When he first read about the so-called “Jeff Davis 8” in The New York Times, Ethan Brown had changed careers, and was no longer an investigative journalist.
But he couldn’t stop thinking about the unsolved murders of eight women between 2005 and 2009 in Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana. In 2011, his journalist’s instincts took over, and he went to Louisiana to visit with the murdered women’s families and associates as well as police.
Over the next two years, Brown worked on what became a groundbreaking article about the murders, which then inspired his best-selling book on the slipshod investigation, Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8? The book is now the inspiration behind a five-part true crime docuseries that debuts on Showtime Friday, September 13, at 9 p.m.
“It was interesting as soon as I got there,” Brown tells PEOPLE, about that first trip to Jefferson Davis Parish. “During the trip, I met a guy named David who’d dated two to three of the victims. We met as the sun was setting one evening. The next day, I’m in my hotel room, and I get a call that David was murdered. It was mind-blowing, in terms of this happening to someone I’d met only hours earlier.”
Murder in the Bayou chronicles the killings of the “Jeff Davis 8” — some of whom were police informants — and the drug subculture of the Interstate 10 corridor while highlighting the corruption that eroded the investigation from the inside out.
The first of the eight victims was 28-year-old Loretta Lewis, who was found floating in a river by a fisherman in late May 2005.
Later, more bodies would surface. Police would discover the remains of Ernestine Marie Daniels Patterson, 30, who’d had her throat cut like Laconia “Muggy” Brown, 23. The bodies of the others — Crystal Shay Benoit Zeno, 24; Kristen Gary Lopez, 21; Whitnei Dubois, 26; Brittney Gary, 17; and Necole Guillory, 26 — were so decomposed that exact causes of death were undeterminable.
Brown was very much involved in the production of Showtime’s Murder in the Bayou, he says, which explores the lives of the eight young female victims, who all had connections to the parish’s violent sex and drug trade.
“I am in the series and I guided a lot of the investigative work for the series,” he explains. “I feel like the docuseries really moves the ball forward and also significantly expands on the investigation in the book. But it also puts a human face to this that I am not sure any writer could do.”
Brown says the series features intimate interviews while all the main players, but “doesn’t have any of the exploitativeness of some true crime — it is true to the people, the story, and the place.”
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
According to Brown, arrests have been made over the years, but none of the charges ever stuck against any of the accused. Justice continues to elude all eight women and their devastated relatives, with whom Brown has become close.
Brown even has a relationship with Frankie Richard, a local strip club owner who had been identified as a suspect in the case.
Richard, according to Brown, admitted to police he’d had sex with some of the women, and is the last person to be seen alive with one of the victims, Kristen G. Lopez.
“I met him in 2011; I went to his mom’s house and knocked on the door,” Brown explains. “She let me in — even tried to make me food. She told me Frankie wasn’t living there anymore, and gave me his cell. We talked on phone for while and he invited me out to this odd little town, to a trailer he was living in.”
Brown tells PEOPLE “we have had this strange relationship that has stretched over eight years.”
A multiagency task force has been assigned to the investigation.
The first episode of Murder in the Bayou premieres on Showtime at 9 p.m. on Friday, September 13.