Murder in the (extended) family tree

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Joseph Ashley Schwartz – AKA John Collins – racked up two marriages, two babies and a trail of blood in his 25 years.

According to Family Tree Maker, Joseph Ashley Schwartz is related to me thusly: He’s the brother-in-law of the brother-in-law of the first cousin three times removed. It’s not a very solid connection, and I guess I should be thankful. Joseph lived a rather sordid life.

Joseph was the son of Robert Schwartz and Cora Talley, who settled in New Orleans. His father sold newspapers at night and worked for the city at day. Robert and Cora divorced when their youngest child was just a baby. Both quickly remarried and built blended families of step siblings, half siblings and full siblings that made the Brady Bunch look like a small clan.

Robert’s second wife was Mary Louise Boote. She was still a teen-ager when she fell in love with a traveling salesman named Snodie Munsell. Snodie stuck around long enough to father daughters named Rose, Ruth and Ruby before abandoning the family. Distraught, Mary Louise disappeared for a short time – just long enough for her worried mother to contact the police and the newspapers – but she pulled it together, found Robert and remarried.

But back to Joseph, who would die by the hangman’s noose in New York. Joseph married Mary Louise’s daughter Ruby after she got pregnant. They had a son whom they named Joseph Ashley Schwartz Jr. Shortly after the birth, Joseph left his wife and new baby. He wrote Ruby from Mobile and told her he’d found another girl.  Apparently the new romance didn’t stick.

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Joseph married first to his stepsister Ruby.

Joseph kept heading north until he ended up in New York.

In New York, Joseph was booked for assault and robbery. He managed to escape the Tombs in 1933, but got into a gun battle with detectives that left his friend William Clark dead. Soon, Joseph would have more blood on his hands.

Despite the wife and child back home in New Orleans, Joseph struck up a romance with clerical worker Anna Downey (some newspapers identified her as Helen Downey) in New York. Anna would describe Joseph as a perfect gentleman who wouldn’t let her say the word ‘damn’ because it wasn’t something a lady said. Joseph and Anna had some kind of a sham wedding. Then Anna got pregnant, and they decided to get married for real. There was just one problem (besides the wife back in New Orleans).

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A jailhouse wedding.

Joseph was in prison for murder and robbery. He supposedly held up a beer garden and killed a man named Charles Theuner.

The wedding took place at the prison with Anna’s sister and a newspaperman serving as witnesses. Newspapers loved the story of the condemned man and his beautiful bride. Pictures of the wedding were published across the country, including in New Orleans.

Ruby saw the photos and showed them to her stepfather. Then she raced across town to show them to her mother-in-law. One thing puzzled them.

The papers described a marriage between Anna and a John Collins. John looked very much like Joseph Ashley Schwartz.

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Anna and her baby

Ruby went to the newspapermen, who seized upon the fresh angle to the story. John Collins denied from prison that he was Joseph Ashley Schwartz, and Anna said it couldn’t be true. Anna also threw in that – by her math – John couldn’t possibly be the father of Ruby’s baby or the man that Ruby had to marry because she got in trouble.

Anna also minimized John Collins’ criminal record. By her reckoning, police get your name for one little thing and then pin everything on you. Poor Anna.

Joseph’s family was left wondering if John Collins was their Joseph – although they couldn’t have scratched their heads for too long. Joseph had written his sister letters and signed them John Collins. Although … how did she know who that was when she got the letters? Did he sign them “John Collins (you know, Joseph Schwartz)?” Curiouser and curiouser.

Ruby sent a letter to Joseph in Sing-Sing. The warden returned it, explaining that John Collins denied knowing anyone named Joseph Ashley Schwartz. Ruby decided to let the matter drop. After all, she reasoned, Joseph was condemned to death so she’d soon be a widow with no reason to pursue a divorce.

If you look up the list of people executed in New York, you won’t find Joseph Ashley Schwartz. Instead you’ll find the name John Collins, who was one of four men to go to his death in the electric chair on May 29, 1936.

