Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Caddo Parish Courthouse - Shreveport, LA (The Death of the Butterfly Man)

501 Texas St.
Shreveport, LA 71101

            We begin our next story in 1838, when a newly created Caddo Parish was in need of a parish seat and center for local government. A temporary courthouse, if you wish to call it that, was established at the private residence of Thomas Wallace. Wallace would later become an important figure in Shreveport and Caddo Parish history, also giving Wallace Lake its name. Obviously, this would only be temporary, and by 1840, the parish then used a structure at the corner of Texas and Market Streets. In April of 1855 the building was sold at a sheriff’s sale, leaving the parish without a courthouse once again so they rented a structure in the 500 block of Market Street from Ephraim C. Hart. Finally, in 1860, someone would come up with the ingenious idea that maybe, just maybe, the city needed a permanent courthouse so a two-story colonial-style structure would be erected.
            As we have learned, during the Civil War, Louisiana was a state without a capitol, as
Photograph of the original Caddo Courthouse.
legislature would move from New Orleans, to Baton Rouge, to Opelousas, to Shreveport, finally returning for good to Baton Rouge. During the times that the temporary capitol was in Shreveport, it set up shop at the Caddo Parish Courthouse. By the time the capitol was returned to Baton Rouge, the building was in great disrepair and would ultimately be demolished in 1889. In 1892, a new Romanesque-style courthouse was built and would remain as the center of local government until 1926 when it too, was demolished and replaced with the current courthouse that stands there today.

            In the early years of the new courthouse, the top floor served as the jail, where small time criminals served their sentences and where those guilty of serious crimes met their demise. The jail was also the site of where a total of seven executions by hanging were carried out. It’s last and most notable of these executions was that of the “Butterfly Man.” In the 1920’s, Bunce Napier would go
Bruce Napier, a.k.a. the "Butterfly Man".
door to door, selling handmade butterflies made out of paper and clothespins. On one particular day, we would knock on the door of a young fifteen year old girl. Apparently, his sick and twisted obsessions could not be contained, as he would kidnap the girl, sexually assault her and finally murder her, dumping her mutilated body near Cross Lake. Fortunately, he was soon captured and detained in the parish jail above the courthouse.

            As the community heard of the horrible crime, they sought vigilante justice and were determined to storm the steps of the courthouse so they could get their hands on Napier. With the aid of the National Guard and a few canisters of tear gas, the local Sheriff and his men were able to keep the mob at bay. This only prolonged things for Napier, as he would ultimately be tried and sentenced to death on May 18, 1932. Shortly after Napier’s execution, the doors to the gallows were officially sealed shut but this was not the last of the executions that would take place. An electric chair was placed on the seventh floor of the courthouse and would carry out several other executions before “Old Sparky” would be retired.
             Today, the Caddo Parish Courthouse is your everyday government building where people go to pay their taxes, dispute a traffic ticket and get sentenced to thirty days for punching their neighbor. However, when the daily crowds have gone home and the janitors begin cleaning up, the building seems to take on a life of its own. Those who work late hours at the courthouse often hear strange
Area that once housed the gallows.
yells and moans culminating from the top floor, as if the building is replaying some of the executions once carried out. Many refuse to go anywhere near the top floor, especially if they are alone. Objects are said to move by themselves and unexplainable cold spots have been felt when wandering down the dark halls. According to one janitor, while cleaning late one night, he could hear the sounds of men talking and moaning. Hesitantly, he crept to the top floor, the source of the sounds, only to find that no one was to be found. When he returned to his work area, his mop and bucket had been moved to another area. Needless to say, the janitor did not stick around much longer. I don’t know about you, but the only way that story could have been any creepier is if the janitor would have found a small butterfly made of paper and clothespins lying on the ground!

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