Clementine Barnabet: The Voodoo Murders
Written By: JEH
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Clementine Barnabet, deemed as the first African-American serial killer, was the self-proclaimed voodoo priestess of a cult called the Church of Sacrifice. She confessed to brutally murdering families, including their children, with an ax in the belief that human sacrifice was the path to immortality. Active from 1911 to 1912, Barnabet and her followers killed at least 35 people in Louisiana and Texas.
Life before the Cult
Clementine Barnabet is believed to have been born around 1894 in St. Martinsville, Louisiana. Her parents were Raymond Barnabet and Nina Porter, and she had three brothers. Not much is known about Barnabet’s childhood, but Raymond Barnabet reportedly abused Clementine and her siblings often. Eventually, the Barnabet family moved to Lafayette in 1909.
The Church of Sacrifice in Louisiana
At the age of 17, Clementine, together with Raymond and her brother Zepherin, started the cult known as the Church of Sacrifice. They believed that killing sinners would lead them to eternal life. With two more unidentified members, they would carry out ritualistic killings on African-American families.
In February 1911, Clementine and her members entered the home of the Byers family in Crowley. Walter J. Byers, his wife, and their young son were bludgeoned to death with an ax. Investigators discovered the crime scene on February 11, 1911 and found a bucket of blood in one corner and a bloodied ax at the head of the bed.
Later that same month, the Church victimized the Andrus family in Lafayette. Alexander Andrus, his wife Meme Andrus, and their two children, Joachim and Agnes, suffered the same fate as the Byers. Investigators found their bodies arranged together in the blood-drenched bed of Alexander and Meme. They also noticed that the ax used in the murders was left in the scene again.
Sheriff Louis LaCoste suspected that the Byers family and the Andrus family were killed by the same murderer, and he soon identified Garcon Godfry, a recently escaped lunatic, as their primary suspect.
Murders Move to Texas
On March 22, 1911, the Church went after Louis Cassaway, his wife, and their three children, who suffered the same fate as the previous families. However, two things were amiss: the murders happened in Texas and Mrs. Cassaway was Caucasian. This led investigators to initially believe that the murders were hate crimes. But an unexpected confession broke the case wide open.
After the murder of the Cassaways, Raymond Barnabet’s mistress approached police and claimed that he confessed to committing the murders during one of their quarrels. Sheriff LaCoste had Raymond Barnabet, who had a long rap sheet and was known to have a violent temper, arrested as soon as possible.
In the autumn of 1911, Raymond Barnabet stood trial in Louisiana for the murders of the Byers family, the Andrus family, and the Cassaway family. Clementine and Zepherin testified against their father to pin all the killings on him. In October 1911, a Louisiana jury convicted Raymond Barnabet of murder.
The Sacrifices Continue
On November 27, 1911, the bodies of Norbert Randall, his wife Azema, and four children were found murdered inside of their cabin located on Lafayette Street. Norbert had been shot in the head before he was bludgeoned with an ax. The children, 8-year-old Albert Sise, 6-year-old Renee Randall, 5-year-old Norbert, Jr., and 2-year-old Agnes, had been beaten to death with the blunt side of an ax. As per usual, the murder weapon was left at the scene.
Since the murders took place while Raymond was in jail, Sheriff LaCoste started to suspect that he did not act alone. The police decided to revisit the Barnabet home and uncovered bloodstained clothes covered with human brains belonging to Clementine. Investigators immediately took Clementine, Zepherin, and two other cult members into custody for questioning. But Zepherin was eventually released because he provided an alibi for the night of the murders.
With Clementine and Raymond in jail, people started to feel safe. However, the murders did not stop.
The Human Five
In January 1912, three more murders happened under Zepherin’s leadership. The third family was the Broussards. Felix Broussard, his wife, and their three children were killed in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The suspects splayed the victims’ hands apart with pieces of wood and left a handwritten message on the wall: “When he maketh the inquisition for blood, he forgetteth not the cry of the humble” (a version of Psalm 9:12 in the King James Bible). The message was signed “Human Five”, leading investigators to believe that multiple murderers were at work.
The Confession of a Voodoo Murderess
Despite being jailed at the time of the Broussard family murders, Clementine confessed to having involvement in the murders. She also claimed that she was responsible for at least 35 more murders between 1911 and 1912, 17 of which she had committed herself. Clementine also revealed the existence of the Church of Sacrifice and she claimed that she was their priestess.
After her confession, Clementine had to undergo several examinations, deeming her perfectly sane and fit for trial. Due to the severity of her crimes, she was sent to Angola State Penitentiary to serve a life sentence. She tried to escape on July 31, 1913, but was recaptured a day later. In 1918, Clementine was given the job of cane cutter, and five years later she was allowed to leave Angola due to good behavior.
Life after Prison
Six years after her disappearance, the Axeman of New Orleans murders started. Due to the similarity of the modus operandi, investigators were led to believe that Clementine was behind the killings. However, she could not be located and the investigation led nowhere. Up until this day, the identity of the Axeman of New Orleans remains unknown.
In 1985, a woman living in Louisiana visited her 103-year-old grandmother, who told her the story of Clementine Barnabet. After the grandmother died, a youthful portrait of her was passed down to her great-granddaughter. As per reports, the woman on the portrait has an undeniable likeness to the newspaper photographs of the young Clementine. The mystery of Clementine Barnabet: The Voodoo Murders may never be solved.
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