Red String Murder Board aka The Jennings 8

Please note that this, and all episodes of Thrice Cursed have been adapted to text by myself, and some additional ad-libbed content may have been omitted. All content within is the sole property of Thrice Cursed Podcast. Please don't plagiarise. Plagiarism sucks. Hello, I’m Rebekkah Rosewood. And this is Thrice Cursed.

First thing’s first… Thank you all for the patience you’ve had with me in regards to waiting for a new release. Mental health aside, it’s been a busy few months, and I’m really working hard to make this podcast something positive for the true crime community. As we all recently saw with the tragic murder of Gabby Petito, the over-sensationalism in true crime has become an issue. The desire to make her disappearance into almost a mystery game was so pervasive and overwhelming that I actually had to avoid the internet for a while. And I can’t even imagine how it felt, and still feels, for Gabby’s family. Even prior to Gabby, I’ve felt the need to shift things into a different perspective. So, thank you for hanging in with me while I figure out exactly what that looks and sounds like. All that aside, I’m happy to be getting back into the swing of things, and to be bringing you another unsolved case out of Louisiana.

Before I get into that though, I have a correction to make in regards to my Heavens’ta Betsy aka Gary Lee Schaefer episode. Towards the end of that episode I mentioned that Schaefer had been stabbed to death by a fellow inmate. That was incorrect. I somehow confused Gary Lee Schaefer with Gerard John Schaefer. They’d both been in prison in Florida, and I messed up. I apologize. It’s my goal to get the information right every time, but I’m only human and tend to mess up sometimes. Tracking down Gary Lee Schaefer has been difficult as hell, but the person who brought this to my attention said that according to his mother’s obituary in 2008, Schaefer was still alive and kicking. I could find nothing beyond this. I’d like to say a quick thank you to Caroline for providing me with this information and bringing it to my attention. I truly appreciate it. And if you have no clue what I’m talking about… go listen to the Heavens’ta Betsy episode. It was an absolute doozy, and my best-performing episode thus far.

Corrections aside, let’s get into it. Today, the case we’ll be diving into is… Well, it’s a lot. Seriously, I was 3 seconds from pulling out the red string and turning the wall over my bed into a murder board. And I'd like to clarify that choosing the wall space over my bed has nothing to do with preference or an actual choice, but rather everything to do with a lack of other wall space. I’m not a psychopath. Over the bed wall space is for My Chemical Romance and Gerard Way shrines ONLY. The person, or people, responsible for the crimes I’ll be discussing, on the other hand? Well… I don’t know who they are so I can’t say for sure, but they’re probably psychopaths.

Whoever is responsible for the crimes I’m about to speak of is still out there, somewhere. Maybe even in the small town where it all began. In Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana, lies the town of Jennings. Today, it’s a small town of only approximately 11,400 people. An article published November 16th, 2008 stated that Jefferson Davis Parish had a total population of 31,418 people in its entirety. Almost a third of that population resided within Jennings. And I know that I said Parish a second ago, probably getting your hopes up for some kind of cult story. Sorry to disappoint. Apparently, Louisiana has parishes rather than counties. I, too, was confused. I actually had to google what a parish was, because I thought I’d been confused about it all my life. I was not. Anyways, location-wise, Jennings is the halfway point between Houston,Texas, and New Orleans.

According to the city website, Jennings has something for everyone. And that’s true! If not exactly in the way they mean. There’s delicious food, historical buildings and museums, scenic wetlands, byways, and parks, and plenty of outdoor recreation. Unsurprisingly, however, the website leaves a lot to be discovered by the outsiders. Like with any town, there’s going to be the good parts, and the considerably less so. And I say this with absolutely no judgment. Every city has its struggles.

According to private investigator Ethan Brown, South Jennings is the poverty-stricken area of Jennings. And, as can often be said of areas with a high poverty rate, the drug and crime rates are higher. Right now, this doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the case -- cases?-- But later, it might. All that set-up behind us, let’s get into it.

