The Final Days of the Indefatigable Huey P. Long, Jr.

During the last week of his life, Huey P. Long celebrated the high-life in Manhattan, signed a book deal in Pennsylvania, campaigned like a country preacher in Oklahoma, and commanded Louisiana from his 24th floor private apartment inside of the state Capitol.

Dr. Carl Austin Weiss, alleged assassin of Huey P. Long. Image by Lamar White, Jr. | Bayou Brief
More than any other young person I ever knew, he seemed to realize the dignity of life. More than any other young face I ever saw, his countenance reflected the quiet purpose of his soul. But Carl Weiss was not the solemn, owlish type of youth who turns his gaze within. On the contrary, he rejoiced in a keen sense of humor, and though a thinker and an idealist, there was no trace of the morbid or erratic in his personality.”
—Mercedes “Miss Mercy” Garig, Professor of English at Louisiana State University, writing about her former student, Dr. Carl Austin Weiss, Sr., in a letter published by the Bunkie Record on Nov. 1, 1935. (In 1909, Prof. Garig became LSU’s first female faculty member).

Dr. Carl Austin Weiss, Sr. was a stranger to the men who surrounded Huey Long that night, but in his native Baton Rouge, where he and his father, Dr. Carl Adam Weiss, both practiced out of the same office, he was not only well-known but also well-liked. Only 30 minutes before the shooting, Weiss had been recognized by a group of schoolgirls who hoped to get the Kingfish’s autograph. Years later, one of the girls, Patsy Odom LeBlanc, whose father Frank had known Huey since his days as a traveling salesman, recalled meeting Dr. Weiss that fateful night.

“Francis and Mildred Sanchez lived in my neighborhood, and Dr. Weiss was their doctor,” she told Ed Reed in an interview for his book Requiem for a Kingfish. “And the thing I remember so well is that least a half hour before the assassination, they introduced me to him. It was in the area where Huey Long was later assassinated.”

If you dig deeply enough through the volumes of news reports published in the immediate aftermath of the Long shooting, you’ll eventually encounter a snippet about three schoolgirls, Patsy Odom and her friends Francis and Mildred, who were in the Capitol when the violence erupted.

No one disputes that Carl Weiss was indeed in the building that night, and there’s no denying that Carl Weiss was the registered owner of “a Browning Model 1910-32, .32 caliber pistol, bearing Serial No. 319-446.”

Indeed, during the official inquest of the anti-Long coroner of East Baton Rouge Parish, the testimonies of eyewitnesses to the shootings as well as participants in the shootings all told a credible and consistent story. Occasionally, news reporters and amateur historians have repeated the bogus claim that the only people who said that they’d seen Carl Weiss carrying and then firing his gun were Huey’s bodyguards, but this isn’t true.

In the minutes and seconds before the first shot was fired, Huey Long bounced around the Capitol, attempting to multitask hundreds of things himself, operating on nothing but adrenalin and ego. He’d spent most of the day in relative solitude, perched in his 24th floor apartment alone, insofar as anyone with their own security detail can ever be said to be alone.

“After he dressed [shortly before 7:00 p.m.], the Senator was in and out of the apartment, spending some of the time in Governor Allen’s office,” Murph Roden recalled years later. “I brought his supper up to him from the cafeteria, and several persons were there talking to him while he ate, but no one ate with him.”

The day may have been slow, but that night, Huey P. Long was in a hurry.

Judge John Fournet, an Associate Justice on the Louisiana state supreme court and a former Speaker of the state House of Representatives, had something he wanted to tell Huey. State Rep. C.A. Riddle, Sr. from Avoyelles Parish wanted to invite him to a “barbecue” (probably a cochon de lait) in Marksville.

As the House prepared to adjourn for the night, Long jolted up from behind the rostrum, where he’d been seated next to House Speaker Allen Ellender. Chick Frampton, the reporter for the New Orleans Item, had rung up the Sergeant at Arms, calling from Gov. Allen’s office. He was hoping to get Huey’s answer to a follow-up question about a story concerning the news out of Florida: 485 people, many of whom were veterans on assignment with FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, were killed in the Florida Keys during what is now called the Great Labor Day Hurricane. Frampton wanted to know whether Huey would be calling for an investigation.

