Among the 32,400 or so souls living in Houma, Louisiana and the surrounding area there may be someone keeping a very ugly secret.
Houma is 57 miles southwest of New Orleans, and it’s data indicates that it is normally a pretty decent place to live, if you are one of those crazy folk that find the humidity and heat, insects and alligators endemic to coastal regions of the south charming. Seriously though, in the 2000 census the women outnumbered the men, something that might please single menfolk heading to Houma, the median age of the residents was a young 34 years, and in 2001 and 2002 the number of serious crimes such as murder was very low [source: City-data.com].
Now it looks like someone is killing men in Houma, and also perhaps in neighboring parishes and cities such as Kenner, about 40 miles down the road. Police in both cities have begun to compare notes to see if the linkage between 5 Houma deaths and 3 in Kenner is solid.
Out of the 8 unsolved homicides, all but one man was killed by asphyxiation. In the three Kenner murders, the victims were found barefooted, prompting the Kenner authorities to dub the killings the ‘shoeless murders.’ [source: article from nola.com, published April 30].
The links between the murders are fairly strong:
- All the victims were men, living what police euphemistically call “high-risk lifestyles” – usually this means drug use, prostitution, petty crime.
- Strangling has been the common method of asphyxiation.
- The age range has been narrow, all of the men apparently under 30.
- Several were found within just a few miles of one another.
Houma police believe that the deaths of Anoka Jones, Datrell Woods, Michael Barnett, Leon Paul Lirette and August Terrell Watkins are solidly linked, and are investigating the most recent body found in an irrigation canal in LaFourche Parish along state Highway 307 as another in the series. This victim was found late last week. Police have only said that the body was that of a white male between the ages of 20 and 30, and noted that this body makes the fourth found in that area since 2000.
Even though police are cagey about stating that these murders are the work of one serial killer, after the finding of the body in LaFourche it was reported in the news that there are now 15 law enforcement agencies examining in concert unsolved murders from at least 6 parishes and cities.
Though 8 murders are being mentioned right now as possibly connected, there is suspicion among some authorities that there could be as many as fifteen victims of a single killer.
Naturally the details of the murders are being played close to the vest; I was unable to find any articles online that detailed any overtly homosexual aspect to the killings; as in, were the young men raped, was there evidence of bondage a la John Gacy [Google search], who preferred to handcuff his young male victims. The race of the victims was never detailed – the newest possible victim was a white male, but it was unclear whether or not the previous victims were all african-american, all white, or a mix of ethnicities. Serial killers tend to offend within their own racial group. There are exceptions – in Louisiana there was recently Derrick Todd Lee [Google search], an african-american man who killed both white and black women. Recently in Peoria, Illinois, Larry Bright [Google search], a white man, was arrested as a suspect in the murders of 10 black women. Both men have punched holes in old ideas about the typical profiles of serial killers, proving they can be color-blind if the victim falls within the parameters of the killer’s particular obsessions.
Among those of us who explore the subject of serial murder online, bloggers and messageboard posters, there is a wide variety of feeling about the validity of profiling, the system of behavioral analysis developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 70’s and 80’s. Some of us still think it’s the route to truth, others call it junk science. Profiling was elevated to a mythical proto-science by movies such as Silence of the Lambs, but in recent years the discipline has taken heavy blows due to major errors in major cases – in the case of Derrick Todd Lee, already mentioned, and also the DC Snipers [Google search].
In both cases the general profiling consensus was pretty off the mark. There were exceptions; Dr. Maurice Godwin’s geographical profiling of DC Snipers Muhammad and Malvo was eerily accurate in at least one instance, predicting their next strike – but Dr. Godwin was the minority. Everyone said Lee and the DC Snipers were supposed to be white, angry men with hangups, essentially. They were not.
Profilers don’t help their own cause much, either, at least not with the “amateur internet cybersleuths,” and we are legion. An example is Pat Brown, a Minnesota-based profiler who manages to accrue a remarkable amount of face-time every time a major serial case hits the news. When the alleged BTK Strangler, Dennis Rader [Google search], was arrested in late February 2005, Brown seemed to defy time and space, showing up to do commentary for nearly every special break-in about the arrest. No one bothered to note that Brown’s profile of BTK, while on-the-mark in some general and a few specific ways (something that could also be said about my own completely off-the cuff profile of this killer), was based on one particular person she’d zeroed in on a while back – and unfortunately for her, not Dennis Rader, but an ex-employee of the Wichita Eagle who many suspected was guilty of his wife’s murder while on a camping trip about 10 years ago.
Profiler Brent Turvey, who at one time was Pat Brown’s teacher, said the following about the peripatetic profiling pundit:
Pat Brown (…)approached me years ago, after taking several courses, to get my assistance in naming a person that she was essentially stalking as a serial murderer. No evidence. No proof. Just her firm belief that she knew better than anyone else. I of course refused, told her to stop stalking the guy lest she find herself arrested, and this did not make her happy at all. Ignoring admonishments regarding this and other terribly unprofessional conduct, she continues to go her own way in her corner of the profiling community…
Here Turvey gave a good example too of why profiling is being viewed with more skepticism; it is so thoroughly open to the obsessions and attitudes of the profiler. By the way, I’ve always wondered if Turvey was referring to the hapless ex-Eagle employee, as I knew, from various internet communications I received, the man’s name and current disposition. Brown was good about that at least – she kept the poor guy’s name off-line and out of her public dialogue. Still, if he was the guy she was “stalking,” that must have been rough enough.
All this is to say that it is probably too early to try and figure out who is killing “high-risk” men in the Houma, Louisiana area, and perhaps to say that we should view early speculation with strong skepticism. (Pat Brown might find someone else to stalk while she’s not reciting from Cleckley’s Mask of Sanity in an interview on Fox News!) Taking care with such speculation is a lesson I’ve personally learned the hard way, as a small number of smug people who have left comments on some of my articles about runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks prove. The Houma Serial Killer is probably not a polydactylic dwarf with a cleft palate, albinism, hypertrichosis and a tendency towards episodes of glossalalia that only emphasize his extreme halitosis, but who the hell knows anymore (if you don’t understand the preceding, just picture a very short yeti with too many fingers and toes)?
So things are a little scarier than usual, I guess, around the Big Easy. It almost seems like lately that Louisiana is vying now with Washington State and Florida for the title of “State Most Attractive to Serial Killing Psychopaths.” I’ve mentioned Derrick Todd Lee, and there was also, recently up in Baton Rouge, Sean Vincent Gillis [Google search].
The pissing match for that title is one I am sure no state wants to win.
Additional resources used in the writing of this piece were
- KLFY Article, published April 28, 2005.
- Serial-Killer.org – excellent general resource for the subject of serial murder.
- The Crime Library.