Suspect identified in years-old stabbing death of Bywater woman

Joseph Brant
Joseph Brant

It was the phone call the Hawk family hoped and prayed for for the p ast half-decade.

On Tuesday night, New Orleans police called the relatives of Jessica Hawk and said they had identified the man suspected of stabbing her to death in August 2008.

“This is huge,” Hawk’s sister-in-law, Kim, said Wednesday from her suburban Cincinnati home. “Now we hope and pray something comes of it.”

Police said they have issued a warrant for 44-year-old Joseph Brant, who is in jail in Beaumont, Texas, on unrelated burglary charges.

Cold-case detective Winston Harbin identified Brant as Hawk’s alleged killer after he received a tip in September naming Brant as a possible suspect in the case. Police said that during an interview with Harbin, Brant confessed to fatally stabbing her.

The department has now filed paperwork to have Brant extradited to New Orleans to face a charge of second-degree murder.

Hawk’s ex-fiancé called police on Aug. 11, 2008, after he had not heard from her for several days.

Officers knocked on the door of the 32-year-old botanist’s home in the 3000 block of Chartres Street. They got no answer.

Once they made their way inside, they discovered Hawk’s body on the floor. Someone had plunged a knife into her several times. She was dead.

Police have not identified a motive in the killing.

While her family said investigators did all they could to try to find the person responsible for her death, there were few clues.

Police have said a lack of witnesses greatly hindered progress. A composite sketch released a few days after her killing did not lead to any new developments.

Since then, her family has traveled to the city each year in hopes of finding new information and to help tend a garden planted in her memory on the St. Claude Avenue neutral ground between Port and Montegut streets, a short distance away from a nursery where Hawk worked.

Word of the break in the case was a relief after all this time, Kim Hawk said. “It’s taken almost six years, but we never gave up hope.”