Lewis, 28, was found on May 20, 2005, floating face down near a pump station in the east fork of the Grand Marais Canal. Lewis' body was in an advanced state of decomposition and the coroner was unable to determine a cause of death. She was last seen three days before the discovery of her body.
  • Ernestine Marie Daniels Patterson, 29, was found on June 18, 2005, floating in a drainage canal roughly six miles from where Lewis' body was found. During an autopsy, the medical examiner discovered several lacerations on Patterson's neck, suggesting her throat had been cut. She was last seen two days before her body was discovered.
  • Kristen Elizabeth Gary Lopez, 21, was found on March 18, 2007, floating in the Petitjean Canal. The medical examiner was unable to determine how Lopez died. She had been missing for 13 days before the discovery of her body.
  • Whitnei Charlene Dubois, 26, was found dead on May 12, 2007, on a rural road south of Jennings, the parish seat. The coroner was unable to determine a cause of death. She was last seen the week before the discovery of her body.
  • Laconia Shontell "Muggy" Brown, 23, was found dead on May 28, 2008, lying in the middle of East Racca Road, located on the edge of the parish border, not far from a police shooting range. Brown's throat had been cut and her body was doused with bleach. She reportedly had been seen just hours before her death.
  • Crystal Shay Benoit Zeno, 23, was found dead on Sept. 11, 2008, in a dry canal southeast of Jennings on Lacour Road. The coroner was unable to determine a cause of death. She had been missing since Aug. 29, 2008.
  • Brittney Ann Gary, 17, was found dead on Nov. 15, 2008, near Keystone Road, roughly three miles from where Lewis was found. Authorities have not commented on a cause of death. She was last seen on Nov. 2, 2008.
  • Necole Jean Guillory, 26, was found dead on Aug. 19, 2009, along Interstate 10 in Acadia Parish. Acadia Parish Coroner Mark Dawson said asphyxiation was a cause of death. Guillory was known to frequent the same places as the other seven victims. She was last seen three days before the discovery of her body.
The second victim, Patterson, worked with Gary's mother at a fast-food restaurant. The third victim, Lopez, was Gary's cousin. The fifth victim, Brown, was Gary's best friend.

Sheriff Edwards asked criminal investigative psychologist Maurice Godwin to develop a geographical profile on the slayings. Godwin said his research verified that all eight women were victims of a single serial killer.

"Although evidence linking the victims is sparse, due to geography, I believe the murders have been carried out by one individual and are indeed linked," Godwin told AOL News. "Of course, there could be more victims who have not been discovered yet."

And he said it's likely the killer will strike again.

"If you take a look at the time frame of the killings, you will notice that there are huge gaps between each of the murders, and this is what is going on now. The killer has not stopped -- [he is] just out of town," Godwin said.

Edwards won't comment on the status of the investigation or any possible suspects.

"Because of our small community and the relations in the community, it is of the utmost importance that we hold whatever evidence, facts and information gleaned from interviews in the strictest of confidence," Edwards said.

Some of the victims' family members banded together to hire Kirk Menard, a private investigator from Egan, La. Menard's stepfather is the brother of Richard E. Hickock, one of the men responsible for the Clutter family murders profiled in Truman Capote's 1966 true crime book "In Cold Blood."

"[My involvement] started with one family calling me around late October 2008," Menard told AOL News. "I declined to accept the case. The family kept calling; then more families kept calling. After continuous declining to accept the case, I accepted when the families called in sequence."

Since getting involved in the case, Menard says he has uncovered hundreds of leads and tips, all of which he has turned over to the task force. He has also been secretly videotaping women in the area, in hopes of capturing one of them on film getting into a vehicle with the perpetrator. He said he managed to capture video of Guillory two months before her death, but it 's unclear whether the video contains any evidence.

Menard said he is looking into similar unsolved crimes to see if there may be a connection.

"There are currently 14 to 15 unsolved homicides in Jefferson Davis Parish, besides the [eight] homicides that are believed connected," Menard said. "We believe that a recent Moss Bluff, La., homicide may be connected because the victim had basically the same characteristics as the Jefferson Davis Parish victims, so we are not ruling that out."

Menard believes the serial killer has close ties to the area.

"We believe it is a person that the victims believed they could trust," Menard said. "We believe it's someone that watches and waits for an opportunity to act."

Despite all the "what ifs" and "maybes" in the case, Menard said he believes the killer will ultimately be brought to justice.

"We have hope that these cases will be solved, and we believe that someone knows something, and we offer anyone protection if they have viable information that will lead to an arrest of the person or persons responsible. All we have at this time is hope."

Godwin agrees.

"Yes, [the cases will be solved] but not directly by any police investigative work. Rather, it will be a member of the public that will come forward with information on this case," he said.
Filed under: Nation, Crime, Only On Sphere
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