The Untold Truth Of Bayou Billionaires

Originally airing on CMT, Bayou Billionaires is the story of the Dowden family and their brush with fortune. Their deal to allow the installation of several natural gas wells on their land gave them a newfound money, and even though the show claims to explore just how the family deals with the new freedom that huge amounts of money can give, there are other things lurking just below the surface, including incredible tragedy, the show just doesn't deal with.

The first facts about the apparent murder-suicide involving Valerie Dowden Wells

On November 8, 2016, ABC's Louisiana affiliate network KTBS broke the news that a woman had been shot and killed in an apparent murder-suicide. Five hours after the story broke, they updated their post to reflect the victim's name, Valerie Dowden Wells.

That earliest report stated she had been shot and killed while sitting in her car at a McDonald's parking lot in Shreveport. The gunman, Robert Gaddy, was also found in the parking lot. He was rushed to University Health hospital, where he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Valerie had been shot several times, and was pronounced dead at the same hospital, and her parents confirmed the incident with a post on their Facebook page.

"This is really hard on us and her children," Kitty and Gerald wrote. "It is out of order. No parents should have to go through this." (via KTBS)

Louisiana's police Sgt. Rod Johnson talked to People, who reported on the same day that they were aware of some sort of relationship that had developed between the two but at the time, it was unclear just what had been going on. Valerie had gone to high school with Gaddy, and according to Bayou Billionaires producer Brian Flanagan, they had recently begun dating. The authorities were more hesitant to draw conclusions or release information.

Jealousy as motive for the murder

The day after news of the tragic shooting broke, vague suspicions uttered by law enforcement seemed to be confirmed by Valerie's family. People reported that her 15-year-old daughter, Nikki, had confirmed that not only was her mother in a relationship with Gaddy, but that there had been some jealousy issues before.

Nikki told the magazine that jealousy was the root of the problem, and she confirmed Gaddy was growing increasingly upset that Valerie was still in contact with her ex-husband, Nikki's father.

Although law enforcement didn't confirm anything, Flanagan also said Nikki's belief that Gaddy had killed her mother because of jealousy was one that was shared by the entire family. Valerie's sister-in-law, Peggy Dowden, also spoke with the media, saying, "She was the most loving person, she was so friendly, she was always smiling. She was down-to-earth. She loved everybody so much."

Valerie talks about her MS

One of the biggest draws of the show was the very ordinary nature of the people involved. They could have been anyone's neighbors, and that kept people tuning in. When the show started, Valerie was living in a trailer on her parents' property, along with her three children: Jessica, Devyn and Nikki. Because people can be cruel, the internet was flooded with comments about Valerie's seemingly odd mannerisms and behavior, prompting her to give an interview with CMT regarding her medical condition. That interview has since disappeared, but Starcasm has kept some of the excerpts of the conversation where Valerie speaks candidly about her 2008 diagnosis.

Valerie said she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after going to a series of doctors, each of whom told her it was stress or, even worse, it was all in her head. She suffered from numbness in her legs, which she described as the pins-and-needles feeling that happens when your foot falls asleep. Her pins-and-needles never went away, though, and she was finally diagnosed after being admitted to the emergency room. She also said sometimes she had such a hard time walking that her son would carry her where she needed to go, and that the entire family worries about her.

When CMT asked if the show was going to address her illness, she said, "No, and that was my choice. I didn't want people to feel sorry for me. I don't feel sorry for myself, although I do have days that I get angry, more of a 'why me'."

Where their money really comes from

They call it "mailbox money," checks that show up without them having to do anything. So where does it really come from? The Dowdens talked to CNN Money about just that.

At the time of the show, Gerald and Kitten Dowden were getting checks from a Texas company called Exco. Over the course of the previous three years, Exco had drilled four natural gas wells at various locations on the Dowden's 80-acre property, not far outside of Shreveport. While the show was going on, checks averaged about $40,000 a month, but it was also estimated that if gas prices rose to 2008 levels, those checks could be for as much as million a month. There were more plans, too, to add another 16 wells to the property, and that would have brought the total to 20 wells, each expected to produce gas for up to the next 20 years. That's no small chunk of change, and while digging the wells seems like it would be a no-brainer, it's a hugely controversial matter.

