Murder and mayhem, New Orleans

The man who was – or wasn’t – buried alive

See “2” on the 1870 map of New Orleans? Potter’s field – and the scene of so much uproar on May 25, 1875 – would have been in that vicinity.

The New Orleans press must have perked up on May 29, 1875, when wagon driver James “Jim” Conners was arrested.

Most of the police blotter for that day is rather humdrum. Charles Ford was brought in for pilfering ice along the levee. John Whitman was brought in for stealing a shirt from a woman’s clothes line. And, then there’s Mr. Conners. His alleged crime? Burying a man who wasn’t quite dead.

The story goes like this.

Conners was a driver for Charity Hospital, the hospital for the poor in New Orleans. One of his jobs was to take bodies to potter’s field, otherwise known as Locust Grove Cemeteries Nos. 1 and 2, and deliver them for burial in the graveyard for the “friendless and moneyless.” It couldn’t have been a fun job, but Conners wasn’t known as a fun guy. More on that later.

On May 25, 1875, Conners was summoned to collect the body of Tennessee native George Banks, a teenager who died of small pox, and the remains of an infant. The job didn’t go well from the outset. Banks’ body smelled so bad that a little boy riding with Conners hopped off the wagon. However, a lonely drive with two corpses would be the least of Conners’ problems.

The wagon and driver were a familiar sight to the people who lived around the cemeteries. They all knew the tall, red-faced man in the white hat who drove Charity wagon No. 1 by sight, if not by name.

Melinda Smith later said she was visiting a neighbor on Locust Street when she saw the charity wagon that May day. It was stopped, and she thought it had broken down. Approaching the wagon, she saw Conners trying to hammer down the lid of Banks’ coffin. When that didn’t work, he took the baby’s coffin and placed it on top of it. Amidst Conners’ struggle with the coffin, Smith said she saw a hand emerge from it and try to push off the lid.

Alarmed, she told Conners he was carrying a live man to the graveyard. Conners told her to leave before he slapped her in the mouth. Smith didn’t leave, and her cries attracted a crowd.

Mary Thompson was putting clothes on the line when she heard the commotion. Like Smith, she insisted Banks was alive. She claimed Banks seemed too weak to sit up but raised his hands and his feet as Conners struggled to keep the lid on the coffin.

Other neighbors materialized, all with their own stories of raised hands and groans from the coffin. They followed the wagon to the cemetery as Conners warned them they would catch small pox. Undeterred, a woman who spoke German urged the grave digger to intervene. The grave digger shrugged and said Banks was dead enough for the doctor to sign the death certificate.

A man named William Harrison said he managed to pry the lid off the coffin and saw Banks’ toes twitch and breast move. He said Banks was naked with a cobblestone on his stomach.

Somehow, the sexton was able to admit Conners and his wagon into the cemetery without letting the crowd follow him through the gate. Banks was placed in his grave with spadefuls of mud clods covering his coffin, but that wouldn’t be the end of the saga.

The uproar reached the press, who turned up at the cemetery and wrote eloquently in Dickensian fashion about mausoleums of regret, naked terrors and 50 babies’ weary little bodies stacked up instead of interred. They interviewed the sexton, only referred to as Schwartz, who said the coffin was jolted to pieces by the wagon, the man was most certainly dead and Jim was well suited for his job because he wasn’t tender or good hearted.

Found at the warehouse where the city stored its wagons, Conners said the people in the neighborhood just didn’t like him for some reason although he couldn’t explain why. It also emerged that Conners had gotten into a fight with a coworker a few months prior and accidentally shot a woman who happened to be walking past. This was partly invention by the press. News clippings clearly indicate that it was the coworker who shot the woman.

Conners was arrested in Banks’ death. By June, he was indicted on a murder charge. By January, the case was dismissed in Conners’ favor.

Reading the testimony presented by the defense, it’s clear why the “buried alive” case died. Sorry, I do love a good pun. It seems that Banks was not only merely dead but really most sincerely dead at the hospital, long before he left for his final journey to the cemetery. What the crowd likely saw that day was a coffin and then a body jolted by a rickety wagon.

