Tragic Story of Ada LeBouef, Dr. Thomas Dreher
The year 1927 was historic. That was the year of the massive flood which began in April. It was one of the worse natural disasters in the history of the United States. More than 23,000 square miles of land was submerged for weeks. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced and somewhere around 250 people died. A large part of Louisiana was flooded including Morgan City. When the floodwaters resided there was the body of James J. LeBouef. The area where the body was found wasn’t normally covered in water. The body of James LeBouef was found five days after his murder by local frog hunters. LeBouef had been the superintendent of the municipal electrical power plant in Morgan City. His face and body was disfigured beyond recognition due to crabs and other aquatic creatures in the lake. He was identified by his thumbs, which were said to greatly differ from anyone else’s.
The nation learned of the tragic love affair gone terribly awry after an Associated Press newspaper article was published on Friday, July 8, 1927, from Franklin, Louisiana. The article reported the body of James LeBouef was found the previous day in Lake Palourde, just north of Morgan City. According to St. Mary Parish Sheriff Charles Pecot, the body was tied with chains and railroad angle irons, which was supposed to keep it below water. The sheriff arrested Mrs. Ada Bonner LeBouef, 37, (wife of the deceased—James J. LeBouef), Dr. Thomas E. Dreher, 53, a prominent physician, and James Beadle, 43, a fisherman, trapper, and the doctor’s handyman. All were from Morgan City. The article also mentioned that Mrs. LeBouef and Dr. Dreher made statements to the sheriff that Jim Beadle had killed James LeBouef with a shotgun. The three were arrested and held pending an investigation.
Dr. Dreher confessed to the sheriff on July 8, 1927, that he (Dr. Dreher) had “instigated” the murder, but accused Jim Beadle with the actual commission of the crime. Three boats were on Lake Palourde on the night of Friday, July 1, 1927, said Dr. Dreher proclaiming that James LeBouef had gone for a boat ride, followed by Mrs. Ada LeBouef who was alone in another boat. The third skiff was occupied by Dr. Dreher and Jim Beadle. While the doctor and his handyman talked, they pulled within a few feet of James LeBouef’s boat. Beadle laid his shotgun across the gunwale and fired into “LeBouef’s side.” Dr. Dreher said that Mrs. Ada LeBouef made no outcry. The boat containing the body of LeBouef was towed to deep water, said Dreher, where heavy irons were fastened to it and pushed overboard. Later Dr. Dreher and Beadle washed away the blood stains and returned to shore.
Dr. Dreher said Mrs. Ada LeBouef had written him a note on the day before the murder stating that she and her husband would take a boat ride on the lake the next night. The letter, he said, urged him to be there. The doctor wasn’t done talking. He stated that Mrs. Ada LeBouef not only witnessed the murder, she helped dispose of the body. Sheriff Charles Pecot said that Mrs. Ada LeBouef admitted writing to Dr. Dreher telling him that she and her husband would be going for a boat ride but didn’t admit knowing that he was supposedly going to kill her husband and also denied luring her husband on the lake for that purpose. The doctor also stated that Mrs. Ada LeBouef had witnessed her husband die at the hands of Jim Beadle. Gossip had connected Dr. Dreher and Mrs. Ada LeBouef for some time said the sheriff.
Afterwards Sheriff Pecot again confronted Mrs. Ada LeBouef stating that he had evidence to prove that she knew who killed her husband. “Yes I saw my husband get killed,” she said as she sobbed. Then she said she and her husband had left home at Morgan City Friday night in separate skiffs to go to the home of her brother-in-law, Louis Blakeman, who, the sheriff said, was chief of police at Morgan City. She said, “My husband was ahead and I was following a short distance behind. After we had gone a short distance, I saw another skiff coming from the opposite direction. In it were two men.” Mrs. LeBouef said she did not know who the men were at first but then she said they were James Beadle and Dr. Dreher. She continued with her story and said the other skiff was about six feet away from the craft occupied by her husband when she saw Beadle raise his shotgun and fire directly at her husband. “I don’t know what happened after that, I turned and went back home, said Mrs. LeBouef. Mrs. LeBouef was asked why she had she not told someone of the killing. “I was afraid that people might suspect I was a party to the murder of my husband, so I kept quiet.”