And why it's so controversial

The process is called fracking, and it's a fairly recent thing. Rather than digging straight down, wells are dug horizontally through layers of shale. Millions of gallons of water are then forced into the well at massive pressures — around 9,000 pounds per square inch. That fractures the rock and allows the natural gas trapped inside to escape, coming up to the surface to be harvested.

There are a few reasons this is incredibly controversial, and according to Popular Mechanics, one of those reasons is that we don't know the full impacts of what we're doing quite yet. Fracking a single well can use up to 7 million gallons of water, and in spite of the fact that some companies re-purpose wastewater for fracking, it's still particularly contentious in drought-ridden areas of the country. Even though natural gas is more environmentally friendly than alternatives like coal, the process itself isn't hugely green. That's doubly true when you take into account the potential for wells to blow out, or fracking liquid to spill, or any other possible industrial accidents that have the potential to do some serious damage. It hasn't been unheard of for natural gas to contaminate the water supply, either. Factor in the idea that the more radioactive shale is, the higher likelihood of a high natural gas content, and it's no wonder some people think the whole process is an incredibly bad idea.

Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales say they will oppose the practice until more is known about potential dangers, and the BBC reported that test drilling in Lancashire was linked to two earthquakes. US and English governments have given fracking the go-ahead, but that hasn't stopped people from protesting the dangers.

They were pretty well-off even before this latest windfall

When the Dowden family signed on to allow fracking on their land and wells to be dug, the general impression given was they had suddenly come into a windfall of cash unlike anything they'd experienced before. Claims from the show's producers and the family themselves state they never intended to play into the redneck stereotypes of the deep South, but critics suggested that segments like daughter Chantal's excitement over her new teeth suggest differently.

CNN Money found they were also less than transparent about the family's financial situation before the fracking began. The four new wells that got them their "mailbox money" weren't the first on the property, and they had already had four natural gas wells that were bringing in between $3,000 and $5,000 every month.

Gerald and Kitten also owned their own construction company, which was large enough to support 20 employees. The Dowdens continued to run their company in spite of their royalty checks, and while the extra mailbox money undoubtedly provided a cushion anyone would be grateful for, it's hardly a rags-to-riches story.

They're not as irresponsible with money as the show suggests

Watching the family's antics can be enough to make most money-conscious viewers cringe, but according to some behind-the-scenes glimpses into the real family, they're not as completely irresponsible as the show is determined to paint them. While they definitely are heading out on cruises and splurging on luxuries that most can just dream of, they're planning ahead, too.

American Profile talked to Valerie, and according to her there were necessities that came first. "College funds have already been taken for all the kids. They wouldn't buy a swimming pool or a hot tub is the necessities of life weren't taken care of," she said.

While Gerald continued to run his construction company, Kitten continued working as the company's bookkeeper, CNN Money reported. And Valerie kept her day job, too, continuing to work full time for the Shreveport public defender's office. She also stressed that she takes care of her own family with her own hard-earned dollars, and just because she and the kids have access to the toys that her parents buy, that doesn't mean they're living off the elder Dowden's money.

The very real dangers: Bayou Corne sinkhole

When the New York Times took a look at the show, they were quick to point out there were some things that were definitely missing. One was a lack of discussion about the controversy that surrounds fracking, and the other is the idea of any potential conflicts with neighbors — the people that would likely be impacted if anything were to go wrong with the fracking operation. That's a very real concern that has impacted the Dowden's home state of Louisiana.

In 2013, a massive sinkhole opened up in Bayou Corne. Over the next few years the sinkhole only grew larger, and in 2016 it covered 35 acres. The sinkhole, which The Associated Press reported had driven around 300 people from their homes, was first thought to have been caused by Texas Brine and their mining in the Napoleonville Salt Dome. While Texas Brine originally settled for $48.1 million in a buyout that compensated the owners of around 100 area properties, they turned around and opened a $100 million lawsuit against Occidental Petroleum Corp., claiming it was their irresponsible drilling practices that were really responsible for the collapse of the bayou.

The truth

While Bayou Billionaires is, at its heart, a show about a family and how they're impacted by a windfall of money and good fortune, the untold truth of just what's going on in the natural gas fields of Louisiana — and in other areas across the country — has yet to be written.

It's entirely possible that there's something dark lurking beneath the surface of this feel-good family drama, one that's already seen unprecedented tragedy with Valerie's shocking murder. For those that loved the show during its run, though, they must suspect that the heart of the Dowden family will get them through any tragic times.