On May 20th, 2005, Welsh resident Jerry Jackson made the approximately 10-mile trip to Jennings. His destination? The Grand Marais Canal, where he could drop a fishing line and catch himself some white perch. From his place up on the Canal bridge in the east fork of the Grand Marais off of Louisiana 26, Jerry stared down at the muddy water as he prepared his line. Startled, he noticed what appeared to be the shape of a human body. At first, he wasn’t entirely concerned. In an interview, he said, “It had come up on the news that someone had stole some mannequins, so I thought that one of the mannequins ended up in the water somehow.” After looking more closely, however, he realized that wasn’t the case. “I saw flies,” he said. “And mannequins don’t attract flies.” In a panic, he called 911 from his cell, where his call was transferred to the Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff’s Office. --That’s a fuckin’ mouthful I tell ya whut.

It was 11:46am when Jerry was connected to the Sheriff’s Office. Within approximately 5 minutes, a swarm of deputies and detectives arrived at the foot of the bridge. Jackson quickly sped home, fearful that he himself would be killed because of his discovery. By the time the recovery crew pulled the body from the river, it was the afternoon. The body was that of a woman. She was wearing blue jeans, blue underwear, and a short-sleeve white blouse. Her body was in a state of decomposition consistent with having spent 3 or 4 days in the drainage ditch she’d been found in. When the body was identified, the timeline was consistent. Loretta Lynn Chaisson Lewis went missing on May 17th, 2005, just 3 days before she had been found dead in the drainage ditch of a muddy river. A toxicology report revealed “high levels of drugs and alcohol” in her system, including the antidepressants Zoloft and Celexa, as well as cocaine. Her blood alcohol content measured .16, and due to the advanced state of decomp, they were unable to collect or identify any significant evidence. They were also unable to determine her cause of death, though police did suspect she asphyxiated. Aside from a small patch of blood under her scalp, there was no evidence of any additional injury.

Loretta was a mother of 2 boys. Her husband, whom she’d been separated from, said that she would call her boys every single day. It didn’t matter where she was, or what she was doing, nothing was more important to her than those boys. So when she didn’t make her daily phone call, alarm bells went off. Something was clearly wrong.

At the time of her murder Loretta had lived in the South side of Jennings with her friend Jessica Kratzer. According to Jessica, a couple of days before Loretta was found, she’d asked Jessica to walk to the bar with her. Upon arriving at the bar, Loretta’s demeanor completely changed. It was as if she’d seen something at the bar that disturbed her. At that point, Loretta turned to Jessica, handed Jessica her purse, and told her to put it “at the top of [Jessica’s] mom’s closet just in case if anything happens.” Jessica never saw Loretta again.

Loretta often resorted to sex work to make ends meet. She had a history with the Jennings police department, with multiple charges against her, though several times those charges were dropped for unknown reasons. Most of the charges were tied to sex work or drugs. According to a friend, Loretta had actually sworn she was going to leave her life of drugs and sex work behind to better take care of her children. 3 days later, she was dead.

The day after the body of Loretta Lynn Chaisson Lewis was discovered, both the Jeff Davis Sheriff’s Office, and the Daily News were bombarded with phone calls, demanding to know if there was a serial killer on the loose. Obviously, this is very bizarre. Only one body had been found. Why would anyone think this had something to do with a serial killer unless there was something they knew that the police didn’t?

Regardless of the lack of any additional victims at the time, the rumors persisted. It got to a point that Sheriff Ricky Edwards actually had to release a statement. The statement read, “We aren’t investigating any other homicides. We’re only investigating the Lewis case.”

