On Tuesday October 17, 2006, police received a call that a man had jumped from the 7th floor of the 4 star Omni New Orleans Hotel and landed on the roof of the parking garage. They arrived quickly and it seemed like a pretty straight forward suicide case. While they were looking for identification they found a ziploc bag in the man’s right front pocket that held army dog tags and a letter addressed to “police only.” The coroner’s office investigator read “This is not accidental. I had to take my own life to pay for the one I took.” *This is only the first sentence and he read the whole thing, but we’ll get there.* The initial reaction of police on the scene was shock and then nervous laughter. They thought that the investigator was playing a practical joke on them. But he assured them he was reading directly from the note, so a homicide detective took it from him to read it for himself. He realized the investigator was in fact telling the truth and stood there stunned. Now that I’ve piqued your interest let’s jump back in time.
Zack Bowen was born May 15, 1978 to parents Lori and Jack. He was the second of two kids and his family moved around a lot, taking on a bit of a nomadic lifestyle as they lived out their dream of living on the road. Jack eventually decided he wanted to be a speech and drama teacher, so they decided to try settling down to make this a reality. Over the next few years they saw failure, success, and everything in between. Unfortunately, Lori and Jack reached the decision in 1990 to divorce. Zack was 12 at this point and his brother, Jed, was 15. Lori took both of them with her to Santa Maria, California and it was a difficult transition as Lori was adjusting to life as a divorcee and the boys were at the beginning of their teen years.
Zack was explained as an awkward and bashful teenager who hid his shyness and feelings of being different from everyone else behind a wall of humor. Something that added to these feelings was his size. He was around 6’ 10” by his senior year with a long, lanky frame and a size 17 shoe that made it difficult for him to walk correctly. Some of his teachers loved him and others hated him – pretty typical for a class clown. Despite feeling awkward and shy, he did a good job of hiding this and was pretty popular in school and had good grades. He even made it onto the homecoming court and had been obsessing over becoming the homecoming king for months. Lori was worried as she didn’t expect him to win because the other boys competing had not only good, but excellent grades and had solid college plans – something he didn’t have. She could tell how much he wanted to win; he thought that if he did then maybe he did belong after all.
The time arrived for the boys to say something and he went up in his black pants, white dress shirt, and long flowing black cape and being true to his class clown self used his time to suggest a “mandatory two hour nap period.” His joke didn’t get the response he was hoping for and everyone else had taken their time very seriously, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when he didn’t win. Zack took this as a big blow though and felt like it just confirmed his concerns of being an outsider. He had always struggled with feelings of not being enough and being a failure and to him this just cemented the fact that those feelings were accurate.
After this blow to his self esteem, his grades plummeted and he started to talk about dropping out of high school and moving in with his dad. Lori was surprised since they didn’t see him that much and didn’t feel he was really a parental figure. When he spent time with the boys he behaved more like “one of the buddies” than a dad. She wasn’t very happy about it, but he wasn’t going to be dissuaded. And I can see why from a teenager’s perspective that would be the ideal situation. To be with a parent that just wants to have fun and bro out would sound pretty great. So in early 1996, the second half of his senior year, he dropped out of school and packed up his stuff to head to his dad’s place in Washington.
When he got there, Jack was wanting a fresh start too, so they headed out on a cross country road trip. Jack made sure to include party spot destinations and also planned their last stop before heading home to be a longer one in New Orleans. They were living the life and Zack was enjoying the party life. When they got to New Orleans though, he was a little disappointed. They were staying in a run down apartment and he decided to enroll in high school to finish up his degree. He felt like an outsider again and dropped out yet again after only a few months. Something had switched in him though and after he left high school for the second time he became much more confident. He was about to turn 18 and he was growing into himself. He also noticed that he was getting more attention for his looks and when he flirted he was getting positive responses.
In the summer of 1996, he started working on Bourbon street, taking jobs where he could use his looks to his advantage. One of these was serving “go cups” from a bar window. Apparently “go cups” are plastic cups used to take drinks “to go” on the streets of the French Quarter. So he would lean out the window and as people walked by he would ask them if they wanted a beer, a shot of Jack, that kind of thing. He drew in lots of women and one night, Lana Shupack, a 28 year old stripper out with a friend took him up on his offer.
Lana was from Texas and danced in topless bars in Dallas and Houston. She had been born in Florida, but was adopted by a Jewish family in Queens. Her adoptive dad owned a business that did well, so the family was living comfortably. However, when Lana was 9 he lost the business under what was said to be mysterious circumstances and promptly moved the family to Houston. Lana was unhappy there and as a teenager she rebelled against her Jewish upbringing and what she felt was her father’s oppressive parenting. She moved out when she was only 14 and got her own apartment. By her late teens she was stripping to make ends meet. She was taking home sometimes $2000 or more a night and realized she didn’t even need a day job. Whenever she was feeling restless, she and her girlfriends would go on a trip and party. During her 20s she continued this lifestyle and when she was 24 had a very brief marriage with a patron of one of the strip clubs she had worked at. She said the relationship was “very volatile, very violent, very crazy.” Shortly after that she was falsely implicated in a gun running case and fled to Mexico City. She stayed there for a few years and then ended up back in Texas. This time in Dallas and began stripping again. She decided she didn’t like Dallas though and the vibe of the city wasn’t what she was looking for. She was desperate for a change, so when a friend invited her on a road trip to New Orleans she agreed to go with her.