As for Banks’ burial spot … well, it’s complicated. The neighborhood wasn’t happy about having a poorly maintained potter’s field amongst it, especially after the yellow fever epidemic of 1879. The city decided to build a school on the land … without moving any of the graves. That’s a story for another day.

Murder and mayhem

The killing of Mrs. Bonfoy

Emily Bonfoy – or Bonfoey – who was brutally killed in 1867.

I was looking for a newspaper story about a downtown Shreveport mansion that burned in the 1960s when I spotted a bulletin from Marshall, Texas, about the burning of a historic mansion there. The article made a glancing reference to the killing of a Mrs. Bonfoy. And, just like that, I was Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole.

The article was annoyingly unspecific about what happened to Mrs. Bonfoy. It just said she was killed during reconstruction days. In fairness to the “Shreveport Times,” the story was really about the fire that destroyed her house, which – when it burned in 1914 during a remodeling – belonged to a Y. D. Harrison. The glancing reference was that the home was known as the old Bonfoy homestead and was the site of Mrs. Bonfoy’s killing. No doubt, the killing was so well known at the time that no other details were needed.

I had to know more. It didn’t take me long to find the bigger story.

I should add here that while Marshall is firmly in Texas – and not in Louisiana, which is the focus of this blog – it’s fairly close to Shreveport. In fact, it’s part of what is known as the Ark-La-Tex, which stands for Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. All that means is if you live in southern Arkansas, you watch the same news station as the folks in Shreveport.

Husband and wife were buried weeks apart.

But back to Mrs. Bonfoy – or Bonfoey according to what’s on her tombstone..

Someone with the initials J. C. H. related the details of the murder to the “Jefferson Jimplecute” in 1909.

Mrs. Bonfoy was Emily Warner Powers Bonfoy. She was married to Davis Brainerd Bonfoy. According to J. C. H., Mr. Bonfoy was a scalawag. By that, he meant Mr. Bonfoy was a tax collector.

The site of the unsolved murder.

The period surrounding the end of the Civil War was uneasy in Marshall. Union soldiers were stationed in the town, and they weren’t welcomed by the residents. The mysterious murder of Mrs. Bonfoy didn’t help matters.

The way J. C. H. relayed it, Mr. Bonfoy became engorged with the taxes he collected, shot his assistant in the back of the head, ran to the door and called out that the assistant had shot himself. After his arrest, his wife was guarded by federal soldiers. Why were guards needed? Supposedly, a trunk with all those tax collections was in the Bonfoy home.

According to J. C. H., a guard killed Mrs. Bonfoy and took the contents of the trunk. Mr. Bonfoy heard the news and died in jail of a broken heart over the death of his beloved wife.

“The Longview News Journal” later told a very different account. According to the newspaper, Mr. Bonfoy asked for a security detail when he had to travel for business because of the large amount of cash in a safe at the house. His wife was later found brutally beaten and her murderers never caught.

Finally, I turned to The Southwestern Historical Quarterly for a definitive account of what happened in 1867. It’s clear from that account that confusion surrounds the murder despite the presence of guards at the scene. It’s unclear whether the guards were foxes guarding the henhouse or just incredibly inept at their job.

Beverly was just 12 when he woke up in the night to his mother’s screams.

Mrs. Bonfoy was a schoolteacher before marrying Mr. Bonfoy. After their marriage, she continued her work in education by opening a seminary for women in their home. They weren’t wealthy, but they were comfortable with a nice home and four sons: George, Clarence, Beverly and Edwin.

As tax collector, Mr. Bonfoy had to collect an unpopular tax on cotton. In 1867, he heard that a deputy collector named W. H. Fowler was working with cotton dealers to cheat the federal government of true collections. Bonfoy must have been fearful of confronting Fowler because he armed himself with a pistol to meet with him in a nearby town.

Fowler didn’t take the confrontation well, refused to cover the shortage in collections and threatened Bonfoy. He wanted Bonfoy to clear him in writing of any wrongdoing. The men argued, guns were brandished and Bonfoy shot Fowler. Bonfoy was arrested and taken to the city jail.

