Bridegroom murdered after visiting betrothed
Local Historians Dr. Sam Hyde and Clark Forrest, Jr. prompted this week’s investigation into a 1925 murder of a Springfield farm supervisor killed on the road between Springfield and Ponchatoula.
The victim, 28-year-old Henry Dalton Forrest—an ancestor of Clark’s—died violently on the eve of his wedding less than three hours after visiting his betrothed. The list of suspects includes former suitors of the bride-to-be, random bandits, and relatives of both the future bride and bridegroom, but oddly enough, the man arrested seemed to have no motive whatsoever.
In an Amite courtroom on a Saturday morning, June 25, 1927, Judge Columbus Reid sentenced Roy McCrory to life in prison for killing Forrest. McCrory’s wife fainted when the bailiff read the verdict, leaving Judge Reid to manage the McCrory’s crying children—all 12 of them.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
If we have learned anything from our little true crime adventures. It is the inescapable fact that all great murder mysteries begin at the scene of the crime.
Marion Forrest discovered his brother’s body “in a thicket” a half mile from his home at 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning, July 11, 1925—the day Henry Forrest planned to be married. The dead man’s .32 caliber pistol lay near his hand, and a bullet appeared to have gone through his skull at close range.
Sheriff Lem Bowden told reporters the next day that Forrest’s gun had been loaded will steel-jacketed bullets, whereas the shot that killed him appeared to be lead only. He said he had sent the gun to the Bertillion Fingerprint Lab in New Orleans for further study. Bowden said he felt police could rule out suicide as the cause of death and that his deputies were pursuing other leads.
The night before his death, Forrest had walked to visit his fiancée at her father’s home on the Ponchatoula-Springfield Highway. Miss Lillian Fontenot said he left her near midnight and was in good spirits. She said that her father suspected a former suitor of killing Forrest, but insisted that she had not seen or spoken to that man in over a year. She also said that the New Orleans man had not entered Tangipahoa or Livingston Parish in over a year.
A neighbor told police that Fontenot’s former suitor told him two years prior “if he couldn’t marry her, no one else would.”
Lillian Fontenot remained in bed all weekend and did not attend her fiancée’s funeral, Saturday afternoon.
Witnesses saw Henry Forrest the Friday night before his death before and after his visit with Fontenot. One saw him walking down the Ponchatoula-Springfield Highway after midnight.
Earlier that evening, over a dozen saw him buy a handkerchief at a country store near her home. At the store, he discussed wedding plans and displayed a leather wallet and a large stack of bills—estimated by various witnesses as between $100 and $500—which he described as his honeymoon nest egg.
One witness said he left the store with four men, but police thought that unlikely since he saw Fontenot soon afterwards.
When police examined the body, they found a single dollar bill and seven pennies. Forrest’s wallet could not be located.
At the crowded funeral, the deceased man’s father, C. H. Forrest offered a $1000 reward for information, which C. E. Forrest, a relative from Beaumont, Texas, subsequently doubled. By funeral’s end, the premium totaled $5,500. The Tangipahoa Parish Police Jury donated the last $500.
In the weeks that followed, Sheriff Bowden interviewed several men, including Luther Mixon, Fontenot’s former suitor in New Orleans, and each of the men Forrest supervised at the Chief Thomas Stock Farm in Springfield, but no one seemed to know who killed Henry Forrest.
A Springfield woman did step forward, saying she saw Forrest inside the cab of a car traveling east on the Ponchatoula-Springfield Highway. She said there were two other men and a young girl in the car and that Forrest was in the back seat. She said she saw them around 1:00 AM and recognized Forrest when one of the men lit a cigarette in the vehicle.
At a press conference one week later, Sheriff Bowden said the fingerprint lab’s report came back inconclusive and would be of no help. He noted that Coroner Ricks had ruled out suicide and that after interviewing Mixon, he had ruled out the jealous suitor theory.
“We don’t have a clue,” he said. “This case is the most baffling I’ve entertained since taking office. We’re simply dumbfounded.”
Clueless, Sheriff Bowden let the case grow cold, but the Forrest family maintained the reward, and in 1927, a private detective employed by C. H. Forrest announced that he knew who killed Henry Forrest and insisted that police arrest Roy McCrory of Ponchatoula.
This story gets even more mysterious next week.