It was the girls’ first day in New Orleans when they met Zack hanging out the window offering them a shot of Jagermeister. After the girls had their shots, Lana’s friend said “I think he’s going to be my toy for the next couple of days,” but he was more interested in Lana. So the friend stepped aside and Lana and Zack got to know each other and after a few days went on a date. She went back to Dallas and Zack being smitten with her called and begged her to come back. A few weeks later she did just that, renting a temporary apartment above a strip club on Bourbon Street. She figured she and Zack could hang out and she could dance a few nights a week at the strip club. It didn’t take long for the two to become inseparable, but by the end of the year Lana started to distance herself from Zack because she learned he was only 18. She had assumed he was at least 21 because of how they had met and he didn’t really look 18.
In early 1997, she found out she was pregnant and Zack was the father. She didn’t know how to tell him, but in March she finally did. He was understandably conflicted and not sure of what to do wrote a letter to his mom. Originally I was just going to summarize this letter, but there’s so much in it and it really explains where he was at mentally so I’m going to read it to you.
“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.
Lori said that she was actually more upset by his self critical tone than the actual news of the pregnancy because he seemed trapped. After the letter, they spoke on the phone and she told him he either needed to stay and raise the kid or let it go. He told her he didn’t know what to do, but she told him it was a decision he would have to make for himself.
He eventually decided to commit to being a dad, but Lana still kept him at arms length because she thought he was too young and knew she wouldn’t have wanted to have a kid at 18. When she went into labor she didn’t tell him and had a friend take her to the hospital. She finally had a friend call him a few weeks later and he showed up immediately. When he saw his son, Jaxon, for the first time everything changed. From the moment he saw Jaxon he was hooked. Lana said he would carry him on his shoulders and even take him with him to work. His love of Jaxon also brought him and Lana back together. They were officially a couple again by the time Jaxon was 6 weeks old.
At this point, he felt like he needed to get more serious about his future so he took a second job that offered health insurance. He was finally feeling like a real adult, but Lana was still treading lightly as she was worried that he was just on a high from the excitement of becoming a father and didn’t know how long it would last. By the fall, he was still working hard and seemed committed to this life and to prove it he moved Lana and Jaxon in with him. He still had late nights, would go to after parties, and was generally immersed in the “boozy world of French Quarter bars,” but he took his family seriously. He proposed to Lana with the very romantic reasoning of pointing out that if they were married she would have health insurance. She said yes and they got married in October of 1998.
He was still working multiple jobs and double shifts while still making time to Take Lana for picnics. Right before the wedding he won a competition at work and won a free trip to Belize which they used for their honeymoon. Lana also found out just before the wedding that she was pregnant again. Zack told his mom and she said they needed to slow down because they were just getting a hold of things with one kid. She told him that now he was really trapped. They got married though and it was a beautiful ceremony.
Once he got back to work though he was definitely feeling the pressure to excel in his jobs and threw himself even more into work. In June of 1999, their daughter Lily was born. This made Zack evaluate his life again and thought about his future. He decided he needed to graduate from high school to better his and his family’s future and enrolled in a GED program. By March of 2000, he had earned a high school degree and two months later joined the army.
He went to basic training and genuinely enjoyed being in the army. Having loved to travel, he had requested his first assignment be in Europe, so he was pumped when he was assigned to Germany. He was well liked by his fellow soldiers and was known for turning the barracks into a nightclub of sorts, setting up a drum set and guitars in his room where he and other soldiers would have jam sessions. He would tell everyone stories of his life partying in New Orleans before becoming a dad and when they went out for drinks he would often end up behind the bar. He made friends with some English speaking natives and they viewed him as part of their family by the holidays. He made a lot of friends and had a lot of fun, but he was staying true to the reason he joined the army in the first place. He would tell anyone who would listen about Lana and his kids and was very open about the reason he had joined the army. Everything was going swimmingly, until it wasn’t.
His troop was sent to uncover mass graves of ethnic Albanians and had to confront some of the most violent Serbs. They had more face to face contact with them than they had expected and because it was Zack’s first deployment he didn’t really know how to handle them. In one instance, Zack handed a few pieces of candy to a young Albanian girl and the next day was told that she had been killed for simply interacting with an American. This hit him hard and he became less boisterous and spent more time lost in his thoughts.
He was also struggling with the stress of his family being so far away from him. He wanted them to join him in Germany on the base, but Lana wasn’t taking the time to do the paperwork and he was getting frustrated. He had done this all for them so that they could have stability and so she wouldn’t have to strip anymore, but she was still working in the clubs and he felt like she didn’t appreciate what he had done.
