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.

 

 

Murder and mayhem

The murder of little Walter Lamana

walterfuneralIn 1907, a horrible crime captured the attention of New Orleans newspaper readers (and newspaper readers across the country).

On June 8, 1907, little Walter Lamana was lured away from his home at 624 St. Philip Street with a promise of candy and held for a $6,000 ransom. He was strangled to death within a few days and dumped in a swamp. The motive for the kidnapping itself seems to have been tied to an Italian crime mafia that was causing problems in New Orleans at the time.

Little Walter was only 8. He was born in New Orleans on May 17, 1899, to Pietro (Peter) Lamana and Carolina Favalora. He had a twin sister, Olivia Mariana. He also had brothers Frank, Joseph, Charles and John and sisters Ida and Stella.mrslamana

Walter’s father was an undertaker. This being the early 1900s, he was known as the Italian undertaker.

Little Walter was last seen at 7 p.m. on a Saturday in the stable that adjoined his parents’ home. He was discovered missing when he was called to dinner and didn’t appear.

Peter Lamana thought his son might have jumped onto a tallyho driven by his older son John to the West End resort. But a search turned up no sign of the child.

A few days later, the mailman brought a ransom note written in Italian. A reporter dispatched to the Lamana house found the mother upstairs sobbing and neighbors downstairs talking about reprisals.

The crime was blamed on the “Italian ‘Black Hand,’ which organization has for the last three years threatened and terrorized the ‘Little

leonardo
Leonardo Gebbia would die for the crime; his sister avoided the noose

Italy’ of the Crescent City.” Nine Italian residents were arrested, including Nicolina Gebbia, who initially refused to say much because she was in love with “Frank,” another implicated Italian.

Police “sweated” the suspects to get a confession out of them. A man named Ignazio Campigciano was taken into the woods by police and vigilantes until he confessed and implicated four others.

According to Ignazio/Ignacio (the spellings weren’t consistent in newspaper reports for any of these names), the boy cried and begged to go home. Frightened by the noise the child was making, one of the kidnappers strangled him to death. The body was bundled into a blanket and taken to the swamp near St. Rose.

ignazioSix were indicted: Ignacio Campisciano, Callegero Gendusa, Leonardo Gebbia, Anthony Costa, Nicolina Gebbia and Mrs. Ignacio Campisciano.

mrs ignacio

Ignacio was thought to have been the killer according to some reports. The Gebbias were brother and sister.

Initially, little Walter was laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery in an unmarked grave. His body was placed into a snow white casket a year later and moved into a tomb.

 

By this time, defense attorneys were trying to save their clients from the gallows as the case proceeded to trial. One theory raised was that Walter was still alive and the body found in the swamp wasn’t his.

 

 

This theory angered Peter Lamana, who said his wife was distraught enough without having to hear this. Peter also was angered that influential women in New Orleans circulated a petition to save the life of Nicolina Gebbia.

 

“Any woman who signs such a petition cannot have the love or

peterlamana
Peter Lamana later went missing temporarily and was thought to have been murdered after a chopped up body was found floating in the river. It wasn’t his corpse.

tenderness of a mother and is without sympathy for one who has been robbed of the only thing in life she cared for the most. I don’t think that there are many women in this city who will take a hand to save that wretched woman from the gallows. She knew that my child was in the hands of her lover, and that her brother was one of the conspirators. If she is a human being, why did she allow them to take it away and kill it? She could have saved its life by telling the police where the child was. When I spoke to the Gebbias, they sympathized with me, said they wished they knew where the child was and came to my house to spy,” Peter Lamana told a reporter.

 

Peter Lamana later made repeated visits to the state prison in an attempt to see Campisciano, Mrs. Campisciano, Tony Costa, Giandosa and the Gebbias. He was always turned away and then briefly went missing after quarreling with his wife.

It was ultimately decided that Leonardo Gebbia lured little Walter away from home by offering him candy. Leonardo handed off Walter to the kidnappers and later ordered his death.

women
Mrs. Ignacio Campisciano (who, oddly, is never referred to by her own first name) and Nicolina Gebbia. Mrs. Ignacio is holding the baby.

