One of my earliest memories of hometown DeRidder is the "Courthouse Square."
The memory includes not just the courthouse, which to a small elementary student seemed so larger in the early 1960's, but the unusual jail sitting next door to the west when heading down West First Street.
Added to the scenery, to the west of the jail, was also the First Baptist Church. Fifty some years ago, the church was a new structure and I was told, even in those days, it was the only location in the United States where a courthouse, jail, and a church sat on the same square. I cannot verify this to be a fact, but it sure sounded cool to think "our square" held such a record.
Now deemed the “Old Hanging Jail of Beauregard Parish," it was only twelve years into its life, on a hot summer evening, Aug. 28, 1926. On this date, two young men were desperate to visit their reported girlfriends in the LaSalle Parish sawmill village of Tullos, La. They plotted to hail a taxi (DeRidder had several available), murder the driver, in order to take possession of the vehicle and drive to Tullos.
Surely in this scheme, they would never be caught. How incorrect the story played against them.
Joe Genna and Molton Brasseaux enacted their plan upon well-liked community cab driver, Joe Brevelle. They first requested another driver named Burrell Cooper, but he was unavailable. Thus, Brevelle became the victim.
On the south end of Three Pine Rd., just north of now Hwy. 26 (Oberlin Hwy.), about 300 yards up the then dirt road, Genna and Brasseaux killed Brevelle for his car and $14.
After coming back into DeRidder to pick up some clothes, the duo drove to the old Pickering Mill pond in Vernon Parish, where they dumped Brevelle’s body.
They finally reached Tullos on Sunday morning.
By Monday morning, Sheriff John D. Frazar, M.D. notified various law enforcement agencies of the missing driver and his taxi cab.
The sin was discovered by pure luck and God's Law on Tuesday. Two small boys were fishing at the Mill Pond and one of their hooks snagged Brevelle’s body.
The arrest and confessions from both men were received in the Hanging Jail that Thursday evening, Sept. 2. Assistant District Attorney Sam H. Jones, Frazar, and his deputies Gill, Crawford, and Wood received the confessions.
The initial interrogations of Genna and Brasseaux, unfolding of the case, time spent locked up, and concluding capital punishment, all took place in the Beauregard Jail.
The girlfriends baked a cake during the incarceration period and asked the jailer to give it to their boyfriends. The jailer, by instinct, cut into the cake and discovered saw blades were a prize nestled inside the cake. Needless to say, the men did not receive any cake.
After numerous appeals, which did not overturn their conviction, Genna and Brasseaux were hung at high noon on March 9, 1928 from the top of the Beauregard Jail.
Rumors had gone around, in the months prior to the hanging, that Genna had sworn he would never be hanged. He even attempted suicide by overdosing on pills. The effort was a failure, as Dr. Frazar was called in and took care of the patient prisoner. Genna was forced to throw up the pills he swallowed in an effort to escape his fate. Thwarted, the double hanging did indeed take place.
I was employed just after high school graduation by Sheriff Bishop and became the midnight dispatcher. I worked in the old radio room of the Beauregard Jail for nearly four years, 1977-80.
On cold, rainy, and some stormy, nights, the old bars and doors in the jail would squeak. I sometimes would think, “Genna and Brasseaux are visiting again! If there are Ghosts in the Jail, I surely would know.”
The late city police dispatcher and officer Elton Maze once told me that he could remember as far back as 1950. When he was a young boy, about 12-years-old, he recalled seeing one of the ropes used in the hanging, still dangling from the top of the jail, visible from the street. Eventually it disintegrated and was just gone.