If you were a person of color growing up in the city of New Orleans in the 1940s, you lived in a place where segregation and a dual system of justice prevailed. The local court system did not view black on black crime in the same light as those committed upon whites. There was a very slim chance that a Negro would ever be found mentally incompetent if he killed another member of his race since a plea of insanity in crimes of violence appeared to be reserved for whites only. As a result, Negro citizens were continually menaced by the mentally unbalanced within their racial group because adequate facilities for treatment were not provided.
An even more important factor has to do with the “cheapness” with which black lives were valued by the judicial authorities of the city. A perfect example would be that of a man who terrorized and murdered women on the streets of the city but was never brought to justice because the lives of his victims were not thought to be as valuable as those of its white citizens.
Arnold Jackson freely roamed the streets of this city from 1946-1951, viciously killing several pretty young women and children and creating fear throughout the black community. The details described below are quite graphic but are written in the language of the newspapers at that time.
In 1946, Mayor deLesseps “Chep” Morrison was sworn in as Mayor of New Orleans. He swore to rid the city of the crime and corruption of past administrations. Morrison promised, along with his district attorney, to rid the city of the tradition of a light sentence for a Negro who kills another Negro by asking for the death penalty. With the shadow of the electric chair in the background, Arnold Jackson went on trial for his life. His case aroused widespread attention since Jackson was the first Negro indicted for murder under the new administration. The question was:
“Would an all-white jury find a black man guilty of killing another black person?” The answer lies below…
Before the killings began, Arnold Jackson had a police record which involved over 25 arrests. From 1918 to 1939, he was arrested time after time for reckless driving, disturbing the peace, speeding, embezzlement, stolen property, abuse, and even shooting and wounding two individuals in the Uptown area of the city.
Arnold Jackson was born in 1910 to Willie and Hattie Powers Jackson in New Orleans. In 1928, he married Dorothy Vance and together they had eight children. Mr. Jackson would eventually become the owner of his own used tire business at 705 Claiborne Avenue. By March of 1944, Dorothy, pregnant and only thirty-three years old, suffered a massive heart attack and died. Arnold was then left with eight children to rear.
June 21, 1946
The terror began two years later. On June 21, 1946, Arnold Jackson broke into the home of Mrs. Iona Washington, a popular 37 year old matron. As she opened the front door, he shot her in the heart and seriously wounded her 19 year old sister, Lillian. Two slugs were dug from the walls, the other five tore into the young ladies’ bodies. Two weeks prior, Arnold had been bothering the two sisters. He was convinced they had his fifteen year old daughter, Dorothy Jackson, hidden in their home on South Genois Street. She was said to be intimately involved with Mrs. Washington’s brother, Hillary.
Jackson disappeared and for three days he led police on a wild chase. Finally, he was apprehended and a sensational murder trial, keenly followed by the black community, was underway. His daughter, found unharmed, spoke in court on her father’s behalf, expressing her fondness for him. Her statements would soon come back to haunt her when a letter was produced, written by her to the deceased Mrs. Washington. In it she expressed hatred for her father due to the extreme cruelty he had caused. She accused him of even chaining her to the bed saying that he was going to burn the house down with all his children in it.
In a strange twist of events, just before the verdict was read, Jackson’s 15 year old daughter swallowed a large quantity of iodine in the court building that night and was rushed to Charity Hospital. Jackson was acquitted by an all-white jury even though there were eye witnesses to the crime and forensic evidence to back it up. He was never tried for the attempted murder of her sister, Lillian. This would mark the first of three sensational murder trials involving Arnold Jackson.
Adeline Vance Rome
On October 15, 1950, the 4th precinct police station in Algiers received a call to report to the Naval Wharf. A body, shrouded in a nurse’s uniform, was fished from the muddy waters of the Mississippi. Soon, it was identified by family members as that of pretty Adeline Vance Rome, mother of two young boys, who had disappeared from her home one week earlier while on her way to care for an invalid patient on Magazine Street.
Oddly enough, Mrs. Adeline Vance Rome (26) of 2118 North Derbigny was the sister to Arnold’s deceased wife. He was known to have been spending a great deal of time with her since her separation from her husband, Just before her disappearance, Adeline told her mother she feared Jackson and that a reconciliation with her husband was being considered. It was reported that Jackson had previously threatened Mrs. Rome and once assaulted her with his pistol several days prior to her disappearance. Three weeks before, Jackson was reported to have insured her with an undisclosed insurance firm and signed himself as her beneficiary.
Jackson was immediately arrested as a suspect, grilled and questioned, but he denied stoutly that he committed the crime. He was released and the murder mystery remained unsolved.
June 9, 1951
Just several months after being released on charges of murdering Adeline Rome, Arnold Jackson was living with Beatrice Ancalade in her home at 3507 Florida Avenue. For three weeks prior to June, 1951, Arnold had been estranged from Mrs. Ancalade and a reconciliation seemed impossible. During this three week span, he was arrested by police and charged with speeding, assault on an officer, and resisting arrest.
On the night of June 9th, Jackson went on his prowl. He smashed down the bedroom door of Mrs. Acalade, viciously attacked her with a meat cleaver and stabbed her repeatedly with an ice pick. He then struck her adult daughter, Mrs. Cecile Smith, with the same cleaver before she quickly fled from the house. Suddenly, he proceeded to his parked car and returned with a can of gasoline.
As Mrs. Smith’s three young children looked on in terror, Jackson poured the gasoline over them, their beds and their grandmother’s limp body. Next, he saturated the house but, in the process, got some of the gasoline on himself. He then proceeded to strike a match which ignited the gasoline. In an instant, the house, children, their grandmother, and he were all in flames.
During his maniacal act, he was accidentally burnt and his eyes were parched out. The children were rescued by two neighbors: Joseph Bernard and Herman Cade. Firemen rushed the critically injured children to Charity Hospital where they experienced severe burns to their bodies.
Attendants at the hospital said that Jackson upset the entire 400-bed ward area with the excruciating screams for relief from his pain. In his dying declaration, he admitted the murders to the police but denied killing Mrs. Rome, although he said he knew who did. Several days later, two of the three severely injured children died.
Ending a trail of violence, Arnold Jackson, known by many as the “mad-man killer” or “sex-crazed maniac” was laid to rest on Sunday, June 10, 1951. More than 1500 curiosity-seekers turned out for his funeral with the crowd overflowing into the streets. As the sun registered a blazing 93 degrees, the crowd stood for hours to eventually catch a final peep of the sadistic murderer. The black community could now breathe a sigh of relief. Justice had now been served, not at the hands of the judicial system but by those of the killer himself.
Sources: Police Arrest Records for New Orleans, New Orleans Public Library; Philadelphia Tribune, 16 June 1951 p.1 col.2; Times-Picayune, 24 October 1946 p.6 and 16 May 1951 p.13; The Louisiana Weekly, 29 June 1946 p. 1+8 and 26 October 1946 p.1+ 3 and 21 October 1950 p. 1+3 and 9 June 1951 p.1 and 16 June 1951 p. 1+8; Times-Picayune (Obituaries) 06 June 1951, 15 June 1951p. 3 col.5, 18 October 1950 p.2 col.8; Ancestry.com (Federal censuses: 1920-30-40)
Lolita V. Cherrie