Or maybe it was Tony Costa, “a worthless loafer … of Little Italy,” who took the little boy by the hand and led him away from his home by promising him ice cream. Then Walter was placed into Stefano Monfre’s wagon. The newspaper accounts vary.

 

tony
Tony Costa, who died in prison.

At the Gebbias’ trial, testimony was given that Leonardo went to the home of the Monfres the Sunday before the abduction and that Leonardo told Mrs. Monfre to go away while he talked to her husband in the street. The night the child was abducted, the Monfres’ horse and wagon were gone until the next day. Mr. Monfre himself later vanished.

Ignazio Campigciano (again, an inconsistent spelling) testified at the Gebbia trial that another man related to him that Leonardo Gebbia told the fellow kidnappers that the jig was up and the kid needed to be murdered because the case was attracting too much attention. He also denied that the child was ever at his house and insisted that he only saw him after he was dead.

Nicolina told the courtroom that her boyfriend, Frank Lucchesi, was in the business of stealing children for ransom. She said Lucchesi worked with Campigciano and that she was afraid of her boyfriend.

The jury returned a guilty verdict within minutes for the brother and sister. The judge himself seemed stunned at the guilty finding for Nicolina Gebbia.

sisters
Little Olivia, with her sister, always seems to have been cross when her picture was taken. She was said to have looked very much like her twin brother.

Walter Lamana’s father reacted to the verdict by clapping his hands and giving the mailman a steel fork from the dinner table. “I had intended to put out their eyes with this,” he told the mailman. “I would have killed them.”

Leonardo hanged, insisting his innocence and clutching a rosary until the very end.

The consensus seems to have been that the child was hidden in the Campisciano home in Pecan Grove and that Mrs. Campisciano coolly told neighbors that the child was just a visitor and that he was crying because his pet animal was lost.

At trial, the child’s mother wept at the sight of his Buster Brown breeches and called the defendants “dirty wretches” and “hounds.”

Tony Costa died in prison. Nicolina Gebbia avoided the gallows but went to prison.

Ignacio Campisciano, his wife, Mary, and Cologera “Frank” Gendusa were released from prison in 1918 and told to leave Louisiana. Their children were brought to them at Angola, and they reportedly immediately left for New York.

Murder and mayhem

A body in the river

The Town Talk – Sept. 7, 1896

New Orleans – Peter Lamana, the New Orleans undertaker, made his appearance at his home here last night, much to the delight of his friends. He is the father of the little Italian boy, Walter Lamana, who some months ago was kidnapped and murdered by a band of Italian murderers.

Peter Lamana had been absent ten days from home, and his wife not hearing from him supposed that he had been foully dealt with and notified the police.

Peter Lamana, when questioned by the reporters as to where he had been, told them it was none of their business. To other parties, however, he stated that he had been to Chicago and St. Louis to buy some mules. It is supposed that he and his wife had had a spat, and for that reason he did not keep her posted as to his whereabouts.

When the police started an investigation as to his whereabouts, they heard that he was last seen in Baton Rouge on Aug. 28th, when he paid a bill at the hotel where he stopped while there.

What first lead to the belief that Lamana had been murdered, was the fact of the finding of a body in the Mississippi river in a cypress box. Persons on the steamer J. E. Trudeau yesterday say (sic) a box floating in the Mississippi river, near Jamestown, in St. James parish, and had it towed to shore. When the box was opened, it was found to contain the dead body of a man who had evidently been murdered. The deceased was a large man, and the murderer, in order to get the body in the box broke the legs and cut off an arm of their victim in order to squeeze the body in the box. The body was partially decomposed and had on a sweater and blue trousers. He was a large, dark complexioned man. The identity of the body has not been ascertained, although the authorities are working to try and clear up the mystery.

