The New York Times
Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder that Rocked New Orleansby Ethan Brown
A charismatic young soldier meets a tragic end in this moving and mesmerizing account of the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and no-safety-net America
Zackery Bowen was thrust into two of America's largest recent debacles. He was one of the first soldiers to encounter the fledgling insurgency in Iraq. After years of military service he returned to New/b>
A charismatic young soldier meets a tragic end in this moving and mesmerizing account of the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and no-safety-net America
Zackery Bowen was thrust into two of America's largest recent debacles. He was one of the first soldiers to encounter the fledgling insurgency in Iraq. After years of military service he returned to New Orleans to tend bar and deliver groceries. In the weeks before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, he met Addie Hall, a pretty and high-spirited bartender. Their improvised, hard-partying endurance during and after the storm had news outlets around the world featuring the couple as the personification of what so many want to believe is the indomitable spirit of New Orleans.
But in October 2006, Bowen leaped from the rooftop bar of a French Quarter hotel. A note in his pocket directed the police to the body of Addie Hall. It was, according to NOPD veterans, one of the most gruesome crimes in the city's history. How had this popular, handsome father of two done this horrible thing?
Journalist Ethan Brown moved from New York City to the French Quarter in order to investigate this question. Among the newsworthy elements in the book is Brown's discovery that this tragedylike so many otherscould have been avoided if the military had simply not, in the words of Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, "absolutely and completely failed this soldier." Shake the Devil Off is a mesmerizing tribute to these lives lost.
The New York Times
The Washington Post
On October 17, 2006, 28-year-old Iraq war veteran Zackery Bowen leapt to his death from a New Orleans hotel roof, leaving a suicide note directing police to the dismembered body of his girlfriend, Addie Hall. In journalist Brown's (Snitch) account of Bowen's life, the deterioration of the vet suffering from PTSD parallels that of Katrina-whipped New Orleans, its residents left as stranded as unsupported veterans like Bowen. A high school dropout, New Orleans bartender and a father at age 18, Bowen was determined to improve himself and do well by his child and Lana, his wife, and enlisted in the army, serving as an MP in Kosovo and Iraq. Granted what Brown says was an unfair general (under honorable conditions) discharge, Bowen returned to New Orleans in late 2004, where, abandoned by Lana, he began a turbulent relationship with Hall, culminating in Bowen methodically dismembering and cooking her remains. After covering the murder-suicide for Penthouse in 2007, Brown moved to New Orleans, and his detailed reconstruction of both Bowen's life and the city's deterioration make heartbreaking reading. Perhaps most poignant is the message painted on Bowen's apartment wall: "please help me stop the pain." 14 b&w photos. (Sept. 1)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“Brown creates a riveting portrait of a gruesome crime while detailing the heart of a city in distress. A grim … story delivered with skill and verve.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A nicely crafted shocker.” —Booklist
“Ethan Brown examines a notorious murder case, rescues it from the talons of tabloid journalists, and comes up with something much more than a true crime book. Shake the Devil Off is a gripping suspense story, an indictment of the military’s treatment of our soldiers in and out of war, and a celebration of the resilience and worth of a great American city.”—George Pelecanos, New York Times bestselling author of The Turnaround and Hell to Pay
“Ethan Brown establishes himself as a prodigious reporter and masterful storyteller in Shake the Devil Off, a chilling portrait of a broken hero failed by the system.”—Evan Wright, author of the New York Times bestseller Generation Kill
“A ‘coming home’ story that rivals any written about veterans of the war in Iraq, and a true crime account that raises the bar for the genre. Measured, thoroughly reported, and written with true empathy.”—Nate Blakeslee, author of Tulia
"Looking more deeply at that from which the rest of us turned in horror, Ethan Brown has transformed an ugly and disturbing shard of the post-Katrina anguish. In this book, that which was lurid and sensational becomes, chapter by chapter, something genuinely sad and reflective, something that now has true meaning for New Orleans and for all of us."—David Simon, author of Homicide and The Corner
- St. Martin's Press
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- First Edition
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- 4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Read an Excerpt
He knew himself too well not to realize the meaning of what he was feeling; yet his self-knowledge, born of a habit of incessant reflection, did not enable him to escape the morass in which his feelings were bogged.
