In 1890, A New Orleans Police Chief Was Gunned Down by the Mafia

On Oct. 15, 1890, New Orleans Chief of Police David Hennessy Jr. was assassinated by shotgun whereas strolling dwelling close to Basin Road. His demise created a black gap of vigilante violence and political energy struggles. However who was Hennessy earlier than his demise grew to become a footnote to historical past? To grasp that, one has to grasp the social and familial influences Hennessy Jr. grew up below. 

Vice within the Massive Simple

After practically a century of more and more massive waves of immigration, town was a cauldron of political and ethnic conflicts able to explode. Within the mid-to-late 1800s, New Orleans was host to quite a few thugs, gamblers, prostitutes, con males, and madams. As a substitute of acknowledging that these sorts of vices had at all times plagued town, partly due to France’s coverage to launch criminals from its prisons to ship to the Louisiana colony, it was far simpler responsible the rising legal class on no matter immigrants occurred to be disembarking on the Port of New Orleans that yr.

Girod Road, in the present day discovered within the Central Enterprise District, on the time, was a particuarly tough space with many makeshift brothels, “grog” outlets, and a excessive crime charge. It was in these situations that the poor discovered themselves dwelling in poorly constructed, tightly packed collectively shanties, and it was on this surroundings that Irish immigrant David Hennessy Sr. arrived within the 1830s. However as a substitute of lamenting the situations of his new Girod St. handle, he embraced them.

Sanborn Fireplace Insurance coverage Map from New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana.

David Hennessy Sr.

Hennessy Sr. arrived in a New Orleans nonetheless extra swamp than metropolis. His first spouse died in a yellow fever epidemic, and he didn’t remarry till 1854 when he met fellow Irish immigrant Margaret Finn. David Jr. was born in 1858, simply because the Civil Battle was threatening to start. Hennessy Sr. served as a cavalry officer in Union-occupied New Orleans. 

His brother was killed throughout the struggle and, to obtain the deceased Hennessy’s Military advantages, Hennessy Sr. lied about being the one dwelling kin to the useless man. In actuality, his brother had a spouse and at the very least one youngster in Eire. This fraud was found, and Hennessy Sr. was delivered to trial for perjury. He was cleared of the costs, not as a result of they weren’t true, however as a result of a number of character witnesses testified to Hennessy Sr.’s bravery within the struggle. Emboldened by this victory, he took a job as a police officer within the newly shaped Metropolitan Police Pressure. The place did nothing to Hennessy Sr.’s character besides make it worse.

What follows is a short timeline of a few of the main occasions in Hennessy Sr.’s time on the pressure:

March 9, 1866 – At 101 St. Charles (which in the present day is a Starbucks), Hennessy Sr. allegedly took half in a homicide together with three different males. All 4 have been cleared of the costs regardless of the stabbed man figuring out his attackers earlier than he died.

101 St. Charles Avenue. Website the place David Hennessy Sr., together with three different males, allegedly stabbed a person to demise.

Aug. 24, 1868 – Hennessy Sr. was arrested for assault and battery after making an attempt to bribe a politician with $1000 to introduce a invoice which the opposite man refused to do. This led to a bodily assault which left each males a lot the more severe for put on.

Dec. 16, 1868 – Hennessy Sr. arrested three thieves who’d been utilizing an deserted home as a headquarters. The officers with him took all the products saved in the home, most of which have been conveniently by no means checked into proof.

Dec. 24, 1868 – Hennesy Sr.’s home caught fireplace. He was in a position to put out the blaze earlier than anybody was harm or the home was previous restore. He believed one of many thieves or their accomplices had tried to kill him and his household. 

Feb. 26, 1869 – Contained in the eighth District Courtroom Coffeehouse, photographs have been fired. Hennessy Sr. was discovered on the ground with three wounds to the stomach. A physician was discovered within the space to look at the nonetheless alive Sr. and, whereas doing so, discovered a pistol hidden in each entrance pants pockets, a pocket knife, and a pistol in his waistband. It was additionally well-known that Sr. carried a sword cane. Whether or not or not that was discovered on the scene is some extent of competition. 

A door was taken off its hinges to maneuver the now useless Sr. to the coffeehouses’ courtyard. There the physician found two of the three photographs have been deadly with one having torn by way of the sac round his coronary heart and one other piercing his intestines. These wounds would eerily mirror his son’s in a mere 20 years’ time.

Like Father, Like Son

After his father’s demise, Hennessy Jr. and his mom struggled to outlive on the meager pension paid to widows of the police pressure. Fortunately, Hennessy Sr.’s former cavalry commander was appointed head of the Metropolitan Police, and the person took pity on the youthful Hennessy by giving him his first job as a messenger boy for the pressure. Hennessy Jr. took to police work very similar to his father earlier than him, and, on the age of 17, formally joined the pressure as a patrolman. A yr later, Jr. single-handedly caught two males committing housebreaking and introduced them into the station after having overwhelmed them severely. He made detective by his twenty first birthday.

