Continuing our true crime tour of New Orleans, next up is the gruesome murders of Theresa and Leonide Moity—more widely known as the “New Orleans trunk murders”. You’ll find out in a moment how this tragedy got its grisly nickname, and how it inspired a famous New Orleans urban legend.
It was the fall of 1927 when housekeeper Nettie Compass entered the apartment on 715 Ursulines Street near downtown New Orleans. She was supposed to be cleaning the home of the two Moity women and their husbands, Henry and Joseph Moity, but instead she stumbled into a horrible crime scene. After discovering a pool of blood at her feet, she ran from the apartment screaming and caught the attention of a few neighbors and the police.
Inside, the police found the various rooms of the small apartment to be spattered with gore—the mattress in the bedroom was soaked in blood, the bathroom cabinet dripping with it, and amongst some discarded clothing, several severed fingers. The most horrific part of all, however, was found inside a closet. Police uncovered two trunks that had been meticulously packed with the carved-up corpses of Theresa and Leonide. This unusual method of stowing the bodies is where the story gets its name. The description given by Dr. George Roeling (the Orleans Parish Coroner at the time) confirmed the brutality of the scene. He told reporters that “the killer or killers bludgeoned the women with a lead Billy club, before using a machete to decapitate them and amputate their arms and legs.” The police also discovered a piece of implicating evidence at the scene: a golden wedding band buried in a wound on one of the victim’s backs.
The first step for the investigators was to question the women’s husbands. Joseph cooperated with the police, telling them that he’d been living at his sister’s home after he’d caught Leonide cheating on him. Neighbors confirmed that the two couples often fought loudly over money, infidelity, and drinking. The manhunt for the other husband, Henry, began and he was found two days later while trying to make his getaway on a freight ship.
The initial conviction of Henry Moity was swift. Not only did he confess, but he also provided gruesome details. In an alcohol-induced rage, he killed his wife Theresa for a suspected affair, her neglect of motherly duties, and her plans to leave him and their children. He also believed that Leonide had been a negative influence on his wife so he killed her as well. Henry had previously been a butcher before landing in New Orleans, so the method and motive all lined up perfectly to convict in court. He was given two consecutive life sentences.
Henry served only 16 years of his life sentence before he escaped from prison. Unlike many daring prison breaks, this one was quite boring—while running an errand at the post office for the prison, he simply hailed a cab and fled to California. He was a free man for 2 years before the police in California found out his true identity and returned him to the Louisiana prison system. After serving an additional 2 years there, the convicted double murderer and prison escapee was inexplicably pardoned by Governor Jimmie Davis and became a free man once again.
Unable to lay low, Henry once again attacked another young woman. Less than a decade after his pardoning, he shot his then-girlfriend and was sentenced to another 5 years in prison for attempted murder. Back in prison, he died in 1957 of a stroke, ending the story of the New Orleans Trunk murders.
Not so fast! While the story of Henry Moity came to an end in 1957, the peculiar circumstances of the murder lives through the urban legend of the “Sausage Ghost” of Ursulines Street. Seemingly inspired by some details of this case, particularly Henry’s background as a butcher, the story goes that a German immigrant opened a sausage factory on Ursulines Street. One night, the owner killed his wife and disposed of her body by grinding it into sausages that he then sold in his shop. He was caught when a customer bit into a sausage and found a golden wedding ring— and to this day, there are rumors of a ghostly woman who haunts Ursulines Street seeking revenge.
If fictional stories of serial killers is more your style, why not try reading my latest book, Blood on the Bayou? A crime thriller set in New Orleans, it tells the chilling story of the city’s latest serial killer, the Bayou Slasher, and the detectives who work to uncover the killer before it’s too late. Available now through most major bookstores and Amazon. You can also read more true crime cases that take place in New Orleans by checking out my previous blog posts.