House History, lafourche parish, Murder and mayhem

An 1894 Murder Mystery in Thibodaux

The Times-Democrat (New Orleans) – Feb. 20, 1894

plantation
Claudet Plantation in Thibodaux: Site of a murder and 1800s “forensic” crime solving.

Thibodaux was in a state of repressed excitement yesterday over the dastardly murder of Mr. Julien Vergnole, an event unprecedented in the history of that section of Lafourche and one which has stirred up the wrath of its citizens to such a pitch that summary vengeance is threatened the perpetrators in the event of their being apprehended. The account of the murder was published in The Times-Democrat of yesterday, and was a correct statement of the principal facts in the case.

Claudet plantation is situated three-fourths of a mile above the town of Thibodaux and was purchased a little over two years since by Mr. Vergnole, he removing at once to his purchase and making his home at the plantation. During the two years Mr. Vergnole resided on the Lafourche his genial manner and kindly disposition made him a host of friends. The business training he had acquired as a merchant of this city stood him in good stead in his new vocation as a sugar planter, and while he was very firm in his dealings with his employees, he was also generous and just. Some time after taking possession of Claudet he discharged the overseer and replaced him with the present manager, Mr. Thompson Barillieux. The new overseer, ascertaining that a number of the resident hands were indolent, and as he terms it, “spoilt,” he immediately proceeded to order them from the plantation. This action on the part of Mr. Barilleaux (sic) caused considerable feeling among the employees, they attributing it altogether to the new owner, and their dismissal was in all probability the cause which led to the killing of Mr. Vergnole.

vergnole
The murder victim

The morning following the murder found numerous parties of men scouring the neighborhood of the plantation in a search for the assassins. A number of footprints were discovered in the rear yard and were followed for a short distance, when all trace of them was lost. Deputy Sheriff Rich Frost made accurate measurements of the footmarks, which from their size and shape led a number of searchers to believe they belonged to white men. This theory was soon abandoned by the majority, although this idea is still held to by a few.

SUSPECTED PEOPLE ARRESTED

Deputy Sheriff Frost, a few hours after daybreak Sunday morning, arrested and jailed three negroes named Jos King, Jos Crossing and Cornelius Crawford, the latter being the old man who put in an appearance in answer to the agonized screams of Mrs. Vergnole a few minutes after the shooting, and the others were arrested on suspicion, they being two of the former laborers on the plantation discharged by the overseer.

Later in the day, Mr. Frost arrested three white men, tramps, they being seen in the company with the negro, Crossing, near Dr. Meyer’s office when the messenger arrived from the plantation. The man Crossing was also witnessed at 9 o’clock the night of the murder in company with Jos King and the negro Crawford walking through the streets of Thibodaux. These facts, together with Crawford’s opportune appearance so short a time after the shooting, were considered so peculiar that the entire lot were arrested. Dr. Meyers said, however, that Crawford assisted him in his examination of Mr. Vergnole and showed no traces of excitement or fear.

Who was Julien Vergnole?

He married Emma Marie Aimee Riondel in New Orleans on June 27, 1891. He had arrived in New Orleans after sailing from France at age 35 in 1878. He initially settled in New Orleans, where he made his living as a commercial merchant.

Julien and Emma had one child: Jeanne Laurance, born July 28, 1892, in New Orleans. This was the child who was with her mother when Julien was shot. Little Jeanne was not even 2 when her father died.

After her husband’s death, Emma and her daughter Jeanne moved in with Emma’s stepfather and mother at 629 St. Peter St. in New Orleans.

Emma and Jeanne later moved to California but soon returned to Louisiana. It appears that Jeanne never married.

What is probably the correct clew (sic) to the murder, and one which will receive a thorough investigation, is a report of a conversation which took place fully two months ago near the market place in Thibodaux and which was overheard by a resident of that town. The conversation did not appear of much importance to the listener, she thinking it mere idle talk, and consequently thought no more of it until it was vividly brought to her remembrance by the murder of Mr. Vergnole. It appeared that several negro men and women were discussion (sic) that gentleman and evidently becoming excited by the subject of their discourse, spoke very loudly. One of the women, her feelings getting the better of her discretion, cried out: “I don’t care. This man Vernole comes up from the city and wants to play big and smart out here in the country with the people on his plantation. He’s mighty smart, he is, and ought to be killed.” One of the men answered to the woman, saying: “You shut up and never mind about that. We are the ones to attend to that part of the business.” The party then walked away and the rest of the conversation the listener did not catch.