—RICHARD WRIGHT, The Outsider, 1953
Early in the afternoon of Wednesday, November 1, 1995, the candidates for Santa Maria High School’s homecoming king and queen—Marcos Cortez, Jay Robbins, Jimmy Draper, Zackery Bowen, Christina Villavicencio, Michelle Wilcox, and April Sharp—posed for a school newspaper photo standing in a pumpkin patch adorned with jack-o’-lanterns and thick corn husks. A long-haired, seventeen-year-old Zack stares glumly at the camera, his chin resting on top of his hand. For months Zack had been obsessed with being anointed homecoming king. As he posed for the photo on that early November day in Santa Maria, a medium-size California town of nearly a hundred thousand residents located about seventy-five miles north of Santa Barbara, Zack was nervous and fidgety. Sensing his anxiety, Zack’s mom, Lori, had tried repeatedly to lower his expectations about homecoming. The other boys competing for homecoming king, Lori calmly explained to Zack, had excellent grades and solid college plans. Lori wasn’t underestimating her son—Zack was popular in school and had decent grades—but he had no postgraduation plans. With his long mane of blondish brown hair, his awkward demeanor (partly a result of physically towering over his classmates), his affinity for dark, grinding metal bands like Metallica and Tool, and after-school activities that centered mostly around bashing out beats on a hulking drum kit in his house, Zack was far from the homecoming king type.
Lori’s predictions about the homecoming results were, unsurprisingly, correct. On Friday, November 3, 1995, after being introduced by the MC as a senior who “plans on making a career out of music,” Zack, who was dressed strangely in black pants, a white dress shirt, and a long, flowing black cape, and was shifting nervously on his feet, stood side by side with the other candidates for king and queen under the bright lights of Santa Maria High School’s football field. A billboard for a Santa Maria hair salon called Hair Studio 1 was directly behind him, a fitting backdrop for the long-haired, shaggy Zack. While the other candidates delivered serious speeches on school spirit—one candidate for homecoming king implored his fellow students to attend the school’s football practices to marvel at “the pride and dedication that people have when they’re out there”—Zack grabbed the microphone on his turn and suggested that Santa Maria High School institute a “mandatory two-hour nap period.” The students and parents packing the bleachers laughed halfheartedly at Zack’s joke. Lori enthusiastically shouted “Go, Zack!” from the stands, but it was clear from the embarrassed look on Zack’s face that he knew the odd little gag wasn’t appropriate and, worse, would likely dash his chances for being elected homecoming king. A few moments later, the homecoming queen candidate beside Zack made a short, rushed speech (“Thanks to all the people who helped me publicize all this week, especially the sophomores and freshmen—thank you; vote for me, Michelle Wilcox!”), and the parents of the candidates joined them all on the football field to wait for the big announcement. Then, the MC cheerily announced that Jay Robbins and April Sharp—who were dressed in more traditional, formal attire: a black tuxedo and a shiny black-and-white silk taffeta dress—were homecoming king and queen. With Lori standing by his side, Zack smiled wanly and clapped politely as his competitors were crowned.
“Zack was just crushed by losing homecoming,” Lori remembered later. It was a blow to his already shaky self-esteem and confirmed his outsider status at Santa Maria High School. Botched joke about mandatory nap time aside, Zack could always be counted on to make his fellow students laugh, but ultimately, it seemed, they didn’t really understand or have much in common with him. Soon after homecoming night, Zack became distracted during his classes, sending his grades plummeting. Lori had been pleasantly surprised by how well Zack had done in school his freshman and sophomore years (earning A’s in difficult subjects like geometry), and she was devastated that Zack suddenly reversed his hard-won progress during his senior year. Worst of all, Zack began talking about dropping out of Santa Maria High School and moving in with his dad, Jack, in Washington state. Lori and Jack had gone through a bitter divorce in the early 1990s, and their two sons (Zack and his older brother by three years, Jed) lived with Lori and visited Jack only sporadically after the split. So Lori was surprised that Zack suddenly wanted to move in with his dad. She was especially upset because Jack was not a strong parental figure; he was a dad who behaved like “one of the buddies” around Zack and Jed. But Zack could not be dissuaded and in early 1996, the second half of his senior year, he dropped out of high school, packed up his room, and headed to Jack’s home in Washington.
