Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter

Aimee Heidelberg - November 15, 2023

There is nothing like a stroll around the New Orleans French Quarter. The historic buildings line the streets boasting delicate Spanish-style wrought-iron railings. Breathing in, visitors guess what that wonderful mix of smells might be wafting from restaurants; is it authentic gumbo? Beignets? Etouffee? And with a turn of the head, a different powerful odor. Is it coming from that guy passed out in the street in a pool of booze-induced vomit? Perhaps body odor from the crushing crowds vying for beads. New Orleans French Quarter is a hotbed of rowdy revelry, drunken debauchery, and tourist traps. But the modern tourist party scene is just the latest chapter in the sordid history of the French Quarter. Since the earliest days of the city, the French Quarter has been a hotbed of scandal and story, some fact, some fiction, some a curious blend of both that propels the district into legend.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Map of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase territorty, making New Orleans a part of the United States. Public domain.

The Early French Quarter

The French Quarter’s history began in 1718, when Jean Baptiste Bienville, governor of the Company of the Indies, founded a small military community along the swampy banks of the Mississippi River delta. He named the small development after the Duc d’Orleans in hopes of earning favor in the royal court. French rule would end in 1762, after King Louis XV gave the Louisiana territory to his cousin Charles III of Spain. Spain ruled the area for forty years, leaving a lasting mark on the architecture and culture of the district. Fires gutted the area in 1788 and again in 1794, but the population would rebuild. Over the years, residents suffered yellow fever, cholera, and malaria. Despite these plagues, they came back, stronger than ever. In 1803, New Orleans was part of the massive land deal, the Louisiana Purchase, and it officially became part of the United States.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Portrait of Jean Lafitte. Rosenberg Library, Galveston, TX. Public domain (c. early 1800s).

Jean Lafitte – Privateer or Pirate (early 1800s)

One of the most notorious characters of the early French Quarter was Jean Lafitte. Historians haven’t conclusively decided how to label Lafitte, businessman or privateer, possibly a pirate. Lafitte classified himself a privateer, as he and his men had permission from the Colombian Cartagena government to capture Spanish ships full of goods and slaves. This permission, however, is complicated, as the United States government would not recognize the Cartagenian government. What’s more, the United States government thought Lafitte’s men were attacking any ships they saw, not specifically Spanish ships. This would make Lafitte a pirate, not a privateer. Although Lafitte wasn’t specifically charged with attacking non-Spanish ships, he claimed never to have captured a ship flying the American flag. But this wasn’t quite true, either; his men attacked American ships, they just didn’t kill the crew.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Privateer Lafitte, Gov. William Claiborne, and Gen. Andrew Jackson meet in New Orleans. Public domain (1814).

Lafitte – Pirate to Patriot (1812)

Despite the government’s suspicion that Lafitte was a pirate, they asked for his assistance during the War of 1812, a conflict between Britain and the newly independent United States over imprisonment of America sailors, trade conflicts, Native American policies and other disagreements. The British approached Lafitte first, asking him to help plan an attack on American forces in 1814. But Lafitte, in a feat of patriotism, Informed the American forces of the plan. He offered his men, the Baratarians, and his resources to help with New Orleans defense. In exchange, he requested the Baratarians be pardoned for their crimes, real or perceived. The Untied States didn’t trust the offer at first, but General Andrew Jackson came around. He knew Lafitte’s resources and knowledge of the area were invaluable to American forces. Lafitte’s partnership with government forces helped the Americans gain the upper hand, emerging victorious over the British.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
New Orleans from the Mississippi River. Henry Lewis , public domain (c. 1840s).