Acting on the information received, Deputy Sheriff Frost arrested three negro julien2women named Eva, Dora and Melinda King, but subsequently released them, they not being identified by the person giving the information. It was also ascertained that a former employee of the plantation by the name of Joe Ellis had been disputing some months ago with Mr. Vergnole about a lot of hogs belonging to the former which were damaging the land and which Mr. Vergnole had ordered off, together with their owner. Ellis is at present, or was, living in a neighboring parish and had been in the neighborhood of Claudet recently.

THE WIFE’S ACCOUNT OF THE TRAGEDY

In company with Mr. Frost, the reporter drove out to the Claudet homestead to view the scene of the assassination and get such additional facts as would throw some light upon the motive for the killing. Many rumors were rife in the town of Thibodaux and the opinions were equally divided, some attributing the crime to a purpose to rob, and others to a fiendish desire for downright and premeditated murder.

Reaching the residence and ascertaining the willingness of the bereaved widow to receive him, the reporter entered the house and was shown the room wherein the killing took place, and the broken blind and window through which the fatal bullet was fired. In the rear of the bedroom is a small gallery, accessible by a series of high steps leading into the yard and separating the main dwelling from the kitchen and cistern. The murderers were evidently acquainted with the location of the rooms and the familiar with the habits of the inmates and entering the yard, secured a bar of iron from a scrap pile near the house, reaching the gallery by the steps described and at once attacking the window blinds made an aperture, breaking the glass and firing the first shot. What followed can best be described by the statement of Mrs. Vergnole, who, with tears streaming down her face, told the horrible story of a loved husband’s assassination and her sudden and terrible widowhood.

“My husband had retired a little earlier than was his usual custom, as he was feeling tired from a day of considerable worry. He was shortly aslepp and tiring of remaining up alone, I took my little girl and also went to bed. This was about 9:30 o’clock. Falling asleep, I was suddenly aroused by a crashing noise and as I opened my eyes and raised up from the bed I saw the flash from the pistol and heard the report and the next instant the glass from the window, shattered by the impact of the bullet entering the sash near the foot of the bed, fell to the floor.

“I at once sprang to the floor, and seizing my child ran into the adjourning room, expecting every moment to be shot. My husband also jumped out of bed, and grasping his pistol, although I tried to keep him away from the window and follow me, approached the window and asked: “Who is there: what do you want?” A man’s voice answered him, saying: “We will show you” and at that very moment the second shot rang out, breaking a second pane of glass and my poor husband crying out: “Wife, I am shot and badly” ran into the next room and sank on the floor.

“I was crazy. I knew not what to do. My husband lay there dying and the men were still hammering at the window blinds. I felt that we were lost and I called out for help as loud as I could, although I knew there was no one in the house but an old colored woman who slept upstairs. My screaming must have frightened the men away, for the noise ceased and I heard their footsteps going off the gallery and into the yard.

“By this time, the old woman up stairs was aroused and came down, and after a little while her husband, Cornelius Crawford, came to the house from the levee. He said he had heard the shots as he was on his way from Thibodaux and also my screams and came to see what was the matter. I sent him to awaken the overseer, Mr. Barilleaux, and when he came, with one or two of his men, I sent him to Dr. Meyer at Thibodaux.

proc
In May, the governor issued this proclamation so the murder evidently wasn’t solved. By the way, that isn’t a typo. There have been two Gov. Murphy Fosters in Louisiana. The one above is the ancestor of the more recent one.

“When I first awoke I distinctly heard the men talking, and I think the voices were those of negroes, and if I could hear them again I believe I would know them. There was a light in the room during the shooting.

