Dora Murff, and her stepfather, James Duval, was both charged with the murder of John Miller Delhaye, Dora’s ex-boy friend. The incident happened on the night of Wednesday, October 15, 1913, on Parkerson Ave. between Fourth and Fifth Streets, in Crowley, Louisiana. John Delhaye was accused of having betrayed Dora Murff under the promise of marriage. It is alleged that after seducing Dora, John Delhaye promised to marry her, but delayed in keeping his promise. After becoming discouraged, thinking her life was ruined, Dora in a fit of despondency, attempted suicide the Sunday night before the tragedy by drinking a bottle of horse liniment. Dr. A. B. Cross was called and treated her at the time.
The following night, James Duval and his fourteen-year-old stepson, Allie, who was also known as Buddie, paid Delhaye a visit at the ice plant and again demanded that Delhaye marry his stepdaughter or he would be killed.
On Tuesday, Duval and Dora’s younger brother, Allie, as a result of their threatening statements from the night before to Delhaye were both placed under a peace bond for the sum of $150 each.
Late Wednesday evening, James Duval, Dora and Buddie Murff, were seen driving up and down Parkerson Avenue in a two-seater buggy acting as though they were looking for someone. Witnesses stated they saw a shotgun in the front seat.
Parkerson Avenue was alive with activity; the street was thronged with people, many going to the movie theater at the Grand, when James Duval’s buggy drove up to the curb near B. Meyer’s store, where, Delhaye was passing. Dora called out to him to wait, that she wanted to speak with him. John Delhaye paused a second or two to see who had called out to him, then hurried south. Then the desperate girl called for Delhaye to stop or she would shoot. Delhaye started to run. A gunshot rang; Delhaye staggered, moved a few feet further, fell to his knees and then to the pavement in the agony of death.
Almost instantaneously, after the first shot, Dora jumped from the buggy and ran after her fleeting lover, twice firing a revolver she carried in her hand. As her victim fell, she flung herself upon his body, embracing and kissing him and shouted out, “I’ve killed him.” At the same time Dora flourished her revolver, scattering the gathering crowd. Her Stepfather, Jim Duval, than approached and quieted the fears of the crowd by saying, “It’s alright gentlemen, the gun is not loaded.”
John Miller Delhaye was taken into the Avenue Pharmacy, where he died within a few minutes. Delhaye had a small caliber, five-shot Smith & Wesson revolver on his body at the time of his death. James Duval, Dora and Allie Murff were immediately placed under arrest, and the coroner was called.
A coroner’s inquest resulted in the jury bringing in a verdict stating that John Delhaye was killed by a shotgun blast from the hands of James Duval. Duval and his son, it was claimed carried the shotgun as a matter of self-protection, because they claimed to be aware that Delhaye was armed. It was said that when Dora called out to him, he had reached his hand in his pocket, and believing that he was reaching for his gun, she fired the shotgun, which resulted in Delhaye’s death. The coroner’s verdict charged Duval with firing the fatal shot from the shotgun. A number of eyewitnesses also claimed that Duval had fired the gun.
John Delhaye was a native of Franklin, Louisiana, employed as an engineer for the ice plant in Crowley; he was well liked in the community. Delhaye and Dora’s association dated back several years.
Before the trial commenced, defense attorney Phillip Pugh, made a request of the court that the courthouse be guarded because of rumors that the defendant would not leave the courtroom alive. Judge Campbell replied that he didn’t think such a move was necessary, and that he didn’t pay much attention to rumors. However, he assured Mr. Pugh that due regard would be made for the safety of the prisoners while in the custody of the state. Pugh then asked Judge Campbell to order the search of every person in the building for deadly weapons, though overruled, as was another motion that no jurors be drawn from Crowley or vicinity because of threats made against James Duval. About thirty of the jurors were from Crowley, while the remainder was reported to be from Rayne, Church Point and other neighboring towns.