The French Quarter Emerges

In the early and mid-1800s, The French Quarter’s location along the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico set it up as a bustling trade district. It processed good coming down the Mississippi on steamboats from northern ports and coffee from the Caribbean. These imports supplemented the cotton and sugar produced on local plantations, processed, and shipped to the European markets. But this antebellum prosperity had a dark side; it was earned on the back of slave labor. Slavery would be the cornerstone of the city until the American Civil War. Meanwhile, even as more money poured through the port and trains increase the volume of goods moving through the area, the French Quarter struggled. Houses were converted to warehouses, hotels, and boarding houses. Wealthy residents moved to the Esplanade and North Rampart Street districts. Industrial development changed the character of the area.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Possible portrait of Delphine LaLaurie. Google Images

French Quarter Horror Story: Madame LaLaurie (1830s)

The house on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls Street is legendary. To this day, there is an air of horror about it, and it is a popular stopping point for French Quarter house tours. The source of this horror was a prominent Quarter woman, Delphine LaLaurie. Despite the stoic image in her portrait, Delphine LaLaurie was sadistic, torturing her slaves with spiked iron collars and even mutilated some of them. Delphine beat her daughters when they dared give the slaves food. In one incident, she chased a young slave girl around the house with a whip. The girl climbed on the roof to escape, fell, and died. After this crime, Madame LaLaurie tried to cover up her crime by throwing the girl’s body down a well. Despite being forced to sell her slaves after this incident was discovered, LaLaurie purchased more under assumed identities and the torture resumed.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
The LaLaurie mansion on Royal Street, New Orleans. APK (2022, CC 4.0)

Madame LaLaurie Exposed (1834)

In 1834, a fire broke out at the LaLaurie mansion kitchen. Common lore has it that a seventy-year-old slave set the fire to draw attention to her plight, so desperate to escape that she was willing to risk death. Crowds gathered outside the mansion to watch the flames. When officials searched the house, they found, as reported in the French newspaper at the time, “seven slaves, more or less horribly mutilated.” Word of Madame LaLaurie’s sadism trickled through the neighborhood. A mob surrounded the LaLaurie mansion, destroying what was left after the fire, but the sadistic Madame escaped. She was an outcast in New Orleans society. In a society that supported the ownership of human beings, she went too far even for them. Nobody knows what happened to Madame LaLaurie after her escape is undocumented; rumor has it she fled to Paris and died in 1842.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Portrait often cited as Marie Laveau. Attributed to George Catlin or Jacques Amans, public domain.

Marie LaVeau Enters the Picture (1830s)

Around the time Madame LaLaurie recieved her comeuppance, Voodoo religious rites emerged among the New Orleans enslaved. Marie LaVeau brought it to the forefront. She was born to a Creole woman and a white father. She practiced voodoo from an early age, selling ritual items such as gris gris, selling charms and cures, and telling fortunes. A practicing Catholic, Marie moved to the French Quarter when she married Jacques Paris, a free man of color from Haiti, in 1819. Voodoo established itself in French Quarter Haitian culture well before LaVeau arrived to work as a hairdresser and healer. She gained the confidence of her white and Creole clients, hearing – and keeping – their secrets. While she was working her jobs and raising her children, she was learning Voodoo practices from her mentor, Doctor John (sometimes referred to as John Bayou), and rose in the ranks as a Voodoo Queen.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
The reported tomb of Marie LaVeaum marked with XXX in her honor. Infrogmation (2007, CC 2.5).

Marie LaVeau Makes Voodoo Synonymous with the French Quarter (1820s and 1830s)

Marie LaVeau, with her society connections and ability to mesh her Catholic traditions with the voodoo practices, made the tradition more palatable to the mainstream New Orleans population. She dominated the ceremonies at Congo Square, along the northern section of the French Quarter. LaVeau supplemented these public events with quiet, private rituals at her home, where she would serve as an oracle, performed exorcisms, and offered sacrifices. When she decided it was time to retire from public life in the mid 1870s, she continued to practice until her death in the early 1880s. To this day, visitors to New Orleans visit a grave reported to be LaVeau’s, marking it with an ‘XXX’ in the hopes that LaVeau will look upon them favorable and to pay their respects (despite it beign vandalism and possibly not even her grave).

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
St. John’s Eve is still celebrated in New Orleans. Bart Everson (2007, cc. 2.0).

