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Demons, Voodoo, and a Grisly Murder in New Orleans

The whole thing inevitably plays out like a horror movie. On October 17th October of 2006, at around 8:30PM police arrived on the scene of an apparent suicide jump at the the Omni Hotel, in New Orleans, the United States, and found the smashed body of a young man who had plummeted five stories down to wind up dashed upon the hotel’s parking garage. It seemed pretty straightforward at the time. This guy had, for whatever reasons, decided to climb up onto that lonely rooftop overlooking the city lights and end his own life by jumping off to oblivion, and that was that, yet a search of his front pocket led to the discovery of a crumpled, 5-page handwritten note stuffed within a plastic bag that would start the slow unfurling of one of the most gruesome, senseless crimes in New Orleans history, if not the entire United States. It would be a murder mystery packed to the rim with grisly violence, sickening murder, and whispers of Voodoo and demonic possession, all laid across the desolate backdrop of the devastated landscape of a city still reeling from the wrath of Hurricane Katrina.

This might be a good time to back up a bit to the beginning of the story, to a time when 28-year-old California native and Kosovo and Iraq war hero Zach Bowen had received a general discharge and had moved to New Orleans, where he lived a relatively carefree existence as a bartender in the French Quarter, a quaint area known for its charming French, Spanish and Creole architecture. Recently separated from his wife, a stripper by the name of Lana Shupack, it seems that Bowen spent most of his time here drinking, partying, and trying to put the horrors of whatever he had been through in military service behind him. Although he was known by friends to become morose at times and make cryptic allusions to terrible things he’d seen in war, particularly something to do with a child, he was described as mostly a very personable and social fellow, able to push away these terrible memories. Indeed, the friendly, attractive, and charming Bowen had no trouble meeting girls, and one of these was a fellow bartender by the name of Addie Hall.

New Orleans French Quarter

New Orleans French Quarter

The two hit it off immediately and began dating, which was right around the time when the specter of Hurricane Katrine rolled out from over the horizon to bring death, destruction, and suffering to the city. Although the hurricane had left in its wake utter devastation, it served as a catalyst for drawing the Bowen and Hall ever closer together, with Bowen moving in to live with her and the two refusing to evacuate the city with nearly everyone else. The two became some of the sparse, ragtag group of holdouts who preferred to stay among the flooded wreckage of this once vibrant city they loved rather than run away to a life of uncertainty, and indeed they became famous for this, sometimes appearing in the news as a result of their refusal to budge, where they were portrayed as hopeless romantics letting their reckless love lead them through hard times. With no electricity or fresh water in the area, the couple eked out a living using a makeshift stove fueled with fallen tree limbs and bartering for goods and essential supplies with the handful of other holdouts in the area. They were also known for feeding stray cats and mixing up cocktails for other survivors and visitors who passed through, such as reporters or Red Cross workers, and the wild and unruly Hall became rather infamous for flashing her bare breasts at passing police officers.

While things started off as well-enough as they could, all things considered, and they managed to survive as the city around them slowly began to come back to life somewhat, it is reported that the couple’s relationship was far from perfect, and had inexorably devolved into frequent shouting matches and break-ups, but they always seemed to get back together again. Adding to this turbulence were numerous missed days from work and criminal charges filed against them in the form of marijuana possession for Bowen and a firearms charge faced by Hall for pulling a gun on a man during a heated argument, and it was claimed by friends that Bowen often complained about his girlfriend. Despite all of this, the two stayed inseparable, and even stayed together when they were evicted from Hall’s apartment in September of 2006 and forced to find new lodgings in the still mostly apocalyptic wasteland of the French Quarter. They ended up moving into a room above the locally renowned Voodoo Spiritual Temple on North Rampart Street, which is actually not a particularly strange thing to find in a city with a deep history of Voodoo magic and its practitioners.

