Murder and mayhem

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.

swords
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?).

helaire2
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.

 

 

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