“It was horrible. I am sure they tried to kill us while we were asleep, and the one who fired the shot was kneeling on the gallery as the first ball struck the window sash quite high and at an angle from the broken blind. I do not know why anyone should have done this, as to my knowledge my poor husband had not an enemy in the world. The only person with whom he had any altercation that I know of is not in the parish and if he were I would never suggest the idea of his committing the deed.”

THE WOUNDS

Dr. Meyer said to the reporter that he had been called to attend Mr. Vergnole, the summons reaching him several hours after the shots had been fired. He had diagnosed the wound as fatal and endeavored to sustain life as long as he could. The pain from the wound was very intense and he had administered opiates to quiet the patient.

Dr. Stark, the coroner, made an examination and found that the bullet had penetrated the abdomen, severing the intestines and lodging in the spine. At the request of the relatives, Dr. Stark did not make a more extended examination.

From information gathered in Thibodaux there is every indication that a large reward will be offered by the planters of Lafource and also by the police jury, for the apprehension of the murderer. An effort was made by the sheriff to procure a pair of bloodhounds to follow the track of the men, but his efforts to secure the dogs were unavailing.

In connection with the death of Mr. Vergnole it is interesting to note that many of the dwellings in the French quarter of this city are decorated with crepe in respect to his memory.

Mr. Vergnole was a very handsome man and was about fifty years old.

ARRIVAL OF THE BODY

The body of Mr. Julien Vergnole, merchant and planter, who was assassinated at his plantation near Thibodaux in Lafourche Parish reached the city yesterday morning on the California express of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The remains were accompanied by his father-in-law, Mr. Bouchoux; his brother, John M. Vergnole. When the train pulled into the depot, there were a large number of the dead man’s relatives and friends present to take charge of the body. It was removed from the baggage car, placed in an undertaker’s wagon and driven to the residence of his father-in-law, 196 Royal street, from which place his funeral will take place at 10 o’clock this morning.

A reporter visited the house during the day. The body, encased in a handsome metallic casket, was in the front parlor. Around it sat the grief-stricken relatives and numerous friends. The high esteem in which the murdered man was held in New Orleans was demonstrated by the large number of friends who visited the house with expressions of condolence for the family and take a look at the features of their friend who had been so suddenly and brutally robbed of his life by the assassin’s bullet.

A CLEW

Mr. John M. Vergnole, brother of deceased, who left New Orleans and hastened to his brother’s home upon receipt of the telegram notifying him of his critical condition, was interviewed by the reporter. He said that when he reached the bedside of his brother the latter was speechless, consequently all he could learn of the assassination was what his frightened sister-in-law had heard and seen during the few moments that intervened between the time they were awakened by the breaking of the shutter and the shooting of her husband before her eyes. Of course the work of the murderers was so quick and the lady’s excitement so great that she saw or heard but little. When they were awakened by the breaking of the shutter with the piece of iron her husband jumped out of bed and rushed to the window. His advance in that direction brought forth the first shot from the assassin’s pistol. Evidently intending to see if possible who the midnight marauders were, and undaunted by the first shot, he went close up to the window. As he did so he exclaimed: “What do you murderers want; you assassins, what are you trying to do?” A voice from the outside replied, “We will show you what we want when we get to you.” His sister-in-law did not recognize the voice that made these remarks. “The piece of iron,” continued Mr. Vergnole, “which was used in breaking the shutter, and which was left by the assassins in their flight, proved to be a portion of an old pump on the plantation.”