Joseph – or John – was 25 when he died. He supposedly told the guards “Let’s go” as they strapped him to the electric chair. At the prison gates, Anna clutched their four-month-old baby and sobbed.

Later, upon being woken and told about the execution, Ruby was unsympathetic. She reportedly shrugged her shoulders and showed no emotion. She also told reporters that Anna had fixed her own little red wagon.

 

 

 

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A lost fort on the Louisiana coast

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Look closely (to the right of the map), and you’ll see the French fort that once sat near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Did you know that a French fort used to sit at the mouth of the Mississippi River? That’s not terribly surprising given the French and Spanish history of Louisiana. It’s also not terribly surprising that you won’t find a trace of it today given Louisiana’s ever shifting and disappearing coast.

La Balize disappeared for the first time around 1740 but resurfaced more than once. Hurricanes kept knocking it down, and it kept being rebuilt. It was important to control the mouth of the river — and to guide ships.

A few years ago, we went on a cruise that took us from New Orleans to Mexico (and back). We set off from New Orleans, and everyone got out their phones to pull up Google Maps and track the progress past Plaquemines Parish and into the Gulf. We hadn’t gotten too far when a small boat pulled up alongside the giant cruise ship. A man jumped from the boat through an open door in the side of the cruise ship. He was a river pilot, arriving to guide us out the mouth of the river just as his predecessors did hundreds of years ago.

But back to La Balize … today, it’s completely gone. Pilottown is several miles from the original site of La Balize.

La Balize was substantial enough that the Catholic Church established a parish there in 1722. That got me wondering about what the church records could tell me about the little settlement.

I learned a few things. First, there was never a church at La Balize. The priest must have just visited from time to time. Also, the parish only lasted 30 years before those pesky hurricanes prompted the Catholic Church to scrap it.

Wikipedia (I know – not the most reputable of sources) gives a good timeline for the fort’s history:

  • 1740 – La Balize was destroyed in a hurricane. A new island arose which was called San Carlos. The village was built again on San Carlos.
  • October 7-10, 1778 – La Balize was destroyed, but was rebuilt at this location.
  • July 25-28, 1819 – Ships anchored near La Balize suffered through a 24-hour gale, but only three were grounded.
  • 1831 – La Balize suffered major damage.
  • April 3-4, 1846 – This was the most damaging storm since that of 1831. It was a hurricane-like storm but likely not of tropical origins, given the time of year. It cut a new channel between Cat Island and its lighthouse.
  • By 1853 La Balize had been relocated to the Southwest Pass, where it was built on the western bank about five miles (8 km) northwest of its first location.
  • September 15-16, 1855 – At Cat Island the lighthouse keeper’s house was destroyed and the lighthouse imperiled. Almost everything else was swept away in the storm surge.
  • August 11, 1860 – In the first hurricane of the season, trees were uprooted and up to 10 feet (3.0 m) of water flooded the region of La Balize.
  • September 14-15, 1860 – The second hurricane struck at the mouth of the Mississippi and destroyed La Balize. Tides were six feet above the high-water mark. The village was abandoned and rebuilt upriver at what became Pilottown.
  • October 2-3, 1860 – In the third hurricane of the season, there was widespread damage as far inland as Baton Rouge.
  • September 13, 1865 – Although La Balize had been abandoned since 1860, this hurricane destroyed the last traces of the village.
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Benjamin LaTrobe designed the U.S. Capitol but wasn’t impressed by La Balize in Louisiana. 

In 1819 architect Benjamin LaTrobe visited Balize and was less than impressed.

He wrote: “The building gives its name to one of the most wretched villages in the country … The regular population consists of 90 men and 11 women. The tavern, which is the principal building and a few other houses are built on the United States land … There is nowhere a more convenient spot from which smuggling may be carried on and connived at.”

In 1858, a steamboat left New Orleans every Tuesday and Friday for Balize.

I turned to census records for a more thorough telling of La Balize’s story.

