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Parish Spotlight

DeRidder’s Gothic Jail

The “Hanging Jail” in Beauregard Parish offers architectural history and decades of ghost stories

DeRidder’s Gothic Jail

Photo by Cheré Coen

The 1914 structure was made mostly from poured concrete and boasted then-novel indoor plumbing.

On the sweltering evening of August 28, 1926, Joe Genna and Molton Brasseaux hired taxi driver Joe Brevelle to transport them from DeRidder to the sawmill hamlet of Tullos. Not far out of town they stole $14 from Brevelle, killed him, dumped his body in the old Pickering Mill pond in Vernon Parish, and stole his car. If Brevelle’s body had not soon been found by boys fishing in the pond, the two men might have gotten away with their crimes. The body and taxi records led to the men’s arrest, confessions, and convictions. They were hanged in the Beauregard Parish Jail on March 9, 1928.

It was the only hanging to occur in the DeRidder prison, but the gothic building would be forever known as the “Hanging Jail.” Beauregard Tourist Commission staff members provide regular tours on weekdays, with visitors learning of the crime and its aftermath while gazing upward at a noose hanging ominously from the third-floor gallows. On special occasions and during October weekends, visitors tour the jail with electromagnetic field (EMF) meters and other ghost-hunting instruments, hoping to find the spirits of Genna and Brasseaux.

Ghosts and hangings aside, the Beauregard Parish Jail offers a fascinating architectural history, said Lori Darbonne, executive director of the Beauregard Tourist Commission. The jail’s frame and parts of the interior, including the winding staircase to the gallows, were created entirely from concrete poured into block forms and fused together. The building, paid for by local timber barons who donated money for the jail and courthouse, opened in 1914 with nine cells on three floors and indoor plumbing, unique to jails of the day. “Back in those days homes didn’t have indoor plumbing, let alone businesses,” Darbonne said. “Most people had outhouses back in 1914.”

The twelve-inch walls ensured that no prisoner escaped, and this solid construction worked in the building’s favor when a new parish jail was built, leaving the gothic giant sitting vacant for more than thirty years. In 1981 the striking structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places. After undergoing renovations to remove asbestos and lead paint, the jail reopened to the public in September 2017.

Today, tour guides take visitors first through the jailer’s living quarters, furnished with items donated by DeRidder’s Eugene Harrick, a local theater owner who foresaw the site’s ultimate conversion into a museum—and who vividly remembered the jail’s interior. “It’s pretty amazing,” Darbonne said. “He remembered what the jail looked like and he spent his life collecting those pieces.”

For more information on jail tours, visit the Beauregard Parish Tourism website at beauregardtourism.com.

Cheré Dastugue Coen of New Orleans is a food and travel writer now living in Lafayette. She is the author of Exploring Cajun Country and Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana, plus Louisiana novels under the pen name of Cherie Claire.