When you think of the South (U.S.) during the late 1800s what do you imagine? Perhaps you think of antebellum mansions, long dirt roads accompanied by rows of weeping willows or old oak trees. Maybe, you think of that beautiful “Southern Belle” type strolling along a bricked path with her parasol in hand and a mint julep in the other? One thing one might never think of when imagining the “Old South” is the Mafia. However, I bet you wouldn’t believe that the Mafia was in fact very much residing the South in the late 1800s and even up to the time of Prohibition in the 1920s.
Brief History of Oak Alley
I have always been enamored by the plantation known as “Oak Alley” in Vacherie, Louisiana. As most of my readers know, I am a huge history detective and when I fall in love with a place, I want to know all there is to know about it. I read the history of Oak Alley that is available on so many websites and books, as well as Oak Alley’s very own website. However, I noticed that there was a gap in history of the “Big House” from the late 1800s to the early 1920s.
The plantation, originally named "Bon Sejour" meaning "Pleasant Stay" in French, was built between 1837-1839, by George Swainey for a man by the name of Jacques Telesphore Roman. Roman was the brother to the Governor of Louisiana, Andre Roman. The Architect who designed the home just so happened to be Jacques father-in-law, Joseph Pilie. The Roman family occupied the home during the mid 1800s, and later John Armstrong purchased it at auction in 1866.
This is where the grey area comes in. Several sites state that other owners occupied Oak Alley following Armstrong’s departure of the property, but there is never any mention how many or by whom. It does state that by the 1920s the home had fallen into disrepair from severe neglect of the premises and that is when Andrew and Josephine Stewart took on Oak Alley’s restoration as a “labor of love,” making it just as grand as it may have been in the days of the Old South.
The history of Oak Alley is vast, and each owner of the home has their own significant and interesting stories to tell of the place. However, I was intrigued by that shady time period between the late 1800s and the 1920s, so I set out to find out if there was a reason the home lay abandoned for so long.
Assassination Among the Oaks
According to several newspaper archives in July of 1895, there was a double murder on the very property of Oak Alley. In fact, the murder was Mafia connected, or so the papers read. According to reports, a man by the name of Stefano Hendo (or Hendlo) and his wife were driving out from their home in Lacena Plantation to visit their daughter and her husband at Oak Alley, where the young couple were residing. It was stated that before leaving his home, Stefano cleaned and loaded his shotgun. According to the authorities, they believe that Stefano knew he was going to be expecting some sort of trouble when he got to Oak Alley. Upon arriving at the property, the couple’s vehicle was fired upon and they were shot to death, riddled with bullets. The newspapers concluded that a rigid investigation would be made, although there is never any further mention in any of the archived newspapers that I could locate.
It’s quite interesting that this double murder isn’t mentioned in any other historical texts or websites regarding Oak Alley’s many interesting tales. It makes one wonder, why was this story covered up? Did Stefano know his killers? Why, if he was coming to visit his daughter, did he feel the need to bring a loaded shotgun? The world may never know the truth. It’s been so many years and without any further evidence or information in regards to who Stefano, his wife, his daughter or son-in-law were, we may never be able to put all the pieces together.
Personally, I thought this story was very interesting. I had never heard of the Mafia being so far south in the U.S. during that time period, and that made it all the more exciting to investigate it. Upon my investigating this subject I found some of the earliest mentions of the Mafia in the United States were of several families in the New Orleans area in the early 1870s, who immigrated from Sicily and other areas. However, there really is no way to know if Stefano and his wife had any connection to anyone tied to the Mafia in Louisiana during that time, but it does make one wonder, doesn’t it?
The newspaper headlines read:
Omaha Daily Bee, July 24th 1895-
“DEADLY WORK OF THE MAFIA: The Mafia has begun its work in St. James Parish and already two persons, a man and his wife, have been found murdered. Sunday morning Stefano Hendo and his wife, as was their custom, left their home at the Lacena Plantation near Vacherie station to visit their daughter, who resides with her husband on Oak Alley Plantation about four miles distant. Stefano before leaving cleaned his shotgun and loaded it. The reason for his doing this is not known, but the impression now is that he expected trouble. When the couple reached Oak Alley, a lonesome place, they were fired upon and killed by the assassin who was concealed by the roadside. A rigid investigation of the tragedy is being made by authorities.”
So as time has gone on, over 117 years to be exact, this couple who were murdered at Oak Alley have been long since forgotten, left in the archives, awaiting a mystery or history detective to stumble upon it and write about it. I hope that you enjoyed this article that touches on just one of the hidden stories at Oak Alley that most people have never heard or read about before, but now you know!Omaha Daily Bee,- July 24th 1895
Newspaper Archives and Sources:
Newspaper Archives and Sources:
St Paul Daily Globe-, July 23, 1895
Los Angeles Herald- July 24, 1895
Oak Alley Website- (http://www.oakalleyplantation.com)
New Orleans Crime Family- (wikipedia)
New Orleans Crime Boss Index- http://www.onewal.com/maf-b-no.html
(Copyright 2013)- Dreaming Casually