Back home in Marshall, Mrs. Bonfoy was tending to two of her sons and waiting for the rest of her children to come home from school in Connecticut, where they’d been sent in the waning days of the war. The family’s home and grounds took up an entire block. In the home was a safe containing the family’s personal money and the government’s tax collections.

Mrs. Bonfoy was fearful of sleeping in the house at night because of the safe. She asked for a guard, and the federal government granted her request. A guard slept on the veranda every night.

It was Beverly who first realized something was wrong. Sleeping on the floor of his mother’s room, he woke up to groans and cries for help. His mother had been beaten in the head with a hammer or an axe. She lingered in agony for four days before dying.

An excerpt from the investigation into Mrs. Bonfoy’s murder. The guards were arrested, freed, placed on a train and never seen in Marshall again.

Her murder was never solved.

The safe – which undoubtedly was what sparked the killing – never left the house that fateful night. Afterward, no one was quite sure what happened that night. Did Mrs. Bonfoy catch the robbers in the act of trying to cart off the safe? Did the robbers club her in the head with the intention of breaking into the safe once she was silenced? What is clear is the security detail was immediately suspected.

The guards knew exactly how much money was in the safe. Mrs. Bonfoy had shown them the contents to distinguish the government’s money from her family’s.

Soon, whispers started, and they got louder as the days passed. Everyone was certain the guards had killed Mrs. Bonfoy in a botched robbery attempt. The guards were arrested, quietly released and hustled onto a train. They never saw Marshall, Texas, again. It’s not even clear what their names were so intent was the government in protecting them.

The government seized the safe after Mrs. Bonfoy died. Her children later sued the federal government for the family’s portion of the money that was inside it. It took them 25 years to collect the $13,000 that belonged to their parents.

As for Mr. Bonfoy, he was still in jail. Six weeks after his wife died, he was released on bail and immediately went to the cemetery to see her grave. While there, he collapsed. He was taken home, where he died 24 hours later. Later, a rumor circulated that he had poisoned himself, adding yet another strange chapter to this bizarre tale.

Years later, at age 75, Beverly would share photos of the family home and his mother with reporters. He was the only one of the four boys still living. He wanted his mother to be remembered as an educator.

Genealogy tools, Murder and mayhem

Louisiana marriage records

Mary Minter with her mother in court.

My favorite true crime story involves Mary Miles Minter, a Louisiana-born silent film star whose career was ruined when her nightie was found in the cottage of a much older, murdered director. Rumors soon flew that not-so-innocent Mary’s mother, Charlotte Shelby (real name Lily Pearl Miles), murdered the director because her cash cow daughter was infatuated with him and the romance was too tawdry for early Hollywood. The murder’s never been solved. But, I ask you: Would you go to the trouble of killing a man and then leave your daughter’s nightie behind at the scene?

What does this have to do with genealogy, you ask? Well, I’ve always been fascinated with Mary and her tragic story. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a book about her, prompting me to research her family tree. has a collection of Louisiana marriage records. I thought I would find a record for Mary’s parents. No such luck. I looked for her grandparents. No luck. I searched for her cousin. Luck.

This is a nice collection of records because you can search it electronically and – in some cases – see a scanned copy of the register. But I would caution that I believe there are gaps in the records.

This brings me to an important point about online records. Often, they’re indexed by volunteers. If you don’t find your grandparents’ marriage record in there, don’t panic. Your grandparents didn’t necessarily lie and live in sin. The indexer could have horribly mangled the spelling of their names. A collection of records could have been on someone’s desk at the courthouse instead of on the shelf with the rest of the records the day they were scanned. Anything could’ve happened. It’s always best to go to the original source and take a look.

Here’s the handy dandy link:

And here’s the marriage record for Mary’s cousin, Hazel. She got married in 1912, which was the same year Mary made her first film. It was under her married name that Hazel would get into a lengthy court battle with Mary mother’s over the family plantation. But that’s a story for another day.

