12/2/12

THE LOUIS CASAWAY FAMILY: AX MURDERS OF 1911

In late March 1911 a most foul deed was done in San Antonio, Texas.   It would enter the story of  a horrific time in American history, a time when a murderer, or murderers, traveled the land targeting families and individuals for death by ax.

The Louis Casaway family was particularly tragic given the personal struggles of the family slaughtered.  

Louis Casaway was the local school janitor and an industrious individual well known as a man of honor and dignity. He had been involved in local politics.  His wife Elizabeth  had survived a disastrous first marriage and had started a new life with Louis.  At the time of their deaths there were born three children: Josephine S., Ruby B., and an infant.

What made this union unique in its time was the fact that, despite Texas laws forbidding such a union, Louis was a Black man and his wife a White woman.  Elizabeth Castalow had been married to a man named Layne some 20 years earlier. They divorced and she married Casaway. 

The are probably listed on the  1910 census of Bexar County, Texas in San Antonio's 6th Ward.  There, an Alfred L. Casaway (listed as a white male, 30 years old born in Louisiana) is listed. A wife name Elizabeth, white female, born Texas, aged around 36.  Her parents had both been born in Georgia.  They had gone to Mexico to be married (since it was against the law in Texas and most of the South) and been married twenty years.  Two children were listed: Josephine S. 7 years old, white, born Texas; Ruby B. 2 years old born Texas.

On the 1900 Census they are listed in San Antonio, Bexar Co., TX (election precinct 9).   He is "A.L. Cassaway" and she is "Lizzie".  They are listed as living at 109 Nesbit and are identified as Black.  He is shown as age 40 (1860) she is 35 (1865) and both say they were born in Texas.

One of the theories of their awful death was they were victims of the strange death cult accused of killing other families in Louisiana and Texas. All were families of mixed racial profiles, what was called "Mulatto".  Law officers did quickly surmise the killer, or killers, used the rail lines to enter a community and leave undetected. 

Did the unfortunate Casaway family become targets because they had gone against segregated social structures?  Was a bizarre cult really killing mixed race families in some strange attempt to purify the community? Was a mass killer traveling the rails of the south, hopping off to slaughter before slinking back into the darkness of the long bloody night?  

Most authorities did look at the concept of a white killer but soon ruled that out due to the location of many of the crimes.   A white man would have been seen noted, and remembered.

The truth may never be known.  What is known is that a family was slaughtered, "in a crime, absolutely inhuman in its conception and atrocious in its execution" in the dark of an early spring night. (Chicago Defender, April 8, 1911).  We remember Louis, Elizabeth and their three innocent children - may they rest in peace.

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