He did not believe that the object for the murder of his brother was robbery. He is

vergnolewife
The widow died in the 1930s, leaving one child: daughter Jeanne. Jeanne grew up and attended Mount Carmel.

convinced that his life was taken in a spirit of vengeance and by persons well acquainted with the habits of his murdered brother and his wife. They knew that both were in the habit, except in grinding season, of retiring very early. His brother was in the habit of going to bed about 8 o’clock, and his wife would follow him as quickly as she could get her baby to sleep. Both were generally in bed by 9 o’clock. Of this fact, Mr. Vergnole was satisfied the assassins were aware, otherwise they would not have been at their bloody work as early as 10 o’clock, but would have waited for a later hour. After all that medical skill could accomplish was done to save his brother, and leaving his last hours to be watched by other relatives, he started out to do all in his power to learn, if possible, some clew that might run to earth the assassins. The reason for believing that there were three in the murdering party was because of the sound of the different footsteps that Mrs. Vergnole thinks she heard as the parties left the gallery after firing the fatal shot.

“Three negroes,” said Mr. Vergnole, “were arrested because they had been discharged a week ago off the plantation.” He did not think that they were prompted to commit such a crime as they were discharged by the overseer of the place and his brother had nothing to do with the transaction. His next move was to notify the sheriff of the parish of the shooting of his brother. The sheriff did not appear in person, but sent a deputy to his brother’s house to represent him. The deputy upon his arrival looked around the place, examined the footprints on the gallery where the murderers were supposed to have stood when they fired the shots. He then conversed with a number of persons and left, promising to return with blood hounds to see if they could get on the scent of the murderers. Up to the time that he left yesterday morning with his brother’s body for New Orleans neither sheriff nor dogs had put in an appearance.

bouverans
Claudet plantation still stands. It’s now known as Bouverans Plantation. It’s a private home located near Lockport.

As he was leaving with his brother’s body for New Orleans yesterday morning he was informed that a white girl had made a statement that some time since, while marketing in the Thibodaux market she saw a negro girl conversing with two negroes. As she approached the trio she heard the girl remark, “Vergnole has got to die.” One of the men answered, “And we are the two that are going to do it.” The white girl said she was not acquainted with either the negro girl or the two negro men, but was satisfied that she would be able to identify all of them if she saw them again. The neighbors, who were doing all in their power to

marker
Hmmmm … the historic marker makes no mention of the murder!

ferret out the murderers, had heard of this story and were investigating it for what this statement was worth. In conclusion, Mr. Vergnole said that he was convinced that his brother’s murder was the result of a conspiracy and he believed that he knew who was at the bottom of it. He knew the motive, but in the absence of any direct evidence he would not mention names until the proper time in his opinion arrived.

Benoit Family, Murder and mayhem, terrebonne parish

The murder of Alexis Benoit’s son

Sometimes you stumble across something truly surprising while researching your family tree.

I was looking through a newspaper index the other day when I saw an entry in the Thibodaux Sentinel for Alexis Benoit’s son. I figured this referred to one of the children of Alexis Celestin Benoit and Marie Adelaides Clement. I was right.

Looking up an 1868 edition of the Thibodaux Sentinel – a paper I didn’t even know existed – on microfilm in LSU’s special collections, I found a murder in the family tree. Fortunately (I guess), my ancestor’s son was the victim.

Here’s what the newspaper said:

“The village of Houma was the scene of a most unjustifiable murder on last Sunday afternoon about 5 o’clock.

Our informant states that two brothers named Conner who were working on the Opelousas Railroad rode into Houma during the day, one of whom became much intoxicated and whilst passing along the street fired wontonly of some person walking along ahead of him, but missed him. A few minutes after he met a Mr. Benoit and without any words struck at his face, and as Benoit warded off the blow he shot him, killing him instantly. Turning round, he fired at the third party without effect and mounted his horse and rode off.

The unfortunate victim of this tragedy was residing just out of town and had not spoken to his murderer and it is doubtful if the two knew each other at all.

Mr. Benoit was a son of Alexis Benoit of the Chackbay settlement and we hope the murderer may be arrested and suffer the penalty which such an unprovoked crime richly merits.”

The victim was Clairville Silvin Alexis Benoit. He died at age 36 in Terrebonne Parish, and I had just assumed that he died of the usual type of disease that killed people in the 1800s. I had no idea that he was shot dead on a city street by a drunk. Poor Silvin!