He was also struggling with physical pain. Remember how I told you he had size 17 feet? Well that’s a pretty uncommon thing and they didn’t make combat boots that fit him so he had been wearing boots that didn’t fit well. Because of this he had developed a really bad case of hammertoe and eventually the pain was so bad that he was just wearing tennis shoes. This wasn’t maintainable though so the army made a special pair for him. He was still struggling with the hammertoe though and it became debilitating. In July of 2001 he had surgery on it and while the surgery was successful it was also painful. He was given a few weeks of medical leave and took this time to go see his family.
While he was there, he and Lana fought about her not doing the paperwork so they could join him in Germany. He ended up getting it done and was able to bring them back with him. Lana was worried about what the other soldiers and their wives would think of her as they all knew about her stripping and she didn’t think she would fit in. It was a struggle for her, but since Zack was so popular this helped and by September she was finally getting used to things.
Then 9/11 happened and they realized that if there was going to be a war, him being in the army was a lot more serious than they had ever really considered. He was still stationed in Germany though, and they continued to make it their home. They would travel all over Europe and seemed to be doing well. In the fall of 2002, the troop gained a new soldier “Boz” who stuck out just as much as Zack, but for different reasons. She was the only girl, was barely more than 5’ tall, and was very free spirited. She quickly became popular and everyone fell in love with her. All of this was going on and there were rumors about going to war with Iraq. The platoon were pretty detached from this though as they were told some of them were going to go to the Middle East to serve as bodyguards for ambassadors. It got to the day they were supposed to leave and the mission was suddenly dropped. Over the next couple of months, things escalated with Iraq and Lana knew that it was inevitable Zack would have to go.
They were right and it wasn’t long before he was in Iraq. Lana and the kids were still in Germany and it didn’t take long for war to begin changing Zack. He wasn’t writing or calling and Lana was worried about him. On top of all of this, Lana was diagnosed with hepatitis C. She was extremely sick and the treatment she needed would make it worse. Zack was able to come see her for a short time, but couldn’t get approved for much more. While in Iraq, Zack went through a lot and saw a lot of horrible things. One of the hardest things he went through was the loss of Boz. She was the first from their troop to die and they’d had such a kinship that while it hit everyone hard, it was a real turning point for him. He had also sort of adopted a young Iraqi boy that summer whose family owned a small shop across the street from one of the Iraqi police stations in Baghdad. He was responsible for driving people to and from that police station, so every afternoon he was there, the boy would bring Zack cans of Coke and bags of ice from his family’s store. In return, Zack taught him English. One do in early September, insurgents blew up Rashid’s family’s shop for collaborating with Americans, killing Rashid and his entire family. Zack became super depressed after this and felt a sense of responsibility for what had happened.
In November of 2003, Zack was among the first from the company to go back to Germany. Lana was thrilled to have him back but he was different. She said there was an emptiness and there were times during intimate moments where she felt like she had him back, but it never lasted. He was struggling and the once boisterous, loud Zack was now quiet, withdrawn, and brooding. By the end of the year, Lana’s health was improving and Zack’s mood was beginning to lift. He was contemplating where he would want to be stationed next and would talk about things like going to Hawaii. This didn’t last though and he was struggling with depression and survivor’s guilt – particularly about Rachel dying and him getting out without a scratch.
He was focused on the past and his resentment was growing. He started purposefully failing his fitness tests and was eventually given a general discharge for unsatisfactory performance despite being recommended for an honorable discharge. This decision wasn’t explained and took away the guarantee of things like a home loan guarantee, life insurance, and disability and education benefits. Lana didn’t know that this was going on, so when he bluntly announced they were out of the military one day, she was furious. He wouldn’t tell her what had happened and she left him. She moved back to New Orleans and left the kids with him since they were in a good school in Germany while she tried to make a new life.
After everything was finalized with his discharge, he and the kids also went back to New Orleans. In the time Lana had been there, she had started seeing someone else and told Zack when she saw him. She let him stay with her and the kids for a while and she did this to make things easier for the kids, but Zack thought it meant there was a chance at reconciliation. Lana supported them all for a bit while Zack stayed home with the kids, but that wasn’t sustainable. They ended up right back where they had started… with Lana stripping and him bartending.
He was working the graveyard shift at Hog’s Bar and was given that shift because it was when all the strippers who were done with their shifts would come in, so it was pretty lucrative. Zack was a dependable worker and was once again popular with the girls. This time around though he wasn’t interested in them. A lot of them took that as a challenge, except for one. Her name was Adrianne “Addie” Hall. She didn’t get the appeal and thought he was a goofy, oversize frat boy with worn-out and embarrassing bar tricks. Of course, this was the one girl he ended up being interested in.
Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder that Rocked New Orleans by Ethan Brown
Accessed April, 2022. https://ghostcitytours.com/new-orleans/ghost-stories/zack-addie/
Accessed April, 2022. https://www.historicmysteries.com/zach-bowen-addie-hall-murder/