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The Infamous New Orleans Trunk Murders

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Paige is a researcher and writer who enjoys delving into the remarkable lives of history's forgotten characters.


The Legend: The Ghost Who Walked the Sausage Factory

Lyle Saxon, renowned author and collector of Louisiana folklore, included a very short piece about Hans Muller in Gumbo YaYa, telling of how he and his (unnamed) wife ran a successful sausage business. It being a difficult trade, his wife had become a crone before her time, and Hans' eye was turned by a young girl.

Realizing he had the best method of disposal possible, he pushed his wife into the huge meat grinder in their factory. He hadn't planned on her clothes, though, and soon customers were complaining about odd things in their admittedly tasty sausage.

Rumors started to spread, as no one had seen his wife in some days. Even Hans' new ladylove grew suspicious and broke with him.

There's no way to really paraphrase this next bit, so:

"One night, soon after, he heard a "thump! thump! thump!" around his boiler vat. Then he saw the bloody ghost of his wife, with her head crushed to a pulp, coming toward him. Shrieking, he fled from the place."

— Lyle Saxon

That was the beginning of the end, for old Hans. He started seeing his wife coming out of the sausage grinder, and after a customer reported to the police they'd found a bit of wedding ring in their dinner he was carted off to an insane asylum to live out the rest of his life.

Lyle Saxon's Gumbo YaYa

Is it True?

In a word: no.

Saxon credits a "Miss Rica Hoffman" as "remembering" the story, "which occurred in the city some years ago."

Extensive archive searches turn up no Mullers, no sausage company, no gristly deaths. However, 20 years before the publication of his book were the so-called Trunk Murders that became a national sensation, and, as is so often the case, it's more compelling then the fiction it was spun into.

715 Ursulines

As Henry Moity Tells the Tale:

In 1927 Henry and Theresa lived at 715 Ursulines with his brother Joseph and his wife Leonide, plus their combined five children. Described as a 'tenement,' 'squalid,' and 'nearly without furniture,' at around 1,000 square feet, it wasn't a comfortable life.

Hailing from New Iberia, Louisiana (pop 6,278), they'd hoped to find more opportunity in the city, but the brothers did mostly odd-jobs but said they were doing their best. The rent was always late, there wasn't enough food, and things were getting dire.

And then one night Theresa flashed a $5* bill at her husband, telling him she knew how to make more money then he ever could, insinuating she was flirting with other men to gain their favor and money. Already jealous and seeing suitors around every corner, he flew into a rage, but vowed to forgive her if she would just be a "good" wife.

Still, Henry would come home at night to find the house and kids filthy, no dinner waiting for him. No matter how often he forgave her, or how frequently she said she'd do better, she never would. His brother Joe had already left his wife behind and vacated, convinced she, too, was running around on him.

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He'd been walking the streets all day, trying to drum up business for a sign painting business he wanted to start, when he returned to find the women packing to leave. He said they taunted him and said they'd decided to set up 'shop,' which he took to mean prostituting themselves.

Mortified, Henry ran back out to the street, and there he succumbed to the siren song of the bottle, for the first time going into a speakeasy and falling into a whiskey jug. It might have been the height of Prohibition, but liquor was never hard to find in New Orleans- and he also bought a sugar cane machete from the bartender.

*about $70 today


When he returned home and found the women already asleep, trunks packed for the next day and knew they truly meant to leave. He hacked twice at Leonide, who never woke. Theresa, however, put up a struggle before succumbing.

Then, Henry really went to work, beheading and cutting the women to pieces, stuffing them into the trunks they meant to leave with- "they fit nicely," he would later tell a reporter. Theresa's wedding ring was mashed into a gash in her back. Fingers and teeth were left strewn on the floor and blood was everywhere.

Henry scooped up his kids, hailed a cab and dropped them with his sister without a word about what had happened and fled into the swamps.

715 Ursulines Apartment Layout


Moity Captured

Two days after the murders Henry found the Gem, a small freight boat running through Bayou Lafourche, but the crew had seen the news, which was nationwide by then, and were suspicious. They let him aboard anyway and watched, and once they saw his distinctive naked lady tattoo, they subdued him and waited for the police.

Henry told a tale of a Norwegian sailor who had made him watch while the sailor did the butchering of the woman, but the story quickly fell apart and Henry admitted to what he'd done.