In 1727, La Balize was home to:

  • Father Gaspard, commander at Balize Capuchin.
  • St. Michel, a storekeeper.
  • Baldie, a surgeon.
  • Francois Friou, chief pilot with a wife and two children.
  • Pierre Triet, second pilot with a wife.
  • Pinault, second pilot.
  • Mathurn Lebas, a carpenter.
  • Resin Delauriers, a knacker.
  • Francois Ligny, a knacker.
  • Jean Bureau
  • Joseph Gay
  • Vincent Baugremont, a knacker.

Next, I turned to the records of the New Orleans Diocese for hints about the people who once lived at La Balize. Here’s what I found:

  • Marie Chaterine De Monlion, daughter of Henry and Marie Elizabeth De Gauvery De Monlion, was a native of La Balize. She married Charles August De Lachaise on Feb. 4, 1765, at St. Louis Cathedral.
  • Baltazard Ricard de la Chevalleray, son of Sieur De Villier and Marie Jouarist, was the commandant of the Fort of La Balize. He married Francoise Voisin on Aug. 12, 1760 at St. Louis Cathedral.
  • Heleine Charlotte Voisin, daughter of Jacque and Francoise Bonaventure, was born at La Balize on Dec. 18, 1757. Ten months later, she was christened at St. Louis Cathedral.

 

 

Mary Miles Minter’s Alexandria roots

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The Garner House in Alexandria. This home was built by a captain’s widow – not by the captain himself. He had long been dead.

A beautiful home is for sale in Alexandria, La., for a bargain basement price. The 1908 house supposedly was built for a riverboat captain. It has five bedrooms, original molding and pocket doors. It’s available for less than $70,000. And it has ties to Mary Miles Minter.

Minter was a famous actress of the silent film age. She was immensely popular until her involvement in a still unsolved murder in 1920s Hollywood.

maryBorn in Shreveport at the turn of the century, Minter was the granddaughter of a Louisiana country doctor.  Her aunt and cousins are buried in Mansfield.  The cousins include the one whose name she swiped for her film career. Mary’s real name was Juliet Reilly.

I have no idea if Mary ever visited this house in Alexandria. She left Louisiana at a very young age although she was known to come back for visits. Most certainly, her mother and grandmother visited the Garner House.

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Inside the Garner home. Doesn’t it look like a doll’s house?

Sue Garner was Mary’s great aunt. She lived in and built this beautiful home at 103 Bolton Ave. in Alexandria.

In 1921, Garner told “The Town Talk” that she was interested in newspaper and magazine articles that mentioned Mary. Sadly, Garner died in her beautiful home in 1940. Her body wasn’t found until the next day.

This branch of the Garner family left no descendants (Mary and her sister didn’t leave descendants either). Sue Garner was the widow of a ferry boat captain – not quite a riverboat captain – who used to take people between Alexandria and Pineville. His name was James Garner. The couple had two sons. The eldest boy died young. Their second son, Nathaniel Branch “N.B.,” became a dentist and had his practice in the Bolton Avenue home that he shared with his mother at some point during his adult life.

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N.B. Garner was an Alexandria dentist who advertised frequently. Apparently gas was a big draw for those in need of painful dental work.

The Garners were a big deal in Alexandria society. The local newspaper devoted tremendous copy to their social visits and deaths. The reading of Mrs. Garner’s will got reams of copy.

N.B. Garner had an apparently ill-advised marriage. He wed a Shreveport widow named Mamie Luke, but they soon divorced. Mamie was ordered to pay the costs associated with their divorce. N.B. died in 1914 after struggling with health problems. He was only 42.

Interestingly, given Mary’s career-ending murder problems, N.B. also was connected to a murder case.

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Tony Curero immigrated from Italy and built up a grocery business only to die in front of the Garner House. 

In 1902, a murder happened within sight of the Garner House. Grocer Tony Curero (or Corea) was driving his horse and cart laden with fruits and groceries when someone came up to the wagon and shot him in the face. N.B. heard the shot and ran to the victim only to find him unconscious in the roadway. The man later died.

But back to the Garners. There were tons of mentions in the Alexandria newspapers of yesteryear about the Garners’ connection to Mary Miles Minter. I wondered, though, exactly how they were related.

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The Ragan-Minter-Miles family tree. Note: This is not a complete tree.