Unfortunately, public information on the investigation into Loretta’s death is practically non-existent, at least as far as I could ascertain. Perhaps that’s because on June 18th, 2005, less than one month later, another body was found. It was the middle of the night when a group of froggers began to notice a foul smell. It wasn’t long before they discovered the body of a Black woman in the water near Louisiana 102, south of Jennings. This was only 6 miles from where Loretta’s body had been found. The body found was partially nude, and appeared to have been submerged for approximately 2 days. Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff Ricky Edwards stated, “There’s definitely obvious physical injuries. There was definitely a struggle.” Unlike Loretta, the cause of death was apparent. Her throat had been cut. And while Loretta had no evident injuries, this new victim had several defense wounds. One of her hands was severely bruised, and her face was unrecognizable. So much so, that it took 2 or 3 months to officially identify her. When asked about a possible connection between this woman and Loretta Lewis, Sheriff Edwards said it was too soon to compare the two, as so far, the only similarities were that they both were-- direct quote-- “dumped off.”

The body of the second woman was sent off to the Calcasieu Parish Coroner's office for an autopsy, where a DNA test using bone samples was performed. Through that, it was determined that the body pulled from the water belonged to Ernestine Marie Daniels Patterson, aged 29. She had gone missing 2 days prior, once again confirming the estimated timeline. Like Loretta, Ernestine was a mother. She left behind two sons, and two daughters. Also similar to Loretta, Ernestine was a sex worker. While hindsight may be 20/20, I’m starting to see a pattern here. I don’t know about you. Another similarity was the toxicology report. She too had high levels of drugs and alcohol in her system. At this point, some of the police force began to speculate that the cases were connected, but due to the difference in injuries, they didn’t immediately jump to that conclusion.

Once again, information about the search for Ernestine’s killer is sparse. Making matters worse, on August 23rd, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit, killing at least 1,836 people, and leaving 135 missing. Katrina caused a breach on the east side of the 17th street Canal levee. While this didn’t cause severe flooding within the entire parish, some of the lower-lying areas received significant water damage. People were warned not to return to the area for at least one week. Shortly after Katrina, in September 2005, Hurricane Rita hit, worsening the damages already done by Katrina. Parishes in Southwest Louisiana where Rita hit suffered flooding and wind damage, and several areas of Louisiana were without power for several weeks.

Why do I bring this up? Well, water has a nasty habit of washing away evidence. Not to mention, an inability to access some of the more lower-lying areas, such as drainage ditches or places right near bodies of water, may do quite a bit to hamper the investigation of murders where the bodies were dumped in said areas. A lack of power could interfere with the ability to maintain an ongoing investigation, and an inability to access certain roads out of town could interfere with testing of evidence. Add in the need to spread out the police force to assist with ongoing search and rescue efforts, along with all of the other things that come with hurricane relief efforts… That doesn’t leave much manpower for a murder investigation.

Once the murder investigation was able to continue, police sat down for an interview with a woman named Laconia Brown. Laconia traveled in some of the same circles as the two women, and appeared to have some insight into what may have happened. She was able to point police in the direction of her cousin, Lawrence Nixon. Nixon seemed to remain tight-lipped until the interrogating officers reminded him that he’d initially lied to them until he was made aware that his wife had spoken to authorities. Nixon’s wife Lucenda told investigators that on the night of Ernestine’s murder, Byron Chad Jones had gone to Ernestine’s and had sex with her inside while her husband, Lawrence Nixon waited outside. The two men then returned to Lucenda’s home with a bloody garbage bag containing a bloody shirt. She also stated that her husband had confessed both of their guilt to her.

Laconia also brought up a story that she’d heard when she was down by the San Francisco Grocery on Main Street. There was a story circulating that Ernestine’s death had been retaliation against her for a robbery she’d helped commit against migrant workers. According to the interrogation notes, Laconia either had, or offered no other useful information.

Following the lead she was able to give them, authorities focused in on 32-year-old Bryon Chad Jones. Prior to hurricane Katrina, Jones fled New Orleans. He evacuated to South Carolina, where he was apprehended on January 19th, 2006 for the murder of Ernestine. On January 20th, a news report was released stating that investigators were considering filing charges for other individuals involved as accessories after the fact. As of January 20th 2006, investigators still did not feel that Loretta and Ernestine were connected incidents, but “[did] not rule it out” as a possibility.