The selection of the twelve jurors nearly exhausted the pool of 150 perspective jurors that Sheriff Fontenot brought in at the start of the trial, but Judge Campbell ordered an extra panel of 150 jurors, to the objection of defense attorney, Phillip Pugh. The court overruled the objection, and the defense filed an exception.
Many perspective jurors were excused because of their lack of understanding the English language. Others were dismissed after stating they would never hang a girl. Some of the men didn’t know the meaning of “reasonable doubt,” and other expressions used by the lawyers. The defense attorneys seemed to be partial to jurymen that were married with children, especially daughters.
Finally a jury of twelve were selected, they were: R. H. Stagg, Estherwood, Girard Hoffpauir, Estherwood, Sidney Savoie, Church Point, Jules Brisco, Church Point, M. Miller, Iota, J. J. Castille, Rayne, S. V. Guidry, Midland, Clay Richard, Church Point, Laurent Thibodeaux, Church Point, Willie Johnson, Castille (later to become Mire,) Luther Harkin, Rayne, and Louis Richard, Church Point.
Prosecuting Attorney, Cassius B. DeBellevue, the law firm of Medlenka & Bruner, Minas L. Gordy, and L. O. Peckot and Prosecuting Attorney W. C. Baker of Franklin represented the state.
Phillip S. Pugh and Percy T. Ogden, from the law firm of Taylor & Varnado represented the accused.
Dora Murff, nineteen years of age, entered the courtroom accompanied by her fourteen-year-old brother, Allie, and stepfather, James Duval, smiling. She wore a tailor made gray gown, with a single red rose pinned to her breast, and a large black hat pulled down over her face.
Once the court did get underway, an infant’s laugh, with a wave of its tiny hand in recognition of its Aunt Dora temporally interrupted the proceedings. The infant was in the hands of Dora’s Murff’s married sister, Mrs. Higginbotham, who occupied a seat in the gallery.
The opening of the litigation showed every indication that it would prove to be spirited and acrimonious along with being a notable trial of historic proportion for Acadia Parish. With a brilliant array of legal talent on both side, and with every move, motion, objection, and action of each side closely watched by the other, and the constant quibbling and arguments and opinions being raised, indicated that no point, however small, would be raised by counsel without the opposing counsel questioning it with a view of suspicion.
The long and bitter fights called proceedings moved very slowly and the witnesses were being held on examination and cross examined for hours at a time with the attorneys wrangling over motions, counter motions, and exceptions. The dullness of the occasion was interrupted by the presentation of a large and gorgeous bouquet of roses to the defendant, Ms. Dora Murff, sent to her by Mrs. John C. Copes. Deputy Cassidy made the presentation. The bouquet was composed of red, white, and yellow roses, Cape Jasmines and ferns. It seemed to be a source of pleasure and comfort to the young lady. James Duval and Buddie also seemed to enjoy the fragrance and beauty of the flowers. Another delay to the proceedings was when Duval had a nervous stomach and felt sick.
Dora insisted that she had shot and killed John Miller Delhaye when he tried to run from her, but the evidence pointed to James Duval as being the triggerman; when he used a shotgun and blasted Delhaye as he ran from Dora. The jury didn’t believe Dora pulled the trigger, but was a willing co-conspirator instead, while James Duval pleaded innocent of all charges.
The verdict was returned somewhere at about four o’clock in the morning, after Judge William Campbell’s all night session. The jury deliberated for less than an hour, and when the verdict was read you could have heard a pin drop inside the courtroom; it was that quiet.
Allie Duval was the fifteen-year-old son of James Duval, who was also present in the surrey (buggy) at the time of the shooting, but did not take part in the shooting or the argument. Allie was acquitted of all charges in the murder case.
Jim Duval was convicted of murdering John M. Delhaye in Crowley’s district court on November 1913, and was subsequently sentenced to ninety-nine years at hard labor in the state penitentiary, while Dora Murff was convicted of manslaughter in connection with the same murder, but she was sentenced to only four years.