Though Zack’s sudden departure from Santa Maria was dramatic, it was in keeping with the gypsy spirit of his family. Lori and Jack had married when she was only twenty-one. They had seemed like kindred spirits during their brief courtship; he worked as a bellhop in Redondo Beach, California, and dreamed of traveling throughout the West Coast and Pacific Northwest; she had spent her adolescence in Southern California attending Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull concerts and protesting the war in Vietnam. Jack had seemed interested in Lori’s ideas about everything from psychedelic rock to the war. “I think the reason I liked Jack was that he was one of the first guys I dated who didn’t want sex,” Lori remembered later. “I matured really young and everybody I went with wanted sex. Jack, on the other hand, wanted to talk to me and get to know me.” The couple was married in 1972 and their first child, Jed, came three years later. Zack arrived after another three years, on May 15, 1978, at 6:50 p.m. at the Greater Bakersfield Memorial Hospital in Bakersfield, California.
When Zack was just a few months old, Lori and Jack decided to finally pursue their dream of living on the road. The family bought a VW bus and hauled Zack and Jed through small California towns like Torrence where Lori and Jack had friends. One summer in the late 1970s, when a friend who lived in a small, idyllic rural Idaho town asked Lori and Jack to help him on a home he was renovating, the Bowens dropped everything. “Jack and I got in our VW and zoomed up to Idaho for the summer,” Lori remembers. “It was gorgeous.” While in Idaho, Jack, who had long harbored artistic ambitions, began contemplating trading the family’s itinerant lifestyle for a life in academia. “Jack wanted to be a speech and drama teacher,” Lori explains. “I was so impressed.” Jack then attended a small college in Chico, California, and received a BA in drama, but clashed with his professors in a teaching program soon afterward. Depressed and disappointed, Jack moved the family back to Bakersfield, where he took a job at an oil company. “Jack hated it,” Lori explains, “he wanted to be back in the limelight.” Jack’s frustrations with his job began to affect his treatment of the family; Lori was often left to care for Jed and Zack alone. “When my mom came by our house she would be so upset because there was no milk in the refrigerator for the boys,” Lori remembers. Soon, Jack stopped working entirely. “I almost left him,” Lori explains, “but the boys were little; I stuck it out.” At Lori’s urging Jack found a job, but it was not what Lori expected: he worked as a bartender in Bakersfield strip clubs. “I was like, ‘This isn’t how it’s supposed to be,’ ” Lori remembers.
Pressured again by Lori to find more meaningful employment, Jack reluctantly returned to the oil business in 1980, working at a drilling company in Ojai, a tiny, beautiful California town of about eight thousand residents surrounded by rolling mountains and filled with gorgeous Spanish architecture. “We were making about seventy thousand dollars per year and we had a little farm with chickens,” Lori remembers. “It was a wonderful time.” With Jack thriving in his job, the Bowens decided to stay put in Ojai for the next five years.
The stability they enjoyed during their time in Ojai meant that the family could replace their pull-up-the-tent-stakes, improvisational jaunts around the country with long vacations. During one trip to Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, about thirty miles north of Seattle, the Bowens fell in love with the island’s soaring cliffs, sprawling, dark blue tide pools, and homespun music and arts festival culture. So in 1985 the Bowens moved to Whidbey, happily anticipating that the island could create the same sense of togetherness they’d experienced in Ojai. But soon after settling into their new home, tensions between Jack and Lori emerged. “Jack wouldn’t get home until three a.m.,” Lori remembers. “He was staying out all night with his buddies.” Lori and Jack attempted to keep their marriage together, but by 1990 Lori had had enough. She left Jack, taking Zack and Jed with her to Santa Maria, California. “I wished I would have stayed in Washington,” Lori remembers, “but I was so hurt and devastated.”
The transition from Whidbey Island to Santa Maria was difficult for everyone: Lori was adjusting to life as a divorcée and Zack and Jed were entering their teenage years. “Zack was awkward and very bashful,” Lori remembers. “And Zack’s teachers were split on Zack. It was either ‘I love this child’ or ‘I hate this child.’ ” Jed, meanwhile, was developing a personality very different from his younger brother’s: he was quiet and thoughtful with a bone-dry sense of humor, while Zack was alternately shy and goofy. Zack’s jokiness with his classmates was his way of covering up for his shyness and a feeling that he was different from everybody else. Zack and Jed even differed on musical tastes: Zack loved heavy metal and grunge, while Jed was the rare white kid in the early 1990s to be immersed in hip-hop. “Zack liked all that angry-white-boy music,” Jed says dismissively. “I listened to Run-DMC and Eric B. and Rakim.”
Much of Zack’s awkwardness stemmed from his long, lanky frame; with a size 17 shoe, he even had difficulty walking correctly. As he reached his senior year at Santa Maria High School, Zack was plagued by self-doubt and, more worrisome to Lori, was finding his own behavior so regrettable that he was constantly apologizing to his friends and family. Zack would frequently proclaim in a strange, stiff manner that he’d made “quite a few errors in my past,” even though his most glaring faults were at worst mediocre grades.