Marie LaVeau was a Marketing Genius (1830s)

St. John’s Eve, a Christian holiday celebrated around the world, got a New Orleans twist thanks to the infamous Marie LaVeau. In the 1830s, she hosted feasts along Lake Pontchartrain, with food, music, and a head-washing ritual. This, despite strict regulations quashed gatherings like LaVeau’s feast. Since there had been rebellion in Haiti, and it struck terror in the hearts of New Orleans slaveholders. Because of that fear, enslaved people were prohibited from gathering in large groups. This drove Haitian based Voodoo rituals underground, but LaVeau brought it into the open and even publicize it. In fact, LaVeau’s ability to practice in the open speaks to her prominence among the New Orleans elite as a spiritual and community leader. Her marketing skills led her to invite white New Orleans citizens to the festivities, allowing the curious and the media to see what happened at these events.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Orleans Theater, now Bourbon Orleans Hotel and site of ‘haunted’ ballroom. Gibson Guide and Directory of New Orleans, 1838. Public domain

Dancing at a Ball that Ended 200 Years Ago (early to mid-1800s)

The Bourbon Orleans Hotel is reportedly a ghost haven. Among the spirits roaming the halls, visitors find Confederate soldiers or ghosts of children from the building’s time as an orphanage. But one ghost is said to linger from the time of the Quadroon Ball, where racial boundaries were crossed for a grand night of dancing. Wealthy Creole men would dance and romance women with one-fourth African blood, called Quadroon, starting about 1819. The men, sometimes married, were seeking courtesans rather than wives, setting them up comfortably in nearby neighborhoods like Treme. The balls lasted until the space was used for government after the Capitol building was decimated by fire. According to local lore, the figure of a woman in a grand dress will dance her lonely chorus under the ballroom’s crystal chandelier. Others report movement and noises from behind the draperies, despite nobody being there and no windows being open.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Gallatin Street, New Orleans. WPA, public domain (c.1930s).

Gallatin Street

Today’s French Market Place is a bustling tourist attraction, with streams of shoppers grabbing Cafe du Mond beignets in an open-air marketplace. But in the mid-1800s, it was known and Gallatin Street, the seedy flip side to genteel French Quarter society. Police refused to patrol Gallatin Street unless they were in groups. The ‘good’ ones, anyway. The underpaid, understaffed police force was rife with bribery and corruption. Police coerced brothel staff to consent to his indelicate propositions or risk being shut down. Cops covered up murders, killing witnesses when ‘necessary.’ Even with rampant police corruption and crime, there were still some who believed in public safety and law, trying to clear out brothels and decrease Gallatin Street crime. Unfortunately, the bad cops outnumbered the good. Crime and prostitution raged. Gallatin Street was nowhere for the innocent or trusting. And nobody wanted to run into one prostitute in particular, Bricktop Jackson.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Bricktop’s Gallatin Street before renovation. WPA, public domain (c. 1930s).

Mary Jane “Bricktop” Jackson of Gallatin Street (1860)

The toughest resident of Gallatin Street was prostitute Mary Jane Jackson. Jackson had fiery red hair and unflinching killer instinct epitomized her nickname, “Bricktop.” In 1856, Bricktop killed a man for calling her a whore. While that man was clubbed to death, her favorite weapon was a custom-made knife, which she could allegedly slash in any direction without changing her hand position. She killed at least four men and stabbed many more. Her most notorious fight was with John Miller, a man so hardcore, when he lost his arm in a fight, and had it replaced with a mace. During a fight, Bricktop grabbed the arm-mace and beat him with it. Miller tried to stab her, but she used her knife to finish him off. She went to prison for his death, but only for one year. Upon release, she led a quieter, more subdued life.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Major General Benjamin Butler. Library of Congress, public domain (c. 1862 and 1865).

Iron Fist of the Union (1860s)

Major General Benjamin Butler of the Union army had a particular contempt for the South and Confederate-sympathizers in New Orleans. He ordered martial law upon the city, and that was only the start. His General Order 28 ordered any woman insulting or showing contempt for a Union soldier would be regarded as and treated like a prostitute. He had Confederate sympathizer William Munford hung for tearing down the US flag over the New Orleans Mint. But to add further insult, Butler commissioned an alteration to the statue of Andrew Jackson. This statue, with Jackson tipping his hat astride his leaping horse, honors his role for defending the city against British invasion. It is the focal point in the French Quarter’s Jackson Square. Butler ordered the statue to be inscribed with the motto, “The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved,” slamming the Confederate sympathies of New Orleans.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Federal ships in the port of New Orleans. Public domain (c. 1862).