When the verdict was read Dora Murff broke down in tears. James Duval and his wife paled and trembled as the fatal words were read. The boy, Buddie, was scared, and he showed it.
The defense attorneys, entered forty-two bills of exceptions, saying they would appeal the district court’s decision handed down by the trial judge on the grounds that after the jury was impaneled one of the juror members declared that he would not convict anyone in a case such as this one. He was removed and a new juror sworn in. Judge Campbell, of the Eighteenth Judicial Court, refused to grant another trial.
March 23, 1914, argument on the appeal of a new trial for Dora Murff and James Duval began Saturday afternoon before the Louisiana Supreme Court in New Orleans. Another hearing was granted Monday for Dora Murff. After receiving the news Dora seemed extremely pleased, almost giddy with the announcement. Many felt Dora may never see the inside of a prison. And according to Louisiana’s high court, a new trial was denied for James Duval. District Attorney Cassius B. DeBellevue had no comments following the announcements.
On Monday, July 3, 1914, Justice Land of the Louisiana Supreme Court acknowledged the fact pertaining to the validity of one juror member, but the Justice concluded that Dora would indeed serve time for her part in the murder of John Miller Delhaye.
A Crowley Signal reporter was granted an interview with Dora, and stated that Dora’s Mother, Mrs. Jas Duval, was a recent visitor. Both greeted the reporter very cordially. Mrs. Jas Duval said she was very pleased with the fairness of the newspaper reports.
Dora’s Defense Attorney, “Judge” Pugh, said he was prepared to take his case to the highest court in the land, the United States Supreme Court.
On July 11, 1914, it was reported that the Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Monroe granted writ of error to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of the state of Louisiana vs. Dora Murff and James Duval. Defense attorney, Percy T. Ogden said it might be several months before the case would be brought before the high court, but felt that the granting of the writ of error was significant. Meanwhile the two defendants languished in a barren jail cell.
Incidentally, on Monday July 13, 1914, James Duvall’s cellmate, Dr. W. C. Woods, a notorious criminal serving a 2-½ year stint for abduction; while the guard was away, Woods used a saw that mysteriously found its way into his hands, to cut the lock off of his cell door. Duvall declined to take part in the flight.
Dr. W. C. Woods and Alfred LeDoux made “a daring and sensational escape” with their quick get-a-way, albeit, a short-lived one. LeDoux was serving time for minor offenses. Sheriff Louis Fontenot sent a telegram with their description to all points; and two days later the Sheriff had possession of his prisoners again. The two escapees were found sawing logs, not literally but figuratively, they were snoring loudly, soundly asleep in the woods one-mile from Basil, in Evangeline Parish. The two escapees had to be aroused from their deep sleep. They gave no resistance to Sheriff Fontenot and deputies Darbonne, Lyman Clarke and Joe Amy.
October 7, 1914, Dora Murff’s attorney said, “Dora had been confined to the Acadia Parish prison and was now ill, in poor health, and refusing to eat. She was treated for hysteria and other ailments.” Meanwhile, Dora’s defense attorneys filed the motion in the State Supreme Court praying for the court to grant Dora bond, stating that she was charged with manslaughter, which is a bailable offense under the state laws of Louisiana, and asked Justice Monroe of the Louisiana Supreme Court to please grant same.
Chief Justice Frank A. Monroe signed an order commanding C. B. DeBellevue, District Attorney of the eighteenth Louisiana District, and Louisiana’s Attorney General, R. G. Pleasant, to show cause by October 19, 1914, why Dora Murff should not be permitted bail. It is believed that the request was granted and Ms Dora Murff, after making bail, was released after only serving nearly a year in jail of her original four-year sentence.
William J. Thibodeaux is a former resident of Rayne, now living in Lafayette with Elaine, his wife of thirty-two years. Mr. Thibodeaux can be reached at email@example.com