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The Robert Charles Riots
Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: To avoid arrest
Number of victims: 7
Date of murders: July 23-27, 1900
Date of birth: 1865
Victims profile: White people (four of the victims were policemen)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Status: Killed during a shoot-out with the police on July 27, 1900

The Robert Charles Riots of 1900 were sparked after African American laborer Robert Charles shot a white police officer, which led to a manhunt. Twenty-eight people were killed in the conflict, including Charles. Many more people were killed and wounded in the riots. The manhunt for Charles began after an altercation involving Charles, his roommate, and several New Orleans police officers on Monday, July 23, 1900, and ended when Charles was killed on Friday, July 27.

Civil Unrest

Louisiana was a racially diverse state at the turn of the century. Its population was listed at 730,000 'white' and 650,000 'negro' by the Twelfth Census of the United States. Louisiana law attempted to keep these two populations separate at the end of the 19th century. Plessy vs. Ferguson was originally a Louisiana case before going to the Supreme Court, and the state of Louisiana had passed eight Jim Crow laws by 1900.

The effect of segregation laws was clear in the city of New Orleans at the beginning of the 20th century: "Signs of increasing animosity between the races were to be seen almost daily in New Orleans during June and July 1900. Both the police and press received an unprecedented number of complaints."

Racial tensions were increased by the racist undertones of New Orleans newspapers, which were "becoming more stridently racist in their editorial columns and treatment of the news." The confrontational journalistic practices of Henry J. Hearsay and the States newspaper caused racial rifts in New Orleans. Hearsay, a former Major in the Confederate Army, stated in one article that "if [negroes] listen to the screeds of agitators in the North...the result will be a race war, and race war means extermination...Then the negro problem of Louisiana at least will be solved–and that by extermination."

Original Altercation and Pursuit

At approximately 11 p.m. on July 23, 1900, three white police officers, Sergeant Jules C. Aucion, August T. Mora, and Joseph D. Cantrelle, investigated “two suspicious looking negroes” sitting on a porch on the 2800 block of Dryades Street in a predominantly white neighborhood.

They arrived to find Charles and his roommate, 19-year-old Leonard Pierce, at the scene. The policemen questioned the two men, demanding to know what they "were doing and how long they had been there." One of the two men replied that they were "waiting for a friend." Charles then stood up, which the police believed to be an aggressive move. Mora grabbed him and the two struggled. Mora hit Charles with his billet. Mora and Charles pulled guns and exchanged shots. Reports vary on who drew first; both men received non-lethal gunshot wounds. Charles fled the scene, leaving a trail of blood. Pierce, also armed, was left at the gunpoint of a police officer when Charles ran.

Charles returned to his residence early the next morning while the police attempted to track him down. Discovering where the man lived by interrogating Pierce, Captain Day and a patrol wagon approached Charles's residence on the 2000 block of Fourth Street at approximately 3 a.m. on the morning of July 24, 1900. When the police attempted to apprehend Charles, he fired upon them, hitting Day with a rifle shot to the heart. Charles shouted, "I will give you all some," and shot another policeman in the head. The remaining policemen took refuge in a nearby room while Charles escaped.

Manhunt and Riot

July 24 was the first day that showed signs of rioting. A crowd of whites gathered on Fourth Street where the policemen were killed. There were shouts for lynching Charles, but the crowds dispersed when they were falsely told Charles had been located and jailed.

On the 25th, Acting Mayor Mehle (Mayor Paul Capdevielle was out of town) announced a $250 reward for the arrest of Charles while issuing a proclamation urging peace. New Orleans papers, particularly the Times-Democrat, helped exacerbate the situation, blaming the black community for Charles's crimes and calling for action.

In the following days, several riots occurred as mobs of armed whites roamed the streets. The night of the 25th caused the deaths of three blacks and the hospitalization of six more, plus five whites, and the injury of more than 50 people.

Charles had taken refuge at 1208 Saratoga Street, where he remained safe from the police until Friday, July 27. The house was quickly surrounded by police after they were informed of Charles's location. Throughout the day, men from outside the house fired upon Charles, who sporadically returned the fire. By the end of the day, Charles had shot a total of 27 white people in the course of the week, seven lethally; four of the victims were policemen.

At this point, the police decided to burn down the building in which Charles was holed up. When attempting to escape the smoke-filled building, Charles was shot by Charles A. Noiret, a medical student and member of the special police (a police group of volunteer citizens). The policemen present continued to shoot Charles, then dragged him outside where a mob of bystanders beat Charles's body.


Mobs in New Orleans still rampaged after the killing. Police had difficulty getting the body to the morgue due to angry white mobs attempting to damage the corpse. Several innocent African-American people were killed and the Thomy Lafon schoolhouse, "the best Negro schoolhouse in Louisiana," was burned down. The informant who told police the whereabouts of Charles, Fred Clark, was shot and killed several days later by an admirer of Charles, Lewis Forstall.

The events in New Orleans also had an effect outside of the state. A young white Bostonian, Lillian Jewett, started the Anti-Lynching League in reaction to Charles's death. Some members of the group wanted retribution for the killing and called for revenge. In turn, a group of white New Orleanians formed the Green Turtles, who threatened Jewett's life.



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