The 13th Floor

The Shockingly Brutal Crimes of Axe-Murderer Clementine Barnabet

As the blow from an axe crushed another skull, South Louisiana’s unparalleled reign of terror continued…

It was February 1911 in Crowley, Louisiana, a small town near the Texas border. The Byers family went to bed as usual. It was a typical night until an intruder broke in and brutally bludgeoned them all to death with an axe, not sparing even their young son. The whole family was executed, and the murder weapon, steeped in gore, was left at the scene.

Later that same month, in the nearby city of Lafayette, the Andrus family met a similar fate. Both parents and two children, including an 11-month-old girl, were murdered by axe. The bodies were arranged together in the blood-drenched bed of the parents, left in a twisted and horrific display for the police. The brutality and ritualistic nature of the murders suggested this was not simply a robbery gone wrong.

The only similarity among the murdered families was that they were all African American. Other than that, the selection of the victims was seemingly random. Amid a huge media outcry, police worked tirelessly to find the perpetrator, bulking up their patrols and manhunts.

Their investigation led them to Raymond Barnabet — a known criminal with a violent past. He was arrested for the murders and convicted, partially on the testimony of his daughter Clementine. However, as Raymond sat in prison, another Lafayette family, the Randalls, were killed and mutilated by axe — this time leaving four young children dismembered.

Image Credit: iStock/DmitryMo

The hysteria in the community reached a fever pitch, and as the murders continued, the community lived in constant fear. Over 150 people convened in a town hall meeting at the Good Hope Baptist Church to try and quell the panic, and people were encouraged to sleep with weapons at the ready. There was no way to guess who would be next, or who the murderer or murderers were… neighbors looked at neighbors and wondered if they were looking at a killer.

The police, still convinced of Raymond Barnabet’s guilt, took the killing of the Randall family as a sign that he didn’t act alone. They decided to revisit his home, and a search of the house uncovered bloodstained clothes belonging to his 17-year-old daughter Clementine. She was arrested, but most doubted that a young girl could be guilty of such sadistic brutality. She herself claimed innocence… but in the end, the evidence was overwhelming.

With both Barnabets in prison, the region gave a tentative sigh of relief and resumed their lives, hoping that the ordeal was finished. Their respite did not last long, however, as the Broussard family in Lake Charles soon fell to a killer’s axe.

These murders were the most ritualistic and shocking yet: The children’s blood was drained into buckets and left by their beds; on the wall, a message written in blood read “When he maketh the inquisition for blood, He forgetteth not the cry of the humble.” It was signed by an entity calling itself “Human Five.

The fingers of the children were found spread apart with splints, allegedly to indicate the number five.

The police ramped up their interrogation of the Barnabets, desperate for a breakthrough. Their efforts were rewarded when Clementine confessed; however, they were not prepared for what she would reveal.

Clementine and her father were leaders of a voodoo cult called The Church of Sacrifice, along with three others who made up the Human Five. As Clementine revealed the truth, she smiled remorselessly, gleefully detailing her crimes and those of her gang of accomplices. She would dress as a man to be less conspicuous at night, and travel between towns by train to carry out the murders, but she also claimed she met a voodoo doctor who gave her the power to remain undetected while killing. She even admitted to fondling the dead children.

The motivation for the deaths? Immortality. Clementine and the other members of The Church of Sacrifice believed that killing these sinners would lead them to eternal life, and because they were doing the “good work,” they were protected. She also revealed that her cult was responsible for earlier murders in Rayne, Louisiana in 1909, and other murders as far away as Texas and Mississippi.

Following Clementine’s confession, the net closed around her accomplices; included in the implication and arrests was Clementine’s brother, Zepherin, another member of the Human Five.

Image Credit: Atlanta Constitution, 1912

Newspapers attributed up to 35 killings to Clementine, either by her hand or her instruction; she claimed she personally murdered 17 of these. Medical evaluations resulted in a diagnosis not of insanity, but perversion, and she was sent to serve a life sentence in the notorious Angola farm prison near Baton Rouge. Prison surgeons operated on her brain, with the stated result of a return to a normal condition; due to good behavior, she was released from prison after only ten years.

Many of the facts around this case remain murky, and Clementine’s life after prison is uncertain… then, in 1985, a Louisiana woman visited her 103-year-old great grandmother, who told her the terrifying tale of Clementine Barnabet. After the elderly woman died that same year, a youthful portrait of her was passed down to her great granddaughter. The likeness in the painting was a match for newspaper photographs of Clementine Barnabet.

Image Credit: Atlanta Constitution, 1912

Thanks to AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN, Louisiana’s most renowned serial killer of late has been the “Axeman of New Orleans,” whose crimes we’ve covered previously. Curiously, the Axeman’s story begins approximately six years after Clementine’s confession… and six years would have been enough time for Clementine to develop a prison communication network that reached New Orleans, the voodoo capital of the United States. It’s also worth noting that the Axeman was never caught…