The French Quarter Suffers the Civil War and Reconstruction

In the mid-1800s, New Orleans was one of the major trading hubs in the nation. But in the 1860s, Civil War raged in the United States, and New Orleans, with its history steeped in slavery, supported the Confederate cause. But the city’s location as the gateway between the Mississippi River and international trade routes meant it was a vital port, coveted by both southern and northern forces. The Union army captured New Orleans in 1862 and closed the ports to the Confederacy, strangling the South. After the Confederacy fell, the city rebuilt itself, becoming a railroad hub and rebuilding its port. It enhanced its infrastructure and grew again. The specter of its slavery-based past reared its ugly head in the racial tensions, segregation, and the implementation of the ironically-named “Separate but Equal” policies from the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
House on Dauphine Street, the Sultan’s Palace. Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), Library of Congress, public domain

The Sultan’s Palace, 716 Dauphine Street (c. 1860s)

When Jean Baptiste LePrete leased his mansion at 716 Dauphine Street to a Middle Eastern man, no less than brother to a Sultan, he couldn’t anticipate the troubles to come. The tenants were exotic and interesting, and brought a load of expensive furnishings and well-dressed people to live in the mansion. Despite the odors of opium and sounds of music and laughter from inside, nobody was invited for a visit. One morning, a passer-by spotted blood dripping down the mansion steps, dubbed “The Sultan’s Palace” by locals. Police entering the house discovered flayed bodies, other bodies with limbs missing, and in the back yard, a single hand bursting up from the ground (some versions have the Sultan dismembered on a couch), buried alive. No records exist that can prove the massacre actually happened, but it has become one of the French Quarter’s most blood-soaked, gory tales.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Etienne Deschamps, Illustration in The Times-Democrat New Orleans, LA, 14 May 1892,

Healing to Kill in the French Quarter (1889)

Dr. Etienne Deschamps, a French dentist who settled in French Quarter in the late 1880s, wanted to branch out in his business. To this end, he studied hypnosis and magnetism, and reportedly bragged about having supernatural powers. He allegedly convinced a friend, Jules Deitsch, that he was close to using those powers to locate a lost treasure, but he needed the ‘help’ of a young virgin. Unfortunately, Deitsch knew just the person; his own twelve year old daughter Juliette, who underwent six months of Deschamps hypnosis sessions. These sessions, however, were less about occult powers and more about the chloroform he used to incapacitate Juliette while he sexually assaulted her. Juliette’s sister found out and told her father. Deitsch went to confront the wayward dentist. However, instead of rescuing his girl, he found her unclothed and deceased from a chloroform overdose. Deschamps hung for his crime in May of 1892.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
New Orleans jazz band on SS Sidney. Louis Armstrong is fourth from the left. Public domain (c. 1918).

The French Quarter Flourishes

Jazz emerged in the early 1900s and drifted into the Quarter from nearby Storyville. This lively music would become synonymous with New Orleans. It quickly became a haven for the arts and culture. In the 1920s through 1960s, writers like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and William Faulkner set up shop in the French Quarter, adding another dimension of culture in the district. As people flocked to the French Quarter, the housing stock filled up, the area became crowded, and new enterprises set up shop to attract customers. But the Quarter was in decline, and developers turned their eye to the dilapidated architecture. Developers demolished a full block of historic architecture in 1911 to make way for the Louisiana State Supreme Court buildings. But French Quarter residents mobilized to stop more destruction of the neighborhood. The Vieux Carré Commission emerged in 1936 to protect the buildings and culture of the Quarter.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
French Opera House at night. Postcard, public domain (c. 1910).

