Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Homicide in Haughton

In its Feb. 14, 1887 issue, The Shreveport Times recounted the particulars of a deplorable altercation that had a fatal ending. William M. Mercer was killed by Haughton mayor Henry Bodenheimer.

Both men were described as well known through North Louisiana. Friendly and cordial feelings existed between them and they had even been in a prosperous business together. Bodenheimer was described as a married gentleman possessing a quiet and genial disposition. Mercer was "a kind-hearted man, aged about 37 years, and was married. His death was regretted by all who knew him."

The newspaper account relates that William Mercer came to Haughton heavily intoxicated and threatening to kill someone. He had two pistols with him and threatened the life of Bodenheimer several times during the day. One of Mercer's pistols was taken from him by a friend. On the evening of the shooting, Mercer called Bodenheimer to Griffin's Saloon where he grabbed Bodenheimer by the collar and, using abusive language, demanded the return of the pistol that had been taken from him.

The unfolding of the shooting is further described 4 days later when the preliminary trial took place. The trial was originally to be held in Bellevue, the parish seat at the time, but was changed to Haughton for the convenience of the witnesses and parties interested in the trial. Of the ten or twelve witnesses present, only L.E. McDade was called to testify. Mr. McDade was employed as barkeeper in Griffin's Saloon where the killing took place. He testified that Mr. Mercer insisted that Mr. Bodenheimer come in to the saloon and have a drink with him. Mr. Bodenheimer attempted to dissuade Mr. Mercer form drinking any more, advising him to go home and go to bed. Mercer became angry and broke a glass on the bar. Mercer told the bartender to take one of his pistols. McDade took the pistol and handed it to a Dr. Moody. Mercer then asked the doctor to give him the pistol. When the doctor refused, Mercer reportedly drew a knife and threatened to cut Dr. Moody's throat. When Mercer was given his pistol, he pulled off his coat, stating that he wanted to fight. After being assisted in putting his coat back on, Mercer continued to make a commotion, waving his pistol about. He then grabbed Bodenheimer and threated to throw Bodenheimer down and stomp him to death. As Mercer reached for the pistol he had put in the hip pocket of his pants, Bodenheimer pulled out his own pistol and fired four shots, all four shots taking effect and killing Mercer. (The February 17, 1887 issue of the Bossier Banner reported that only two took effect.) Accounts differ here as to how long Mercer may have lived after being shot, but he died shortly after in the saloon. According to McDade's testimony, Bodenheimer was not drinking and had several times tried to kindly persuade Mercer to go home.

Based on McDade's testimony, the verdict was that "Under the circumstances there is not a particle of doubt as to the nature of the homicide. It was one of those regrettable occurrences which could not be avoided and it was done in self-defense." Nonetheless, because of a dispute in town over the fact that it was "the first time a Jew had ever killed anybody in those parts," a lynch mob was organized. When the mob approached Bodenheimer's store, a boyhood friend of his, Ford Edwards, came to the door and announced to the mob that if they got Henry they would have to get him also, and the first man that stepped on the gallery would be fired upon. The mob dissolved and the next day Edwards rode with Henry Bodenheimer to Bellevue for the hearing.

Henry Bodenheimer and his wife moved to Shreveport in 1889 where Henry had several different businesses, the most successful of which was an insurance company. Today the Bodenheimer family still has interests in the insurance and security fields in both Shreveport and New Orleans.

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