A guy who calls himself Jeffrey appears, seemingly out of thin air, from behind the levee at the Harvey locks.
Jeffrey says he’s an ex-Marine, and he’s decked out in camouflage pants and military jacket topped off with a garrison cap. He has a loaded field pack tugging at his back.
Jeffery is immediately drawn to Gene Thacker. aka “Thacker the Whacker,” a no-nonsense bounty hunter and former star of a short-lived reality show, “Big Easy Justice,” who is smoking a cigarette and peering out at the New Orleans skyline across the river.
“It’s guys like me … bounty hunters, that keep New Orleans safe,” The Whacker says, throwing a glance at the city across the river.
“I’ve been cut, shot at, had my head split open. But I couldn’t even think of doing anything else. Somebody once asked me if I was afraid of getting killed. I tell them that I’ve made my peace with God and I don’t fear death at all.”
A wide-eyed Jeffrey sidles up closer to The Whacker. “Man, I know you,” Jeffrey says. “You look familiar. I know you from somewhere. Where do I know you from, man?”
The Spike TV show, in 2012, lasted 10 epidodes, and Thacker was briefly a personality on WGNO in New Orleans. But even today, The Whacker is the personification of no-nonsense badass, decked out in his black shirt and military khaki pants. Around and under all that The Whacker totes a Glock pistol on one hip, a taser on the other and another pistol strapped to his ankle. Two clips of ammunition are attached to his belt as a sort of unnecessary exclamation point.
The badge on his shirt identifies him as a “fugitive recovery agent,” and a patch over his chest further announces that you are eyeball-to-eyeball with “Tat-2,” just in case you missed the body art on two shoulder-to-fingertip skin canvases.
Somewhere under the hat, messages are rolling in through an earbud from one or more of The Whacker’s 10 associates in the field who are “going after the bad guys.”
Up close to The Whacker as he is, Jeffery seems overwhelmed and manages a question or two about Kevlar body protection before he realizes he is verbally outgunned and definitely out of his league. He manages some kind of weak salute and mumbles to himself, then ambles down the path atop the levee. The Whacker’s eyes are darting all around under his dark glasses. He constantly surveys the landscape. The ex-Marine is quickly only a memory.
“My dad was a captain with the (Jefferson Parish) Sheriff’s Department and my mom was a lieutenant,” The Whacker says. “My sister and my brother in law are still with the Sheriff’s Department.”
But when he says that his mother passed away last year, his demeanor becomes somber. “That hit me hard … real hard,” the 44-year-old bounty hunter says. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my dad, but my mom and I were really close. Her death made me look at things differently. … It really changed me. ... It used to be they kidded me about the Tat-2 thing and we laughed. Now, it’s about doing the job and going home. But I tell you what, the scars I have are a lot more than just physical. They’re mental … and they’re here.” He reaches up to his heart.
“It’s impossible to do this job when you have family,” Thacker continues. “You never know when you’re going to be home … or even if you’re going to come home. Right now, I’m working on my fifth divorce.”
Still, he says, he was born to be a bounty hunter.
After stints in the Air Force, Army and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, his calling became unavoidable.
“I was in law enforcement, but there was something missing,” he says. “This was 16 years ago, and I was in my chosen profession, but there was an emptiness. Then I got a call about a woman who had a ton of warrants out on her. The bail bondsmen were looking for her, the police were looking for her. A man by the name of Vernell Thompson gave me the job to find her. I found her the same day, and Mr. Thompson told me I was born for the job. I never looked back.”
That was 10,000 apprehensions ago, countless miles after chases down many dark alleys and hallways. At 5 feet 9 and 165 pounds, the hunter is more often than not shorter and less beefy than the hunted. Not exactly a giant in a war where the bad guys don’t play by any civil set of rules. Still …
“I’ve never backed down,” The Whacker says. “I never run or turn around … and I never have to apologize to anybody. I use whatever I have to use and do whatever I have to do to bring in the person I’m after. I’ve got a reputation out there … and that helps a lot.
“A guy knows me and he’d rather give up. I work with a team of up to 10 people … they’re all over the place. I may bang on a door and one of them will say, ‘Weren’t we here a couple of months ago?’ I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I arrested half the family here then and I’m here to arrest the other half tonight.’”
The Whacker heads down the levee to his truck, an ominous black job approximately the size of a German Tiger tank. A giant skull decal covers one corner of the back window, right next to the giant message: “Relentless.”
The cab is basic mean black leather that is loaded with gadgets aimed at capturing “bad guys,” including a pistol magnetically fastened under the dash.
“Since I opened that door I’ve gotten five messages on my phone,” The Whacker says. “Sometimes it looks like our police are outnumbered and outgunned. That’s why we have bounty hunters. That’s why we’re here. That’s why I love what I do. And like I said, fear doesn’t enter into it. This is where I was meant to be. This is what I was meant to do. I’ve made my peace with God.”