Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder That Rocked New Orleans

Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder That Rocked New Orleans

4.4 10
by Ethan Brown
     
 

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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

Overview

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 tragedy—like so many others—could 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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Heartbreaking."—Publishers Weekly

"The value of this provocative … book lies in its careful examination of a tragic crime; the author has also made a significant contribution to the literature about the Iraq war. Shake the Devil Off can … be read as a follow-up to Dexter Filkins’s … The Forever War. If Filkins taught us about the war over there, Brown has brought the war home."—Lisa Scottoline, The New York Times Book Review

"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

"The account of a volatile relationship gone terribly wrong, but [a] lot more than that…. Demonstrates a deep understanding of how New Orleans is…. [Brown] gets New Orleans and the people who choose to reside here."—OffBeat

"[A] sensational chronicle…. Bowen’s story … draws at least as much of its moral from Sid and Nancy as it does from Full Metal Jacket…. Brown deftly summons up [Zack and Addie’s] immediate social world as a testament to how the city felt to certain residents on the ground in the wake of Katrina."—Bookforum

"The chilling story of Zackery Bowen… a fall that indicts the military’s treatment of its soldiers."—St. Petersburg Times

"Delves straight into the heart of darkness…. Well-investigated, well-written and tautly paced…. A unique portrait of tenacious New Orleans, pre- and post-Katrina, and a reflective—though utterly chilling—account of how veterans of the Iraq war are suffering from mental degradation and lack of support."—BookPage

"Gripping and honest."—Amy Wilentz, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

Lisa Scottoline
Ultimately, the value of this provocative, if imperfect, book lies in its careful examination of a tragic crime; the author has also made a significant contribution to the literature about the Iraq war. Shake the Devil Off can best be read as a follow-up to Dexter Filkins's perfect book, The Forever War. If Filkins taught us about the war over there, Brown has brought the war home, and for that he deserves much credit.
—The New York Times
Andrew Ervin
Very much to his credit, Brown mostly avoids the usual pop psychology and pat causality. The 15 pages of "source notes" at the end of the book attest to his thoroughness as a reporter and researcher…Like Dave Eggers's recent Zeitoun, Shake the Devil Off is essential reading for those willing to face the awful truths about New Orleans—our nation's most misunderstood city—and the trials its residents still face every day.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

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.
Kirkus Reviews
Journalist Brown (Snitch: Informants, Cooperators, and the Corruption of Justice, 2007, etc.) tries his hand at true crime. In October 2006, 28-year-old Zackery Bowen jumped from the roof of La Riviera bar in New Orleans and died instantly upon hitting the concrete. In his pocket was a suicide note explaining that he'd dismembered his girlfriend Addie Hall, with instructions on specific places where police would find her severed body parts. "By the spring of 2007," writes the author, "I had begun to realize that the story of Zack Bowen was not that of a voodoo-inspired, drugged-out French Quarter killer." Instead, the author uncovered the tragic story of a musician turned Iraq war veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder upon his return home. "Zack's untreated PTSD triggered a free fall," writes the author, "from the dissolution of his marriage to trouble at a string of low-paying jobs to an abusive relationship with Addie that ended so tragically." Captivated by the story, Brown moved to New Orleans for his research, tracing Bowen's life from childhood through his Iraq tour, followed by his military release, new life as a bartender and rapid spiral into depression and drug abuse. As Katrina approached the coast, Bowen and Hall's relationship intensified, but in the post-Katrina maelstrom, their relationship slowly melted down into abuse and drunken violence. Hopelessly codependent, after numerous breakups and reunions, Bowen eventually strangled Hall to death, then butchered her body, describing the planned disposal process in detail in her diary before deciding his own end. Drawing the parallel between Katrina's aftermath and Bowen's unraveling psyche, Brown creates ariveting portrait of a gruesome crime while detailing the heart of a city in distress. A grim murder-suicide story delivered with skill and verve. Agent: Ryan Fischer-Harbage/The Fischer-Harbage Agency

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780805088939
Publisher:
Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
09/01/2009
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

ONE

SANTA MARIA

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 re? ection, 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, MichelleWilcox, 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 Cal ifornia 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 home coming 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 af? nity 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, espe cially the sopho mores and freshmen—thank you; vote for me, MichelleWilcox!”), 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 con? rmed 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 dif? cult 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 espe cially 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, Cal i fornia, and dreamed of traveling throughout the West Coast and Pacific Northwest; she had spent her adolescence in Southern Cal i fornia 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 Bakers? eld, Cal i fornia.

