“His parents never got over his death and the way it happened.”
“And The Trees Stopped Laughing.”
Lonzy Haywood Minshew was my grandfather on my mother’s side. A simple, ordinary man, he was cut down in the prime of his life by a brutal, heartless killer. Sometime around midnight on August 17, 1963 he was beaten, dragged, and dumped alongside an oak tree in New Orleans’s Audubon Park. His murder remains unsolved.
I want to tell you about Lonzy and share with you what I know about his murder. I hope by the time you’ve finished reading this rather short narrative about a dreadfully short life, you might be inclined to dig deeper and help me track his killer. Lonzy’s murder impacted many lives, including mine. His parents “never got over his death and the way it happened.”1
Lonzy’s story begins with the prelude below.
1. Evelyn M. Jordan to Rhonda L. Thomas, August 24, 2004.
Music attribution: Russell Garfield Thomas. “And The Trees Stopped Laughing.” Catalogue, Thomas Standridge Music, 2007. www.thomasstandridgemusic.com. TRACK A KILLER.
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“Time and Distance.” Click arrow to play.
Mississippi. My grandfather was born in rural Dossville, Mississippi in 1917. He came from a family of sharecroppers; tenant farmers who paid their rent with part of their crop. Lonzy spent his childhood picking cotton and working in the fields. He became a man in time to experience everything the Great Depression had to offer. In 1937, not long before his twentieth birthday, Lonzy married Bonnie Kate Wallace, age 15. Within a few years he and Bonnie had three children.
Texas. Lonzy served in the air force from 1947 to 1948. By 1949 he was looking further afield for work. At age 32 Lonzy moved to 4202 Blackstone Drive in Fort Worth, Texas and started working as a welder at Hobbs Manufacturing Company. On May 22, 1952 he was hired as an extra gang laborer by the Chicago and North Western Railroad.
Mississippi. Lonzy moved his family back to Mississippi in 1956; this time, however, he landed in the air force town of Greenville; a town bulging with military activity and job possibilities. Lonzy and his family lived at 937 South Theobald. In 1956, my dad was stationed at Greenville Air Force Base: He met my mother, Lonzy’s second eldest daughter, at Tony’s Cafe at 124 South Walnut.
New Orleans. Sometime between 1956 and November 13, 1958 Lonzy and his family moved to the Lower Garden District of New Orleans. In 1958 they lived at 1403 Terpsichore Street. (Lonzy may have also lived at 1524 Euterpe as early as May 1957.) By March 1960, Lonzy and his family had moved to 3433 Laurel Street. Lonzy was employed as a packer at Stratton & Baldwin, a Hardware and Furniture company located at 700 Tchoupitoulas.
Sometime between 1958 and 1963 Lonzy and his family moved again, to 1315 St Mary Street. This is where his troubles began.
Two weeks before the murder
Three events took place about two weeks prior to Lonzy’s murder: This would have been around August 3, a Saturday. The events may not have happened on the same day, but the case file indicates all three events took place about two weeks before the murder.
1. Lonzy started a new job as a welder at Hepinstall Steel Works, located at 600 Market Street.1
2. Lonzy and Bonnie had not been getting along. The tension between them was bad enough that Lonzy felt the need to move out, having asked his eldest daughter if he could move in with her.2
3. One evening, Lonzy came home in an excited state and told his daughter he was going to have to kill a fellow who was giving him trouble.3
The night before the murder
On Thursday, August 15, 1963 Lonzy started a new shift; the 4:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. evening shift. Thursday night Lonzy took his break and went home to eat dinner. He arrived home at about 8:30 p.m. His wife, Bonnie, was a nurse’s aid at Touro Infirmary and was working at the time, so one of Lonzy’s daughters served him his meal. Unbeknownst to his young daughter, it would be Lonzy’s last supper.4
“Scenes From A Hall.” Click arrow to play.
The day of the murder
Both Lonzy and Bonnie started drinking whiskey and Falstaff beer early in the day on Friday, August 16. Although Lonzy worked only a few blocks away and wasn’t due at work until 4:30 p.m., he left the house an hour early, at about 3:30 p.m.