Dr. Dreher said, “I had told Beadle that LeBouef had threatened us and Beadle said he would see to it that LeBouef would not be able to do any harm.” Later Dr. Dreher was quoted by the sheriff as saying that Mrs. LeBouef knew what was going to happen. The sheriff said that he would proceed on the theory that the woman knew of a conspiracy to kill her husband and that she was an active participant in the “overt acts at the time of the murder.” The sheriff said he believed Dr. Dreher had hired Beadle to kill LeBouef and then hide the body. The sheriff believed a love triangle was the motive for the killing. The body of the slain man was found almost two miles from where it was thrown, the pieces of railroad angle iron were still attached to the body. Mrs. LeBouef was a mother of four, Dr. Dreher a father of three, and Beadle was a father of seven. He confessed to Sheriff Charles Pecot on August 1, 1927, that he was present when LeBouef was killed.
The murder trial began on July 25, 1927. The tiny courtroom was jam-packed. The entire first week was spent on jury selection. When court reconvened the second week, everyone was surprised when Jim Beadle stood in open court and requested that Judge James D. Simon appoint an attorney to represent him. At the time, defense lawyers: James R. Parkerson, L.O. Peck, and R.F. Walker were representing Beadle as well as Ada LeBouef and Dr. Dreher. A separate counsel was first order of business. Judge Simon asked Beadle if he wanted a separate attorney to represent him and Beadle answered, “I do.” The judge then asked, “Do you have any money to pay an attorney.” Beadle replied that he had not. The court then appointed Rene H. Himel, a former district attorney of St. Mary Parish, as Beadle’s attorney. There was a short recess afterwards so the attorney could confer with client. Jim Beadle had stated that the previous defense team was going to “railroad him to the gallows.”
When court reconvened legal arguments ensued. The defense objected to the state’s introduction of Mrs. LeBouef’s written confession. Ada LeBouef stated no promises or threats were made before she made her statement. Although she was told anything she said would be used against her. The DA asked that her confession be admitted as evidence. It was a case of she said, he said. Later when Jim Beadle was called to testify, he told the jury about the love affair between the doctor and Mrs. Ada LeBouef. His testimony shifted from Lake Palourde to a small cabin where the two lovers met on occasion. Again the defense object to Beadle’s testimony since it favored the state and proved motive against the two lovers. Jim Beadle said he was present when Dr. Dreher killed and then made incisions in James LeBouef’s body in an attempt at preventing it from “rising” while fastening heavy angle irons about the head and feet, and then dropping the body into Lake Palourde. Beadle said the doctor and defense attorney urged him to say that he had committed the crime in self-defense.
Dreher sat at the defense table with his pale, suffering wife, his son, a medical school student, and Dreher’s two daughters, both of whom were college educated girls. Close behind Dreher sat Ada LeBouef. “Her face heavily plastered in powder and touched up sharply with rouge.” The trial was sordid enough. It told how James LeBouef was jealous and suspicious. One day James LeBouef supposedly donned his wife’s clothes one evening and drove around town at dusk with a shotgun at his side hoping Dr. Dreher would take him for his wife and incriminate himself enough to justify emptying the shotgun into Dreher. It also told of a system of signals Dr. Dreher and Ada LeBouef had arranged. When James LeBouef was home, Ada would hang a pillowslip on a window sill. If there was no pillowslip on the window it meant everything was okay for Dr. Dreher to visit.