Sue Garner was born Susie Emilie Ragan on June 14, 1849. Newspapers record her son N.B. as being born on the family plantation in Sabine Parish that belonged to his grandmother Mary L. Branch on April 7, 1872. They moved to Alexandria when N.B. was 7.

There is also much mention of Sue Garner’s connections to the Shelbys of Kentucky. I don’t who the Shelbys were, but they must have been an impressive family. Mary’s mother later renamed herself Charlotte Shelby.

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Mary Miles Minter and her grandmother, Julia Ragan Miles. 

A Julia B. Ragan (Julia Branch, perhaps?) married Elbert Miles on Feb. 27, 1873, in Sabine Parish. Julia was Mary Miles Minter’s grandmother. She moved with her daughter and granddaughters to California for Mary’s movie career.

And there you have it. Julia and Sue were sisters. Mary and N.B. were second cousins.

juliamilesIt appears that Julia and Sue were close. When N.B. Garner got ill for the last time, Julia traveled from New York to Alexandria and stayed until he died. The newspaper dutifully recorded her visit.

Julia also visited in 1896. In fact, she visited twice in 1896, staying with her sister in January and October of that year.

Sue outlived Julia by more than a decade. She died in 1940.  A friend became alarmed when Garner didn’t answer the door and called the mayor who advised her to call a police officer. It was the officer who found Garner dead in her bed.

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Another shot of the interior of the Garner House. 

Interestingly, watchmen were assigned to watch the house night and day until relatives could arrive to take possession of valuables in the house. What did she have in there?

The coroner found papers on a bedside table and placed them in a satchel that he delivered to the court. A judge authorized attorney John W. Hawthorn of the law firm of Hawthorn, Stafford and Pitts to open the bag. Inside it was a will. It all sounds very Agatha Christie.

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The Garner family plot in Pineville’s historic Rapides Cemetery.

By the time Sue died, her children were both gone, and there were no grandchildren. She left her estate to her niece Hazel Minter Jordan (Mary’s cousin) and Hazel’s children, Joseph Lafayette Jordan and Charlotte Shelby Jordan. Hazel was Julia’s granddaughter by a daughter who married and quickly died after bringing Hazel and the original Mary Miles Minter into the world.

Mary’s mother traveled to Alexandria for the funeral. Mary did not make the trip.

 

 

 

 

Louisiana and the Titanic

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Sara Compton of New Orleans?

I was wondering the other day if there were any Louisiana connections on the Titanic. I found one but don’t get too excited.

A Miss Alice Compton of Lakewood, N.J., and New Orleans was reported by the Asbury Park Evening Press as rescued along with her mother. Alice’s brother, Alexander, perished.

The only problem is that there wasn’t an Alice Compton on the Titanic. Alice was Sara Rebecca Compton (the newspaper got her name wrong). She died in Miami in 1952. I can find no indication that she ever lived in New Orleans so that probably was just something else that the newspaper got wrong. More likely, the newspaper meant to say New York, where Sara was born.

But don’t take my word for it. The Times-Picayune went out and questioned the Comptons of New Orleans in 1912. According to the paper: “None of the Comptons who live in New Orleans know the family of the same name that was aboard the Titanic and are unable to account for them or to say who they are.”

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Sara’s brother died in the Titanic sinking after ensuring that his mother and sister got into a lifeboat.

The search for the Titanic victims’ New Orleans roots didn’t end there. A Sen. C.C. Cordill of Louisiana wondered if they were connected to the Comptons of Tensas Parish. Apparently a daughter of Judge Stacey married a Wilbur Compton of Botnay Bay plantation in Tensas Parish. The marriage produced a number of children, including brothers who became prominent businessmen in Mississippi and had families who were rumored to travel abroad.

Despite the sleuthing and speculating, the Comptons of Titanic were not from New Orleans or Tensas Parish. Sara’s father was born in New Jersey. His mother was born in New York, not Tensas Parish. The Comptons of Titanic were not descended from Thomas Wilbur Compton and Emma Stacy of Tensas Parish.