As trivial an incident as it might have been in the context of a much longer life, the sting of losing out on homecoming night in November 1995—and to have done so with such a potent mixture of sincere but awkward courage, social miscues, and the fear of public rebuke that must lurk in the corners of any teenager’s heart—was particularly hard for Zack to bear. Zack was finally, provably, the failure he’d always imagined himself to be. That meant it was time to leave Santa Maria and start anew somewhere else.
Jack Bowen was also ready for a fresh start. As soon as Zack arrived at his home at the beginning of 1996, the pair set out on an extended cross-country road trip. Jack mapped out a route that would include party-spot destinations such as Savannah, Georgia, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with a final, longer stop in New Orleans before the return home to Washington state. Because Jack had experience bartending in Southern California nightclubs, he thought that New Orleans might be the ideal place for he and his son to spend a few months. For Zack it was thrill enough to go to such a strange and exciting place as New Orleans with a father he hadn’t spent much time with since his early teens. But while Savannah and Fort Lauderdale were a rushed blast of drinking and partying, their first few weeks in New Orleans were, for Zack, a letdown: the pair lived in a run-down apartment on Carondelet Street in the Uptown section of New Orleans. Zack enrolled himself in a public high school, where he was once again an outsider. “I’m the only white kid there!” Zack groused to Lori during a phone call one night. Unsurprisingly, Zack dropped out of high school after just a few months, but unlike just before and immediately following his departure from Santa Maria High School, this time he felt much more confident about himself and his future. Zack was on the cusp of turning eighteen years old, and the persistent awkwardness of his teenage years was finally fading. The baby fat on his cheeks was disappearing, giving his face a strong, chiseled profile. Now when Zack flashed his dimples he looked less “aw shucks” and more sexy. He was growing comfortable in his massive frame. At nearly six foot ten, Zack was impossible to ignore, and strikingly handsome. Girls were responding to him when he flirted, and in the French Quarter bars he frequented—even though he was below the drinking age—he was getting attention from gay men, too.
In the summer of 1996 Zack started working a series of jobs on Bourbon Street where he could put his good looks to use. He served “go cups”—plastic cups used to take drinks “to go” on the streets of the French Quarter—from a bar window. Manning the go cup windows, Zack hawked beers and shots of liquor to revelers wandering on Bourbon Street. “Hey, ya’ll!” he’d yell in a slightly southern twang. “Want a beer? A shot of Jack?” The sight of an astonishingly tall, blond-haired eighteen-year-old hanging out a go cup window was tempting for many of the women who frequented Bourbon Street. One night that summer, Lana Shupack, a twenty-eight-year-old stripper who danced in topless bars in Dallas and Houston, spied him leaning out a go cup window and quickly heeded his call. “Come on in,” Zack had said to Lana and a female friend of hers that night. “Ya’ll want a shot of Jägermeister?” Lana and her friend were vacationing in New Orleans that week and were up for a few shots, so they had Zack pour them the Jägermeister. After downing their shots, Lana’s friend whispered, “I think he’s gonna be my toy for the next couple of days.” But because Zack was attracted to Lana—slim, pretty, busty, with long brown hair and a purring, smoky voice—Lana’s friend stepped aside and let them get to know each other. Three days later, Lana and Zack went on their first date.
“He was just gorgeous,” Lana remembered later, “an Adonis.”
Lana Shupack was born in Florida on September 21, 1969, and at just five days old, she was adopted by a Jewish family in Bayside, Queens. Because Lana’s father, Carl, owned a car wash in the Jamaica section of Queens, the family could afford a solidly middle-class lifestyle. But that sense of security came to an end when Lana was nine years old: Carl lost the business under mysterious circumstances and moved the family to Houston, where he worked as a stevedore. Lana was unhappy in her new hometown, and by her early teens she’d rebelled against her Jewish upbringing and what she felt to be her father’s oppressive style of parenting. At fourteen, she moved out of her parents’ home and got her own apartment across town.