Later when Ada LeBouef was on the witness stand, she told the jury that her husband had first fired a handgun at Dr. Dreher, and Beadle returned fire twice in self-defense with his shotgun killing James LeBouef instantly. But no gun was found. Dr. Dreher testified that James LeBouef, his wife, and he were supposed to air out their differences on the lake and then they’d all be friends. That was the reason for their meeting on the lake that Friday night. The doctor also testified as to why they decided to “bury” the body in the lake. They were afraid that if they reported the incident and brought the body to authorities, they would be arrested and jailed. During trial a surprise witness had turned up. Julien Slade and an unnamed friend said in early July 1927 Beadle had informed Slade and his friend that he had killed a man and sunk his body in the lake. He supposedly said “he wasn’t worried about getting caught because if the body was ever found, it would be linked to the doctor who was running with the man’s wife.” The DA said the new witness would be charged with accessory to the murder. And nothing more was ever said about the “new witness.” The defense team now had somehow gotten their hands on a handgun that allegedly had been found in the lake where James LeBouef supposedly fired at Dr. Dreher. Jim Beadle said the gun story was a lie and reiterated his story saying Dr. Dreher shot James LeBouef and tried to put the blame on him.
The three perpetrators were found guilty of murdering James LeBouef. When they were first arrested, Beadle lost his nerve, pled guilty, and took a life sentence. The doctor and Mrs. LeBouef decided to roll the dice…they got snake eyes! Over 408,000 words were telegraphed from Franklin during the trial. Since Beadle had pled guilty earlier, he was given a life sentence at Angola. Ada LeBouef and Dr. Thomas Dreher were sentenced to be hanged. There was more legal haggling’s after two trials, the jury begged to reverse their earlier decision, two pardon board hearings, and Dr. Dreher and Ada LeBouef were found to be sane by Judge Simon. There was also infighting between justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court as well as the U.S. Supreme Court over the murder case. And there were three reprieves for the condemned murderers. But in the end, it was left up to Governor Huey Long, who said he would not interfere with the legal process. Governor Huey Long made a dramatic statement about the case saying: “It was cold blooded murder! Not a person in Louisiana thinks that any pistols or guns went off accidently on Lake Palourde. LeBouef was brutally murdered and dismembered. And, if there had been any miscarriage of justice, it was the failure to hang Jim Beadle, too.” The night before the execution, Governor Long told Mrs. Dreher over the telephone that he would not interfere with the legal process.
At the time of James LeBouef’s murder, Lake Palourde was at flood stage. Someone had stated that perhaps after the killing of LeBouef, the doctor and Jim Beadle were so excited and possibly disoriented in the lake since it was dark. They weren’t sure where they were. If they would have gone in the opposite or correct direction, the body would have gone down in 100 feet of water and the crime might have escaped detection. When they were arrested, Beadle lost his nerve, pleaded guilty and took a life sentence. The doctor and Mrs. LeBouef decided to fight it out…and lost!
· Joseph Clodomiro James LeBouef was born June 3, 1884 in Montegut, Louisiana, in Terrebonne Parish. At the time of his death, he was 43 years of age. James LeBouef was buried at the Morgan City cemetery.· Ada Regina Bonner LeBouef, 39, was the daughter of Charles Ernest Bonner and Marie-Virginia. Ada LeBouef was hanged for her husband’s murder on Friday, February 2, 1929. She was reportedly the first white woman to hang in Louisiana. She died instantly after the trap was opened at 12:03 p.m. and pronounced dead at 12:16 p.m. Ada LeBouef had requested to be buried in the Morgan City cemetery next to her husband’s tomb.
· Dr. Thomas E. Dreher, 55, was hanged a few minutes after Mrs. Ada LeBouef on Friday, February 2, 1929. He died instantly after the trapdoor was opened. Dr. Dreher was from Clayton, Louisiana. He asked to be buried there in the family cemetery.
· James “Jim” Beadle was 43 years of age at the time of James LeBouef’s murder. He was sentenced to life in prison at Angola State Penitentiary. Beadle was considered for clemency in October 1936. His application was one of more than 100 clemency pleas taken under advisement by the state board of pardons. Jim Beadle was released from prison in April 1939 and was living in Berwick, Louisiana, at the time of his death in 1955.