Murder and mayhem, Newspaper articles

The murder of Edna Weiss and a history of insanity

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 10.14.49 PM.pngI was in search of my great-grandmother, Isabelle Giroir Gauthreaux, when I dove into coroner records for Orleans Parish. Isabelle died in New Orleans after a failed appendix operation. She died hours away from home so I thought she might have been transferred to the morgue until her family could make arrangements to move her body to Amelia for burial.

I didn’t find Isabelle. But I did find Edna Arseneaux Weiss.

It was Edna’s brother-in-law, Adolph Davidson, who collected her body from the morgue. He also requested her shoes and clothing. Presumably, he planned to bury her in them.

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Charles Weiss slit his wife’s throat in 1917 on a New Orleans street corner. 

Edna died in 1917 on a New Orleans street corner after her husband slit her throat. She ran a hundred feet after the attack – all while holding her 2-year-old son, Alvin. She ended up collapsing and dying on Canal Street.

Poor Edna. The day started ordinarily enough. She spent the day in the city with her husband’s sister, Louise Weiss Davidson. Toward evening, she and her husband left her sister’s house to buy Alvin a pair of shoes. For some reason, her husband grew angry as they walked down the street and slit his wife’s throat with a razor.

Edna was only 24. Her husband, Charles Joseph Henry Weiss, was 30. The Lunacy Commission found Charles to be insane. They seemed to largely base this finding on insanity in Charles’ family. Apparently his father and grandfather died of insanity – whatever that means.

Charles wasn’t set free. He was packed off to the insane asylum.

The murder happened in the days when reporters were allowed into jails to interview suspects. So, before Charles went to the loony bin, a reporter was able to interview him at the New Orleans jail.

Here’s what Charles had to say:

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Yep, he accused his wife of slitting her own throat.

I don’t know what happened to Charles. Little Alvin died in 1990.

Murder and mayhem, Newspaper articles

The death of a bartender in sparsely settled New Orleans

From the Feb. 24, 1918, edition of “The Times-Picayune.”

Fire, murder and robbery all hit the Winkler family in 1918. After losing a bartender to murder and his saloon to arson, is it any wonder that the family patriarch, Peter Winkler, simply turned around after finding his home ransacked in June of that year and checked into the Monteleone Hotel?

But, first, the murdered bartender: poor John Sexton. He worked the railroad before settling down in New Orleans to tend bar for the Winkler family. A hammer blow to the head ended his life while he slept in his bed.

I came across his death in Orleans Parish coroner’s records. Intrigued, I pulled the newspaper article about his death. That’s when I learned of the Winkler family’s misfortunes.

The Winkler saloon was on Urquhart Street, which is in the St. Claude section of New Orleans. Just off the railroad tracks, it’s a rougher part of the city  but certainly very populated now.

In 1918, it was home to the saloon – a popular gathering spot for dances. Newspaper articles describe it as being in a sparsely populated part of the city.

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John was the son of another John Sexton. He had a sister named Mrs. J. N. Kalife.

It seems that John was asleep at the bar when robbers broke in and killed him so they could steal the cash that had been withdrawn from the bank in anticipation of a busy Saturday night of dancing and drinking.

He was buried in St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery.

Peter Winkler’s son, L.C.,  found the body. L.C. was Leopold Charles Winkler. He died in the 1980s at age 91. He banged on the door of the saloon but got no answer. Thinking this was strange since John the bartender was a light sleeper, he forced his way in and found the murdered man in a cot. A gun still was tucked under the man’s pillow.

You’ll find no trace of the saloon if you travel to Urquhart Street. A few months after the murder, the saloon burned to the ground. The theory at the time was that the murderers burned it.

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The Winkler home. It’s now abandoned. 

Not long after the murder and the fire, the saloon’s owner, Peter Winkler, left his vacationing family at Little Woods and discovered their home at 1419 Feliciana Street had been ransacked. Robbers pried open a kitchen door and stole money, a gold watch, clothes and jewels.

