- Elliott Stonecipher
- The body of Jim Leslie returning to Shreveport after his murder in Baton Rouge (courtesy LSU-S archives)
July 24, 2016
The response to my recently reposted article about Jim Leslie’s death has been very positive. That so many readers would remember so well, much less share their personal reactions to his heart-rending story, was a fine surprise. (Article here.)
The now-available public record on the subject is expansive, powerfully detailing how the stage for Jim’s death was set by a far stronger hold on Shreveport by organized crime than most honest citizens ever suspected. Remnants of this fear still exist, in part explaining the absence of any appetite to charge and prosecute his killer.
This research is now studying innumerable documents from and by dozens of reporters, investigators, prosecutors, witnesses and participants. Competing law enforcement and prosecutorial interests were pronounced.
Into the 1980s, local, state and federal officials worked on Jim’s and related cases. Given that his killing was in Baton Rouge, those authorities took point. Sadly, some elected officials in positions of authority there dramatically damaged the investigation, perhaps deliberately.
Some current local officials well know this story. As examples, Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator joined the Shreveport Police Department three years before Jim was killed, and current United States District Court Judge Don Walter was then U. S. Attorney for our Western District of Louisiana.
In the spring of 1976, Shreveport top cops, Chief T. P. Kelley and Captain Sam Burns, asked the bosses at the Shreveport Times (then privately owned) to aggressively act against the widening corruption of Shreveport Commissioner of Public Safety George D’Artois. One of five city Commissioners in the previous form of government, many believed D’Artois ran both Mayor Calhoun Allen and the city.
The Times immediately went to work. A four-reporter “enterprise team” took the lead in documenting D’Artois’ theft of public funds, a feature which broke, front-page, on Sunday, April 25, 1976. To the city’s honest citizens, the content of the expose was almost other-worldly.
The city’s all-powerful, unelected chieftains had waited far too long to finally kick this dangerous hornet’s nest. D’Artois and his allies, both the criminals and the many others, pushed back … hard.
Our very own netherworld of crime was exposed. It featured, among other things, widespread illegal gambling of every sort, murder for hire, and interstate prostitution / heavy equipment theft / drug-dealing. Given that our most potent city official was neck-deep in much of it, systemic public corruption could no longer be denied.
The criminals at issue mainly belonged to both the purposely disorganized Dixie Mafia, and the part of the “real” Mafia under the direction of Carlos Marcello. His Louisiana and Texas, particularly Dallas, associations were front-and-center.
An incomparable frenzy of local and state news coverage yielded some outstanding journalism about what had happened to us. Only three weeks after the Times’ opening barrage, Caddo Parish District Attorney John Richardson handed his concurrent criminal investigation over to Louisiana Attorney General William Guste.
The requisite Caddo Parish grand jury first met on June 6th. It quickly saw extensive evidence against D’Artois, but none was stronger than an uncashed City of Shreveport check for $3,500 he wrote to Jim Leslie for services provided to his 1974 re-election campaign.
Leslie twice rejected specific D’Artois arm-twisting to deposit the check, and he well understood the risk when he testified before the grand jury. Immediately, D’Artois went to work looking for someone to kill him. Included among the many he asked were Shreveport police officers, a city department head, and at least one “professional” killer well known to law enforcement.
Only one month and three days into the grand jury’s work, Jim Leslie was dead. The hit team included four or five men on the ground at the Prince Murat hotel, with another one or two nearby. Various investigative documents identify three men who may have pulled the trigger.
Documents detail how D’Artois personally directed the hit, as well as how and why the $30,000 split among the killers did not come directly from him.
Three months and one week after Leslie’s death, Shreveporter Russell Crim Griffith, Jr., called “Rusty” – one of those at times tagged as the Leslie murder trigger man – was himself killed in the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area in Concordia Parish, Louisiana.
On either the night of October 15th or the early morning of October 16th, Griffith, like Leslie, was killed by double-ought buckshot from a 12-gauge shotgun. As he stood beside a car of killers, peering into the backseat as its window rolled down, he took two such blasts, the first to his face and head from only three feet away, and the second from about eight feet.
The FBI led the investigation of the Rusty Griffith murder, but not Jim Leslie’s. Just less than five months after Jim’s death, a standard FBI memo from the New Orleans center to the FBI Director noted the ongoing Baton Rouge Police Department investigation, then made it official: “… this investigation is being closed.” We now know many factors most likely to have driven this decision. In the absence of the FBI, the door flew open to unmitigated local and state political tampering.
George D’Artois died June 11, 1977, from complications of heart surgery in Houston, Texas.
Jim Leslie and Rusty Griffith were killed by some combinations of ten men who knew, or knew a lot about, one another. Three grand juries and one racketeering trial over the next seven years managed to net prison sentences for only three of the men. Two – D’Artois and Griffith – had died.
Nobody was ever convicted of killing anybody.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” noted William E. Gladstone, the four-time Prime Minister of England who honorably dedicated his life to public service. He also famously said, “Selfishness is the greatest curse of the human race.”
Jim Leslie’s selflessness cost him his life, and he is victimized anew by ignorance of his sacrifice.
(I sincerely thank the dozens of journalists whose work is the foundation of this public record. To those who have over the years personally shared their knowledge and memories of Jim Leslie, know that I honor your sharing with true diligence. I thank Bill Keith for his book, “The Commissioner,” and specially thank those whose dedicated work with Archives and Special Collections at Noel Memorial Library provides such an important and unique resource to our community.)
© 2016 ELLIOTT STONECIPHER ALL RIGHTS RESERVED