Jones was charged with second-degree murder, which was eventually changed to the lesser charge of manslaughter, to which he entered a not guilty plea in the 31st Judicial District Court. Along with Jones, Lawrence Nixon was also charged with second-degree murder. However, despite the existence of several witnesses implicating the men, the sheriff’s office dropped the ball in a major way. For some unknown reason, they failed to test the alleged crime scene until 15 months after Ernestine’s murder. By the time they finally did get around to testing the scene, it was found to have “failed to demonstrate the presence of blood.” Why the huge gap between recovering the crime scene and actually testing it? To potentially answer this question, you’ll need to know the whole story, so I’ll come back to that. Due to a lack of evidence, the case against the two men completely deteriorated. All charges were dropped, and both were released.

The cases seemed to continue this way. They were considered individual death investigations despite the similarities. And any time a potential suspect appeared to fit the bill, the evidence seemed to either disappear, or simply not exist.

Understandably so, for a good while, residents of Jefferson Davis Parish, and more specifically, Jennings, Louisiana, were becoming increasingly uneasy. Two women were dead, and police seemed no closer to catching the people who did it than the day the investigations began. Two years later, the police were still investigating the deaths. Things in Jennings seemed to almost go back to normal for the residents not directly affected by the loss of Loretta and Ernestine. People thought it was over. That is until March 6th, 2007, when 21-year-old Kristen Elizabeth Gary Lopez went missing. A renewed sense of fear descended on the residents of Jennings, Louisiana. Particularly for those that lived on the south side of the train tracks.

On March 18th, 2007, everyone’s fears were confirmed when Kristen’s nude body was pulled from the Petitjean Canal near Lake Arthur. An autopsy form dated March 20th stated that Kristen’s body was positively identified using dental records. It also stated that she had no obvious injuries, but that there were a lot of horseshoe-shaped puncture wounds, consistent with the frontal jaws of alligators. It was believed by the examiner that all injuries observed were caused by the marine life after her death. Her cause of death was unknown, and her toxicology report showed high levels of drugs and alcohol in her system.

It was at this point in the investigation that Sheriff Ricky Edwards linked the 3 women as having run with the same crowds. He also tied them together through their drug use, as well as their involvement in sex work. He released a statement that rightly infuriated most of south Jennings. “These deaths are most likely not random.” All girls lived high-risk lifestyles. He then finished off his statement with “If you’re in this lifestyle, now is the time to get out.” I’d like to just dissect that for a moment. First, the need to state that all 3 women lived high-risk lifestyles makes it sound a hell of a lot like blaming them for their own deaths. Then following that up with a call to action that’s like “hey, if you don’t want to get murdered, just stop doing all of this.” So A, gross victim blaming. And B, as if it’s THAT simple to just “leave the life.” For starters, most women don’t just instantly say “Oh I know! I’ll sell my body for money!” when they have other options. If you know someone who did or does? Hey, more power to you I’m not judging. But to assume that these women had other choices that would allow them to just leave like it’s some choice is dismissive. In addition, a drug addiction also isn’t something you can just stop, or leave. Nor is it something that you necessarily choose. Again, maybe they did, and that’s not my place to judge either. Additionally, rehab is expensive, and typically not readily available for someone who doesn’t have a lot of money. This statement, understandably, made most of South Jennings doubt the police department’s dedication to solving the murders. They were, after all, just drug-addicted sex workers. (And for clarity, I’d just like to say that statement does not in any way, shape, or form my opinion. Everyone deserves justice. EVERY. ONE.)

Almost another 2 months passed with no developments. No arrests had been made, and it seemed that the Jennings PD was no closer to finding the killer or killers than when they had first started. And then, another woman went missing.