Peter Winkler saw the mayhem and left. He called police from the hotel later that day.

Benoit Family, Murder and mayhem

Paulin Benoit: A short, stocky man who liked to fight and make buffoons of people

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 9.56.19 AMI dug further into the death of Paulin Benoit, my g-g-grandfather’s brother.

It turns out that Paulin and Joe Benoit were at a ball celebrating an upcoming marriage in Lafourche Parish when Paulin – who apparently liked to fight – got into a tussle with Texon Vicknair. According to one witness, Texon said he was tired of being made a buffoon, which spurred Paulin into action. Paulin punched Texon. A knife was drawn. Paulin ended up dead. Joe Benoit was injured.

Unfortunately, Joe Benoit was too ill to testify. I would love to have heard his account if only to get a better sense of him.

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I found these records at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. The university has the early criminal court records as well as coroner inquests for Lafourche Parish. It’s a treasure trove!

Texon was found not guilty. Here are the witness statements, which I transcribed. In some instances, I couldn’t decipher the chicken scratch.

Theophile Benoit

Saw when his uncle Paulin (Benoit) came in contact with and struck one another.

That was last Saturday night.

When asked in what parish, stated in the parish of Lafourche.

It was on the gallery of the house of Mr. Neuville Hebert.

It was between 9 and 10 o’clock p.m.

His uncle Paulin struck the accused first with his fist, a little after that the accused responded with a knife or dagger he saw in the accused’s hands.

The two licks were nearly simultaneous.

When asked whether he had heard words between his uncle and the accused , at the time, he states that he did not.

He happened to arrive there just when the first lick was given.

When asked whether he saw whence the accused took the dagger or bowie knife, he states he did not and only saw the same, when he was in the act of striking.

It was a little dark on the gallery at the time.  When asked whether he had heard the accused warn Paulin that he would strike him with a knife replied that he did not hear him say so. The blow with the fist did not knock down the accused. Paulin was a little more robust but not as tall as accused. Paulin was about 24 years of age.

After the accused struck Paulin, Paulin started towards the road and called upon the accused to come on the road. After Paulin struck he made two or three steps and fell.

He states that he did not see what became of the accused afterwards, so he at once followed after Paulin. When Joe Benoit saw that his brother was struck, he stood in his place. He struck the accused with a stick. The stick was a bout ½ inch in diameter. The accused was not knocked down by the lick.

Witness has had the stick in his hand. It is not very heavy.

He believes Joe Benoit struck the accused twice with his stick.

Joe Benoit was stabbed by the accused.

It was on the same day and place the other difficulty occurred.

He does not know whether the accused stabbed Joe Benoit after he had struck accused once or twice. He caught a glimpse of the knife or dagger the accused used. The blade was about 4 inches long – could not say whether it was a pocket knife or dagger. Witness is certain Paulin died of the effects of the wound then received.

Witness is certain that the accused now in court inflicted said wound.

The wound was in the left breast about 4 inches below the armpit.

Does not know whether Joe or Paulin Benoit was armed that night.

Does not know the cause of the difficulty between the parties.

Joe Benoit was smaller than Paulin but stouter and lower than witness.

Joe Benoit is younger than Paulin B.


Witness only became acquainted with accused on the night that act was committed.

Witness knew of no reason to expect a dispute between the parties.

The stick with which Joe Benoit struck accused had a ball of tar at the end.


Witness states that Paulin died immediately. He believes he died starting up and falling down dead. He is certain in that he died from the effect of the wounds inflicted by accused.


Was on the gallery of Neuville Hebert’s house in the parish of Lafourche … last Saturday. Arthur Naquin leaning on the ? on my right and Paulin Benoit on my left side. Arthur Naquin called out to Zenon Vicknair. Accused answered: “Present. I am tired of being made a buffoon of.” Paulin Benoit got up sparring with his arms and went forward towards accused and struck him with his fist. Accused came forward and then went back to the upper part of the gallery. Witness heard strikings with a stick on accuser. He saw no knife nor did he see accused stab nor did he afterwards see the wound.