Marguerite O’Donnell: Love and Pastry (c. 1902)

One local legend involves a showgirl, her lover, and revenge from beyond the grave. The story begins in the 1860s, when Marguerite O’ Donnell, a French-Irish woman married to an abusive Civil War veteran, joined the chorus ranks at the French Quarter’s French Opera House. When her husband died during in 1878, she openly indulged the chorus girl lifestyle. She took lovers, one of whom financed the pastry shop she opened after retiring from the opera. To assist with her shop’s demand, sixty-year-old Margeurite hired a twenty-one-year-old pastry chef, Carlos Alfaro. His romantic skills eclipsed his baking skills, and the two began an affair. But Carlos’ eye wandered over to another woman, and Marguerite caught the two entangled in an embrace. Marguerite was heartbroken and killed herself in her apartment above her shop. She swore her spirit would return for revenge.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
St Ann pavement sign, New Orleans Infrogmation of New Orleans (2019, CC 4.0).

Marguerite’s Second Act (c. 1902)

Soon after Marguerite’s death, her legend began. People lingering on Bourbon Street reported a frightening apparition at the Opera House. A ghostly woman appeared on the steps and glided down to Bourbon Street. She followed a path along Toulouse Street, over to Royal Street, and by St. Louis Cathedral. She slowly made her way over to the rooming house on St. Ann where Carlos and his lover, Lisette Lebouef, lived together. Marguerite’s ghost allegedly turned on the gas stove, seeping poisonous gas into their room, killing both of them. Her ghost would repeat this course, gliding from the Opera House to the rooming house. She only ceased when a new tenant burned a note from Marguerite to Carlos, begging for him to come back to her. Although reported to be gone forever, some claim to still see her ghost along the streets and in the erstwhile rooming house.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Beauregard Keyes House, Chartres Street, New Orleans. Public Domain (c. 1903-1904).

New Orleans Deadly Party (1908)

In 1904, the historic Beauregard-Keyes House on Chartres Street sold to the Giacona family. The Giaconas were involved in the liquor trade, which caught the attention of the Sicilian Black Hand, New Orleans’ mafia branch. The Black Hand had ‘concerns’ that the Giaconas were encroaching in their territory and not paying their dues. Family patriarch Pietro Giacona invited four members of the Black Hand to their Chartres Street home. During dinner, Giacona and his son Corrado killed their three Black Hand dinner guests. Even though the crime seems to be pretty cut-and-dry, charges were dropped in 1910. The Giacona men fled, boarding up windows of the once-stately manor and ducking out on tax payments. They may have also abandoned the young Giacona daughters who heard the murders from their bedrooms. Growing up, the girls made a living seeing and selling baby clothes in the French Quarter.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Newspaper clipping with pictures of Henry Moity, victim Leonide Moity, and Henry’s children. Public domain (c. 1927)

New Orleans Trunk Murders (1920s)

On 27 October, 1927, the discovery of two young women hacked to pieces and placed in a pair of travel trunks shocked the French Quarter. Severed fingers littered the floor near a blood-soaked mattress. Clothes from the trunks lie tossed about, a gold wedding ring embedded in a wound in one of the women’s backs. The bathroom was splattered with blood. The bedroom was soaked with the blood of two sisters, Theresa and Leonide Moity, who were married to a pair of brothers, Henry and Joseph Moity. Henry Moity, husband of Theresa Moity, confessed to the gruesome crime. He claimed Theresa was having an affair with their landlord, neglected their children, and had plans to leave him. Henry blamed Leonide for being a driving force for his wife’s bad behavior. He was sentenced to prison in 1928, but his story certainly didn’t end there.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Folsom Prison, where Henry Moity lived and died. Vince (2011, CC 2.0).