When Lonzy left his house Friday afternoon, we’re not sure where he went; because he didn’t show up for work at 4:30. He did go to the steel works at around 5:00 p.m., but that was just to pick up his paycheck. At about 5:45 p.m., Hepinstall foreman Curtis Falcon observed Lonzy in his vehicle at the corner of Felicity and Magazine Street.2
Half Moon barmaid Esther Walgamotte told police Lonzy was in the Half Moon Bar around 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. He was by himself. He bought a beer and asked two or three other patrons if they’d like a drink. They declined. According to Walgamotte, Lonzy pulled out a handful of cash and put it on the bar, telling the patrons he had plenty of money to buy them a drink. One of the patrons told Lonzy to put his money away and that he’d buy his own drinks. Another patron picked up Lonzy’s cash and “put it in the top pocket of his shirt.” Not long after this, Lonzy left with the man who put the money in his pocket.3
About 8:00 p.m. a neighbor, Mrs. Joseph Reeves, stopped by at Bonnie’ house on St Mary Street to chat. Bonnie told Mrs. Reeves that she’d bought a steak for Lonzy’s supper and was expecting him home around 8:30 p.m. to eat. She also told Mrs. Reeves that Lonzy was “suppose to have cashed a $100 paycheck” that afternoon and that when he came home for supper she expected him to leave money with her to “pay a grocery bill.” Bonnie also shared with Mrs. Reeves that she was expecting another child.4
Even though Lonzy was known as “a man of steady habits who took good care of his family,” and even though Bonnie told police “he always came home” and left his money, that he “never carried a full pay day with him, never,” for some reason Lonzy didn’t come home as usual.1 Lonzy was clearly behaving in a manner contrary to steady; because that evening he decided to not go to work, to take his paycheck and go out drinking, and to not go home for supper. Whatever his reasons were, Lonzy never went home again.
August 16, 1963
A man by the name of Walter Edgar Sorrell is possibly the last person to have seen Lonzy alive. Sorrell was “in and out” of Lewis’ Bar all day; having started drinking at about 9:00 a.m. that morning. According to Sorrell, Lonzy came in to the bar at about 9:00 p.m. and sat down next to Sorrell, with his back to him. Sitting on the other side of Lonzy were two men. Sorrell overheard one of the men ask Lonzy if Lonzy would take him across the river. Sorrell also observed the barmaid telling the men something, after which the two men left the bar.2
After the two men left, Lonzy turned and began speaking to Sorrell. Lonzy asked Sorrell to drive him to Tommy’s Bar. Sorrell and Lonzy finished their beer and left Lewis’, getting into Lonzy’s car, a green 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air, which was parked in front of the bar. According to Sorrell Lonzy drove down to Tommy’s Bar, parking on the side street in front of Tommy’s.3 At Tommy’s, Sorrell bought Lonzy a beer. After they finished their beers, Sorrell told Lonzy he needed to get back to Lewis’. Lonzy again asked Sorrell to drive, and this time Sorrell drove back to Lewis’ Bar. At Lewis’, Sorrell got out of the car, asking Lonzy if he was coming back in. He told Lonzy his girlfriend was meeting him and he had to go in. Lonzy said he wasn’t coming in. Sorrell walked back in and left Lonzy in his car. That was the last time he saw Lonzy. It was 11:30 p.m.3
“The dead man came in later that night.”
However, Half Moon barmaid Esther Walgamotte told police, “[t]he dead man came in later that night.”4 It was about 10:30 p.m. and Lonzy had ordered several rounds of three drinks.
1.”Statement of Bonnie Minshew.” New Orleans Police Department Supplementary Report. Item no. H-9201-63. New Orleans, 17 Aug 1963.
2. “Statement of Walter Edgar Sorrell.” New Orleans Police Department Supplementary Report. Item no. H-9201-63. New Orleans, 23 Aug 1963. Lewis’ Bar was located at 1113 St Mary Street and owned by Lewis L Gill.
3. Ibid. Tommy’s Bar was located at 1245 Magazine Street
4. “Statement of Esther Walgamotte.” New Orleans Police Department Supplementary Report. Item no. H-9201-63. New Orleans, 19 Aug 1963. TRACK A KILLER.
“Steps Of The Stalker.” Click arrow to play.
Sometime between midnight and 2:00am on Saturday, August 17, 1963 Lonzy was brutally murdered.
At 6:15 a.m. on the morning of August 17, 1963 Lonzy’s severely beaten body was discovered by an Audubon Park employee. Lonzy was lying face-down alongside an oak tree at the rear of Audubon Park – about twenty-nine to thirty feet from River Drive, near shelter house No. 7. Police discovered drag marks leading from the road to the tree.1 It’s believed that Lonzy was murdered at another location and then dumped in Audubon Park.
“Beaten by unknown person or persons.”
Assistant Coroner Lloyd F. LoCascio performed the autopsy at 9:00 a.m. on August 17 at the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office. The Coroner’s Office classified Lonzy’s death as a homicide.2 In describing the nature of his injuries, Lonzy’s death certificate states he was “[b]eaten by unknown person or persons.”3
The cause of death reported on Haywood’s death certificate states he died from “Massive [s]ubarachnoid hemorrhage; Fracture of thyroid cartilage; Laryngeal edema and hemorrhage; Pulmonary edema.”4
Cause of death: the reality version
Lonzy wore an upper plate in his mouth. During the course of the autopsy, it had to be removed. As the autopsy explains, “Examination of the mouth shows numerous small contusions of the lips. There is an upper plate present in the mouth with a recent break along the left upper margin of the plate.”5 This means, Lonzy was beaten violently enough to crack his upper plate!