About three minutes after he saw Paulin strike accused, he saw Paulin dead in the yard.

Did not hear Paulin make any remark nor call out for the accused to go out on the road. He does not know the cause of Paulin’s death. Paulin is slightly shorter than accused but not taller.  Paulin struck the accused with his fist, but did not knock him down.

Did not hear accused warn Paulin that he would cut or stab him with a knife.

Did not hear a word.


This difficulty occurred in the parish of Bayou Lafourche in the house of Mr. Neuville Hebert last Saturday between 10 and 9 o’clock p.m.

All he saw was Mr. Benoit who struck accused with his fist. That is all he saw. He followed Mr. Paulin Benoit in the yard and was by his side when he fell. When he reached him he was falling dead. Does not know what killed Paulin Benoit.

He was wounded in the left side by a stab with a knife or a dagger. He did not see any arm. The wound was bleeding. The wound was about 0-4 inches below the armpit on the left side.

I did not see any arm on Paulin’s body. Did not see any arm. He examined him as soon as he fell. Did not see Joe Benoit strike the accused with a stick. The blow Paulin struck accused did not knock him down.

Paulin Benoit was about 24-25 years old. Paulin was about of the heighth of witness but a little stouter. He was not quite as tall as accused.

Did not hear accused warn Paulin that he would strike him with a knife.

Does not know what was the cause of the difficulty between Paulin and accused.


Witness states that Paulin Benoit has a good character, that he was rather quick and always ready for a fight, that he has had a difficulty with said Benoit. That he has known of Benoit having had several difficulties, but that Benoit although quick to get into a fight, had to be provoker. Witness acknowledges that at the time he had a difficulty with him, witness was in the wrong and busted up Paulin himself. They were joking and Benoit had misunderstood witness. Benoit did not refuse to fight but they did not fight.

Was present at a ball at Mrs. Louis Oncale about a year of 1 ½ years ago when a difficulty occurred between Paulin Benoit and accused. He at the time did not see of the Benoits make fun of the accused.


He does not know of Paulin’s ever having fought.

Mr. Paulin Benoit struck witness.

Witness heard Paulin had struck others but did not see it.


Does not know much about the case.

When he heard the fuss he went towards it but all was over when he got there. It happened on the gallery of his dwelling house. He was in the house at the time. There was a ball at his house. The ball was intended to celebrate the wedding of Armogene Gros with the daughter of Baptiste Noel.

When he got to the steps he heard the words: He is a dead one.

As he was the owner of the house, he went to see and saw that he was dead. After the body was carried in the house, they examined the body to see where the wound was. The wound was in the left side. Between 3 + 4 inches below the armpit. When the clothing was taken off he did not see any arms but he knows that his arms had been previously taken off in the yard.

That he was told so by one who gave witness the scabbard of a small dagger. He was told by Emile Naquin that some one else had taken the dagger out of his hands.

Was not present when the dagger and scabbard were taken off the body of Paulin. He was told this by Emile Naquin who went into the house and gave him the scabbard. The scabbard was 3-4 inches long. He returned the scabbard to one of the brothers (Felia).

Accused was on the gallery when witness arrived. I cannot say how long he stayed there.

As soon as I arrived there and heard called out: “There is one dead.” I went out into the yard. When he came back on the gallery, accused was gone.

It was maybe a quarter of an hour afterwards.

He heard previous to the difficulty that they were tantalizing accused. Could not say whether it was Mr. Benoit or who, but there was a company of them. He heard two or three times: “Let him come here and we will break his jaw.”

He cannot say whether accused was invited to the soiree. He did not occupy himself about this matter, supposes he was invited as he was present. The wound attended to was about ¾ to 1 inch in width. The wound must have been caused by a knife or dagger.





Bergeron Family, Murder and mayhem

Furci Bergeron’s Inquest

Joseph Furci (Furcy) Bergeron was the son of Franklin Bergeron and Marie Adelina Josephine Benoit Bergeron. Furci committed suicide in 1900 just two weeks after his wedding.

