Fun facts about Louisiana, Murder and mayhem

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.

nbgarner
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.

tony.jpg
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.

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Mary Miles Minter’s Alexandria roots”

  1. My parents bought this house when I was about 8yrs old. [ 1945]. Heard many stories concerning this house. Joe Baillio , a noted Alex. policeman found the body in the house along with syrup cans full of coins/money. My sister [Janell ] and I always argued about who had to go upstairs to bed first because of the story that the body of the son N.B., had been kept in a coffin, in a back up stairs bedroom until the health dept forced his internment. My main memory was the Magnolia trees that ringed the house. Raking those leaves was a constant and loosing battle, came to literally hate ” yard work”….. Bill Mertens

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