Murder and Mad Dogs in the Swamp

Posted on March 30, 2011

(All names have either been changed or omitted to protect….whoever)

I keenly remember something that happened when I was a child because it sort of rocked my safe and secure world. I think it’s the first time I can remember hearing anyone talk of murder. I knew what it was from reading, or hearing things on national news. I just hadn’t entertained the idea in the sheltered world I lived in that such things might happen right in these parts.

I wasn’t yet old enough to drive…that wouldn’t come for many years. I was old enough that I was allowed to ride my bicycle all around town – well, at least in what were surmised to be ‘decent’ areas, avoiding the juke joints, etc. that seemed to be in ‘groupings’ in our town.

In any event, it was a double murder, and there was a suspect who the authorities were pretty well sure was guilty. A fella named Thophile Robichaud who was living with his mother and father, up and shot them both dead one day. Of course, he was the prime suspect of the authorities because he was nowhere to be found and had not returned home.

Now Thophile and his family lived in an area near the basin. If I recollect correctly, they earned their living fishing, hunting and trapping there and so he knew the swamp better than most folks around. On the first day of the discovery of his parent’s bodies, the story of course made news in the local newspaper. It was also broadcast on the local radio station.

There was a ‘manhunt’ going on within hours of the discovery, with volunteers, the local police department and sheriff’s office participating. Since this had happened out of any township, the sheriff’s office was in charge of the manhunt. In those days, the police department didn’t have dogs – volunteers brought their hunting dogs. There were no mobile command centers in nice buses. They stood outside and used the police radios in their cars with which to communicate. They had set up something of a ‘canteen’ which was serving hot coffee and the proverbial donuts to those participating in the hunt. At lunch, they were providing tuna fish sandwiches for those who had been combing the area.

As days wore on, people were getting skittish. Anything that went ‘bump’ in the night was said to be “Mad Dog” Robichaud making his way through the fields or town, looking for shelter…..or new victims. The newspapers and the radio were providing interviews with local law enforcement, who considered the suspect, Thophile, to be armed and extremely dangerous. This translated into him being a ‘mad dog killer’ in the eyes of many. Mothers were keeping their children inside unless they were outside to keep an eye on them. People were locking their doors – even when they were at home. (Believe it or not….unless it was night, most left them unlocked usually) I couldn’t ride my bike anywhere…and inside was getting mighty boring.

As the hunt wore on without success, the reports of citing Theophile grew. Stories of a dead animal being found, or someone who heard a noise in the night all were attributed to Theophile. Deputies were getting tired of combing the basin looking for what seemed to be a shadow. They were hungry, they were sometimes wet and probably they were afraid of this man, who had killed two people and was reported to be proficient in the use of not only firearms, but knives as well. They knew that he knew his way around bettern’ they did….and they were on tenterhooks with the realization that he could be hunting them as surely as they were him if he’d a mind to do so.

After a while, some of the deputies in the cold, foggy mornings would use the bullhorn, hoping beyond hope to lure Thophile out of the marsh and into captivity. They were praying that he had grown as tired, wet, hungry as they and that perhaps he had resigned himself to his fate. So, they got the idea to use the bullhorns to call out to him. After a fresh pot of coffee was made, when the smell of it and the freshly delivered, hot donuts wafted through the damp air, they would coo into the bullhorn with their most enticing and decidedly accented Cajun voices, ” Hey, Theophile. Hey, Theophile. Ain’t ya tired yet? Ain’t ya hungry? C’mon out, cher….we got fresh hot coffee and some nice hot donuts!” C’mon out and have some wid us!” Of course, there was no reply other than the hounds barking at the sound of the bullhorn creeping through the trees. Again, in the early afternoon, they’d try with, “Hey, Theophile. Hey, Theophile, man. Ain’t ya getting hungry yet? We done made some mo hot coffee and dey just brought us some nice tuna fish sammiches from town. C’mon out, m’boy…we gonna share wid you!” Still…no Theophile.

