The Stranger made his way to the poor, black section of town — “the negro quarter”, as it was called — finding an axe stuck in a stump as he worked his way there.
It was late evening as “Sign of the Judgement” thundered from the open door of the local black Baptist Church. “How appropriate”, he thought.
“I am the Sign of the Judgement! And tonight I shall have blood!”
The oppressive bayou humidity stuck to the Stranger’s tattered work shirt and overalls, making them feel like a second skin over his dark ebony. It was November 1909 in the tiny railroad hamlet of Rayne, Louisiana, but still “hotter than Hades”, as the locals were fond of saying. You could cut the damned humidity with a dull butter knife.
Little did they know it was not those furnaces of Hades that brought the Devil to their sleepy southern town, but the Southern-Pacific Railway, who’s whistle stop was this quiet corner of Acadia Parish.
Jim Crow was a powerful force in those days. As the Stranger walked toward “the negro quarter”, he had to immediately move to the other side of the street, lowering his head and tipping his wide-brimmed straw hat to a well-dressed white man who was moving towards him.
The Stranger didn’t mind these daily indignities foisted upon him by racist white folk. Following the incomprehensible and never-ending unwritten rules and mores was exhausting and de-humanizing for sure: that is, if he thought himself to be an actual human being. He knew better, though: he was God’s Avenger on Earth. The white man’s silly rules don’t apply to such an otherworldly being as the Stranger. Still, he observed them because it allowed him to stay hidden during his mission. The Stranger was nothing if not practical.
Little did The Stranger know his wholesale slaughter of at least 10 families with an axe would inspire at least two copycats, hysteria over a voodoo cult (kickstarted by sensationalist press), and the insane meanderings of a destitute girl who — in the popular mind of the time — would take the fall in cases still unsolved after over 100 years.
I. Rayne, Louisiana — November 13, 1909
At around 1 o’clock in the morning, the piercing screams of 3 children were heard in “the negro quarter” of this then-up-and-coming Louisiana town.
The 3 small children lived in a 10-foot by 12-foot shack alone with their mother, 38-year-old Edna Opelousas, who’s family was the namesake of Opelousas, Louisiana — about 40 miles north of Rayne. Edna’s father owned the property where the shack was located.
Neighbors rushed there as fast as they could. The Crowley Daily Signal reported that they saw, “blood and brains scattered all over the little room.”
Edna’s head had been destroyed by the blunt end of an axe. The children — aged 4 to 9 — had been hit too but were still alive when neighbors showed up.
A doctor was called immediately, but his prognosis for the Opelousas children was “hopeless”, in his words. They all died later that day.
Acadia Sheriff Louis Fontenot (who would become vital to this case later on) and coroner C. Hines Webb drove to Rayne that day to conduct the inquest. At the same time, a posse of about 200 people plus bloodhounds were looking for “the negro” who did such an awful crime.
II. A Quick Aside
The idea that serial killers only strike those of the same race is a relatively modern idea. It was arrived at through the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit’s scientific study of serial murders in the 1970s and ’80s. As such, it can’t be applied retroactively to crimes that happened over a hundred years ago.
It is highly likely a white man sneaking through most of the neighborhoods where the murders occurred would have been noticed by someone. Largely, we aren’t talking about mixed race neighborhoods in these areas of the deep south back then.
Nevertheless, is it possible the specter of Jim Crow and being lynched was hanging over the minds of the people of color making up these neighborhoods? Could that have scared them into not reporting a suspicious white man? It is entirely possible.
So, it needs to be stressed that we really do not know the race of the killer. It seems to the author more likely though that he was African American because it would allow for greater mobility in the poor black neighborhoods where he struck — but, as was also noted, this could very wrong too.
III. A Quick Aside (Part II)
This was the same time that the raving lunatic known as the Midwestern Axeman was also killing (white) people. His most famous crime being the Villisca Axe Murders of 1912. There is a book out there (titled The Man from the Train) that tries erroneously to connect him to what was happening to poor people of color in the south. The crimes could not have been more different as you can find out for yourself by listening to the Real Monsters episode on Villisca here, with filmmaker Stuart Wahlin as our guest. My piece on the Murders at 106 can be read here.
While The Man from the Train is worth your time, it is only so (in this author’s opinion) if you take what its authors say with a grain of salt — that is why I have included it in the “Further Reading” section at the end of this piece. It seems they want to connect EVERY early 1900s crime committed with an axe to one perpetrator, which is frankly absurd considering the ubiquity of axes back then — basically every home had one.