Upon removing Lonzy’s upper plate for an “examination of the oral cavity,”6 the coroner discovered dirt in Lonzy’s mouth. This means, Lonzy was dragged face down by his feet!
At the time of his murder, Lonzy’s eleven children ranged in age from nine months to twenty-five years. It goes without saying that all their lives were severely disrupted as a result of their father’s murder. Those old enough to understand had to face unimaginable personal suffering and loss. Those too young to understand have, no doubt, been left with an undeniable void in their lives. Still, some had to pay an even higher price: Not only did they lose their father, but they lost their mother and siblings as well, having been adopted-out soon after the murder.
The suffering caused by Lonzy’s death didn’t end with his children. It had profound effects on his brothers and sisters as well. And, as told to me by a family member, Lonzy’s parents, “never got over his death and the way it happened.”2
Notes 1. Music attribution: Russell Garfield Thomas,”Wrinkles In Time,” First Man On Mars, Vocals by Rhonda L. Thomas, Garleighfield Records, 2014.
2. Evelyn M. Jordan to Rhonda L. Thomas, August 24, 2004.
I know when I was a baby I stayed at my grandfather’s house at 1315 St Mary Street for a short while, but I have no memory of it. My first memory of New Orleans was during Mardi Gras ’67. I think my mother and I were staying with grandmother Bonnie and the man she married eighteen months after the murder, Ras James Walley. I believe their house was at 2815 Annunciation Street.
Me in ’77
I moved back to Louisiana in 1978; but I lived on the Westbank, directly across the river from St Mary Street. When I think about it now, I shudder when I consider how close in time the murder was – only fifteen short years had passed since it happened. In 1978, many of the witnesses and suspects were still alive. But, I was a teenager and it wasn’t on my radar. If only it had been. I was right there. I was so close. What might I have found out?
My thoughts on the original investigation
After reviewing all documents known to exist in this case, this is what I know: Lonzy’s murder was investigated a total of nineteen days. Yes, only nineteen days. To make matters worse, the original report has a considerable amount of discrepancies. I have a theory as to why the investigation ended so quickly, but it’s no excuse. Whatever the reasons, the investigation into Lonzy’s murder seemed to have died as tragically and inexplicably as did Lonzy himself.
Me in ’78. I was just a kid. The murder wasn’t on my radar. I was so close. What might I have found out?
I like to be fair; so I’ll entertain the possibility that the inquiry carried out during the original investigation was done so in the professional manner one would expect from a law enforcement agency; that the discrepancies aren’t so much a result of sloppy investigating, but simply careless reporting. Regardless, I only have the end-result to go by. As it stands, the investigative report both represents and reflects the New Orleans Police Department’s (NOPD) handling of Lonzy’s murder investigation. And the way it was handled makes me angry.
There are a lot of things I don’t know and can’t know. It’s impossible for anyone to ever have all the facts on any matter. While it could be argued that much of what is contained in the original report is far from actual fact, it is, factually, all that I have to go on. It is sad but true that the only thing I can say in defense of the NOPD is, at the time of their initial investigation into Lonzy’s murder, I’m sure there were a lot of things they didn’t know. I’m sure they didn’t have all the facts. Consequently, they proceeded with the only information they had; which is what I attempt to do on this website.
Reflecting on Lonzy
“Voices Forgotten.” Click arrow to play.
I’m a songwriter. Any songwriter knows, the things that are on our mind can strongly influence the songs we create. My thoughts of Lonzy often spark musical ideas.
I’d like to close this narrative with such a piece. The music was composed by my husband, Russ. Before writing a lyric to music I didn’t compose, I normally put on my headphones, stand in front of the mic, and just listen to the piece: I let it speak to me and I hum along before I start putting words down on the page. For this particular piece, I told Russ, let’s just hum along together and make la-la sounds where we think the words should go. See what happens. So we did. From the beginning, I felt in my heart, the song was going to be about Lonzy.
I named the piece Voices Forgotten. But, I’ve never been able to come up with the right combination of words to explain a life so short and unlived.
Lonzy’s story is in there. I can hear it. Can you?
I hope you’re interested in digging deeper into the unsolved murder of my grandfather, Lonzy Haywood Minshew. If you’re an unsolved crime buff or websleuth, I welcome your eyes and mind. Click the button below to help me track a killer.
The more we learn about the everyday activities of Lonzy, the more we’re able to walk in his footsteps, and the closer it brings us to finding out what transpired on the night of his murder. You may know some detail of Lonzy’s life that you feel is insignificant, but every detail is important. Even if you have information about Lonzy that is unconnected to his murder, please share it: Perhaps you are a former co-worker or long-lost friend. Contact me. I want to hear from you.