Eventually, the volunteers grew tired and went home. The cooperating police departments returned to their own towns and doing their own jobs, and the manhunt just kinda fizzled. Oh, they were still looking for him to be sure, but I believe that people were beginning to think that either Theophile had high-tailed it out of the area, or he was deep in the swamp, living off the land and no one was ever going to find him.

Then, the unthinkable happened. Thophile Robicaud, the object of the defunct manhunt and prime suspect in the double murder . . . walked right into the court house and smack dab into the sheriff’s office, looking not half as haggard, nor unkempt as most of those who had pursued him. It’s said that when he told the deputy on duty who he was and that he was turning himself in to be arrested for these murders, the deputy promptly dropped his cup of coffee and might near soiled his pants in fear of being so close to a genuine mad-dog killer.

Theophile was questioned….by the Sheriff himself, who was mighty curious as to how he had eluded the manhunt he’d arranged to capture him. Imagine his surprise when Theophile answered, calmly and truthfully. He said, “Sheriff, I had you in de sights of my gun. I coulda killed you if’n I’d a wanted to. (The Sheriff quickly wiped his mouth with his handkerchief and grew pale) Trouble is wid you boys, ya’ll just kept plodding thru the water, the grass, the trees…..looking straight ahead, sideways, even sometimes backward. But not once, not one damn time, did any of ya look up. I was sitting dere on a branch, holding my gun and watchin’ de whole ting. Tell ya’ll da truth…I kinda got a kick outta dat.” Now, of course, this part of the interview did not make the news. They weren’t lettin’ on that they’d been outsmarted by some….swamp person who did a double murder. That….well . . . it just would not be good public relations. People might lose confidence, criminals might grow emboldened. How do ya explain that at election time? Nope, that just wouldn’t do. He’d tell people about Theophile saying, “Man, he coulda kilt me. I tell ya, dat boy told me he had me in de sights of his gun . . . and he coulda kilt me! Imagine dat!” He’d shake his head, and wipe his mouth with his handkerchief, like old men ten to do when telling ‘war stories’.

Theophile, of course stood trial and served I think less than five years for the murders. Before everyone goes getting all upset and sayin’ how that was an injustice…hold on and let me finish this story. Of course, you must realize that at the time, I only knew part of the story….such things were not, just not for young ears to hear. It wasn’t until much, much later that I learned the whole story.

Turns out that Theophile, since he was a little fella, had been getting horribly abused by his Papa. He beat him and whipped him….but he also was sexually abusing him regularly. Theophile had pleaded to his Mama to intervene….to make his Papa stop doing these unspeakable things to him . . . but he had never told any teachers, nor priests, nor surely any law enforcement people…because back then, this was considered a ‘family’ problem. It seems his Mama…perhaps because she was dependent upon her husband for a livelihood, perhaps outta misquided love of him, perhaps because that’s just what she herself was used to..(who knows?) had not only done nothing, but told Theophile she didn’t believe him and he should be quiet. And so he was . . . quiet . . . until that day came when his Papa again reached for him to do those things and this time, instead of giving in, he snapped and did what he did.

They way I see it, there are a few important things to learn from this. Even ‘mad dog killers’ may not be what they seem. People who abuse children horribly are often right next door…or even under your roof. Believe children when they speak up. Never forget, no matter how intent you may be on whatever it is yer doing….instead of just looking forward, sideways and/or backwards….ya better try looking up. And finally….when someone tries to tell you that they’ve had enough, it’s wise to listen.

Last edited by katie on March 30, 2011, 1:01 pm

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One response to “Murder and Mad Dogs in the Swamp”

  1. I’ve often read that abused children frequently grow up to be abusers themselves.
    With your professional background, Katie, I’m thinking you would know much more about that.

    I found myself in a reverie, thinking back to my own childhood, and the "coming out" experiences that change us from wondering children into….??

    Good story, as always.

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