THIS city in America’s deep south is stalked by death.
Over the past two decades, the citizens of Baton Rouge and its outskirts have been hunted by no less than five serial killers.
Close to 70 men and women have been taken since around 1997, when authorities started noticing unusual patterns forming in their murder statistics.
The phenomenon is now receiving national attention in America, at least among devotees of Discovery’s new crime documentary Killing Fields, which tracks the reinvestigation of the 20-year-old unsolved murder of Eugenie Boisfontaine in the parish of Iberville, just outside Baton Rouge.
The series, shot in real time and dubbed the love child of Serial and True Detective, follows the original lead investigator, retired detective Rodie Sanchez and cold case Detective Aubrey St Angelo, as they team up to find Ms Boisfontaine’s killer.
One of the revelations to emerge from the series is that the investigation — both then and now — has been “complicated” by the fact that “multiple serial killers” were operating in the area at the time of the 34-year-old graduate student’s 1997 murder.
Last weekend, one of the prime suspects, Derrick Todd Lee, whose DNA has been linked to the murders of seven women — including two who lived on the same street as Ms Boisfontaine — died in hospital while on Death Row.
In fact Lee is one of at least five serial killers who have operated in the area independently of each other since 1995. The others include Sean Vincent Gillis, Jefferey Guillory and Ronald Dominique (who preyed exclusively in gay men). The fifth, named “Jennings killer” after the district (just south of Baton Rouge) his victims come from, has been linked to the murders of at least eight women and remains unidentified and at large.
Award-winning true crime writer Susan D Mustafaplaces the collective victim tally of the five killers at close to 70 — a number backed by authorities.
Ms Mustafa co-wrote the recent New York Times bestseller The Most Dangerous Animal of All with Gary L Stewart and Blood Bath, about the Derrick Lee Todd case, with Sue Israel and Special Prosecutor Tony Clayton.
“It’s crazy,” Ms Mustafa told news.com.au.
“Let’s see, I’ve put Derrick Todd Lee at a possible 17, Sean Gillis at least eight, Jeffrey Guillory at a possible 12 but it could be more, Ronald Dominique at 21, I believe, and the Jennings killer at nine or so. That’s 67 (victims) between five killers.”
Ms Mustafa said there was merit to the theory — explored in Killing Fields — that Ms Boisfontaine was one of Derrick Todd Lee’s victims and said it would be interesting to see how his January 21 death would affect the investigation.
Ms Boisfontaine was last seen June 13, 1997 by an exterminator at her home. A jogger found her driver’s license and credit cards the next day near the Louisiana State University lakes.
Police searching the area found her keys in the same area three days later. Her badly decomposed body was found three months later in a bayou near a bar.
At the time of her murder, Ms Boisfontaine lived on Stanford Ave — the same street as two other victims linked to Lee by DNA, though the killings took place in different years.
“I think it would be safe to say that some detectives believe Derrick Todd Lee killed Eugenie, but there’s simply no proof,” Ms Mustafa said.
“There were two DNA samples in her panties that did not match Lee. However; I still think Lee killed her based on the fact that he did not rape all of the women he killed, so he might not have left DNA.
“The fact is that serial killers are creatures of habit. In 1992, Lee killed Connie Lynn Warner in Oak Shadows subdivision. The next year, he attacked two teenagers in the cemetery that borders Oak Shadows.
“Then in 1998, he killed Randi Mebruer, who lived one street over from Connie Warner. He had already established a pattern of returning to the same area to kill.
“In 1997, Eugenie disappears from the Louisiana State University Lakes. She lived on Stanford Ave in Baton Rouge. Gina Wilson Green, who lived two houses down from Eugenie’s home, is killed by Lee in 2001, and then Charlotte Murray Pace, who had just moved from her home on Stanford Avenue, lived three houses down from where Eugenie lived in the opposite direction from Gina Wilson Green.
“That simply can’t be coincidence. In a five-house radius, three women are killed.”
THE SERIAL KILLERS HAUNTING BATON ROUGE AND SOUTHERN LOUISIANA
The Jennings Killer (STILL AT LARGE)
The Jennings Killer is the only one of the five serial killers of southern Louisiana who remains at large and has been linked to a string of unsolved murders.
