16 Oct 2015
Down Home LA: Haunted Courthouse
Toni Jo Henry - 1942.
LAKE CHARLES, La. (KALB) - Whether from south Louisiana or the northern corners of the state, you’ve no doubt heard a Louisiana-themed ghost story a time or two. With the bayou state touting the voodoo capital of the world within the Crescent City, the most haunted plantation in the world in St. Francisville or even the outlandish stories of the half-man/half-alligator Parlangua, there are enough spooky stories in Louisiana to go bump in the night, every night.
With that in mind, for the next few weeks, I’ll be ghost hunting on Down Home Louisiana.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.” At least, I was.
That being said, our first adventure led us to the southwestern corner of the state, in the Calcasieu Parish seat of Lake Charles. There’s a courthouse there that’s allegedly haunted by a woman that was caught on the wrong end of justice.
The building itself seems to have been frozen in time at the dawn of the 20th century. Huge columns mark the entrance into the ghost’s alleged abode. The courtroom itself has been restored to its previous state in the early 1910’s. There’s the original seating for the jury box, the judge’s booth and a witness stand that gave me the creeps. You can definitely feel something is off inside the room.
The most famous trial held in the old court was that of Toni Jo Henry.
She was born Annie McQuiston back in 1916 into a rough childhood. Her mother would die when she was six years old. When she grew older she would fall into a life of prostitution, drug and alcohol addiction.
She credits her husband for pulling her out of her downward spiral. “Cowboy” Henry was a boxer and an enforcer for several criminal syndicates in Louisiana. Not long after their marriage, he would be caught on the wrong side of the law in Texas and brought into prison in Huntsville.
Toni Jo Henry would travel to the prison with a friend to ask for Cowboy’s release. As you could probably assume, that didn’t work very well.
On the way back home after an unsuccessful trip, Henry and her accomplice would hitchhike back to their hometown with a man named Arthur Calloway in the back of a Ford Coupe. Testimony states it was in the back of that car that Henry would craft a plan that would change her life forever.
The two shot and killed Arthur Calloway for his car, money and clothes.
Soon after, she would be tried three times for her crime.
She would be the only woman in Louisiana to be executed via electric chair.
A new technology, they were unsure how the chair would operate and brought in multiple generators.
“Toni Jo’s hair was cut short,” Adley Cormier, a local historian said. “Witnesses account that the lights went dim, grew bright and went dim again. Then they were overwhelmed by the smell of burnt hair and cheap perfume.”
The hauntings would begin shortly thereafter.
Electrical equipment malfunctions, doors lock and lights dim sporadically within the courthouse, all accompanied by the familiar smell of burnt hair and cheap perfume.
Making matters worse? Also located inside the building is the Calcasieu Parish Clerk of Court’s office.
There’s an unwritten rule that they don’t mention the name Toni Jo Henry during election season.
“You can never be too cautious during election season,” Cormier said. “Especially when the place you’re voting in could be haunted.”
It adds a new meaning to the phrase “ghost voting.”
“There’s something awry with the goings on at the Calcasieu Parish court house,” Cormier joked. “It’s not the people, but it could be the ghosts.”