So it’s doubtful Sara was of New Orleans just as it’s doubtful that a New Orleans shipyard telephone operator named Rosemary Eller ever set foot on the Titanic.

hospitalEller emerged in 1944 claiming to have been born Helena Yates and rescued from the Titanic. Her story was that she was rescued from the ship, taken to the New York Baby hospital and later unofficially adopted by the Starks (or Stark or Starke or Starkes) family of New Orleans.

Here’s the problem: There was never a Helena Yates on the Titanic. The only Yates aboard was a gambler, and he seemed to have been a con artist who lied about being on the Titanic. Regardless, if he was onboard, he probably wasn’t toting a baby.

But back to Rosemary.

From reading the historical records, it appears that Rosemary didn’t know she was adopted until both her parents were gone. What probably happened is that she was orphaned – or abandoned – at a young age. Somehow, she found her way to New Orleans into the arms of a family who had recently lost a child.

Maybe her birth mother dropped her at the foundling hospital with a fantastic story about the Titanic that was written into the hospital records. Who knows.

Here’s the story of Rosemary Eller.

Rosemary was taken to a foundling hospital in New York on April 23, 1912. Supposedly, a nurse brought her in and said she was a survivor of the Titanic. The shipwreck would have been the talk of New York at the time.

Already, though, the story starts running off the tracks. The Titanic, obviously, sank in April 1912. Eller later claimed she was six months old when the Titanic sank. When she died, her birth was recorded as Sept. 27, 1910. So she was actually a toddler when she was taken to the foundling hospital – not six months old.

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St. Vincent’s Ferrer Church, where Rosemary was allegedly baptized as Helena Yates.

In 1915 or so Rosemary was baptized as Helena Yates at St. Vincent’s Ferrer Church (this is all according to Rosemary).  Interestingly, the foundling home baptized other children at St. Vincent’s before putting them on the Orphan Train. Hmmm … By 1920, Rosemary was living in the household of John and Mary Burke Starks in a rented house at 1110 Felicity St. (it’s now a parking lot) in New Orleans.

Her adoptive father died just before Christmas 1920. He had been a farmer and an ice dealer. He and Mary had many children, including a little girl named Mary Rose who died in 1913. It wouldn’t have been surprising if they adopted a child to fill that terrible void. Mary was past childbearing age by the time Rosemary joined the family.

Interestingly, the 1930 census lists Rosemary’s birthplace as New York. At that point, the Starks, minus John, were living at 2622 Magazine St.

In 1944, Rosemary made the noise about being a Titanic survivor. The story made a small splash and then disappeared without a followup.

Rosemary moved to California and died there, in Oakland, in 1962. She left behind three children and six grandchildren. Her obit listed her as a loving mother and a dear brother. Poor Rosemary.

Hopefully, she was able to discover her real story even if it wasn’t as glamorous as being rescued from the Titanic.

A disappearing Shreveport

From death and mayhem, I thought I’d visit some of Shreveport’s lovely old homes. Most of them are gone now, but I enjoy looking at pictures of the grand old ladies that once were found in and near downtown. The landscape changes so quickly.

Houses burn down. They’re torn down. They simply disappear until ghosts get lost trying to revisit home.

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The Zeigler house

On a bluff overlooking the Red River, the S. J. Zeigler house once stood. How beautiful is it? I can imagine standing on the widow’s walk and taking in the river views.

birdseyeThe Zeiglers apparently bought the house in 1881 from W. P. Ford. Ford had purchased the property from the Leonards. It seems likely that the Leonards built the house.

In 1901, Louie Ogden and her cousin Helen Kendall were driving in a trap with a couple of gentleman when the rear seat collapsed just outside the Zeigler home. Poor Helen was knocked unconscious. Fortunately, she recovered. She and Louie were guests of Mrs. W. C. Vance on Fannin street.

Interestingly, the 1900 census lists the Zeiglers as boarders. They also liked going by initials. They’re listed as S.J. and H.M. with sons Sam and Howell and someone named Vinnie.

In reality, S.J. was Samuel Jacob. He and his wife, Sarah, had five children. Only two lived to maturity.