“This Jennings killer operates about an hour and a half from Baton Rouge. He has killed eight or nine women and has not yet been caught,” Ms Mustafa told news.com.au.
His first victim, Lynn Lewis, 28, was found floating in a river by a fisherman on May 20, 2005. The other women have been identified as: Ernestine Marie Daniels Patterson, 30; Kristen Gary Lopez, 21; Whitnei Dubois, 26; Laconia “Muggy” Brown, 23; Crystal Shay Benoit Zeno, 24; Brittney Gary, 17 and Nicole Guillory, 26.
Police determined Ms Patterson and Ms Brown had their throats slit but the other bodies were too decomposed to determine the cause of death, although strangulation was strongly suspected in several.
Investigations have uncovered several connections between the women and there has been some suggestion the perpetrator works as a police officer or has close ties to local law enforcement.
Most of the victims knew each other well, some were related by blood (such as cousins Kristen Gary Lopez and Brittney Gary) or lived together (Gary lived with Crystal Benoit shortly before her death).
They also shared traits such as poverty, mental illness and histories of drug abuse and prostitution. All eight served as police informants before their murders.
Derrick Todd Lee aka The Ghost of Baton Rouge
Lee has been linked by DNA evidence to the murders of seven women in the Baton Rouge area but is suspected by authorities to have killed as many as 21 women between 1997 and 2003.
After his arrest, police discovered another serial killer, Sean Vincent Gillis (see below) had been operating at the same time and area as Lee, muddying the waters of the investigation to this day.
Lee’s victims include 41-year-old nurse Gina Wilson Green, who was found strangled in her home at 2151 Stanford Ave on September 24, 2001 and Charlotte Murray Pace, a 22-year-old who had just completed her MBA.
Ms Pace was found stabbed to death in her home at 1211 Sharlo Ave on May 31, 2002. She had moved from 2107 Stanford Ave just two days earlier.
Ms Pace lived three doors down from Ms Green at the time of her murder.
Lee has also been linked by DNA to the murders of Pam Kinamore, 44, Carrie Lynn Yoder, 26, Trinesha Dene Colomb, 23, Geralyn Barr DeSoto, 21, and Randi Mebruer, 28.
In 2004 he was convicted of the murders of Ms DeSoto and Ms Pace and sentenced to death.
He died last weekend in hospital while on Death Row.
Sean Vincent Gillis
Gillis was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2007 for the rape and murder of eight women aged between 29 and 82 in the Baton Rouge area. Gillis nearly always mutilated his victims, some of whom he stabbed, others he strangled, and frequently took body parts as trophies. He notoriously masturbated with the severed leg of one of his victims.
He defied typical FBI serial killer profiles by crossing defined boundaries regarding age and race. His lengthy “cooling off” periods between kills, particularly at first, challenged what FBI profilers had become accustomed to seeing in such killers and may have significantly contributed to him remaining free for so long.
Like Lee, he crossed racial lines, preying on both black and white women who lived in both poor and affluent areas.
Linked to several of his victims by DNA evidence, Gillis has confessed to a total of eight murders.
Ronald Dominique aka The Bayou Serial Killer
In 2008, Dominique pleaded guilty to the rapes and murders of eight men aged between 16 and 46 and received eight life sentences.
After his 2006 arrest, Dominique confessed to the rape and murder of at least 23 men in Terrebonne Parish, Lafourche Parish, Iberville Parish and Jefferson Parish over a 10-year period beginning in 1997.
In his confession, Dominique claimed he frequented gay bars and targeted men he thought would be willing to have sex for money.
Jeffery Lee Guillory
Guillory first came to the attention of police in 2001, when detectives found his fingerprints at the murder scene of Baton Rouge woman Sylvia Cobb, 36.
He was later linked by DNA to the deaths of three other Baton Rouge women whom police suspected had been committed by the same man who killed six others women in central.
Guillory was arrested in late 2009 and charged with the murders of Florida Edwards, Sylvia Cobb and Newman, all of Baton Rouge. The bodies of Ms Edwards and Ms Cobb, both 36, and Ms Newman were found in 1999, 2001 and 2002, respectively.
Guillory was indicted in Ms Newman’s killing in May 2010. In a bizarre twist, his legal team subpoenaed fellow convicted serial killer Sean Vincent Gillis to testify at his trial.