Once known as “the Cradle of Louisianan Oil”, the little central Louisianan town of Jennings is a place where everyone knows your name.  On the surface, this suburban sprawl nestled on the outskirts of Cajun country; with its historic buildings, peppered with modernized shopping plazas, sandwiched between residential neighborhoods, could easily be mistaken for any small U.S. town. But as the residents of Jennings can tell you, looks can be deceiving.

Like most cities, Jennings had their problems, but in a town where everyone knows everyone, murder was not a common occurrence.  In 2005, when a body – later identified as Loretta Chaisson Lewis, was discovered floating in a canal, the town went into a state of panic. Several weeks passed and another body, Ernestine Patterson, was found by a couple of froggers. When the third body was found, it was clear that Jennings had a serial killer in their midst.

In total, between 2005 and 2009, eight bodies were discovered. All of the women were engaged in, what investigators called “high risk lifestyles”, and it has been suggested that all the women had known each other at one point. The bodies were all found in similar states of undress, and all except for two of the victims were strangled or suffocated before their bodies were hidden. Evidence also suggested that the culprit was familiar with the area, as all bodies were found in the rural outskirts of town, relying on the elements to rapidly decompose the bodies before they could be discovered.

Word of the Jennings serial killer had begun to spread around town, and it wasn’t long before everyone had their own theories on what happened. Many witnesses had given investigators solid leads, and suspects had even been apprehended in connection to the murders, but the cases fell flat. Residents were left on edge, wondering if the killer could be their neighbor, mailman, or best friend.

The poorly conducted investigations and what appeared to be a lack of concern from officials when questioned on the slow progress of the cases, seemed to suggest there was more to the murders than local law enforcement was letting on. Rumors began to circulate that there was police involvement in the murders. One local news station decided to investigate the rumors themselves and, within the police documents they obtained, discovered that there may be some validity to the rumor.

When the commanding chief of the Jennings Police department was found guilty of stealing drugs and money from his jurisdiction’s evidence room, it became clear that police corruption was not out of the question. Many believe that it is highly unlikely that, in a small town like Jennings, no one could provide some information linking a suspect to one, if not all, of the murders. Families of the victims took the cases into their own hands and hired private investigators.

One private investigator claims that the Jennings police department is guilty of serious perversions of justice involving the murder cases. Through his extensive research, including personal interviews with those involved with the cases, he claims that he has uncovered the smoking gun. The Jennings murders weren’t the work of some serial killer; it was the work of several killers, and the  eight women weren’t the only cold case homicides in Jennings. In fact, Jennings had a total of twenty unsolved murders spanning from 1990 to 2009 — an unusually high rate for a town of less than 12,000 residents.

Suspects had been tracked down in many of the unsolved murder cases, but due to the gross mishandling of key evidence and botched investigations at the hand of the Jennings police department, all of them were allowed to go free. Some of the witnesses interviewed claimed that all of the eight women had worked with the Jennings police as informants for various drug cases and all of the women were known to frequent a local hotel, notorious for the rampant drug use and prostitution that occurred there. Some believe that the girls may have been murdered in order to keep them silent about the inner-workings of the Jennings police department.

Much of what is known publicly about the Jennings murders is simply speculation. Whether it was complete incompetency on behalf of the lead investigators; police purposely botching investigations to protect the real killer(s); or even the police themselves that committed these horrible crimes, one thing is certain – the town of Jennings will never be the same.

Although the horrible murders that rocked this small Louisianan town remain unsolved, there is still hope for justice. With new investigators in charge of examining old evidence and tracking down new leads in cold case files, including the Jennings 8 murders, officials are remaining optimistic about finding breaks in old cases. An $85,000 reward is available to anyone that can provide information leading to the capture and conviction of anyone involved in one or more of the eight unsolved homicides.

UPDATE: Listen to this story on Sword and Scale Episode 24