Was Senator Huey Long murdered by an assassin or was he accidentally shot by his own bodyguards?
He was a superstar of Depression Era politics, a fiery speaker known as “The Kingfish.” His name was Huey Long. At age 34, Long was elected Governor of Louisiana and became a Senator three years later.
Were the bodyguards responsible?
Long was incredibly popular because he believed in redirecting America’s wealth. In a speech, he said, “No man must be allowed to have too much. No man must be allowed to have too little. Unless you limit the size of the big, it necessarily means that the small people must become more and more impoverished as time goes on.”
He was a national figure, and there was serious talk of a run for the Presidency in 1936. But that idea worried some people. To the rich and powerful, Long was the enemy, and he received numerous threats. Some believed Long was better off dead than being President. In fact, a few were convinced it was the only way to stop him. Historian and author Ed Reed:
“Huey Long had a great compassion for a lot of people, but that compassion did not extend to people who crossed him. Once you crossed Huey Long, you had an enemy for life. People lost jobs. They lost businesses. They lost lands. They lost everything because of the vindictiveness of Huey Long.”
The bullet matched the bodyguard’s gun
Judge Henry Pavey of St. Landry Parish was one of the many elected officials that Long targeted for political destruction. And it was Pavey’s 29-year-old son-in-law, a respected doctor named Carl Weiss, who is still remembered as the man who assassinated Huey Long.
Four days before his death, Long returned to Louisiana from Washington, D.C. He had convened a special session of the state legislature. Ignoring threats against his life, Senator Long walked boldly between the State House Chamber and Governor Oscar Allen’s office, where history says that Dr. Carl Weiss was waiting. Just after Long spoke to the governor, Dr. Weiss shot him in the hallway. Weiss was then shot more than sixty times by Long’s bodyguards. Weiss’ .32 caliber pistol was found beside him.
Huey Long died 30 hours later. He was just 42-years old. His funeral drew more than 100,000 mourners. Five days after the funeral, an inquest concluded that Dr. Carl Weiss was the lone assassin. But now, strong evidence indicates that Huey Long may have been killed accidentally, and that Dr. Weiss is innocent.
Who took Carl’s gun from his car?
On the day Huey Long was shot, Carl Weiss and his wife ate Sunday dinner at his father’s house. Carl’s wife, Yvonne, was the daughter of Judge Benjamin Pavey, one of Huey Long’s most outspoken critics. At the special legislative session Long had convened, he intended to eliminate Judge Pavey’s position. According to those present at dinner, Dr. Weiss’s father was ranting about Long, and his attack on Judge Pavey at the special legislative session. But despite his marriage to the judge’s daughter, Dr. Weiss minimized Long’s actions and tried to calm his father.
Yet, just a few hours later, Dr. Weiss would lie dead in the state capital, accused of assassinating Huey Long. He would leave behind his wife and a son, Carl Weiss, Jr.:
“Naturally, most of what I know of my father is very second hand. But understandably, it’s been one of my major life interests. There’s been a lot of interest focused on the minute-by-minute detail of my father’s day, where he went, what he did, etc. He spent the afternoon at home. And then he left to visit the home of a man named Morgan who was a patient of his. And I believe my father made a phone call from the Morgan home to make plans for the morning surgery. There, after he left, and for reasons that I don’t believe we’ll ever know, didn’t go directly home, and the rest is, as they say, history.”
At the State Capitol that evening, the career of Yvonne Weiss’s father, Judge Henry Pavey, was on the line. House Bill Number One, a re-districting plan, was Huey Long’s top priority. If it passed, Judge Pavey would be removed from the bench. At 9 P.M., the session was still going strong. Huey Long did not notice the arrival of Dr. Weiss. Historian and author Ed Reed believes Weiss went to the capitol, not to shoot Huey Long, but to plead his father-in-law’s case:
“Carl Weiss took his position outside of the governor’s office. He was not hidden outside of the governor’s office. He was in plain view because he was approached by other people who knew him, who saw him there, approached him, shook hands with him, talked with him.”
Ed Reed says that three times Weiss approached Huey Long that night, and three times he was brushed aside:
“On another pass, Weiss was a little bit more urgent. And he told Long that he really had to talk with him. And Long once again said he didn’t have the time to talk to Weiss. History records the rest in some blue haze, really. We’re uncertain as to what happened. But that is how the scene was set for this particular moment.”
At 9:20 P.M., Dr. Weiss approached Long for the third and final time. The historians who are convinced that Weiss did not kill Huey Long believe that when Long verbally insulted Weiss, Weiss punched him. The altercation brought a hail of gunfire from Long’s bodyguards, and Long was accidentally struck by one of their bullets.
Huey Long was taken to a nearby hospital. Despite his wounds, says Ed Reed, The Kingfish remained very much in charge:
“Huey Long had been briefed as to who the man was who they claimed had shot him. He had been given a lot of information. Somebody had to come up with a story as to exactly what happened there and Huey Long felt that he was the man to tell it. Huey Long was shot around 9:20. He was operated on sometime around 11 o’clock. They went inside, found out that the colon had been punctured in two places. They sewed up Huey Long and then pronounced him cured.”
However, the surgeons had overlooked a serious wound to the senator’s kidney. A day and a half later, on September 10, 1935, Huey Long died. At the official inquest, Dr. Carl Austin Weiss was named as Long’s assassin. Historian Ed Reeds questions that conclusion:
“Most assassins leave a paper trail. They leave some hint as to what they did and why they did it. There was nothing like this. Carl Weiss was not a man who was preparing to shoot anybody. And at that dinner, at noontime on September the 8th, he was the model of propriety and, really, he was in complete control of himself. Carl Weiss was a father of a three-month old son. He was making provisions for the future. He spent a very normal Sunday and there was nothing to incline anybody to believe that he had this on his mind. I think it was all together incomprehensible that he could have been the perpetrator of this crime.”