More from the New Orleans Commerical Bulletin:

“Mr. Sylvain Benoit was killed last Sunday evening on Main street, in front of Mr. Berger’s stable, by a young man name Cornelius O’Conner. The former was an industrious, hard-working Creole, in the employ of Mr. Pierre Portier and living near Houma, on the Wade plantation. He leaves a wife and four helpless orphans in an almost destitute condition. A subscription has since been gotten up for their benefit, and we are pleased to learn that our citizens have subscribed liberally.

We have also been informed that Mr. Michael O’Conner, an elder brother of Cornelius O’Connor, has contributed liberally to the relief of the family and given them assurance that they shall never want.

It is supposed that young O’Conner was laboring under a temporary fit of insanity. His actions a few minutes before the occurrence had attracted the attention of his friends as being very strange. He met Mr. Benoit for the first time, in the street, jostled him or pulled at him, when a scuffle ensued.

Mr. Benoit then struck him, or struck at him, when O’Conner drew his revolver and shot him. The shot entered in front, near the left side, ranged upwards and lodged near the region of the heart. He died immediately.

Some persons running up to interfere, he fired at John Bacon (clerk in Franis’ store) who made a narrow escape. His brother approached him, when he threatened to shoot him.

Before a writ could be made for his arrest, he made his escape and has not since been heard of.

A profound feeling of regret pervades the community. The brothers O’Conner were well thought of in the community, their deportment being courteous and gentlemanly. The elder brother is a master of a section of the Opelousas Railroad.

Cornelius O’Conner, we learn, was living with his brother and assisting him in his duties.”

 

 

 

House History, Murder and mayhem, st. james parish

A triple execution in St. James

welham plantation.jpg
The murder happened near this grand house, which no longer stands.  It was the Welham Plantation near Convent. 

Donaldsonville Chief — Sept. 30, 1871

St. James: The triple execution of John Williams, Alfred Decaraux and Noel, alias Madison Hampton, convicted of the murder of Francis S. Menteath, on the night of the 10th of May last, took place today, and was witnessed by over one thousand persons, both men and women.

As your readers may not be familiar with the particulars, I will give a
short account of the fiendish deed and the subsequent trial and conviction of
the perpetrators.
On the night aforementioned, four men–James Parker, John Williams, Alfred Decaranx and Noel-started from the vicinity of Judge Beauvais‘ residence with the intention of committing a robbery. It seems that after trudging a distance of about ten miles up the river, as far as the St. Michael’s Church, and not having come to any determination as to which store they should rob, they halted and held a consultation which ended in the selection of Choppin’s store, situated upon the batture fronting the Welham place.
Arrived at this store, John Williams made an attempt to wrench the back door open, which was at first unsuccessful, but he immediately made a second trial, and being a powerful man, succeeded in wrenching the door entirely from its fastenings.
Parker immediately rushed in and seized young Menteath by the throat, holding him thus until John Williams produced a rope and adjusted it securely around the neck of the victim, when each of the villians took an end of the rope and pulled it until Menteath was strangled to death.
The arms and legs of the young man were then tied, and John Williams took the body upon his back and threw it into the river. The store was then pillaged and the fiends started away, but had proceeded but a short distance when Williams proposed to return and burn the store in order to destroy all vestige of their crime. Acting upon the suggestion of their leader, they returned and set fire to the store which burned to the
ground.
AT THE TRIAL
The foregoing facts were elicited from Parker, who was accepted as State’s evidence, and gave his testimony in a remarkably clear and straightforward manner. Williams attempted to prove an alibi by his wife, but she stated that he was not at home the night of the murder, There was no rebutting testimony; Parker’s statement being corroborated by other witnesses, and also by the confessions of Decaraux and Noel, consequently the three men John Williams, Alfred Decaraux and Noel, alias Madison Hampton, were found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death.

