It was 1870, and State Sen. Beares was shot by famed New Orleans Madam Hattie Hamilton. His obituary in the Ouachita Telegraph read:
"State Senator Beares, of Catahoula, died recently in the same city from the effects of a pistol wound received under rather mysterious circumstances. His mistress, Hattie Hamilton, was arrested for complicity in the act, but was released. Catahoula and Winn parishes are without a Senator."
Gore Vidal calls our country "The United States of Amnesia," so this is a helpful passage in history to bear in mind. Author Herbert Asbury wrote in "The French Quarter," that Senator Beares was so corrupt, the common phrase in passing any legislation was, "Where does Beares come in?"
Mrs. Hattie Hamilton came to New Orleans by way of Cuba, where her husband was surprised to find her working as a call girl in Havana. He moved on to New Orleans, became a policeman and raised their son. Hattie followed, but after a few years of going about with a gambler known as "The Colonel," her husband divorced her and Hattie moved on to a brothel on Rampart. She then moved on to the Custom House Street where she was arrested by her ex-husband for fighting with other working girls.
At about that time, Senator Beares met Hattie and fell hard, despite the fact that the newspaper The Mascot claimed in her obituary that Hattie had "a glass eye and other infirmities." Beares' patronage came with a red wheeled carriage and the No. 21 Basin Street Brothel. Thanks to the Senator's influence, it became one of the most popular in New Orleans. In fact, it drew many politicians over from the famed Kate Townsend's establishment. Apparently a lot of politicians subscribed to the Marquis de Sade's philosophy in The Societe des Amis du Crime:
The Society respects the government under which it lives, and if it places itself above the law it is because one of its principles specifies that man does not have the power to make laws in conflict with the laws of Nature; but the disorders of the Society's members, being always interior, must never scandalize either the governed or the government."
Between politicians and everyday Johns, Hattie was soon able to leave the brothel in her staff's hands and moved into the Senator's elegant St. Charles Avenue home. Asbury writes that the two engaged in drinking and fighting binges that continued for days. Finally, on May 26, 1870, Beares' butler said he came downstairs after hearing fighting all night that ended with a pistol shot.
The gun in question disappeared within a few hours, and the senator's brother called the police to come investigate. Hattie was released by police later that day. The senator's brother decided not to accuse Hattie of murder, but he did accuse the butler. The case went to court on June 7th, but by then no one would come forward to testify and Hattie was released. She knew too much, was the common conclusion, and so did the butler.
There is not much coming forward going on in New Orleans post-Katrina, either. A 20-year-old indicted last year with shooting and killing five teenagers on a streetcorner was released when the District Attorney said no witnesses had come forward. The police found a witness the day after his announcement. And New Orleans musicians in the Hot 8 Brass band are offering a reward for any witness who will come forward in the shooting of their drummer, Dinerral Shavers. The accused killer was released when a young witness' mother refused to let her testify for fear of her safety.
Oh, and Louisiana Senator David Vitter was on the DC Madam's phone list, and has been named as a client by another madam with a three-generation bordello on Canal Street, as well as by prostitute Wendy Cortez who claims he was a regular. Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards used to brag that "The only way I'd lose is if they catch me in bed with a live boy or a dead girl." He's in jail now, no boys or corpses involved. "Vote for the Crook, It's Important" were the bumper stickers when Edwards defeated Klansman David Duke. I know a makeup artist who said the creepiest thing was watching Duke put in blue contact lenses to turn more Aryan.
Louisiana's dramatic political history keeps rolling long after the unfortunate Senator Beares. Larry Flynt outed the affairs of House Speaker-Elect Bob Livingston, President Bill Clinton's former accuser. Vitter replaced Livingston. Vitter's wife once said she's more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary Clinton so hopefully the Senator's penis is okay. He may need a little pampering when he comes back to Congress on Tuesday.
Writing about these affairs is alienating a large swath of New Orleans, based on the complaints about persecution from Flynt by NOLA.com posters. It reminds me of being a reporter in Cicero, the town where Al Capone retired. Our mayor went to jail for mob-related charges and appointed his wife as successor. She's in jail now, too. When the dailies wrote about local politicians being indicted for racketeering, my newspaper also reported it. All day long there would be phone calls accusing us of being anti-Italian, so I'm familiar with the "Stop picking on our politics" crowd. It has reached a new level in Louisiana.
Bertrand Russell says in The Conquest of Happiness:
"People who wish to have a high opinion of their own moral excellence have therefore to persuade themselves that they have achieved a degree of unselfishness that it is very unlikely they have achieved, and hence the endeavor after saintliness comes to be connected with self-deception of a kind that easily leads on to persecution mania."
Despite our national capacity for self-deception, history is still history. And the more things change, the more you will probably find another witness disappearing to save herself in a time of lawlessness, and another senator with a hooker.