Their daughter Sadie died age 9 at the Zeigler house in 1891. Another daughter, Susie, died aged two years, one month and 23 days in 1917. The family later made its way back to South Carolina.

If you visit the house site today, you’ll find the Chateau Hotel.

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1608 Fairfield Ave. back in the day

If you go to 1608 Fairfield Ave. today, you’ll find a rundown office building. A century ago, you would have found this fabulous mansion. I would have wanted a room in the tower.

John and Toinette Scott lived here. John was listed as a planter in the 1917 Shreveport telephone directory. Census records show them living in that giant house without any live-in servants or children. John’s sister married into the Youree family and lived nearby so they wouldn’t have been too lonely.

The home was demolished in 1947 after becoming a funeral home. An advertisement was placed in the newspaper for anyone interested in beautiful woodwork, mantels, bevel plate, glass doors, stained glass windows, oak, wainscoating or inlaid flooring.

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The shell hints at the planned grandeur 

One of the saddest houses to stand in Shreveport was a shell of a building that was never completed. Walter Page started to build an enormous house on Jefferson-Paige Road. He stopped work on it when his son John died. A storm hit the property in 1917 and the shell later was razed.

The house was known as Page’s Castle. The Shreveport Journal described it as “two stories with a four story octagonal rotunda, surmounted by a dome and observation deck. From the hilltop house spread a sweeping lawn with thousands of rose bushes.”

Page came from a wealthy family that moved from Tennessee to Louisiana and bought tremendous acreage for cotton. Supposedly, in an attempt to lure his son from the drinking and fast cars of Nashville, Page began work on Page’s Castle. He envisioned a resort similar to Delmonico’s with ducks, roses, a fish pond and race horses. A storm heavily damaged the dream project in 1917. Then news of John Page’s death quickly followed, and the dream died entirely.

More likely, the storm created problems with the construction, and the rest of the story is just romantic nonsense. It appears that John Page died long before construction on Page’s Castle even began.

howellhouseThe Howell house stood at 819 Spring St. It was built by John Howell and evolved from mansion to apartment building before a fire destroyed it in the 1930s.

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This picture doesn’t do the Hicks mansion justice. 

My personal obsession is the Hicks home that stood at 416 Travis St. This antebellum mansion endured for years as modern structures rose around it.

It was built at the conclusion of the Civil War with logs shipped from St. Louis. The original owner was Daniel Smith, but the deed soon passed to Col. F. M. Hicks. Hicks lived there until moving to Texas for his health. His son Samuel B. Hicks then moved into the home with his bride Mamie.

The home came down in the 1950s to pave the way for a skyscraper.

The death of Bertha Neason

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Bertha with the killer and his accomplices. 

Bertha Michelsohn Neason spent the night of her murder in April 1920 at the Aubudon Tea Room in New Orleans. She was drunk and in the company of a college student with a troubled past.

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A recent book on New Orleans between 1900 and 1920 speculated on the location of Turtle Back (or Turtleback) Road. 

She would meet her death on Turtle Back Road near the Orleans Canal. Dubbed the million dollar queen, she was wearing six rings worth thousands of dollars at the time of her murder. Her love of expensive jewels led to her death – and one has to wonder if the jewels in question were actually real.

Teen-aged friends Felix Birbiglia and Charles Zalenka went to the gallows for shooting Neason to death in a plot to steal her jewels.

But, first, there was a shared pop bottle of whiskey and a drive through the West End and Spanish Fort. As she tried to sneak a kiss from a 17-year-old Felix, Charles slipped him the gun through the front seat of the car. At the wheel was Charles’ cousin Robert Burns.

Felix shot poor Bertha twice and then knocked her in the head.

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The 1925 city directory shows the Birbiglia family at this address in New Orleans. 

Felix was a business student at Spencer Business College with a fiance, Helen Clements. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gaspar Birbiglia, operated a saloon at First and Rampart streets. They lived nearby.

Although his mother insisted that the family was prosperous and there was no reason for Felix to steal let alone murder, there were earlier indications of problems. While serving in the Navy, Felix forged a pay check and was discharged.

