In the thrall of darkness

The headline read: Recent murder of stripper has ties to post-Katrina dismemberment case, and once again I was hooked. I knew before I clicked the link that the referenced incident was the killing of Addie Hall, a French Quarter bartender strangled, dismembered, and cooked–in pots on the stove and in a basting pan in the oven of their kitchen–by her boyfriend Zack Bowen, who 10 days later threw himself off the roof of the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel, leaving a note in his pocket that would lead police to the crime scene and a journal detailing a full confession.

In October 2006, like the rest of post-Katrina New Orleans and even beyond, I was both horrified and fascinated by the macabre but undeniably romantic story of Addie and Zack. Having decided not to evacuate ahead of the storm, they found themselves in the aftermath the heart of a band of fellow French-Quarter holdouts, hosting dinner parties and pouring cocktails on the sidewalk in front of her apartment, where he had sought refuge and the two had fallen in love the night Katrina made landfall. They were media darlings for a time, profiled in a New York Times piece about scofflaws in unflooded parts of New Orleans who, despite the threat of weeks or months without water, power, or emergency services, were determined to defy the mandatory evacuation order.

The French Quarter was the first area of the city post-flood to return to something resembling normal. Businesses reopened and residents and even tourists began to come back, and media reports speculated it was the end of their fairy-tale existence as reality resumed that precipitated Addie’s and Zack’s descent into drugs, alcohol, infidelity, and violent arguments, eventually culminating in their deaths. Of course, there’s never a “cause” to explain depravity. All we know is it grips us.

And now it turns out Margaret Sanchez, a suspect in the killing of Jaren Lockhart–another murdered and dismembered French-Quarter service worker whose death has transfixed the city since her body parts began washing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in June–was Addie Hall’s best friend. She was interviewed extensively last year by ABC News in connection with an episode of the network’s program “Final Witness” titled Graveyard Love, which recounts the circumstances of Addie’s death through a mashup of interviews with real-life witnesses–friends, associates, family members, employers, and police investigators–and reenactments pieced together from Addie’s journal entries. The story is told from Addie’s perspective as voiced by an actor with a chilling physical resemblance; it aired Wednesday, July 4.

In one of the program’s first interview segments, Sanchez calls Addie “my best friend, my sister … anything that a woman could be for another woman….” She provides vivid details of Zack and Addie’s life together, including their first meeting, and adds unusual insight into the background and psychological makeup that rendered Addie vulnerable to a certain type of man. Clearly charmed by Zack herself, Sanchez says she believes the killing was the result of an argument that got out of hand, and in an almost unbearably creepy postscript she tries to imagine Zack’s thought process after realizing he had killed his girlfriend. Her face streaked with tears as she talks in front of a stark backdrop, she appears thoughtful, empathetic. “I can imagine, just shock. What am I gonna do to get rid of the body? That would be the first thought. What did I just do? How am I going to fix this?”

News reports of witness interviews indicate on June 5, the night of Jaren Lockhart’s disappearance, Sanchez and her boyfriend Terry Speaks–registered as a sex offender in North Carolina–approached two different female dancers at Bourbon Street clubs near the one where Jaren danced, offering each $700 to come home with the couple; one of the women said Sanchez described the tryst as her present to Speaks. Both declined, but Jaren, apparently, accepted; it’s reported she asked to leave work early so she could make some extra money. Video cameras outside her place of employment show Jaren leaving with the couple.

Cameras also may show Jaren, alive, with Sanchez and Speaks in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where the first of her body parts–her torso, showing a stab wound to the chest–washed up on the beach two days later. What happened between the last  sighting of Jaren alive and the discovery of her torso on the beach will have to be determined for a successful prosecution to ensue.

As of this writing, neither Sanchez not Sparks has been charged with Jaren Lockhart’s murder, although the newly-discovered connection to Addie Hall would seem to strengthen the circumstantial evidence against Sanchez. As a Hancock County deputy sheriff said after seeing the “Final Witness” episode: “How many people do you personally know who have been murdered?”

My question would be, how many people do you know with personal ties to dismembered corpses? While some crime bloggers have suggested the pair might be thrill killers, trawling strip clubs the night of June 5 for a victim and finding one in Jaren Lockhart, perhaps Sanchez’s “Final Witness” interviews point to a different scenario, one in which Sanchez–like her friend Addie vulnerable to the persuasions of a sociopathic man–got herself into a situation she couldn’t handle.

Is Sanchez’s speculation about Zack’s mindset some sort of “pre-confession” to her role in Jaren’s killing? Did she suddenly find herself in the middle of something careening horribly out of control until she found herself asking, as she’d imagined Zack had, “What did I just do? How am I gonna fix this?” and, more to the point, “What am I gonna do to get rid of the body?”

Did she recall the solution Zack had chosen, breathlessly whispering the details to Speaks until it became a possibility, then a plan, then reality as the murder weapon became a tool, slicing Jaren’s body into manageable, disposable pieces?

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle: perhaps there was no plan to kill Jaren, but when it happened Sanchez, having spent so much time in the head of the man who had killed her friend, was prepared with the coverup.

Satisfactory answers may never come. But the depravity of the crime–and our taste for darkness–will keep us searching.

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5 thoughts on “In the thrall of darkness

  1. I went to elementary school with Zack. I had no idea when I randomly picked up the book Shake the Devil Off that I would know the killer in it. It still shocks me. I just remember how incredibly funny he was. I had always wondered what happened to him and was truly saddened to find out.

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