On May 10th, 2007 26-year-old Whitnei Charlene Dubois went missing. 2 days later, on May 12th, local police responded to a phone call early in the morning. The body of another young woman had been found. Unlike the others, however, Whitnei had not been left in any kind of water. This time, she was left on a roadway, only to be found by Jamie Trahan.

Trahan was, according to Whitnei Dubois’ cousin Sonya, “some drughead.” The discovery of Whitnei’s body, like many things in this case, is rife with contention. According to a man named Chad Richard, Jamie Trahan had been with Chad the night prior, along with Chad’s ex-wife. Chad and his ex-wife had been celebrating their anniversary, and that meant doing some drugs at a motel. Jamie, who is Chad’s ex-wife’s brother, joined in the celebrations. Just the drugs, y’all, don’t make it weird.

And now I’ll be directly quoting an interview with Chad from Murder in the Bayou. Be warned, there’s a somewhat graphic description of what Whitnei’s body looked like on the side of the road coming up, so just in case, I’ll be warning you mid-quote to skip ahead. “Later, we take a ride, and Jamie started acting funny. It’s like he had something on his mind and had a mission. As we’re taking a ride, we turn off Highway 102 onto Bobby Road. And when we turn, Jamie makes a big, long,wide turn. I looked out, and I could see what appeared to be a body in the road. I said, ‘Jamie. There’s a body. We need to stop.’ He said ‘Oh no, that’s a deer.’ The body shone off the headlights of the truck as he turned.” --If you don’t want to hear the more graphic details, here’s where you should hit that 15 second skip button. Once or twice should do it.--”It was in a curled up position. Like, her back was up, and you could see like a sheen of wet. And that’s why I knew it wasn’t a deer, ‘cause a deer has hair. This was not a deer. It-it was a shiny body. And I argued with him for quite some time, and we just continued forward. Later, he went back to the body, called the law, and told them he had just found it. Which was -- this was false. Jamie put that body there if you ask me. Now, I don’t know that for a fact, but he automatically turned wide and went almost into the ditch to miss that body. He knew that body was there before he ever turned on that road.”

Trahan has vehemently denied Chad’s claims, stating that he’d seen something while on the road with Chad that evening, and swerved to miss it. He then went back later, curious about his brother-in-law’s claims that it was a human body. When he saw that it was, in fact, the body of a young woman, he realized that he had drugs in his truck, and there was no way he could call the police. So he kept going, dropped his truck off at home, got his girlfriend, and in her car returned to the spot where Whitnei’s body lay. Then, he called the police at 7:15am and told them he had just discovered her body.

Whitnei’s badly beaten body was found near the corner of Bobby road, and Earl Duhon road approximately 5 miles outside of Jennings. Investigators believed she had been dead “a couple of days,” meaning she had likely been killed the same day she was last seen. Like Loretta Chaisson and Kristen, her cause of death remains unknown to this day. Like all 3 women killed before her, the toxicology report showed high levels of drugs and alcohol in her system.

The fear level in Jennings was now at an all-time high. Parents wouldn’t let their children out of the house without them present. According to Sonya, cousin of Whitnei, “It got to a point where you didn’t trust anyone, because you didn’t know if the person sitting next to you was a serial killer.”

Just 4 days after the discovery of Whitnei’s body, police arrested 2 people in connection to the murder of Kristen Gary Lopez. On the morning of May 16th in nearby Vermilion Parish, 22-year-old Hannah Connor was arrested at her boyfriend’s home. 51-year-old Frankie Richard, Hannah’s uncle and godfather, was already in prison at the time charges were placed against him for the murder. He had been arrested 2 days prior on rape charges.

Both Hannah Conner and Frankie Richard were facing second-degree murder charges for Kristen’s death, and were also being investigated for potential involvement in the deaths of Loretta, Ernestine, and Whitnei.

In a press release, Sheriff Edwards stated that Richard had been seen “with at least 3 of the women in the days before their deaths.” During the same release, he said, “There could be more arrests made. I feel that they are imminent, actually. We are interviewing people as we speak.”

