If you flip through one of my mother’s yearbooks, you’ll see handwritten death dates scrawled underneath the pictures of three of her classmates. Brenda, Lucie and Robert Verrett weren’t just her schoolmates. They were her cousins in a Cajun-iffy way.
My mother can explain to you how the Verrett children were related to her. I cannot. Cajun lines tend to crisscross. We treat second and third cousins like regular cousins. It gets confusing.
What I do know is Brenda, Lucie and Robert went to school one Wednesday in 1966, returned home and vanished. Their mother, Barbara, also disappeared. Left behind were a bloody hammer and bloody bedclothes. Someone tried to set a fire inside the house to destroy the gory evidence.
The Verretts weren’t a traditional family. The parents, Robert Sr. and Barbara, were separated or divorced. Barbara took the kids and moved in with a man named Bernardo Mejia. That type of living arrangement might be normal nowadays. In the 1960s, it would have been the talk of the bayou.
I’ve always wondered if the untraditional arrangement caused a delay in the family being reported missing. It wasn’t until Mejia returned home from a fishing trip on Sunday that the police were called. Regardless, I don’t think the outcome would have changed.
Mejia discovered the doors locked and blankets tacked over the windows. His brand new Ford Falcon wasn’t in the driveway. He crawled through a window to get inside. Why didn’t he have his own house keys? Probably because no one bothered locking doors back in those days. They sure didn’t in the 1980s, when I was growing up.
By this point, no one had seen the kids in four days. Barbara was a housewife so her disappearance probably wasn’t as noticeable as the kids not showing up for school.
The Verretts weren’t the only ones missing. Mejia’s cousin, Roy, who was living with them, was nowhere to be found.
Unlike his Mexico-born uncle, Roy was born in Louisiana. His father was Chitimacha Indian. His mother was a Savoie, which means she was Cajun.
Roy had gotten in trouble for raping a woman but lucked out when the charge was lowered to simple battery.
He must have traveled to Mexico frequently because he had a fiancee in Nuevo Laredo. A few weeks before he disappeared, he visited his fiancee. Back in Louisiana, he stayed with his uncle and the Verrett family while working on a visa that would bring his fiancee to Louisiana. Just before the disappearances, the visa application was denied, supposedly because the fiancee was a known prostitute.
No trace of Roy or the Verretts was discovered for days. Heavy rains thwarted the search at first.
Those heavy rains also brought the mystery to an end. They exposed Barbara in the shallow grave where she was buried near Grand Isle. Nearby were the bodies of the three children, lined up in a triangular shape.
According to newspaper reports, Barbara had been strangled and a piece of cheesecloth stuffed in her mouth. Little Robert was shot in the head. The girls had been beaten. All were only partially clothed.
According to court records, all were shot.
As a child, I remember being told the children had gone to bed partially dressed in their school clothes without getting supper. The sense I always got was they didn’t have the best home life. I wish I could remember more about what my granny said.
What I do know is the discovery of the bodies set off a huge manhunt for Roy. He ditched the car in the French Quarter and wandered the swamps until authorities caught up with him. By that point, he was dazed from hunger and offered no resistance.
Roy told police that Barbara angered him by criticizing the woman he planned to marry. Barbara characterized the woman as a whore and questioned why Roy would go to so much trouble to bring her to Louisiana.
That night, everyone went to bed, while Roy simmered. He was furious that Barbara would criticize his fiancee when she was known for frequenting the bars. He grabbed a hammer and went into the bedroom where Barbara was asleep with little Robert. He clubbed her to death and shot Robert when the commotion woke him.
Then, he headed to the girls’ bedroom, where he shot them. He shot Lucie three times but she was slow to die so he hastened her death with the hammer.
After loading the bodies into his uncle’s car, Roy tried to dispose of them in Assumption Parish but got spooked when a truck turned onto the shell road where he was parked. He drove back to Berwick with the bodies still in the car. He tacked blankets over the windows, returned the bodies to the house, walked around town, washed blood from the outside of the car and waited for nightfall.
Under the cover of darkness, he drove to Lafourche Parish, where he dumped the bodies. Then he returned to Berwick and filed his tax return.
Roy was convicted of murder in the Verrett deaths but that wasn’t the end of his adventures.
In 1967, Roy escaped from prison on Easter Sunday. Agents checking on shrimping violations found him 11 days later in the Avery Island Canal near New Iberia. He was just eight miles from open water, where he could have headed to Mexico. He later told reporters he was trying to get to his wife and children in Mexico.
I hate to end this talking about Roy. So, I’ll end it by talking about the Verretts.
They are buried peacefully along the bayou in a little town called Amelia. The children’s school pictures adorn their graves.