Charles was a boilermaker’s helper. His father worked for the railroad.

Bertha worked for a department store at one time and lived with her parents at 2401 Dryades street. Her husband, Emanuel Neason, was a sailor who was apparently out of town at the time of the shooting. A first husband, Charles Herrick, lived in Chicago, where she divorced him.

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The scene of the hangings. 

In 1921, the hangings came.

Felix went to the noose first. Unfortunately for him, the noose slipped and he strangled to death. It took him 28 minutes to die. As he strangled, he muttered “Christ have mercy on my soul.”

Before his death, Felix asked to be buried at St. Joseph’s. He then gave a statement on behalf of himself and Charles.

“We go without any malice toward anybody,” he told reporters. “At times, we have had some bitterness. All that is gone now. We do not want to leave any enemies here.”

Charles shook hands with everyone in the death chamber before mounting the platform. He left behind a bride, whom he married in jail.

The murder of a Louisiana sheriff

Recently, we were in Asheville, where we made the trek to Grove Park Inn. The hotel is in a stunning landscape and boasts an incredible great hall with huge fireplaces and logs the size of a not-so-small child. It was Christmas so we wandered the halls looking at gingerbread houses from the hotel’s annual contest.

While looking at an exhibit devoted to one-time guest F. Scott Fitzgerald (he would come to stay while Zelda was in a nearby loony bin), I turned around and encountered an exhibit devoted to the Pink Lady.

The Pink Lady is the Grove Park Inn’s ghost. Supposedly she plunged to her death from an upper floor to the Palm Court in the 1920s. I diligently searched for an account of the death in newspaper articles and came up empty. So it may just be local legend with no basis in fact.

However, it got me to thinking about Louisiana murders in the 1910s or 1920s. Murder is so much cozier when there’s some distance isn’t it?

I didn’t find a Pink Lady, but I did find the curious case of Helaire Carriere.

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Sheriff Swords met his end when he chased a violent backwoodsman.

Carriere’s trial for murder of St. Landry Parish Sheriff Marion Swords was a sensation in 1916. The fact that the jury at first couldn’t agree on whether to send him to the gallows only added to the frenzy.

Newspapers in those days were fairly sensational. One newspaper described Carriere as an illiterate backwoodsman who killed a man, broke out of jail and subsequently terrorized St. Landry Parish. Supposedly, “all of St. Landry” knew where Carriere was but only Sheriff Swords was brave enough to venture out to the cabin where he was hiding.

A gun battle broke out in a corn field near the cabin. The sheriff was killed. A Deputy Cachere was hit by the bullet splinters in the face. And two other men were wounded. So he shot the sheriff and he shot the deputy (get it?).

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Carriere was soon caught in a deserted mill.

From the corn field, Carriere fled to a deserted mill near Lake Charles. It took a month to find him. Another shootout ensued. One newspaper account had Carriere mortally wounded, but he survived. There would be no cheating the gallows.

“The New Orleans Daily States” brought in an artist to assess Carriere’s character. Artist Napoleon DeRemont – a student of European universities – looked at a picture of Carriere and concluded that he was lazy, a dreamer, of ordinary intelligence, bossy, passionate, nervous and of questionable ancestry.

DeRemont concluded: “Judging by his eyes, he was not born to be a servant. To digress from a straight character study, I would remark that Carriere typifies the fourth of fifth generation of those rollicking, carefree adventurers who came from France and Spain to the new world to seek quick fortunes and remained to drink, gamble and scratch the surface of the eart for bare livelihoods. Loose of morals were those men and strange mixtures of blood …”

Carriere hung for the crime. He was hanged in Baton Rouge – supposedly at “high noon” – in 1917.  He was all of 33. Afterward, a funeral was held, also at “high noon” at the “little Catholic Church” in Opelousas. Friends brought shovels to cast dirt into their friend’s grave.

In an odd footnote to the story, an Athens Simien was accused of slashing his wife’s throat in the same cabin in Pott’s Cove that Carriere hid in until Sheriff Swords found him. The woman died.