So how did police come to the conclusion that Connor and Richard were guilty? Being in the same vicinity of 3 people who’ve shown up dead isn’t exactly a crime. Sure, it’s a scoche suspicious, but as we’ve seen very recently, what with the whole dirty Laundrie situation, being suspicious isn’t enough to put you in jail. So, what happened?

Well, the woman who reported Kristen as missing was Tracee Chaisson. If that last name sounds familiar, that’s because Tracee is the cousin of Loretta Lynn Chaisson Lewis, the first woman to be found dead in Jennings. (Not in the history of Jennings’ existence, but in this case, obviously). Police believed that at the time Tracee reported Kristen missing, she already knew where her body was. During her initial interview with police, Tracee had told investigators that during the last 2 weeks of Kristen’s life, she and Kristen had been spending a decent amount of time partying in a motel room with Frankie Richard. At some point, he had suspected the two girls of stealing from him, and kicked them out of the room.

In her second interrogation, however, her story changed. This time, she’d said through tears that she had been present the night that Kristen was murdered. She’d seen that Richard and Conner, high on drugs, killed Kristen in a fit of rage. They’d beaten her near the Petitjean Canal, then drowned her in it. This confession paired with the fact that Kristen’s body had been found in the Petitjean Canal led to the charges placed against Richard and Conner. This new confession led Tracee Chaisson to be charged with accessory after the fact to second-degree murder.

Frankie Richard told and maintained a similar story to that of Tracee’s first interview. He’d also added that when the girls were kicked out, Kristen gave Richard a hug and asked, “Uncle Frankie, you don’t want me back in your room?” Richard said, “No, because you don’t have no respect, you want to steal everything.” Frankie Richard insists that is the last time he saw her.

According to former Jennings Daily News Reporter Scott Lewis, despite police not immediately linking the pair to any of the other murders, rumors began to circulate that Frankie Richard had killed all of the girls. That, while not necessarily helpful, did quite a bit to quell the fears of the people of Jennings.

However, that fear was about to come back with a vengeance. A few weeks after all charges were made, they were dropped, and all suspects released. The reasons cited for this release were conflicting reports and mishandling of evidence, which I will once again get into later.

In December of 2007, Jennings Sergeant, Jesse Ewing, was informed that 2 female inmates at the Jennings jail wanted to discuss the 4 unsolved murders. He recorded these conversations. The contents of these tapes were never made public. At least, not until private investigator Ethan Brown got a hold of them. The names of the inmates were left out for their safety.

One of the inmates spoke about the night Dubois died in May of 2007. If you’ll recall, Dubois was the woman found on a roadway, as opposed to a canal or other body of water. This inmate said that a sex worker named Tracee Chaisson had told her that she’d been present for the murder of Dubois, and that Frankie Richard and his niece Hannah Conner had killed her. This next part gets a little graphic violence-wise, so again, if you need to skip ahead, do so now. They had all been getting high, and when Dubois refused Richard’s sexual advances, he “got aggressive, he started fighting with her, and when she started fighting back he got on top of her and started punching her.” Chaisson allegedly then said that Hannah held Whitnei’s head back and drowned her. Sounds pretty similar to Tracee’s confession in regards to Kristen, does it not?

The second inmate corroborated Tracee Chaisson’s confession about Kristen, claiming that Hannah Conner herself had actually confessed to the inmate while high on crack. The second inmate had another story as well. This one involved a truck and a conspiracy.

According to inmate 2, Frankie Richard was conspiring with a top sheriff’s office investigator to destroy evidence in the Kristen Gary Lopez case. Richard had allegedly put Lopez’s body “in a barrel,” and used a truck to transport it. She then said that the truck in question was later purchased by an officer named Mr. Warren. She didn’t know his exact name, but claimed he’d purchased the truck to discard the evidence.