By Stanley Nelson, Matt Barnidge & Ian Stanford
Curt Hewitt moved to Concordia Parish in 1965 with a long criminal record and a mandate to operate the Morville Lounge as a gambling and prostitution hall for racketeering interests that included Carlos Marcello.
He had learned his corrupt ways in St. Landry Parish, knew the usual challenges of running casinos and brothels, but didn't have much experience in dealing with the Ku Klux Klan.
Days after arriving here, however, Hewitt soon learned of one KKK unit that included a number of church deacons from the Monterey area who were as offended by gambling and prostitution as they were by civil rights. He learned quickly that this Klan was as likely to enforce the moral code as the race line, and its instruments of enforcement would be the same for both: the torch and brutality.
Hewitt, who provided insights into his world when he spoke with the FBI in 1971, is one of dozens of figures from Concordia Parish’s past whose names and words, gathered in FBI documents in the 1960s and 1970s, are now coming to light. Those documents, taken together and combined with other information from four decades ago, paint a picture of Concordia as a sordid sin city, where gambling and prostitution were rampant, where some puritanical Ku Klux Klan members waged a two-front war against civil rights and immorality, and where mob-dictated corruption reached deep into law enforcement agencies that protected their power through violence.
The Monterey Klan unit which threatened to burn down the lounge after Hewitt arrived, may have totaled 70 members at its peak, according to FBI records, and was believed to have been involved in the beatings of at least three men in 1965 -- a white man named Dewey White, and two black men, Robert Watkins and Richard James. The unit was also believed responsible for the burning of a bar owned by Reef Freeman on Horseshoe Lake, where prostitution and gambling allegedly flourished.
"Shortly after I arrived to help run the (Morville) lounge," Hewitt told FBI agent John Pfeifer in 1971, "which included gambling and a few prostitutes, Reef Freeman dropped out of the business because it was feared the Klan group in the area might burn" the lounge. He said this same group "was believed to have burned down another of Reef Freeman's clubs."
One Monterey Klansman told FBI agents that Freeman's Horseshoe Lake club "has sold hard whiskey although only beer is legal" and "has operated women at his club..."
Concordia Parish Sheriff's Deputy William Ogden, himself associated with a Klan group from the Ferriday-Vidalia area, according to FBI documents, told the FBI he was the first to arrive on the scene when Freeman's club was burned in early 1965. Ogden said he "had his suspicions as to the motive behind" the arson, but he said there was "no conclusive evidence" pointing at any one person or group and "no concrete leads."
Ogden said he had heard "of the Klan in connection with this matter," and had heard that gambling, prostitution and illegal liquor were part of the operation, but he didn't know "what connection these activities could have with the burning of this establishment."
At the same time, the Monterey Klan distributed a flier, FBI records show, attacking prostitution and gambling as sinful. This information is revealed in FBI documents recently obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and provided to The Sentinel by the Syracuse University College of Law Cold Case Justice Initiative.
In 1967, LIFE Magazine reported that Carlos Marcello's Cosa Nostra mafia organization was operating brothels and casinos in Concordia, and that mafia-controlled establishments here received protection from various resurging Ku Klux Klan organizations.
A Sentinel examination of FBI, federal Grand Jury and other records shows that not only did the operators of the Morville Lounge recruit and hire a professional St. Landry Parish pimp and gambler with mafia ties, but also that at least one Ku Klux Klan organization partially controlled the lounge, namely through Deputy Frank DeLaughter, who weekly picked up from Hewitt $150 to $250 in cash stuffed in a white envelope as "protection money" for the sheriff's office.
Records show J.D. Richardson and Frank Junkin were the owners of the Morville Lounge property. At some point before 1965, Richardson and Junkin purchased part of the property formerly known as the Morville Ranch that later became the location of the lounge in an old building that once housed a grocery store. The bar was located about 15 miles south of Vidalia at Deer Park.
Richardson initially leased the property to Reef Freeman and his associate J.B. Saucier. These two men brought in Curt Hewitt in February 1965. The FBI said Hewitt was a known "organizer and supervisor on behalf of racketeering interests in southern Louisiana," which Carlos Marcello controlled.
In federal Grand Jury records obtained by The Sentinel, Hewitt testified in the Morville racketeering case that he came to Concordia from Eunice in St. Landry Parish and that he operated the Peppermint Lounge across the Evangeline Parish line in Basile.
He admitted that he had prior experience running houses of ill repute and that prostitution in the St. Landry area was "wide spread." Hewitt spent his early adulthood in Lake Charles. He was charged there with employing "b-girls" in 1959, simple battery in 1960 and possession of stolen goods in 1962. He was arrested in Crowley, about 15 miles south of Eunice, in 1964.
FBI documents say that after he began management of the Morville Lounge, Hewitt's girlfriend served as madam, and two of his assistant managers were professional pimps.
Hewitt, Sheriff Noah Cross, DeLaughter and others would eventually be prosecuted on various federal racketeering, perjury and jury tampering charges in the early 1970s following a six-year investigation led by FBI agent Pfeifer. Records indicate that the FBI made this investigation a priority with several goals -- to rid the parish of gambling and prostitution, to neutralize violent Klansmen and to remove Cross and DeLaughter from law enforcement.
The FBI's investigation, along with State Police raids on gambling and prostitution establishments in the parish, proved fruitful in this effort as locally, W.C. Falkenheiner, who took office as District Attorney in 1967, made it a commitment during the 1966 election to rid the parish of vice operations. He put a padlock on the facility in early 1967, effectively closing the operation for good.
