New Orleans is a glamorous city known for its unique culture, from Cajun cooking to the raucous parties associated with Mardi Gras to its relationship with Voodoo. Over the decades, New Orleans has seen its fair share of hardships as well. There’s no doubt that the people of New Orleans are a resilient sort. Not surprisingly, some of the most famous true crime cases in the US have come out of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. For example, one of America’s earliest and most prolific serial killers come from Louisiana, known best for being associated with the “Voodoo” murders. Though, as I’ve previously written, the association of Voodoo with violence is a popular misconception.
On a January afternoon in 1911, the police of West Crowley, a three hour drive from New Orleans, received a call from a concerned citizen who was worried something had happened to their neighbor. The police went to investigate and found that there had been a tragedy in their small Louisiana town. The occupants of the home, a husband and wife and their child, had all been brutally killed with an axe during the night. The killer had seemingly snuck in through the window while they slept. This case would later be connected to several other murders that all had two connecting traits: every home that was struck was located along the Southern Pacific railroad and the killer always struck the victims’ skulls with an axe at night.
Once the police saw the connections between the murders, they began to hone in on their suspected killer, Raymond Barnabet, after his mistress suggested he might be involved. He was tried in October of the same year. His children, Clementine and Zepherin, both testified against him and cited stories where they saw him returning with blood on his clothes and outright bragging that he’d killed an entire family. He was convicted for the murder of one family, but his attorney appealed the case. While awaiting his new trial date in jail, something interesting happened that cast doubt on Raymond’s guilt.
On a chilling November night, just a month or so after Raymond’s trial, another family of six was killed using the same MO as the previous attacks. Between this clear indication that the killer was still on the loose and the new evidence that might exonerate Raymond, the police began to turn their attention elsewhere.
The only daughter of the Barnabet family, Clementine, became the next suspect. In their ongoing investigation, police found blood and viscera on the fence latch outside her house as well as on her clothing. Without an alibi and with suspicions and evidence mounting against her, Clementine was arrested and convicted. In jail, Clementine confessed to murdering a total of 35 victims. She claimed to do so in connection with the Church of Sacrifice, an alleged offshoot of a congregation from Lake Charles, Louisiana. She went on to say that she had received a “conjure bag” from a Hoodoo priestess that protected her while she did her killings. Unfortunately, media connected the Hoodoo priestess to Voodoo. While both have similar underpinnings, they are not the same. This solidified the media’s misconceptions around Voodoo and sparked rumors about human sacrifice and gruesome rituals.
The Clementine case holds a lot of misinformation. Most importantly, the killings did not stop once Clementine was jailed. Her confession was riddled with details that constantly changed and accomplices that didn’t exist. Many now believe the Church of Sacrifice was also completely fabricated. Eventually, her life sentence in jail was cut short after only ten years in prison. She was released after having undergone a mysterious medical procedure that allegedly restored her sanity. It is speculated that she likely did not have any surgical treatment done and was released on both good behavior and her potential innocence.
Clementine, once released, was never heard from again. It is unknown, ultimately, what happened to her or if she was truly the one who swung the axe.