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 Cal i fornia 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. “Itwas 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, Cal i fornia, 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 werelittle; 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 Cal i fornia 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, Cal i fornia. “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 dif? cult 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.

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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 Cal i fornia 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 con? dent 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 proflle. 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 im possible 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 theJägermeister. 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.”

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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 espe cially 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 fied 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 driv ing 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 insepar able,” 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 hewas bartending he had to be at least twenty- one.”Then, in early 1997, came another surprise: shewas 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:

Mom, 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.

Love always, Zack

When Lori received Zack’s letter she was more upset by the sad, self- critical tone of the writing than the news of the pregnancy itself. “He seemed trapped,” Lori remembered later. Lori felt equally helpless when Zack followed up the letter with a frantic phone call. She told Zack that his choices were either to “stay with the child and raise it or let it go and wonder what happened to the child.” With evident frustration in his voice, Zack responded that he hadn’t a clue which choice to make. “I can’t answer this question for you,” Lori forcefully told Zack that day. “Honey, you gotta make up your own mind.”

Zack reluctantly decided to commit himself to fatherhood, but as Lana’s pregnancy progressed, she purposefully kept him at arm’s length. “I was very cold toward him,” Lana admits. “I thought he was too young. I know I’m glad I wasn’t saddled with a baby at eighteen. So I’m sure he was terrified, freaked out, and scared to death.” Lana didn’t even call Zack when she went into labor on July 13, 1997, and had to be rushed by a friend to Touro Infirmary in New Orleans. Nor did Lana let Zack know right away when his son—whom she named Jaxon—was born at

7:34 p.m. that evening. “He didn’t know about Jaxon until after he was born,” Lana explains. “A few weeks later, I had a friend call Zack when I was in the shower. And when I got out of the shower, there he was.”

When Zack saw Jaxon for the first time, his feelings about fatherhood were instantly transformed from a tentative, halfhearted embrace to a full, almost overbearing acceptance. “The minute he had that child,” Lori remembers, “he was hooked. He would carry Jaxon on his shoulders and even take the kid into the bar when he was bartending.” Zack’s love for Jaxon also strengthened his bond with Lana. “After I had the baby,” Lana remembers, “he wouldn’t leave me alone. So we of? cially got together when Jaxon was six weeks old.” Jaxon’s arrival forced Zack to become more serious about his future; in addition to bartending at watering holes in the French Quarter, he took a job bartending at the Pontchartrain Hotel on St. Charles Avenue. The job offered health benefits, and for the very first time Zack felt like a truly responsible adult. At the outset, Lana was slightly put off by Zack’s sudden zealousness about his relationship with her and Jaxon; she wasn’t sure if he really wanted a long- term relationship or was simply on an ecstatic high since becoming a first- time father. “If you are going to be in this baby’s life,” Lana warned Zack,“you can’t stay for a month and then disappear for six months. You need to really think about this.”

By the fall of 1997, however, Zack did seem committed—to Lana, to Jaxon, and to working multiple jobs to keep the family financially afl oat. “I want to be with the baby,” Zack told Lana, “and I want to be with you.” To prove his devotion to his new family, Zack moved Lana and Jaxon in with him in an apartment in the Carrollton neighborhood Uptown.

Zack was a proud new father but was also just a teenager immersed in the boozy world of French Quarter bars, which often meant late- night hours and drink- and drug- laden after- parties with coworkers. Late in the evening of January 28, 1998, Zack was hanging out on a French Quarter street with a fellow bartender who was smoking a joint and carrying a Coke can fashioned into a bong. An NOPD officer happened to be passing by just as Zack’s pal took his first few tokes. Zack’s friend was arrested for marijuana possession, and assuming that the Coke can belonged to Zack because his friend was smoking the joint, the cop booked Zack for possession of drug paraphernalia. Though the charges against Zack were dropped soon afterward—the makeshift Coke can bong did indeed belong to his friend—Zack felt profoundly embarrassed by the arrest: he’d been trying so hard to create a respectable, settled- down life for himself, Lana, and Jaxon in Carrollton. So he called his brother, Jed, for advice, even though the two had never been very close. During the phone call with Zack, Jed was unsparing in his criticism of his younger brother. “You’ve got nothing there,” Jed told him plainly. “No education, a dumb bar job, and a kid.” Jed had enlisted in the army in the fall of 1994, and during the phone call he suggested that the wayward Zack do the same. To Jed’s surprise, Zack said he would consider it.

In the weeks after the arrest, Zack poured even more energy into his relationship with Lana. It wasn’t long before he proposed to her. “You want health insurance?” Zack asked Lana one night. “If we get married you can have health insurance.” It was a decidedly unromantic way to propose, but it was steeped in the sort of pragmatism that Lana liked to see in Zack. She agreed to marry him and the pair set an October 10, 1998, wedding date.