By her late teens, Lana began stripping in Houston clubs like Caligula 21 in order to make ends meet. The money turned out to be a lot better than she had ever imagined—she says she often brought home more than two thousand dollars per night—so she never had to worry about finding a day job. During the rare moments when she was restless with life in Houston, Lana and her stripper girlfriends would hit the road and, as Lana remembers it, “any city with a topless bar.” By her early twenties Lana was so familiar with the network of strip clubs in the South and Northeast that she was able to time her road trips to periods when the clubs would be especially busy (for example, she’d head to Myrtle Beach during golf season in the springtime). When Lana was twenty-four, she hastily married—and then quickly divorced—a man whom she had met in one of the strip clubs in which she worked. She describes this relationship as “very volatile, very violent, very crazy.” Soon after her marriage dissolved, Lana moved to Mexico City, where she lived on and off for about three years. She says that she fled Mexico City after she was falsely implicated in a gun-running case.
After Mexico City, Lana landed in Dallas and started stripping again. But Lana despised the city’s bourgeois pretensions. “In Dallas, people drive BMWs and eat bologna sandwiches as they’re driving because they can’t afford the BMW they’re riding in,” Lana explains. “I hated it.” A stripper friend suggested that they take a road trip to New Orleans. Desperate for a change, Lana joined her on the long trek toward Louisiana. “I met Zack during our very first night in New Orleans,” Lana remembers.
When Lana returned to Dallas after her brief courtship with Zack, he “called and called and called and begged me to come back [to the French Quarter],” Lana remembers. A few weeks later, Lana returned to New Orleans, renting a temporary apartment above the Big Daddy’s strip club on Bourbon Street; the plan was to hang out with Zack and maybe dance a few nights a week at the local strip clubs. That fall, Lana and Zack dated constantly—“we were inseparable,” Lana says—but by the end of 1996 Lana began to distance herself from Zack after he confessed that he was only eighteen years old. “I had absolutely no idea that he was eighteen,” Lana remembered later, still sounding shocked at the memory of discovering Zack’s age. “I figured that because he was bartending he had to be at least twenty-one.” Then, in early 1997, came another surprise: she was pregnant with Zack’s child. Lana decided to keep the baby but fretted for months over how to break the news of her pregnancy to Zack. Finally, in early March, she told Zack about the baby. Unsurprisingly, he was conflicted about how to handle becoming a teenage father.
Still living with his father on Carondelet Street, Zack sought advice from his mother. On March 10, 1997, Zack sat down at the desk in his bedroom, took out a pencil and notebook paper, and wrote a long letter to Lori:
Well, the letter I never wanted to write so soon is upon me. This is the letter informing you of my unexpected venture into fatherhood. I’ve made quite a few errors in my past and this is one of the biggest I’ve had to deal with. But, this is what I get for being young and stupid.
The mother was as surprised as myself, but not as regretful. For she wanted to have this child. After hours of pleading defenses such as: I’m too young; I don’t want to father this child; and, why not wait for someone who shares the same feelings as you, she was still unmoved . . . and much to my dismay.
She is a 28-year-old ex-stripper (as of now) who I regret ever meeting. I know this isn’t the ideal mother, and neither of us wanted parenthood which was why she was on the pill the entire time. But I guess science sometimes fails. That’s no excuse and I know it, but it’s the best I’ve got.
I believe she will make a good mother who will love this child, but I just wish she could have waited for an older, more responsible person than myself to share this with. But, now I’m stuck. I’m going to stay in New Orleans until the child is born and see it through part of its infancy but in no way will I be its daddy.
I could have chose [sic] the easy way out and ran [sic] from this, like I have all my other problems, but I couldn’t do that to her. I have a responsibility to uphold and dammit, I’m going to do it. I figure that if I want to play the gamble, then I need to be willing to uphold the consequences.
Well, I know this troubles you and hurts you, but there’s nothing I can do about it. So give me a call to discuss it. I’d like your support in this so think it over before you talk to me. I know I’ve screwed up and I don’t need to hear it from you. Please understand.
Excerpted from Shake The Devil Off by Ethan Brown. Copyright © 2009 by Ethan Brown. Published in November 2010 by St. Martin’s Paperbacks. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Meet the Author
Ethan Brown has written for New York magazine, The New York Observer, Wired, Vibe, The Independent, GQ, Rolling Stone, Details, The Guardian, and The Village Voice, among other publications. He is the author of Queens Reigns Supreme and Snitch. He lives with his wife in New Orleans.
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The book was well researched and well written and did a beautiful job of making you really feel the pains of New Orleans' woes. There was even the side story of the horrors that soldiers go through. My problem with the book is that you never learn much about Addie, not enough anyway.
Moaned and pushed harder on him...
Party at my house. Vet volunteers second threw forth results.
Party at my mansion!!!!!!! Jake all results!!!!!! C u there!!!!!!