Henry Moity’s Crazy Postscript (1940s)

Over the course of a few years, Henry gained the trust of prison officials, becoming a “trusty.” Because of his trusty status, he was allowed more freedoms, special assignments, and had less guard oversight than fellow inmates. Using that trust and full of French Quarter feistiness, he escaped in 1944 during a routine post office visit. As he carried out his duties, he grabbed a taxi. While Henry took a train to Chicago, the prison superintendent was nonplussed. He believed Henry would return on his own, since he had already served sixteen years and probation was coming soon. When it became clear Henry wasn’t coming back, the law set after him, recapturing him in 1948. But prison beckoned to Henry; in 1956 he shot his girlfriend in a Los Angeles hotel. While he didn’t kill her, he was sent to Folsom, where he died in 1956.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Plaque dedicated to Clay Shaw’s architectural prservation work in the French Quarter. Infrogmation of New Orleans (2008,CC 4.0)

Clay Shaw and the Quarter Renaissance

By the 1940s and 50s, the historic buildings in the Quarter were deteriorating, victims of time and neglect. But there was a movement to reverse that trend. One man leading the charge was Clay Shaw, a luminary in the French Quarter in the 1950s and 60s. The wealthy, prominent Shaw took an interest in a burgeoning movement in the French Quarter. Since the 1920s and 30s, the LGBTQ+ community had flocked to New Orleans to find community in an area that welcomed nontraditional lifestyles. As the community moved in, they established culture and hangouts like Café Lafitte in Exile (the oldest gay bar in continuous operation in the United States). Clay Shaw embraced the French Quarter wholeheartedly, and invested his time, money, and passion into renovating the historic buildings in the district.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Portrait of Clay Shaw. JFK Assassination Records Collection, National Archives, public domain (c. 1945).

Clay Shaw and the Downfall of a Luminary

For all the good Shaw did for the French Quarter, he couldn’t escape the web he became entangled in the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963. New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison pursued Shaw as part of a conspiracy to kill the President. But some historians believe Garrison targeted Shaw because of his homosexuality; statements like the assassination was part of a “homosexual thrill killing” add fuel to that claim. Shaw was the only person to stand trial for a role in the Kennedy assassination. A jury declared Shaw not guilty. Unfortunately, Shaw had spent most of his money on his defense. Despite retiring with honors, including the International Order of Merit from the City of New Orleans, he returned to work. He died in his French Quarter home on St. Peter Street, but he saw his nemesis Garrison defeated in the 1973 election.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Cafe Lafitte in Exile, the oldest continuously operating gay bar in the USA. APK (2022, CC 4.0).

French Quarter’s Three Months of Terror (1977)

In spring of 1977, five deaths among the French Quarter’s gay community rocked the district. The victims, men aging between 32 and 77 years old, were known to go to the gay bars in the Quarter. Four of them were found in their homes, some shortly after having sex. Between February and April, the crimes terrorized the gay community. New Orleans parish coroner Frank Minyard saying, “It seems to me if this same individual is committing these atrocious crimes, then this individual is deteriorating very fast in his mental activities and he needs to be caught in a hurry.” The killer’s identity shocked the community; The killer, Warren Harris Jr., was a sixteen-year-old New Orleans native, eighth grade dropout, and petty criminal. Upon capture, he confessed he was repulsed by homosexuals. Warren was convicted, sentenced to three consecutive life sentences without chance of pardon or parole.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Sandbags at the ready for Hurricane Katrina flooding. FEMA, public domain (2005).

Hurricane Katrina (2005)

Amid all the human drama of the French Quarter, it avoided one of the largest disasters of New Orleans history, one that flooded and damaged roughly 80% of the city, Hurricane Katrina. The French Quarter was built above sea level and remained mostly unflooded. The higher terrain is why the settlers chose the spot for initial settlement in the first place. Comparatively, the damage was nowhere near the horrors in the Lower Ninth Ward and other districts. 9% of the French Quarter district flooded in Katrina. The most impacted areas were North Rampart, Burgundy, Dauphine and Bourbon Streets, typically only one to four blocks along each street. These areas had always been prone to flooding and had done so regularly until settlement in the 1700s brought levees to help tame the water. But most of the Quarter sat unflooded and undamaged from the storm.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Debris at the ready for New Orleans and Biloxi (shown here) resident pickers. Daniel Lobo (2005, CC 1.0)

Zack and Addie: Katrina’s Resilient Couple (2005)