As their wedding day approached, Zack took on double shifts at his hotel and bar jobs, all the while attending to Lana’s and Jaxon’s needs. During his rare few hours off—which often came during the middle of the day—Zack would take Lana to Jackson Square for a picnic of shrimp po’boys accompanied by a bottle of red wine purchased at a liquor store on nearby Decatur Street. Zack was thrilled about his upcoming wedding to Lana, but he was even more excited by his son, a bright and creative twelve- month- old who loved to draw. “Jaxon,” Lana remembered later, “was going to be better than Zack and I ever were.”

Zack was also thriving at work: just before the wedding he won a “most creative drink” contest at a French Quarter bar; the prizewas a free trip to Belize, which Zack and Lana decided to take as their honeymoon that fall. “The drink wasn’t anything special,” Lana explains. “It was just some Sauza Tequila, orange juice, and Cointreau. He won the contest on his personality. Zack was such a showman. People loved him.”

Zack and Lana’s Jackson Square wedding was the capstone to a year in which Zack had striven so hard to be a good father and partner. Lori and Jed flew in from Cal i fornia and Zack felt espe cially touched by their presence. As Zack and Lana took their vows, he broke down in tears. The emotional ceremony—held in the middle of a tourist destination— brought throngs of onlookers.

“It was a gorgeous wedding,” Lana remembers. “I think we had more tourists than guests. There were dozens of people standing all around us filming us with camcorders.” The entire day seemed to symbolize the promise ofwhatZack’s life,which already had been marked by setbacks— from dropping out of Santa Maria High School to the drug arrest earlier that year—could be. Still, there were hints of more challenges ahead. Just before the wedding, Lana had discovered that she was pregnant with their second child. When Zack sheepishly delivered the news to Lori by phone in the days before the wedding—“Uh, mom, she’s pregnant again”—Lori upbraided him for rushing too quickly toward a bigger family just as his life was beginning to stabilize. “Shit!” Lori cried. “No, Zack, no! That is not what your life is supposed to be. Now you’re really trapped.”

Lori was right: though Zack was devoted to Lana and Jaxon, the new baby on the way intensified the pressure on Zack to excel in his multiple jobs. After Zack and Lana returned from their short honeymoon in Belize, Zack threw himself even harder into his work, bartending at both the Pontchartrain Hotel and the Sheraton Four Points hotel on Poydras Street in the New Orleans Central Business District. The arrival of Zack and Lana’s daughter, Lily, on June 12, 1999, felt different for Zack than Jaxon’s birth almost exactly two years earlier. When Jaxon had been born, Zack was not yet committed to Lana or to fatherhood. With Lily, Zack was a loyal family man from day one. Yet Lily’s birth encouraged another self- appraisal for Zack. As Zack pondered his future, he thought about the conversation he’d had with Jed. “You’ve got nothing there. No education, a dumb bar job, and a kid.” So, during the fall of 1999, Zack enrolled in a GED program, and on March 29, 2000, he earned his high school degree.

Almost two months later—on May 12, 2000—Zack headed over to an army recruiting station at 4400 Dauphine Street, at the farthest end of the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans. There, Zack filled out exhaustive paperwork, which required him to disclose his entire educational and employment history, provide copies of his marriage license and the birth certificates for himself and his children, and, embarrassingly, to document his sole brush with the law. Fortunately, in a “determination of eligibility” memo, a military attorney wrote that Zack’s arrest for drug paraphernalia in the French Quarter was a “ridiculous charge” that had been quickly dismissed. The military attorney also described Zack as “excited and motivated to be joining the army” and recommended that he “should be afforded the opportunity to enlist.” Indeed, on May 12, Zack enlisted in the army for an eight-year term that would begin two weeks later, on May 24. That day, Zack became Private E-1 Bowen.

Lana remembers, “He wanted to make a better life for the kids. He wanted to make a better life for us. He did all this so that I wouldn’t have to strip and he wouldn’t have to bartend.

“Besides,” Lana adds, “there was no war.”

Excerpted from Shake the Devil Off by Ethan Brown.

Copyright © 2009 by Ethan Brown.

Published in September 2009 by Henry Holt and Company.

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 two previous books, Queens Reigns Supreme and Snitch. He lives with his wife in New Orleans.

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Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder That Rocked New Orleans 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
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Moaned and pushed harder on him...
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Party at my house. Vet volunteers second threw forth results.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Party at my mansion!!!!!!! Jake all results!!!!!! C u there!!!!!!