Zach Bowen and Addie Hall in happier times

Zach Bowen and Addie Hall in happier times

The change of scenery apparently did nothing to cool down the animosity the two seemed to often display towards each other, and their intense arguments got worse if anything. Hall in particular was said by friends to be the main aggressor in these battles, reportedly being a rather aggressive drunk and irrationally jealous and possessive towards her boyfriend, who she was constantly accusing of cheating on her. During this time Hall simply stopped showing up to work altogether for the most part, and both her and Bowen were known to drink nearly constantly, which only added fuel to their arguments and Hall’s jealous rages. Yet despite this churning turmoil, the two still inexplicably stuck together, and people who knew them claimed that they were capable of great affection, kindness, romance, and shows of love towards each other as well, sort of a deep love-hate relationship if there ever was one. It seemed that nothing, not the devastation of the hurricane nor their bumpy patches, seemed to ever be able to truly break them apart.

On October 5, 2006, they apparently got into another spat during which time Hall confronted him about his perceived cheating and threatened to kick him out of the apartment. According to witnesses the argument was no more heated than was usual for them and it was just assumed they were going to kiss and make up as always. Bowen had even complained about the whole ordeal to the landlord, who had told them that they should just try to work it out, and when neither of them were seen much around it was assumed that this was exactly what they had done. In the following days after that night Bowen would appear at his usual bar and was described as being very friendly and in extremely high spirits, enthusiastically talking about taking a vacation in Cozumel and generally reported by drinking buddies and other bar patrons as being in the best mood he had been in in a long time. There was no indication that anything was particular out of the ordinary, although he seemed to be eating drinking, and generally spending more money than usual. When he went drinking with friends on the evening of October 16th, Bowen was his usual cheerful self and showed no particular signs of anything amiss. Then on the night of October 17 Bowen found himself having a drink at the Omni Hotel. It would be his last.

Zach Bowen and Addie Hall with a guest

Zach Bowen and Addie Hall with a guest

This is where we find ourselves back at that grim scene at the Omni Hotel, with the battered, lifeless body of Bowen lodged in the garage roof and baffled police studying the cryptic note he had scrawled out beforehand. In the note were clear directions to the address where he lived, and a chilling confession to the brutal murder of his girlfriend. According to Bowen’s spooky letter, on October 5, 2006 he had suddenly gone to Hall and strangled her to death, with the note stating: “I killed her at 1 a.m. Thursday, 5 October. I very calmly strangled her. It was very quick.” The police were spared no detail of the ensuing carnage in the letter, which among other things stated:

This is not accidental. I had to take my own life to pay for the one I took. If you send a patrol car to 826 N. Rampart, you will find the dismembered corpse of my girlfriend Addie in the oven, on the stove, and in the fridge and a full signed confession from myself … Zack Bowen. I scared myself not by the action of calmly strangling the woman I’ve loved for one and a half years, and then (desecrating) her body but by my entire lack of remorse. I’ve known for ever how horrible of a person I am — ask anyone — and decided to quit my jobs and spend the 1,500 cash I had being happy until I killed myself. So, that’s what I did: good food, good drugs, good strippers, good friends and any loose ends I may have had. I didn’t contact any of my family. So that’ll explain the shock. And had a fantastic time living out my days … It’s just about time now.

A search of the video surveillance footage of the hotel roof at the time showed a distressed looking Bowen with drink in hand pacing about and repeatedly approaching the edge of the roof only to retreat and pace again, as if sure what to do or if he could go through with it, before finally and fatally plunging over the edge. The corpse had also been subjected to numerous cigarette burns, which the letter claimed to be self-punishment for what he had done and for his failings as a human being. Concerned police hurried to the specified address and had no trouble entering due to the fact that a key had also been found in Bowen’s pockets. Immediately they were met with the jarring sight of a message spray painted across the walls that read “Please call my wife. I love her. I’m a total failure. Look in the oven. Please help me stop the pain.” In the kitchen were two pots, one of which contained Hall’s head and another containing her hands and feet, as well as oven trays holding her dismembered arms and legs, all of which had been thoroughly cooked, to “separate the meat from the bone,” as horrifically stated in the note. Depending on the report these parts were seasoned with herbs and partially eaten, and others claimed that the parts had been rather charred, with some sources even saying that potatoes and carrots had been prepared and placed upon the counter to add to the pots, all of which would later earn Bowen the nickname the “Katrina Cannibal.” The woman’s torso had not been cooked yet, and was found wrapped in a plastic bag and stuffed into the refrigerator. Other reports would claim that Bowen had sexually assaulted the corpse before chopping it up as well.