IV. Meanwhile, Back in Rayne
The local law enforcement, led by the intrepid Sheriff Fontenot, did the best police work they knew how to do: canvas the locals.
Ednas’s sister was staying with her father that night when she heard the screams. She ran outside and a saw a young man — of indeterminant race, as it was dark and the shack’s lighting was shabby — just standing at the edge of the tiny shack.
The police weren’t quite done with the family, however. Sheriff Fontenot arrested a Houston Goodwill, the husband of Edna’s unnamed sister. The sister and Goodwill had been living in the shack until they had some sort of argument which caused her to kick him out of the house and move her and her children into the main house with her and Edna’s father. In the process, Edna and her 3 children moved out to the shed.
The theory of the crime the local cops put together was that Goodwill — still virulently-angry — took an axe to the shed with the intent to kill the sister. After he struck the first blow, he realized it was Edna, was not overcome with guilt and decided to kill her and her three children to eliminate any witnesses.
There’s no doubt from what we know that Houston Goodwill was a low-down-dirty-son-of-a-bitch. But a low-down-dirty-son-of-a-bitch does not necessarily make a murderer. The cops had to let him go for lack of evidence.
After this, the Opelousas murders went cold.
V. Crowley, LA — January 25, 1911
After over a year, the Axman returned to Acadia Parish, Louisiana; this time to Crowley, only 7.7 miles West-Southwest of Rayne, and squarely back in the jurisdiction of Sheriff Fontenot.
Crowley was a bustline city, again on the Southern-Pacific railroad. Its largest crop was rice and plenty of service industry jobs were also in town — these jobs were mostly filled by African American laborers. Most of the jobs were low rent and the laborers lived in substandard, ramshackle housing racist whites called “coontown.”
Walter Byers, his wife Sylvinia, and their 6-year-old boy were all bludgeoned to death in a bed soaked through with blood, with the boy turned sideways and laid out over the feet of his parents — this would be the first in the strange sets of symbolism The Stranger would enact with the dead. It took over 36 hours to discover the bodies, so decomposition had set in. The Stranger had left bloody footprints as well.
Other odd behaviors showed the Stranger’s M.O. was evolving. He entered and exited through a kitchen window, locking every door and window behind him. He filled a basin and left dirty rags after washing his hands too.
Walter Byers himself was known as a quiet, peaceable, and industrious man who worked for one of Crowley’s rice mills and even served as secretary for his Baptist church. There were no known feuds against anyone else in the Byers home.
Investigators did notice the similarity to the Opelousas murders not long ago in Rayne, but nevertheless, the case went cold.
VI. Why such a long cooling-off period?
This over a year long cooling off period absolutely does not fit the pattern with The Stranger here. Was he incarcerated in 1910 on unrelated charges or perhaps involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward somewhere? At any rate, it will be shown that extremely short cooling off periods are his style.
VII. Lafayette, LA — February 25, 1911
The Stranger was getting bolder. Lafayette was the fourth largest city in the state of Louisiana, yet still a railroad town.
Lafayette Sheriff Lacoste received a call of a possible homicide in the poor section of town around 7 that morning. He and several deputies headed to the Andrus Home (belonging to Alexander, his wife Mimi, son Joachim 3-years-old, and daughter Agnes, 11-years-old, on Vermillion Street. What they saw there stayed inprinted on their souls for all eternity.
The place was not much more than a ramshackle dwelling. The insides were painted crimson, with blood, brain, and viscera. Lafayette’s Daily put it succinctly, “The head of each member of the family was crushed with terrible blows, their brains spattered all over the room, and their bodies horribly tortured.
VIII. The Stranger’s Subconscience.
Inside the bedroom were the 4 bodies. Agnes and Joachim were placed on bed, seemingly-lovingly, while Alexander and Mimi’s corpses were placed in a prostrate and kneeling position over the bodies as if they were praying over their two dead children. To give an added touch of realism, Mimi’s hand was placed on Alexander’s shoulder.
This is hands down the most telling behavioral clue The Stranger has left so far. Did his crimes start as sex crimes the way Villisca most certainly did (think the slab of bacon in that case)? There were no even vague references to rape or sexual assault in the police reports of the time. Which means yes, he could’ve started that way and escalated into something else entirely.
