Heart of Louisiana: The Hanging Jail

Published: Oct. 30, 2014 at 8:41 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2014 at 1:22 AM CDT
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DERIDDER, LA (WVUE) - A building that is likely the most unique jailhouse in the state reaches a huge birthday this year - the old abandoned jail in Deridder is known as "the hanging jail" is turning 100 years old. FOX 8's Dave McNamara has that story from Beauregard Parish in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

The old building looks like a haunted mansion, but the bars on the windows reveal its true purpose. The three-story Beauregard Parish jail and the courthouse next door have reached a milestone.

Police Jury President Gary Crowe is now the keeper of the key to the old jail. The Gothic-style building has been empty for the past 30 years after it was shut down by a federal judge.

"It was used until 1984, when Judge Polazola declared it unfit for habitation," Crowe said.

There is a basement with an underground passageway.

"This is the tunnel, and when the tunnel was built, they used the tunnel to transport prisoners from the jail to the courthouse without having to take them outside," Crowe said.

The jail was originally built to house 13 prisoners but was expanded with more bunks to increase the inmate population to 48.

"When they came in, they got a blanket and that was it," Crowe said. "They got no pillow, they got no mattress - just a blanket. And they were rolled up in a blanket and slept on the slats."

If there was a fight, the jailer just brought a water hose in and watered them down.

"This jail is best-known for an incident that happened in the 1920s following the brutal murder of a cab driver," Crowe said. "Two men, Joe Genna and Molton Brasseaux, were charged with the murder. At trial they were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged."

The jail's executions took place in 1928. The men were hanged on the same day right here in the jail's three-story spiral staircase.

"They built a gallows across the top of these rails right here," Crowe said.

The sheriff, three deputies, the coroner and several members of the jury stood around the narrow platform. A dumbwaiter used for delivering food was used for the hanging.

"The trigger mechanism was somehow put in the dumbwaiter to trigger the trap door on the gallows," Crowe said.

When the courthouse clock struck 1 p.m., the executions began.

"They had steps walking up onto the gallows right here, and they walked out of that cell one at a time up on the gallows, and they said they put the rope around their neck, and the hangman was over there," Crowe said. "He just pulled the trigger and dropped them through the trap door.

Because of that one incident, the building is now known as "the hanging jail." But for Gary Crowe, it holds a different meaning.

"I got married in this old jail on Friday the 13th about 54, 55 years ago," he said.

Crowe's bride had grown up in the living quarters of the jail. Her father was the jailer and her mother the cook.

"This was the living room, this is where the wedding happened," he said.

Crowe and his wife would occasionally stay here when his in-laws needed a little time off. And as you might expect, there are stories of this old hanging jail being haunted.

"I spent a lot of nights here, and if there's any ghost here, I don't know about it," Crowe said.

But as you walk behind the bars and up the narrow, dark stairway, your imagination comes alive.

At this point, the building is not open for tours, but tourism officials hope that one day they'll have the money needed to turn the hanging jail into a downtown tourist center.

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