Clementine Barnabet and the Voodoo Cult Murders of 1911


Clementine Barnabet


From Ted Bundy to John Wayne Gacy, serial killers have fascinated the American public for decades, while becoming household names in the process. However, there was one American serial killer whose name has been all but forgotten, even though she was a more prolific murderer than either Bundy or Gacy-- and her methods far more brutal. Even more astounding is the fact that she claimed 35 victims before the age of eighteen. This is the strange story of Clementine Barnabet and the Voodoo Cult Murders of 1911.

Clementine Barnabet was born in St. Martinville, Louisiana, in 1894. At the age of fifteen she moved to Lafayette along with her mother, Nina, and her abusive father, Raymond, and a brother named Zephirin. Shortly after the Barnabets settled in Lafayette, Clementine's father became fascinated by a local group of black religious zealots who called themselves the Church of Sacrifice. The members of this cult believed that, through the taking of life, they could achieve physical immortality. By 1911, Clementine Barnabet had risen to the rank of high priestess of the cult.

Barnabet's first victims were Walter Byers and his family, who were slaughtered in West Crowley in January of 1911. Walter, his wife, and their six-year-old son were found butchered by an axe inside their home at 605 Western Avenue, presumably while they had been sleeping. Byers, who was reported as being an "industrious and reputable colored man", had no known enemies, and as an employee of a rice mill, he was far from wealthy. There appeared to be no motive for the crime and authorities were baffled, leading some to believe that the slayings were racially motivated. With little evidence to go on, the investigation was closed without any arrests being made.

However, when the Andris family of Lafayette met their demise in the same grisly fashion less than a month later, police began to suspect they may have a serial killer on their hands. On the night of February 24, 1911, Alexander Andrus, his wife Minnie, and their two young children were found dead in their home. The coroner ruled that they had been killed by a blunt axe. One local paper reported: The head of each member of the family was crushed with terrible blows, their brains splattered over the room and their bodies horribly tortured. [1]

Raymond Barnabet was charged and convicted of the Andrus murders, largely due to the testimony of Clementine and Zephirin, who claimed that their father had forced them out of bed to help him dispose of the evidence. Raymond was eventually sentenced to prison, but when the axe murders continued, some began to suspect that the Barnabet children had picked up where their father had left off.

On March 22, 1911, the Cassaway family was slaughtered in San Antonio, Texas. The victims-- Louis Cassaway, his wife, and their three children-- were found dead in their beds at their home on Olive Street. The murders appeared to be carried out in an identical fashion to the slayings in Louisiana: the victims were all black (except for the mother), and they had been attacked while asleep with a blunt axe. [2]

Raymond Barnabet (who had been released from prison on a technicality and was awaiting a new trial) was suspected of committing the Cassaway murders and was promply re-arrested in Lafayette jail. But when the family of Norbert Randall was wiped out in a similar fashion, police began to focus on Clementine.

Norbert Randall, whose sister was Minnie Andrus [3], lived in a simple cabin on Lafayette Street with his wife, Azema, and their four children. On the night of November 27, 1911, they were butchered in their beds. When police searched the Barnabet home they found blood-soiled clothing in Clementine's room. Clementine and Zephirin were arrested, along with two other members of the Church of Sacrifice cult. [4]

In jail, Clementine refused to cooperate with police and she refused to admit playing any part in the murders. And yet, with both Clementine and Raymond locked up in the same jail, black families across Louisiana and Texas continued to suffer the same bloody fate. Three more families were killed in January of 1912, including the Broussard family in Lake Charles, where a note containing a Bible passage was left at the scene.

On April 15, 1912, Clementine confessed to 17 of the murders, and admitting to participating in, or directing, the other assassinations-- 35 in total. During these murders she wore a voodoo amulet, which she believed would protect her during her killing sprees. [5] Naturally, when the press got wind of this detail, wild rumors about sex-fueled orgies and dark, mysterious voodoo rituals began to abound. It also didn't help matters that Clementine herself admitted to fondling and caressing the corpses of her victims.

Some of the more sensationalized claims about Barnabet's "voodoo death cult" have been bebunked, leading some to question whether or not Clementine even committed any of the murders at all, or whether the Church of Sacrifice was a concoction of imaginative newspaper reporters. Yet, many questions about Clementine and the mysterious Church of Sacrifice remain unanswered to this day. For instance, if the cult did not exist, who continued to murder black families with axes while the Barnabets were locked up in jail?

Unfortunately, the truth behind the life and deeds of Clementine Barnabet may never be known. She received a life sentence and was imprisoned at Louisiana State Penitentiary, where she was said to have undergone a surgical procedure that "restored" her sanity and she was released in August of 1923. She changed her name, moved away, and was never heard from again.



Sources:

1. Crowley Signal, Oct. 28, 1911. Page 5.
2. Victoria Weekly Advocate, March 25, 1911. Page 1.
3. New Orleans Semi-Weekly Times, Dec. 1, 1911.
4. Alexandria Town Talk, Nov. 28, 1911. Page 8.
5. Philadelphia Inquirer, April 3, 1912. Page 13.


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