Some time after the trial the Governor signed a death warrant. Alfred Decaraux and Noel were visited by their mothers, who bade them a last farewell. Noel’s mother reproached him with deserting the Catholic religion-in which faith he had been born and
raised–and joining the Baptist sect. She told him that this change of religious views had cost him his life, as they were Baptists who had induced him to become a party to the crime for which lie was to pay the penalty with his life. Williams was visited
by his wife. with whom he had been on very bad terms. He forgave her for having testified against him at the trial, and expressed the hope that she had forgiven him for his great crime.
At sunrise, this morning, the prisoners were baptized by the Rev. Samuel Cook. The unfortunate men remarked that, last night was the longest they had experienced during their confinement, and expressed a desire for the our of execution to arrive.
A few minutes before nine o’clock, everything being in readiness, a wagon containing three coffins drove up to the jail door to receive the prisoners.
Decaraux was the first to make his appearance. He came down the stairs looking pale and haggard; he mounted slowly into the wagon, and took his seat upon the coffin which
bore his name, gazing around at the assembled crowd, expectantly, then dropping his head upon his breast and swinging himself to and fro.

Noel came out next with buoyant step, and sprang lightly into the wagon, seating himself near Decaraux, and nodded to some friends in the crowd.

John Williams was the last of the condemned men to come forth from the jail. His step was slow and faltering, and he was evidently weak and depressed by mental suffering. He shook hands with several friends, then jumped into the wagon with the others. Parker, the accomplice to the deed who had turned State’s evidence and saved his own neck, mounted the driver’s seat and took the reins.
Randall Coleman, a prisoner who was under charge of murdering a man, was brought forth securely bound, and placed in the cart with the condemned murderers, he having expressed a desire to witness the execution.
THE START
At nine o’clock the Sheriff gave orders for the start, when a numerous
guard immediately formed around the prisoners, and proceeded towards the place of execution. The wagon containing the condemned was followed by the executioner in a buggy covered with the colors of death-white and black. The scene was a solemn one.
Three men condemned to die, dressed in white, with white caps on their heads, and the executioner following behind their wake.
AT THE PLACE OF EXECUTION.
The place where the murder was committed being too small for the execution, a spot, one mile above, on the batture in front of the upper portion of the Welham plantation, was selected. A circle was formed with a rope, in the centre of which was the gallows. Guards were stationed around this circle and none of the spectators were admitted within it. The prisoners were now ordered to descend from the wagon.

Decaraux came first and mounted to the platform of the gallows, seating himself upon the right. Williams and Noel followed; the former taking-the middle seat, the latter the one upon the left. The Sheriff then notified the condemned that if they wished to say anything, now was the last opportunity that could be given them.

Decaraux was the first to speak. He said:

“Here I am before you, and you know what brought me here. I am glad my time has come, I shall soon be with my Heavenly Father.” On the rope being adjusted around his neck he exclaimed ” Good-bye, old world, good-bye.”

Williams then arose and commenced singing a psalm. He essayed several times to speak, but got no further than “Don’t be alarmed, my friends,” then broke down.

Noel spoke last, in a cool and indifferent manner: “You see we are before you; you know what brought us here. Let it be a warning to you all not to follow in our tracks.”

The time allotted them for speaking having expired, the executioner was summoned. Mounting the scaffold he pulled the caps over the faces of all three of the men,. and adjusted the ropes around their necks, and bound their hands atop feet. The Sheriff ordered the executioner to do his duty. Like a thunder clap the three criminals were suspended in mid-air.

Noel was killed immediately. Decarax showed signs of suffering, raised himself convulsively, then fell with a lurch. Williams also showed some signs of pain, but they were not as perceptible as Decaranuxs.

At five minutes to twelve the bodies were cut down, after having hung fifty-five minutes. When the rope holding Williams was cut, the body fell with great velocity and rebounded from the earth like an elastic ball.

Deputy Coroner Gray empaneled a jury, and held an examination upon the bodies, declaring them lifeless. Williams was buried three yards from the gallows; while the mortal remains of Decaraux and Noel were delivered to their friends for interment elsewhere.

And thus ended a scene which will be remembered for a long time to come in this community.

A very large number of people witnessed the execution, and were visibly affected.