Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder that Rocked New Orleans by Ethan Brown (September 2009)

Publication Date:
September 2009
Henry Holt and Company Publishers
$0.01 - $3.46

Reviewed by:
2 Stars
On March 19, 2012
Last modified:July 6, 2012


As another reviewer very accurately described it, "Magazine article masquerading as a book."

Blame Game Disguised as True Crime
Review by Kim Cantrell

On October 17, 2006, Zachery Bowen, a Iraq war veteran, jumped to his death from the roof the Omni Royal in New Orleans’ French Quarter. When police and medics arrived, they discovered a suicide note in the pocket of Zack’s jeans that told them they would find the dismembered body of his girlfriend, Adrianne “Addie” Hall, in their North Rampart Street Apartment.

Shake the Devil OffAnd they did. They found her “scattered” about the apartment and a journal written by Zack detailing his thoughts and actions from the day of Addie’s murder until the night he committed suicide.

That’s the story in a nutshell. In his 2009 true crime book Shake The Devil Off, author Ethan Brown tells the story at one fell swoop in the book’s prologue. The next 262 pages are some awkward, miserably failed attempt to blame this murder/suicide on his military service and New Orleans’ post-Katrina state.

I am one of the most patriotic persons you’ll ever meet. I have the utmost respect for our soldiers. Especially our vets. My father, several of my uncles, many cousins, and a grandfather were all veterans of foreign wars. I realize the wounds suffered by Veterans are not always visible.

BUT…just because someone mentally breaks after serving in a war does not mean it was BECAUSE of the war. Give credit where credit is due, and this time the Iraqi war doesn’t deserve it.

You have Zack, who as a high schooler was so upset that he didn’t win Homecoming King that he dropped out of high school, later marries a high-maintenance woman whom he met while she was a stripper, has two children within a couple of years (before he’s even old enough to legally drink), and joins the service because he wasn’t sure what else to do and it would allow an affordable means for his family to have medical insurance. And I won’t even go into the mother who sends porn to her son during his deployment to Iraq. (As a mother of boys, I’m not stupid. Boys look at porn but I shudder at the thought of sending them a Playboy or Penthouse.)

When Zack returns home and the stripper wife ditches him for another man, he (almost) immediately plunges into a torrid affair with Addie – another high maintenance woman who, having dubbed herself Queen of the French Quarter, enjoys plenty of drama and, mental disturbed even when sober, becomes even more so (and quite belligerent) when intoxicated (which is often).

Zack, from what I’ve previously stated, appeared to have mental issues of his own and no doubt did suffer from some PTSD. Combine a coke-addicted Zack with an obviously bi-polar Addie (also an addict) and, well, I don’t think there is anyone to blame but nature.

Yet if PTSD isn’t to blame, then Brown will somehow lay the burden on post-Katrina New Orleans. Zack and Addie chose to stay in New Orleans and weather out the storm; even enjoyed the time afterwards, living as survivalist in the storm ravaged town. They enjoyed not having to work, looting stores for supplies (especially the liquor stores), and overall just spending their days hanging out. They ridiculed and looked down on residents who had fled the city in the name of safety then later returned; declaring them not “real” citizens of New Orleans.

Come on, give me a break. This murder/suicide had NOTHING to do with a war or storm. Nope, these were just two hot and cold fronts that collided to create a deadly storm. Period. Nothing more, nothing less.

Basically, I’ve given you the story in less than a 1000 words. Brown, on the other hand, tells the story in between a bunch of fluff and filler. For example, twice he defines MRE. (If you didn’t know, it’s a made-ready-to-eat meal used by the military.) Several times we are reminded that Zack and Addie’s landlord was a former New Orleans mayoral candidate. And the endless retelling of how Brown and his wife opted to decamp to a crime-riddled post-Katrina New Orleans is annoying.

Very seldom does a book come along that I really just have to rip into, but unfortunately Shake The Devil Off is one of them. I actually think there was an interesting story to be told, but the political bias and fluff completely took away from it. Sadly, this one made my official “Do Not Read” list.

In closing… I do not deny that PTSD exists and that many soldiers have returned with wounds we cannot see. And for those men and women, I think we, as Americans, have a duty to help them in the form of medical care and more. If I believed for one moment that Zachery Bowen’s actions were strictly a result of PTSD, I would be one of the first to speak up; but I don’t and I refuse to play part in taking away from those who suffer greatly from PTSD by allowing it to be used as an excuse.

Everyday I am thankful for the men and women of our military – active or otherwise. You offer a tremendous service to this great nation. Because of you, I am free. Thank you!


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3 Responses to “Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder that Rocked New Orleans by Ethan Brown (September 2009)”

  1. Emmy says:

    Yes, I agree. Addie was a ticking time bomb way before she met Zack. I knew her well. She even predicted her death to me. She said,”One day I’m going to snap on the wrong person and they are going to killl me.

  2. 8tephanie says:

    It’s such a sad story all-around. I haven’t read the book yet, and probably wouldn’t bother to after reading some of the reviews, but I will just because I knew Zack (and his father Jack) back in 1997. I spent about a month hanging out with the Bowen boys in NOLA and saw Zack as a “gentle giant”, always helpful and concerned about people, always smiling. I can’t imagine how things went so wrong – my deepest condolences go out to both families.

  3. Kelly says:

    Does anyone know of any other true crime books on this same topic; PTSD soldiers?

    I thought this one was good but, like other reviewers, feel that even tho I was hooked after the first few chapters, it lost me after that. Too much talk about him and his wife and his vacation and etc. He is a good writer however. I enjoy his style and many of his articles.

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