Legend has it that the slaves who once labored in the fields of the LeBeau Plantation never entirely left. Cruelly mistreated, some to their death, their restless spirits wandered through their master's sprawling mansion, taking revenge upon its occupants. One by one, the LeBeau family was driven mad, two of them hanging themselves in the upper rooms. Decades later, a little girl was mysteriously thrown to her death from a fourth-floor window.
The house changed hands a number of times over the years, serving stints as a hotel and an illegal casino, but the ghosts -- and, perhaps, the cost of maintaining a pre-Civil War mansion -- ultimately drove away the living. For decades, the LeBeau House has stood neglected and abandoned, like something off the cover of a Faulkner novel, an elegy to the Old South.
Conveniently located just five miles from downtown New Orleans, it has also become a magnet for ghost hunters jonesing for a brush with the paranormal. Some who visited reported glimpsing a woman in a white dress walking on the upstairs porch, silhouetted by a mysterious glow. Others reported that the clock in the main hall would stop when a visitor entered, starting again when they left.
Police say it was those stories that inspired Fort Worth's Dusten Davnport, 31, to visit the house Thursday night with a group of friends.
There were seven in all, all but one from North Texas. Joshua Allen, 21; Joshua Briscoe, 20; Jerry Hamblen, 17; and Joseph Landin, 20, are from Grand Prairie. Bryon Meek, 29, lived in Hurst until two months ago, according to his Facebook page. Kevin Barbe, 20, was from Louisiana.
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Officials in St. Bernard Parish haven't said whether the group encountered any spirits, just that at some point they took a break to drink and smoke weed -- and to burn the house to the ground.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune describes the incident:
The men, between the ages of 17 and 31, arrived at the home late Thursday night, likely entering through a gap in the fence around the property that had been cut out by other curious trespassers over the years, according to Col. John Doran, who oversees the Sheriff's Office's criminal enforcement.
"They had been looking for ghosts, trying to summon spirits, beating on the floors," Doran said.
"We all heard the ghost stories while growing up," Pohlmann said. "In combination with smoking dope in there, it appears it was intriguing to them."
Doran said the men appear to have become frustrated when no ghosts materialized. Police believe that in a haze of alcohol and marijuana, one of them decided to burn the place to the ground.
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Davenport was the suspected ringleader and the one authorities say began stacking up pieces of wood to start the fire.
Davenport and the rest were arrested the next day on charges of arson, burglary and criminal damage worth more than $50,000.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.