Zack Bowen and Addie Hall seemed to be one of the many artistic, bohemian couples taking up residence in the French Quarter. Bartender Addie merrily served drinks to patrons while covering her own bipolar disorder. Iraq and Kosovo Army veteran Zack had returned from service with PTSD, separating from his first wife. Shortly after, he began dating Addie. But the fun wouldn’t last. Hurricane Katrina would devastate much of New Orleans, but fortunately, the French Quarter didn’t experience the flooding and devastation seen by areas like the Ninth Ward. Despite protests by family, Zack and Addie stayed in the French Quarter in Addie’s apartment. They thrived in the wake of the hurricane, scouting abandoned bars for alcohol and setting up a bar outside their home. The couple, repurposing debris and plying alochol to neighbors, featured in the media for their fortitude in the midst of disaster.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Royal Omni Hotel, site of Zack’s demise. AngelDixon98 (2017, CC 4.0).

Addie and Zack in the Post-Katrina World (2006)

After the storm, their drug use increased. And so did the arguments. The arguments got worse. They moved to an apartment above a voodoo shop on Rampart Street, but the ‘fresh start’ didn’t help. Zack was cheating on Addie. Consequently, she took steps to evict him from her apartment. On October 5, 2006, neither reported for work. On October 17, Zack’s body was found in a hotel parking garage with a note “for police only.” His suicide note directed police to their apartment, where they found the air conditioning unusually cold. Messages in silver spray paint show the mental tornado in Zack’s mind; “I love her,” “I’m a total failure,” and chillingly, “Look in the oven.” Zack had killed and dismembered Addie, butchering the body, placing pieces in pots, in the oven, in the refrigerator and freezer in an effort to dispose of her remains and possibly cannibalize her.

Shocking Tales from New Orleans’ Early French Quarter
Revelry on Bourbon Street. John Seb Barber (2013, CC2.0).

The French Quarter Continues its Colorful Story

Today, the French Quarter remains an arts area, but the tourism industry has turned it in to a modern garden of delights and vices. The population of the French Quarter has declined, moving from 20,000 residents in the district during the 1920s to 4,000 today. The area has gentrified. Real estate is prohibitively expensive, but the visitor swarm has not been stemmed. Hotels have moved to the periphery due to a prohibition on building new hotels in the French Quarter in the 1970s, but revelers flock in, indulging in the award-winning restaurants like Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s Restaurant, Bayona, and Justine. Amid fine dining, there are nightclubs, strip joints, parades, and sounds of shrieking partiers permeate through the wrought-iron balconies and unique antique and art shops. But vices, scandals, and secrets have always been part of French Quarter lore and will continue to paint the district in a diverse array of colors.

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

Amid roaring twenties New Orleans, a brutal French Quarter murder shocked the city. Dylan Jordan, The Historic New Orleans Collection, 25 October 2019.

Barataria: The ruins of a pirate kingdom. Leonidas Hubbard Jr. The Atlantic, June 1903.

Cruising for conspirators: How a New Orleans DA prosecuted the Kennedy assassination as a sex crime (Book review). Michael Wade, Journal of Southern History, 89(2), May 2023, p. 395.

Guilty of being gay: NOLA businessman Clay Shaw. Lori Archer,, 6 April 2017.

Haunted NOLA: How the ghost of a heartbroken Bourbon Street showgirl killed her lover. Michael DeMocker,, 25 August 2021.

How gay men helped save the French Quarter. Lori Archer,, 2 February 2018.

In light of the Brian Williams Katrina controversy: A brief history of French Quarter flooding. Richard Campanella,, 10 February 2015.

The Sultan’s House: The haunted historyof one of the French Quarter’s most photographed buildings. Mike Scott,, 26 December 2019.

Slaughter at the Sultan’s French Quarter Palace, Gardette-LePretre House. Michael DeMocker,, 30 March 2020.

The real Madame LaLaurie & other legends from American Horror Story: Coven. Erin Z. Bass, Deep South Magazine, 15 January 2014.

Wine and blood at the Beauregard-Keyes House. (n.a.) WWNO Public Radio, 29 October 2015.