‘Empty, save the memories’–Louisiana

Beauregard Parish Jail
205 West First Street
DeRidder, Louisiana

Joe Genna’s last hours were full of pain and misery just as the last moments of J. J. Brevelle’s life had been. On the fateful evening of August 28, 1926, Genna and Molton Brasseaux robbed and beat Brevelle, a 43-year-old cab driver, on the outskirts of DeRidder and dumped his body in a mill pond. As he awaited hanging within the Gothic confines of the Beauregard Parish Jail, Genna tried to take his own life by swallowing several poison pills. The Shreveport Times takes up the story:

Genna, pale and haggard and apparently deathly ill from the effects of the several poison tablets he swallowed in his cell Thursday night, required the assistance of deputy sheriffs to walk from his cell to the death chamber. The deputies supported him while he stood to make his statement of repentance and express willingness to die. Friday he repented of his act for having attempted to take his life.

The paper notes that at 12:54 on Friday afternoon, March 9, 1928, Genna “mounted the scaffold at the Beauregard parish jail and was dead five minutes later of a broken neck. Molton Brasseaux walked to the same scaffold to meet his death about twenty minutes later.”

The hangings of Genna and Brasseaux took place under the auspices of the stumpy Gothic central tower of the Beauregard Parish Jail. While the “Collegiate Gothic” architecture of the building has been deemed the most fanciful of all the jails in the state, it still lends a cruel sense of ominousness to the building squatting on its haunches next to the proudly standing Beaux-Arts courthouse. Under the jail’s foreboding tower, a circular staircase rises with cells off each round. Hangings could be conducted here allowing for the whole of the jail’s population to witness the death-drop of the convicted. This horrifying feature was used this one time, though it did lend a nickname to the building, the “Hanging Jail.”

Beauregard Parish Jail, 2005. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

For a little over a hundred years these two siblings, the beautiful courthouse and the ugly jail, have existed side by side. Constructed for the newly established Beauregard Parish in 1914, the courthouse continues to operate while the jail is vacant, save for tourists, spirits, spirit-hunters, and memories, having been replaced by a new facility in 1984.

The day of the hanging in 1928, schoolchildren were witness to a pair of black wicker coffins being carried from the jail, though the pair of convicts may not have left spiritually. In 2006, the state’s most notable paranormal investigative organization, Louisiana Spirits Paranormal Investigations, explored the jail. The group did detect some activity that was unexplained as well as having some personal experiences hearing footsteps and flowing water. During their second investigation, the group’s report notes that many of the windows are open thus allowing ambient noise from the street to filter in, which may be mistaken for paranormal activity.

More recent investigations have captured even more compelling evidence. During one investigation, an investigator asked “Do you know that you’re dead?” and recorded the response, “I’m alive. I’m alive.” A photographer taking photos of the jail a few years ago may have captured the image of a jailer sitting on the porch. Starting last year, the jail has been opened at night during the Halloween season allowing visitors to explore the building in the dark.

Scribbled on the wall of a cell, graffiti reveals that at least one inmate expected to remain in this dark place forever: “Here inside these chambers of death I will dwell forever more. I lost my heart, my mind and my soul just because of a bolted door.”