New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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1890 Superintendent of Police, David C. Hennessey is Murdered

On March 13, 1889, the city’s first Superintendent of Police, David C. Hennessey, was appointed to the position by Mayor Joseph H. Shakspear. Hennessey was a tireless and fearless worker in his pursuits of stamping out organized crime. In carrying out his duties, he, of course, made many enemies.

On the evening of Oct. 15, 1890, at 11:25 p.m., he was gunned down on his way home. Although he was hit by shotgun blasts from many different directions, he was able to draw his pistol and return fire. While he lay prostrate in the street, more bullets were pumped into his body. He was later rushed to the hospital, but all efforts to save him were futile. He died the next day.

Nineteen Italians believed to be part of the underworld that operated in New Orleans were tried, 10 for murder and nine for conspiracy. All were acquitted of the crimes but held in jail on other counts. On March 14, 1891, a mob of outraged citizens stormed the jail seeking their own form of justice. They were outraged at the acquittals and took the law into their own hands. Upon entering the jail, they shot nine and hanged two of the believed killers of Hennessey.

The Italian government was appalled and broke diplomatic relations with the United States government. In time, the United States government paid financial restitution for the 11 Italians murdered even though found innocent by a court of law. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were then resumed.

Until this day, the murderers of New Orleans first superintendent, David C. Hennessey, are still classified as unknown. There are many theories as to whom the culprits were, but after 110 years, the truth is no closer to becoming a reality than when it happened.

Hennessey’s body was displayed in the council chambers of City Hall. The wake was followed by a funeral parade ending in Metairie Cemetery, where he was laid to rest. The striking monument is a fitting memorial to the martyred Superintendent of Police. It consists of a massive granite column with a broken shaft covered by a pall. A replica of the Superintendent’s belt and club hang from the very top. At the base of the shaft is a replica of the police badge with the Pelican Seal of Louisiana.

In 1891, Dexter S. Gaster was sworn in as the city’s second Superintendent of Police. In memory of David Hennessey, who gave his life in the line of duty, Gaster wore his police badge upside down (open end of crescent to the top). That tradition was carried on through the tenure of Superintendent Henry M. Morris, who retired from the police force in January of 1985.

Source: Buddy Stall at