IX. Ian Brady’s Hypothesis
Moors Murderer Ian Brady (whom we also did a show on) wrote a very enlightening book on the analysis of serial murder called The Gates of Janus (it is cited in the ‘further reading’ section).
Brady’s central hypothesis is that a serial killer becomes a serial killer as the ultimate act of individualism. He sees the nihilism and chaos inherent in the universe and to avoid the alternative — madness — he instead creates his own world, his own “microcosm” as Brady calls it. In this way he can make his own sense of a nihilistic world by projecting his own rules onto it.
As serial killer rules his microcosm, so is he the eater of other microcosms, like a god devouring planets, with every person he kills that is one personal microcosm or way of viewing the world, he absorbs into himself. It is a concept very much rooted in Nietzsche’s Will to Power, a tome you will also find in the “Further Reading.”
Basically, according to Brady and Nietzsche’s thinking, it is natural for everything that has life to subsume other life into itself — this is why animals eat other animals and get big as a example. As far as The Stranger goes, he subsumes his victims into his fractured and narcissistic psyche — thinking that if I do this, I will be immortal and all powerful.
Which brings to the symbolism of the prayers over the dead and the potency of mythology and its symbolism. The author believes this was done to deify The Stranger — even in death, he is saying, you will pray for and implore my good graces.
X. More on the Scene in Lafayette
Modus operandi wise, this time no doors or windows were locked. He entered through an unlocked door and left the same way.
Sheriff Lacoste was determined to catch The Stranger anyway he could. He arrested many, including an escaped lunatic from Pineville, LA — about 1 hour and 33 minutes north of they said Crowley. Nevertheless, nothing panned out.
The case, like the others, went cold.
XI. San Antonio, Texas — March 21, 1911
Louis Casaway was a well-liked man of color in his neighborhood. Having grown up a creole in New Orleans, Casaway worked as a messenger at city hall, a porter, a member of the local labor board, and bailiff during actions by local grand juries. He was even a loyal member of the local Republican Party — going so far as to recognize a Juneteenth celebration event in 1899.
He had recently moved on to greener pastures by taking a job as a custodian at a local school. A move that was needed to better support his growing family.
Louis’s wife, Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Carstelow, was a white woman from about 100 miles East of Santonio in a town called Harrletsville. Lizzie had a rather tumultuous marriage with a cattle rustler in Harrletsville named Sam Lane. One night he rounded up a herd a cattle and was never seen again.
Lizzie decided to make a new start of it as a seamstress in San Antonio. That’s where she met and fell in love with Louis Casaway.
Lizzie and Louis are heroes. When the backward Jim Crowe laws of the American south forbid them marriage, sexual congress, or even riding in the same car, they said (in essence): “fuck it! Let’s go to Mexico!”
So, that is exactly what they did to get married, Funny enough, after returning to San Antonio, the locals liked the couple so much they declined to indict them on any charge,
By March 21, 1911, the Casaways had 3 children: Josie age 6, Louise age 3, and Alfred aged 5 months,
By early that Tuesday morning, people were needing to get into the school but couldn’t because Louis Casaway was the only one with a set. So a party was sent to the Casaway home to figure out what was going on.
This started with a call to their neighbors the Campbells. Bessie Drakes, a border at the Campbells’ house, answered the phone. She volunteered to go to the Casaway house herself as her children often played with her children.
Bessie first went to the house herself; noticing it locked up tightly and all the shades drawn, she decided to head back to the Campbell’s house and report her findings. Worried that something fearful had happened, Mr. Campbell made his way to the house and forced his way in through a kitchen window.
When he encountered the bloody body of Louis in his bed, he immediately rushed home and called the police. About 500 morbid curiosity seekers arrived at the tiny home before law enforcement did.
Bexar County Sheriff John Tobin was one of the first lawmen at the scene, he knew and Louis from his work as a bailiff and Lizzie for her work as a seamstress in his home. He immediately put up a $250 reward for info leading to the arrest of anyone involved in the crime.
All of the Casaways had been murdered by an axe taken from their woodshed. Arterial bursts coated the walls in crimson. The murderer had left the bloodied axe against the foot of the bed.
This scene was a departure from the suspects M.O. this time. Instead of locking doors, he barricaded them shut and left through a window. The house had not been ransacked and cash was found in Louis’s pants, along with a pocketwatch.
This is but the beginning of the crimes attributed to lone girl of questionable intelligence and a penchant for downright exaggeration if not outright lying.
These dynamics are so huge, they must be treated in a separate essay, coming very soon.
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