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.
Former Heaven’s Gate follower says he tried to pull girlfriend out of cult before shocking mass suicide in doc
After 18 years, Frank Lyford trusted his gut and left the Heaven’s Gate cult — along with the woman he loved.
The former follower recalled his terrifying ordeal in the upcoming episode of “People Magazine Investigates: Cults,” which is airing on Investigation Discovery (ID) on June 17.
The show, which recently kicked off its second season, explores how ordinary people “who, lured by promises of eternal life, get caught up in a terrifying web of abuse, deception and manipulation.” It features reporters who’ve covered these harrowing cases, as well as former members.
“It was this deep, gut-felt misgiving of remaining in the group, remaining in the cult,” said the now-65-year-old in the documentary, as reported by People magazine Friday. “I couldn’t express it at the time and I didn’t know what my life would look like — what it’d be like adjusting to life outside of the group — I just knew I couldn’t remain in the cult anymore.”
History.com reported the cult was led by Marshall Applewhite, a former music professor who was recruited by one of his nurses, Bonnie Lu Nettles, after surviving a near-death experience in 1972. The pair then persuaded a group of 20 people from Oregon to abandon their possessions and move to Colorado where they promised an extraterrestrial spacecraft would take them to the “Kingdom of Heaven.”
The outlet shared that both Nettles and Applewhite insisted human bodies were “merely containers” that could be disregarded for a higher physical existence. Membership diminished after the spacecraft never arrived and Nettles died in 1985. The group resurfaced in the ‘90s as Applewhite started recruiting new members. After the 1995 discovery of the comet Hale-Bopp, members believed that an alien spacecraft was on its way to earth.
Lyford and Erika Ernst had been dating for two years when the couple came across Applewhite and Nettles during a 1975 Oregon camping trip. They soon sold their belongings. Lyford defected in 1993.
Lyford soon found himself in his parents’ Canadian home. And two days later, he received a call from “the love of my life.”
According to People, Ernst pleaded Lyford to return and he asked her to leave. The 40-year-old never did.
Ernst, along with 37 other followers, died by suicide over three days in 1997. Their bodies were discovered inside a Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. compound after someone called police with an anonymous tip. The deceased ranged from ages 26 to 72. People magazine previously reported the members left video diaries explaining their reasons for the mass suicide.
History.com reported that the mass suicide occurred around the same time Hale-Bopp reached its closest distance to Earth. Applewhite, who was among the dead, convinced the group they needed to “free their mortal souls in order to board a spaceship that was trailing behind the Hale-Bopp comet” heading towards a distant planet called “The Next Level.”
The bodies were found dressed in black suits with matching Nike sneakers and plastic bags over their heads. All had willfully ingested apple sauce laced with barbiturates, which was also washed down with vodka. Each had their IDs in their pockets.
“I knew it was the same group I was a part of, so it was a very emotional time for me, from the standpoint of feeling the loss of all my friends who I had been with for 18 years,” admitted Lyford.
Lyford said he wished he’d pushed Ernst harder to leave.
“If I were back on that call with her right now, I would be more emphatic about her leaving,” he explained. “We all have a connection to the divine within us, we all have that radio transmitter built in — we don’t need anyone to translate that for us. That was the big mistake that we all made, in my mind – it was believing we needed someone else to tell us what our best path should be.”
“People Magazine Investigates: Cults” airs June 17 at 9 p.m. on ID.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper remembers mom Gloria Vanderbilt as visitor from ‘distant star’
(Reuters) – CNN anchor Anderson Cooper remembered his mother, designer and society grand dame Gloria Vanderbilt, as a woman who endured a string of heartbreaks but still remained deeply in love with love.
Actress Gloria Vanderbilt speaks at a panel for the HBO documentary “Nothing Left Unsaid” during the Television Critics Association Cable Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, California, January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
“I always felt it was my job to protect her. She was the strongest person I ever met but she wasn’t tough,” Cooper said in a seven-minute video youtu.be/cfbRneB9wcA obituary on CNN.
“I always thought of her as visitor from another world, a traveler stranded here who had come from a distant star that had burned out long ago.”
Vanderbilt, who died on Monday at age 95, had been famous her entire life, starting with a legal battle in which her aunt took custody from her mother when “Little Gloria” was a child. She would go on to endure four marriages, three divorces, the death of a husband and the suicide of a son.
Cooper’s obituary featured clips of young Gloria and told how she grew up in France, unaware that she was heir to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune. Portions also were taken from an HBO documentary “Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper.”
When Cooper questioned why she first married a 32-year-old Hollywood figure, Vanderbilt told him, “Sweetheart, I was only 17.”
His mother “trusted too freely, too completely” but always pressed on, Cooper said, and always believed that the next true love was just around the corner.
“She was always in love – in love with men or with friends or books and art, in love with her children and her grandchildren and then her great-greatchildren,” Cooper said. “Love is what she believed in more than anything.”
Cooper said his mother learned earlier this month that she had advanced and spreading stomach cancer. Her response was to cite a 1950 hit song by Peggy Lee with the lyrics “show me the way to get out of this world because that’s where everything is.”
The CNN report included a video Cooper shot in a hospital after the diagnosis as he and his mother broke into laughing fits over a joke. Cooper said that was when he realized they had the same giggle. He said he still giggles every time he watches that video.
Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Susan Thomas
Jennifer Aniston had one requirement for Adam Sandler kissing scenes in ‘Murder Mystery’
“I did have him learn to oil the beard up a little bit,” the actress said in a joint interview this week. “Conditioned.”
Sandler said kissing his longtime friend on camera wasn’t all that awkward, except when his wife Jackie and children were on set and encouraging him a little too much.
“The only awkward part is hearing my wife on the side going, ’Harder! Harder! Kiss her harder! Deeper!” he joked. “They (Jackie and the kids) watched the kissing. They love it. They love Aniston, and they want her to have good things and they say, ‘Give her something nice.’”
“That was awkward,” Aniston agreed.
“Murder Mystery” follows a longtime married couple who get framed for murder while they’re unlikely guests on a billionaire’s yacht in Europe. The movie premiered on Netflix on Friday.
Fox News caught up with the stars last week and asked them who they would pin a murder on if given the chance.
Sandler, 52, was quick to answer: Rob Schneider.
“It would be fun to hurt him. It would be fun to see him behind bars. And I would visit him every 10-15 years and say, ‘I’m sorry I did this to you,’” Sandler told us.
“Oh yeah, you’d have to have some fun with Rob,” Aniston, 50, said.
When asked what Schneider ever did to deserve the blame in the hypothetical whodunit, Sandler simply said, “Nothing! That’s the beauty of this joke.”
Schneider wasted no time responding to Sandler’s admission, issuing a warning to his former “Saturday Night Live” co-star in a comment to Fox News on Friday.
“I know all of Adam’s secrets for 30 years and that’s why he’d like nothing more than [to] lock me away for a crime he’d like to commit: taking away Kevin James’ Happy Meal!” Schneider teased.
Fox News’ Julius Young and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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