“Certainly, I’m going to ask an investigation,” Huey said. “If there was negligence, the nation is entitled to know who was responsible. Wait. I’ll come by there to talk to you.”

“Huey rambled down a side aisle, past he ocean of faces, the fawning expressions, the staring eyes, heels clicking beneath the lavishly decorated ceiling, the ornate chandeliers, the bronze fixtures,” writes David Zinman in The Day Huey Long Was Shot. “He was in the corridor. It was 9:21. Huey Pierce Long had one minute before catastrophe.”

“We’ve gotta have all our men present in the morning,” he barked, to no one in particular.

He strutted into the receptionist’s office and then turned around and came back out again, opening up the double doors that poured into a side corridor, a few steps away from the entrance to the House chambers, which was beginning to empty out. At the same time Huey materialized in the corridor, Judge Fournet, strolling alongside bodyguard Joe Messina, had finally caught up.

“We’ve gotta have all our men present in the morning,” Huey said again, standing on one of the round medallions that festooned the Capitol’s opulent marble floors.

Someone yelled back a word of agreement.

Huey P. Long and his bodyguards.

Murph stood a few feet in front of the boss. In addition to Murph and Joe Messina, George McQuiston, Joe Bates, Paul Voitier, Louis Heard, and Elliot Coleman were all nearby and on guard. Charles Addison Riddle, Sr., known to his friends as “Ad,” looked Huey squarely in the face, only five feet away, hoping to catch his eye so he could tell him about the cookout in Marksville.

In a flash, a slender man wearing a white coat, eyeglasses, a Panama hat, and black shoes slid up to Long’s side. The man comported himself strangely, lumbering up to Long in a crouched position.

Murph saw the glint of a pistol in the man’s right hand, aimed pointblank at Long’s chest, and almost instinctually, with arms outstretched, he lunged toward the man. At the same exact moment, Judge Fournet also tumbled into the stranger, attempting to swat away the pistol. They both, essentially simultaneously, had grabbed a hold of his arm.

Then, the flash-bang of gunfire.

This illustration of the shooting, which was based on statements collected by a reporter who was on the scene that night (though not a witness himself), was picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in hundreds of newspapers throughout the country.
Credit: David Zinman, The Day Huey Long Was Shot

State Rep. “Ad” Riddle watched as Huey P. Long winced and then bellowed in pain. Another legislator, Lorris Wimberly, who had been standing behind Judge Fournet, remembered Long bending over and clutching his stomach. “He said, ‘You have shot me,'” Wimberly said at the coroner’s inquest. “And his knees sagged, and he struggled out.”

Somehow, Long managed to walk out of the building. “Huey fled west down the Governor’s corridor in the direction of the Senate,” David Zinman writes in The Day Huey Long Was Shot. “He turned into a passageway some 40 feet from the shooting scene, entered a four-level staircase leading to the basement, and went down its 28 steps.”

There, he encountered Public Service Commissioner James O’Connor, who had just fetched Huey, as requested, a half a dozen Corona Belvedere cigars from the cafeteria.

“I started to walk out,” O’Connor, who later became the District Attorney of Orleans Parish and then a juvenile court judge, told Hermann Deutsch, “and as I opened the door I saw Huey reeling like this, with his arms extended, coming down those steps that were near the governor’s office. He was all by himself, and I ran over to him and asked: ‘What’s the matter, Kingfish?’ He spit in my face with blood as he gasped,” ‘I’m shot!’ They put in the paper next day he said: ‘Jimmy, my boy, I’m shot! Help me!’ but he never said a damn word like that. All he said was ‘I’m shot,’ and he spit blood over me so that I thought he had been shot in the mouth.”

“There was never any cessation of action,” Fournet recalled. “It was one continuous action. The man came straight up to Sen. Long and fired. I grabbed his hand, and my next move was to shove him as hard as I could.”

It appeared to Fournet and Roden that the mysterious attacker was attempting to fire another shot, but the gun jammed.

Murph Roden then grabbed the man, who was off-balance but still standing, and at this point, approximately six seconds after the first shot, the room erupted.

“I served in the World War, and I was a machine gunner,” Fournet said at the coroner’s inquest. “A machine gun would fire 300 to 600 bullets a minute. I would say after the shooting started, it was as fast as a machine gun. In other words, there were two or three or four shooting at one time, but to say how many shots were fired would be a total guess.”

