The grieving loved ones of Jennings, La., resident Whitnei Dubois don’t believe she was murdered by a serial killer.
The 26-year-old’s body was found at a rural crossroads in May 2007. She is one of eight young women known as the “Jeff Davis 8” or “Jennings 8,” whose remains were discarded in backroads and bayous in rural areas of Jefferson Davis Parish between 2005 to 2009. No one has been convicted in their deaths.
The devastating trail of murder in the small Southern town is the subject of a new four-part docuseries on Investigation Discovery (ID) titled “Death in the Bayou: The Jennings 8,” with recent interviews with relatives of the victims, local law enforcement officials and previously apprehended suspects.
Brittany Jones, Dubois’ niece, said she came forward in hopes that the special will raise awareness on the cold case, which she said may have been the work of multiple killers.
“I think it’s more than one,” Jones told Fox News. “I think it was made to look like it was a serial killer. I think that along the way after the first few girls were found, people felt like because those homicides were not being solved, this was a very easy way to dispose of women and get away with it. But I don’t think it’s the work of one person.”
The cause of death varied among the women. Some had their throats slashed while several appeared to have asphyxiated. Others were too decomposed to have the cause of death determined. The victims were black and white, aged 17 to 30, and knew each other within the town of 10,000 residents. Rolling Stone pointed out the victims were living in poverty and had criminal records for drug use and petty crime.
The father of Dubois’ only child has a brother who was married to Loretta Lynn C. Lewis, whose body was found in 2005. She was 28.
The New York Times previously reported that Jennings, “long a stopping-off point for drug traffickers along Interstate 10,” had a growing crack trade. This led many young men to crime and women to prostitution.
Jones stressed that their lifestyles may have contributed to why investigators haven’t solved the case yet.
“I do feel like that plays a part in it,” she explained. “You don’t want to think that it’s possible for people to think that way. But over the years, especially with social media and news reports, you can observe people’s comments and hard words towards these girls… You don’t know until you’ve stepped in those shoes. Until it’s one of your family members.”
“There were three women found before [Whitnei],” Jones continued. “And I can’t honestly say I felt their [family's] pain until it was me… I don’t think enough people take the time to stop and realize that this could have been any one’s family member… This could be anyone’s sister, niece, daughter or granddaughter.”
Dubois’ sister, Taylor, said she best remembered her sibling as “fun-loving “ and “a firecracker.” Jones admitted she struggled with the horrific tragedy.
“I was devastated,” she said. “I lost my feet and just collapsed. I remember standing on the side of the house and just crying uncontrollably… And immediately after the funeral, I spent a lot of time going to the graveyard to visit her where I found peace. But after so many months I would get angry when I would go there.”
Dubois also left behind a daughter named Beyoncé Jones, who was 4 at the time of her mother’s death. She did not speak in the documentary but was actively involved while filming.
“Whitnei was found the day before Mother’s Day,” said Jones. “We were planning her funeral on Mother’s Day… That was a very hard thing for Beyoncé growing up. We would celebrate Mother’s Day and then we would go to the graveyard to celebrate Mother’s Day again. People don’t understand how difficult that is for a child. And for us to be the strong ones in that situation, to make sure that Beyoncé gets through those days. She’s 17 now and it’s still not any easier for her.”
Taylor shared the community has grown fearful of speaking up with any potential leads. And Jones said the case is far too massive for local law enforcement, which she claimed lacked the manpower.
Rolling Stone shared that there were allegations in the town that some of the officers may have had sex with the women who would later become Jeff Davis 8 victims. According to the outlet, evidence may have also allegedly been tampered. In addition, when a prison nurse and a sergeant attempted to voice their concerns, they were also reportedly fired from their jobs.
Jones said the raging rumors compelled residents not to trust the police.
“There were a lot of rumors and a lot of things that were said and heard and seen in our town that were pointing the fingers in the direction of law enforcement officers being involved in illegal activity,” she said. “And there were a lot of rumors. As the rumors started to circulate, people started to make their own assumptions. A lot of stories started to come up with certain law enforcement officers. Blaming them for being involved… No one understood how these crimes continued to happen over and over again. And law enforcement could not figure out what was going on.”
“Even now, there are still so many rumors circulating and so many assumptions,” said Jones. “There’s just so many rumors that involved law enforcement officers. It has put a doubt in everyone’s mind. No one knows what to believe.”
Taylor said that adding to the frustration was the coroner’s result for what could have happened to Dubois — a cause of death couldn’t be determined.
“You do this every day and you’re a medical professional,” Taylor said angrily. “There has to be some way that you know foul play was involved or not. An experienced medical examiner or coroner would automatically know if you’d done this for some odd years. [Whitnei] didn’t put herself there. None of them did.”
The two women said that despite relieving their real-life nightmare in front of cameras, they have a glimmer of hope the documentary will encourage anyone with information to finally come forward.
“It has become easier to deal with the grief because we have accepted the fact that she’s gone,” said Jones. “But it’s not any easier to have to deal with not having so many answers, not having any closure, not having any cause of death. Not having any information to guide us in the direction of what actually happened that night… We hope and pray that someone out there maybe has some answers.”
"Death in the Bayou: The Jennings 8" premieres on June 15 and June 16 at 10 p.m. on ID.