I pulled the inquest to find out more.

The inquest included written statements from Furci’s brother, Aurelien, and a neighbor. I didn’t learn much more than I already knew, but there were a few interesting new details.

It appears that Furci and his wife lived with Furci’s mother and brother. The gun used in the suicide was borrowed from a neighbor to protect a brother named Silvain (what was that about?). Silvain died 18 years later of the Spanish flu.

Furci asked a different brother, Aurelien, to borrow the gun in order to protect Silvain. So it appears that Silvain either really needed to be protected or Furci planned his suicide hours in advance.

Here’s what witnesses, including Aurelien, told the coroner:

Edmond Dies, sworn says: I live 3rd neighbor from deceased. About 8 o’clock on night of 19th, Aurelien Bergeron, brother of deceased, called me and asked me to lend him my pistol to go and protect his brother Sylvain who was away and expected home during the night. He did not tell me it was for any other purpose. I gave him my pistol that was 5 cartridges loaded in it. At about 2 o’clock Charly Francis’ wife called at my home and told me that a man was dead. I walked over with my brother-in-law Albert Bonvillain to where the man was dead and I saw him near the well with my pistol near him. I did not notice the pistol wound in his head. The deceased mother Amelie told me that Furcy had shot himself.

Aurelien Bergeron, sworn says: I live with my mother in the same house where my deceased brother Furcy lived. My brother told me go to Edmund Dies and get his pistol to go and protect my brother Sylvain who was away. That was about 9 o’clock last night. I did so and Dies loaned me the pistol and I went as far as the Thibodaux Bridge to meet my brother Sylvain and did not meet him and I came back about 10 o’clock and put the pistol in a back room. I told my mother where I was going to put it and I suppose Furcy heard me and during the night he got up and went out of the house. His wife during the night missed him from the bed and she told her (?) mother about it. They all got up and came to look for him and I saw him lying by the well. It was dark and I touched his face and found it cold and we saw a pistol near him. We saw he was dead. That was about 2 o’clock this morning.

And here’s the inquest record:






Benoit Family, Murder and mayhem

The murder of Paulin Benoit

Earlier, I blogged about the murder of Alexis Celestin Benoit’s son, Silvin, who died on the streets of Houma in 1868. It turns out he wasn’t the only son of Alexis Celestin Benoit to be murdered.

Silvin’s little brother, Paulin, also was murdered. What was going on with the Benoits?

Paulin’s death involved my own ancestor, Joseph Alfred Benoit. Joseph was my g-g-grandfather.

Here are the details:

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Poor Paulin died, but Joseph recovered. He married Marie Felicia Bergeron three years later and built a family.

I’m going to have to see if I can discover more!



Murder and mayhem

Mary Miles Minter in pictures

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I’ve probably mentioned my fascination with Mary Miles Minter, the Louisiana native who swiped her dead cousin’s name and made it big in Hollywood as a silent film star only to get entangled in a famous murder case.

Mary was born Juliet Reilly, and that’s the name she put on her passport application in 1921 for a trip to the British Isles, Frances, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

A few years later, her nightgown was found in the bungalow of murdered director William Desmond Taylor. The media uproar ended Mary’s career. Taylor’s murder was never solved.

She tried to flee the Hollywood publicity hounds with a trip to Japan, China and Hong Kong. She didn’t even take the time to take a new passport photo.

After envying Mary’s exotic travels, I decided to see if I could find her family photos in the passport collection. It’s just a matter of figuring out which names they used.

Here’s Pearl Miles Reilly, Mary’s mother. No surprise that she went with Mary on her trips. She was the ultimate stage mother. Allow an ocean to separate them? I think not.

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Mary’s big sister, Margaret, also went along on the 1921 trip. She was confused about which name to sign – her real name Margaret Reilly or her stage name Margaret Shelby. She started to sign her name as Shelby and then crossed out “Sh” and signed Reilly.

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The girls’ father, Homer Reilly, went to France in 1918 for work.

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Murder and mayhem

Murder in the (extended) family tree

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.

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).

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.

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.