DOUCET THE 'CAT'
To understand the underworld influence in Concordia Parish in the 1960s, one must first understand St. Landry Parish a decade before.
Curt Hewitt was first approached about managing the Morville Lounge on behalf of Freeman and Saucier by "Blackie" Broussard, a Rayne man and a patron of Hewitt's Peppermint Lounge, according to Grand Jury documents.
Hewitt gained his management skills in his profession in St. Landry Parish in the early 1960s where the Long political machine ally Sheriff D.J. "Cat" Doucet reigned. The FBI accused Doucet of protecting organized vice interests in the area. The sheriff allegedly earned his nickname because of his role in overseeing prostitution in "cathouses" in his jurisdiction.
Gambling and prostitution flourished in the area under Doucet's and his colleagues' supervision, most notably in brothels and casinos stretched along Highway 190 between Opelousas and Krotz Springs and between Opelousas and Eunice.
An August 10, 1939, FBI memorandum from the New Orleans field office said "Doucet was operating all slot machines in St. Landry Parish." Likewise, a December 11, 1958, article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune alleged "flagrant gambling law violations" in St. Landry Parish.
Doucet was first elected sheriff in 1936 as a Long machine candidate. In 1940, as his first term drew to a close, the St. Landry District Attorney and the Eunice newspaper publicly called for Doucet to clean up vice in the parish.
The Eunice New Era claimed Doucet and other parish officials "had failed to perform their required duties in connection with shutting down of slot machines in St. Landry Parish."
After losing the 1940 election for sheriff, a Grand Jury indicted Doucet for the embezzlement of more than $3,000 in public funds. Seven of his former deputies testified against him. The case was eventually dismissed due to prosecution irregularities. The Grand Jury investigated the sheriff's office again in 1953, but failed to indict Doucet.
After regaining the sheriff's post in 1952, Doucet remained in that position until 1968, winning four consecutive elections.
In an interview with Southeastern Louisiana history professor Michael Kurtz, Doucet said Earl Long's 1956 governor election would "let me open up the cathouses again ... he promised to let me get my fair share of the take."
This was the environment which Hewitt left to come to Concordia Parish. St. Landry was an atmosphere where vice operated in the open with police protection and the blessing of local and state officials. Hewitt brought this model of operation to Concordia where he found conditions ripe for such an establishment.
After Freeman and Saucier pulled out of Morville due to Klan threats, Hewitt said Ferriday club owner and businessman Judsen Lee "Blackie" Drane placed gambling machines and gaming tables in the lounge.
A short time later, Hewitt said deputy Frank DeLaughter began picking up the protection money, while Drane oversaw the operation of the gambling machines and the gaming tables along with his associate, Ed Fuller, who had been the leader of a White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan cell in southern Adams County known as the Sligo Unit of the WKKKK, according to FBI documents.
Months later -- in October 1965 -- DeLaughter, Drane and Fuller were arrested, and later convicted in federal court, in the beating of William C. Davis, an employee of Drane's accused by the three of the theft of a slot machine motor. Although Dist. Atty. Falkenheiner initially investigated this case through the Grand Jury, the FBI later made it part of its comprehensive Concordia probe and made it an example of local police brutality. Records indicate Davis, a white man, left the parish under the FBI's protection until a federal trial on the violation of his civil rights could be held in Monroe.
In the late 1970s, when seeking a parole for his federal convictions relating to Morville and the beating of Davis, DeLaughter would only admit to "backhanding" Davis a few times. He took the "fifth" during his trial, refusing to answer any questions.
In 1967, Raymond Keathley, a longtime sheriff's deputy fired by Sheriff Noah Cross in 1966 when he ran against him in the sheriff's election, said he saw Davis in a jail cell at the old parish courthouse after the 1964 beating. He said Davis' face "was swollen and covered with blood. One eye was completely closed and the other was nearly closed."
Keathley reported to the FBI that he had learned that "DeLaughter started drinking at the (Ferriday) jail and after becoming intoxicated, he severely struck the victim. DeLaughter removed the victim from the Ferriday jail and took him to Blackie Drane's warehouse where he was attacked and beaten by DeLaughter" with the assistance of Fuller. Davis was later taken to the parish jail. DeLaughter and Drane were accused of using a cattle prod in the attack on Davis.
In the meantime, Morville Lounge began to flourish as Hewitt ran a sophisticated operation that employed 20 prostitutes, some earning as much as $400 in cash per week. Peep-holes were placed in doors at the lounge, and pit bulls and an arsenal of weapons were kept on the property to guard against unwanted guests.
FBI reports indicate prostitutes were kept out of sight in trailers near the lounge and at a Natchez trailer park. A fleet of cars to transport prostitutes to and from the lounge was kept in a garage in Natchez owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization unaware of Hewitt's activities. Hewitt also rented a gas station to service the vehicles.
But not all of the prostitutes were willing employees, The Sentinel has learned.
Retired FBI agent Billy Bob Williams of Portland, Ore., who was a resident agent in Natchez in the mid-1960s, said a teenage white girl, almost naked, escaped from the lounge, ran over the levee and was rescued by a minister and his wife who were taking a Sunday afternoon drive. The girl said she was taken to the lounge by force and made to prostitute herself.
Another woman testified before a federal Grand Jury that she had been arrested in Shreveport, bonded out unknowingly by a pimp and taken by force to the lounge where she was kept captive for almost six weeks during which she was made to "work a date" in Catahoula Parish before leaving. She said she was slapped around by two men while at the lounge, identifying one as Hewitt.