Zach Bowen and Addie Hall

Zach Bowen and Addie Hall

The corpse was in such a gruesome state that it took a few days to even properly identify, but it turned out to be indeed the body of Hall. Authorities pieced together a grisly scene of Bowen strangling Hall in the bathtub before dismembering her with a knife and hacksaw, after which he had carefully cleaned the bathroom, set the thermostat to 60 degrees to delay the inevitable rotting of the body, and then nonchalantly gone out to spend money and live it up for a full 10 days, with no one being any the wiser of the horrors that lie within his apartment. During this time he had also taken the time to write a full confession within the pages of his girlfriend’s diary, outlining the whole ghastly ordeal and containing some of the more grotesque revelations, such as the alleged necrophilia with the corpse and the revelation that he had stopped his preparation of the corpse when he was only “half-done.” Interestingly, despite the widespread claims of cannibalism police claimed that autopsy reports from Bowen showed no signs of human flesh in his stomach.

Even for a city that has had more than its fair share of crime and gory, violent history, the Bowen murder proved to be one of the most unsettling and sickening anyone had ever seen, with Anthony Cannatella, the New Orleans Police Department’s chief of detectives, stating at a press conference: “I’ve been on the job 40 years and it’s the first time I’ve seen it at that level. It was obviously very gruesome.” The whole horrific crime was so shocking that the apartment where it all went down has become known as the “Rampart Street Murder House,” and the truly hideous crime reverberates through New Orleans to this day.

What caused this young man to suddenly so completely and viciously ravage a woman that he had been so in love with and with such relatively little provocation? One of the main theories is that this was a man haunted by some unknown demons from his past in the military, and with the constant drama in his relationship a simmering time bomb waiting to go off. However, although he did have his relationship issues, just like many people I might add, Bowen was mostly described by those who knew him as basically a good-hearted person who was well-liked and gave no indication that he was at all capable of such atrocities. One owner of a bike shop that Bowen often went to, a Tim Eskew, knew him fairly well and said of the whole bizarre and grisly incident: “I’m having a hard time reconciling the person I remember with the person who did this.” How could such a more or less mild mannered man, regardless of personal demons, resort to such ghoulish barbarity over an argument that was pretty much the usual par for the course with his girlfriend?

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Many of the locals don’t think this has to do with personal demons at all, but rather very literal ones. They point out that the point at which the couple moved in above the Voodoo shop marks when their arguments and disagreements escalated dramatically, and claim it is possible that an evil spirit or some dark magic or Voodoo curse associated with the place had influenced them and ultimately consumed and possessed Bowen, forcing him to do his grim deed with such ruthless barbarity. Regardless of whether this is true or not, it is interesting to note that the Rampart Street Murder House has since been reported as being heavily haunted and permeated with weird happenings, including unidentified moaning, the touch of unseen hands, and an intense feeling of dread that is said to almost physically repel those who draw close.

The Bowen murder-suicide has become legendary in New Orleans for not only its sheer, horrific level of violence but also for the lack of any discernible reason to any of it all and whispers of Voodoo magic and spirits that surround it. In the end what caused this charming man with many friends to catapult so firmly into the realm of sadistic, grotesque murder? Was it as some have said the urging of dark forces beyond our world? Or is it just that a beast of sorts lurks within us all, pacing about in the murk of the deepest recesses of our psyche, needing only the proper stimulus to come raging out? What unthinkable things are each of us capable of if these inner forces truly exist deep down and can no longer be contained? Whether Zach Bowen was the victim of black magic fueled demons from beyond, or merely the demons that infest us all from within, it is a spooky crime that surrounds itself with rumors of the paranormal, and perhaps offers a glimpse through the cage bars of that beast that resides locked away within each and every one of us.