In a much more spectacular feat, Hennessy Jr. caught a Sicilian fugitive from justice who’d been hiding in New Orleans. Esposito, a identified kidnapper, was despatched again to Italy the place he was sentenced to life imprisonment for having reduce off a British vacationer’s ear in a ransom plot. Hennessy Jr.’s seize of Esposito made nationwide headlines and cemented his public picture as a hometown hero.

Nevertheless, to seize Esposito, Hennessy Jr. declined to tell his superior, Thomas Deveraux, who charged him with abandoning his put up. As Jr. and Deveraux have been competing for the place of chief of police, it made sense Jr. hadn’t needed Deveraux to be a part of the sting, but it surely additionally made sense that Deveraux would wish to present his energy as Jr.’s superior on the pressure. This conflict of ambitions led to Hennessy Jr. killing Deveraux in what can be dominated as self-defense. Not everybody agreed with the decision, and a New Orleans State editorial referred to as him a assassin outright. The ensuing controversy brought about Jr. to resign from the Metropolitan Police Pressure in April 1882 in shame.

In 1888, Mayor Joseph A. Shakespeare appointed Hennessy Jr. to the chief of police place he’d so coveted. However, formidable as ever, Jr. by no means stopped his much less respectable enterprises. In February 1889, it was reported Jr. was concerned in a safety racket for varied vice actions together with a few of the most infamous brothels within the Storyville space. Concerned in a much less outlined manner with the Pink Mild Social Membership brothel have been Joseph and Peter Provenzano.

Hennessy Jr. was set to testify for his mates, the Prozenzanos, in opposition to the Matranga household in what was primarily a turf struggle scuffle, however was shot two days earlier than the trial started.

Rumors started to swirl that Mafiosi had been accountable for the chief’s demise, however in actuality, Jr. had enemies from the legal world and the political one. A part of his being appointed to the chief place was the settlement he’d consolidate the police pressure. This brought about many to lose their jobs and made him no mates on the station. Along with his illicit actions and the actual fact he nonetheless lived within the crime-filled Girod Road neighborhood, this meant practically anybody may have been accountable for his assassination. However, as normal, it was simpler responsible the Sicilian immigrants for the capturing, and shortly it was accepted as truth the Mafia had been those to order the hit on Hennessy Jr.

Aftermath of a Police Chief’s Demise

Regardless of the controversies surrounding him in life and demise, Hennessy Jr. was enormously standard among the many folks of New Orleans. His funeral was attended by a lot of the metropolis’s residents. Sadly, that wasn’t the tip of the story. 

Within the weeks after his assassination, increasingly more Italian males have been arrested, questioned, and launched till 9 of the 19 males accused have been taken to court docket to face trial for Hennessy’s homicide. The entire males have been to be launched after a mistrial was declared for 3, and 6 have been discovered not responsible, a truth which enraged the populace and created a vigilante want for justice.

A vigilante mob gathered on the Parish Jail on Marais Road, March 14, 1891 to enact what would develop into the most important mass lynching in United States historical past. (Public area, through Wikimedia Commons)

What adopted subsequent was the worst mass lynching in United States historical past. On March 14, 1891, a crowd of 6000 – 8000 folks gathered on the Henry Clay statue which stood on the intersection of Royal and St. Charles in Canal Road’s impartial floor. After a sequence of speeches to rile the mob, they marched on the Parish Jail positioned within the Treme on Marais Road. When the vigilantes arrived, they broke by way of the gates with a makeshift battering ram and stormed the jail. 

As soon as inside, they searched till they discovered a few of the males in a stairwell. The mob shot the boys over 100 instances earlier than dragging the remainder exterior the place they have been hung from lamp posts. All informed 11 of the 19 accused males have been hung or shot with not one guard or police officer making an attempt to defend them. Nobody was punished for the lynchings.


For extra in-depth info on the Hennessys and the tragedies surrounding them, seek advice from the sources beneath.

  1. “Earlier than Storyville: Vice Districts in Antebellum New Orleans, Half 1.” Richard Campanella. Tulane Faculty of Structure. Preservation in Print, September 2015. than-Storyville.pdf
  2. The Brackish Podcast. Combine it Up a Little. “S01 E17 – TBP Episode 17~David Hennessy Sr. The Irish Brawler and Gunslinger.” April 7, 2020.
  3. Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster. T.J. English. HarperCollins E-books, 2007. 
  4. “Sicilian Lynchings in New Orleans.” Justin A. Nystrom. 64 Parishes. June 24, 2013.
  5. “Who Killa da Chief?’ Revisited: The Hennessy Assassination and Its Aftermath, 1890-1991.” John V. Baiamonte, Jr. Louisiana Historical past: The Journal of the Louisiana Historic Affiliation, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Spring, 1992), pp. 117-146 (30 pages).

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