He attempted to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, largely leaning on the idea that the two things that drove him to kill were the whiskey and the cruel woman he was married to. The jury- all male- couldn't decide if that was a valid defense or not, and compromised on a verdict of "guilty without capital punishment," when the prosecution was looking for the death penalty.

It was meant to be a life sentence, and at hard labor in Angola prison, which often didn't mean a very long one, but Henry toughed it out and was released after 20 years. In 1956 he shot his long time lover twice in the chest when they fought over money. She lived, and he went back to jail. Although certainly dead by now, there is no record or obituary I could located.

Written locally, but syndicated nationwide.

Written locally, but syndicated nationwide.

How Did Saxon Get Sausages Out of Trunk Murders?

Mostly? A lot of imagination.

But there are two details that overlap: the wedding bands, one found in sausage, the other in Theresa's viscera, and a quote from Henry, about someone he thought might be one of her lovers.

“If I ever get my hands on that Joe Caruso, I’ll chop him up into little pieces, not big pieces like my wife, but little pieces—my God, I’ll make him look like something that’s been run through a sausage mill!”

— Henry Moity

We'll Leave the Last Word to Leonide

"Marriage is a life sentence. Be careful."

— Found amongst the dead woman's things was a manuscript, written in pencil, submitted and rejected fr

Henry's Word Was Taken for Gospel Truth. I Have Questions.

We have the benefit of nearly 100 years of progress between then and now, but several things jump out at the modern eye. I am trying to resist the urge to editorialize, but a few things need mentioning about the coverage. I will post images of some of the actual newspaper clippings below, if you want to blow them up and read for yourself.

  1. The women's entire value was what they could do for the men. "She wouldn't even sweep the stoop!" Henry complained at one reporter. "What stoop? You lived on the second floor," I wanted to scream.
  2. The lack of witnesses. I've researched a lot of these stories, and there is always, but always a neighbor with something to say. They saw her sneaking around, the kids were messy and naked, something, anything to get their names in the paper that might back up what Henry said. There was nothing.
  3. The papers lionized him. He was the poor man who'd been driven to this. One of the most amazing instances is above, "How Jealousy Turned a Devoted Husband Into a Demon," but there are many more. One that stands out is "He smoked cigars as he related it, a far off smile in his eyes, looking as little like a murderer as your child that plays with his toys on the kitchen floor; looking, indeed, very much like a child himself, for as he continued to talk, the innocences, the little traits that only a child has, began to show forth, became more and more marked." (New Orleans Item 11/06/1927). On that same page Barbara Brooks, "Editor of Advice to the Lovelorn" says she "Sees Tragedy As Result of Bedraggled and Besmirched Love."
  4. Pictures of him with his sainted mother and father in jail, not to mention him cuddling his children. The message, over and over, was that this was the fault of a bad woman. Look at how kind he could be- how tender! If only that woman would've appreciated what she had, all this ugliness could've been avoided.
  5. The drink! This isn't emphasized so much in the New Orleans papers, because, frankly, the city had respectfully declined to participate in Prohibition. In the national papers and elsewhere, the fact that she had driven him to drink was another thing that made it not his fault.

A Flipped Script in Ohio

At the exact same time the papers had side-by-side national stories about Velma West, the flapper murderess and it was 180 degrees from the Moity coverage. "She'd killed her husband because he said she couldn't go to a party!" "She's a good time girl!" "She wears that FUR everywhere!" "Shameless!"

Except when you actually dig in, you discover that, yeah, she did go to a party after the murder, true, and that's obviously not a great thing. But she was 21, abused by her husband, violently, repeatedly, and in public, including earlier the day of the murder. He isolated her from her friends and family- all classic signs of abuse we recognize today. Oh, and she'd worked her butt off to earn that fur on her own and it was the only thing of value she owned. The same line about Theresa Moity not sweeping was even used on Velma. It's hard to not take away the sexism and worry about feminism underlying it all.

The kindest thing that was said of her was that this "'Slip of Girl' does not seem strong enough to fell six-foot mate." She was found guilt and died in prison in 1959- two years after Henry Moity had struck again.

A "Modern Woman" Kills

The quotes tell you everything you need to know about the feelings about 'modern women.'

The quotes tell you everything you need to know about the feelings about 'modern women.'

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