No one disputes that Carl Weiss owned a gun, a .32-caliber pistol which he kept in the glove compartment of his car. However, Ed Reed believes that he has uncovered evidence that Huey Long was not shot by that gun. The official version of the operation makes no mention of a bullet being retrieved from Long’s body. But Reed heard a conflicting story from a relative of one of the surgeons:
“During the operation, there was a .38 caliber bullet removed from Huey Long. This is significant because Carl Weiss was alleged to have been carrying a .32, but the body guards were carrying .38s and .45s, so therefore if a .38 was removed, and I believe it was, then that could not have come from Carl Weiss or his gun certainly.”
Within half an hour of the shooting, Dr. Weiss had been tentatively identified as Long’s assailant. Weiss’s brother and cousin heard the rumors and went straight to the Capitol. There, they found Weiss’ car, but when they came back with the keys, it had been moved At this point, they still had no idea that Dr. Weiss had been killed.
Weiss’ brother and cousin discovered that the doctor’s gun was missing from the glove compartment. To this day, no one can be sure who removed the gun from the car. Elois Sahuk, a security guard at the State Capitol that night, told Ed Reed that it was not Carl Weiss:
“One of the bodyguards, who is now dead, told me that he felt that that gun was a throw down gun, that one of the bodyguards had gone out to the car that Carl Weiss had driven up in, had gotten that pistol and had thrown it next to the body.”
Reed believes his theory is supported by Weiss’s own actions inside the capitol:
“If Carl Weiss was actually at the state capital to kill Huey Long, he had a perfect opportunity that passed. Huey Long had his back turned to Carl Weiss. It would’ve been very easy for Carl Weiss to shove his pistol up against Long’s body, emptied out the magazine and then make his escape. Because of the rumors that had been flying that there would be an attempt made on Huey Long’s life that night, because of that, fuses were very, very short. Something that happened that night, perhaps Carl Weiss hit Huey Long, perhaps he just moved too fast, and I think the bodyguards who were without any training whatsoever in security, I think they overreacted. I think bullets that entered Huey Long’s body were the bullets that came from the bodyguard’s guns.”
Reed offers up what he believes is one final piece of evidence. When Huey Long was admitted to the hospital, his lip was bleeding. Long apparently explained, “That’s where he hit me.” Was Long referring to his encounter with Carl Weiss? According to a sworn affidavit from a witness, he most certainly was.
In hindsight, there seems to be considerable doubt about who actually shot Huey Long. But at the time, it was treated as an open and shut case. No one was allowed to investigate further and all the official records, as well as Dr. Weiss’s gun, disappeared a few years after the inquest and remained missing for more than half a century. That is, until Professor James Starrs, a forensic expert, began researching the case:
“In trying to find the gun and the state police files, I decided that the police are the prime suspects that should be looked at starting from the top down. And I literally made a laundry list of the individuals with Louis F. Guerre at the top of that list.”
Louis F. Guerre was the head of the Criminal Bureau of Investigation in Louisiana at the time of Huey Long’s death. Years after Guerre died, a researcher hired by Starrs found Guerre’s will in the public records. According to Prof. Starrs:
“There was a listing in the inventory of miscellaneous files, listed as no value. Now, being a lawyer as well as a scientist, I realized that inventories of estates do not list items of no value. They certainly don’t list them in this kind of mysterious way as miscellaneous files. And I said to myself, ‘Those are the state police files.’”
Guerre’s will listed something else of interest: Carl Weiss’s gun. With the gun were several unused .32 caliber bullets, and one spent .32 slug. At first it was assumed this was the bullet that killed Huey Long, but ballistics tests showed it did not come from Dr. Weiss’s gun. The obvious questions were, where did it come from, and, why was it kept with the gun?
Some believed that the answer would be found with the official state files, which were also recovered by Starrs’ investigation. However, the Louisiana State Police reviewed the files and concluded there is nothing in them that changes the original ruling. Capt. Ronald B. Jones spoke for the Louisiana State Police:
“It’s my opinion that Dr. Weiss was the assassin in this case. We believe from a law enforcement standpoint that he had motive. We believe he had opportunity. And we believe he had the means to do the job. And we know that he was there.”
Dr. Carl Weiss Jr. is hoping new evidence will clear his father’s name:
“The amount of time that may have elapsed since an occurrence really doesn’t change one’s desire to see the truth brought out. And I care probably more today than I did when I was a youngster about the truth concerning my father. If I were asked whether my father shot Huey Long, today I would say categorically no, he didn’t.”
Col. Francis Grevemberg, head of Louisiana State Police during the early 50’s, was among those who believed that Long’s bodyguards killed him accidentally, and Grevemberg was in a position to know. He claimed that two state troopers who were eyewitnesses to the shooting told him that Dr. Carl Weiss was unarmed when Long was shot. The state troopers confirmed that after the bodyguards shot Long, they planted a gun on Weiss. Despite this information, the official position of the Louisiana State Police is still that Dr. Carl Weiss killed Huey Long.
There is one final piece of evidence that suggests Huey Long’s death might have been accidental. Records uncovered decades later reveal that a $40,000 life insurance payment was awarded to Long’s family. At the time, insurance company investigators concluded that Huey Long’s death was “accidental.”