No words were exchanged. Not a single witness recalled the slender man in the white coat say anything, though there were news reports quoting two bystanders, Fred Watkins and N.A. Shelton, who claimed that minutes before, they heard the man mutter to himself, “It won’t be long now.”

Huey’s “skull crushers” had pumped at least two dozen bullets into the man’s body. Murph claimed responsibility for 10 of them.

“He went down slowly when the first bullet struck him,” said Fournet. “He just had the quiver of the body. While he was doing that, the shots were pouring into him from both sides.”

Jimmy O’Connor still heard the gunfire blasting from the building as he flagged down a car, hoisted Huey into the backseat, and told the man driving it to take them to the nearby Our Lady of the Lake Sanatorium.

Once the shooting finally ceased, the man was facedown, collapsed on the ground like a pile of rubble.

Despite the fact that Carl Weiss was a stranger to the men who shot him to death, his identity was no great mystery.

When they turned him over to get a good look at him, a woman standing nearby gasped.

“Why, it’s Dr. Weiss,” she said.

Crime Scene Photographs of the Body of Dr. Carl A. Weiss, Sr.

This partly explains how Harry Costello, then Director of Sports Publications at LSU, learned on a phone call he received from a Washington D.C. number at 9:33 p.m., only 11 minutes after the shooting, that Carl Weiss had shot Huey Long.

In 1991, when the Louisiana State Police, prompted by the discovery of the alleged murder weapon, reopened the inquiry into Long’s death, the investigating officer, Lt. Don Moreau, specifically addressed the “enigma” of Costello’s phone call, noting that it had been “cited by some as evidence of a conspiracy involving Franklin Roosevelt, a political enemy of Senator Long.” Moreau had uncovered a telegram from Allen Coogan, an employee of United Press International, explaining that “a correspondent had obtained the identification of Weiss from Allen Ellender, the Speaker of the House….” Ellender, who would later serve in the United States Senate, rushed to Long’s bedside at Our Lady of the Lake Sanitarium “minutes after the shooting and had telephoned the identity to the Washington D.C. Bureau of United Press International.”

That night, Huey P. Long wondered the same thing that has continued to perplex people to this day.

“What for?” Long asked after Special Agent Joe Bates for the name of the man who shot him. “I don’t even know him.”

Death certificates of Dr. Carl Austin Weiss and Sen. Huey Pierce Long, Jr.

That question—”What for?”— was certainly still on the mind of Hermann B. Deutsch when he sat down in front of his typewriter at his home in Metairie on Oct. 31, 1963 to write the foreword to his book The Huey Long Murder Case. He couldn’t have known that less than a month later, an assassination in Dallas would traumatize the nation for decades and focus the world’s attention to a different Louisiana native, a troubled young man named Lee Harvey Oswald.

At the time, Long’s death had been considered the most sensational political assassination in 20th century America, the first time in the country’s history that a member of the Senate had been killed in office and vastly more intriguing than the assassination of President William McKinley. Notably, McKinley’s assassin, Leon Czolgosz, shot him in the abdomen using a .32 caliber gun, just as Weiss was alleged to have done to Long, and it’s widely acknowledged that McKinley’s death was hastened by poor medical care, which some believe was also the case for Long. And like Long’s case, investigators never found the .32 caliber bullet that struck McKinley.

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Warning: The following pages contain images that some may find disturbing and inappropriate for children without parental guidance.

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Lamar White, Jr.
Lamar writes about the people, the politics, and the magic of Louisiana. He is the founder and publisher of the Bayou Brief and a contributing writer for the Daily Beast. Lamar is best known for his investigative reporting on public corruption, racism, and civil rights. He has appeared as a guest on CNN, MSNBC, and the BBC, and he's been the subject of profiles in The Washington Post, The Advocate, and Huffington Post. Before launching the Bayou Brief, he published CenLamar, a popular blog that initially covered the drama of City Hall in his hometown of Alexandria. Lamar is a graduate of Rice University in Houston and the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Today he lives in New Orleans and is currently writing a book about the life of reputed New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello. Support Lamar's work on Patreon.