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March 16, 2022

Thomas Healy's Colt and Prohibition Police Work

By Kurt Allemeier

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A critic of worsening crime in 1925 New Orleans decried that, “no city in America has worse protection from the criminal classes. Something must be done.”

The residents of New Orleans were laissez faire toward prohibition, gambling, prostitution, and drugs.

Into this stepped Thomas Healy, promoted from chief of detectives to superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department. He served in the position from 1925 to the end of 1928 when he retired. An engraved Colt Government Model semi-automatic pistol with a blued finish and carved grips presented to him early in his tenure as superintendent is on offer in Rock Island Auction Company’s Premier Auction, May 13-15.

A good view of the Colt Government Model pistol presented to New Orleans Police Superintendent Thomas Healy, who served in the position from 1925 to 1928. The gun is on offer in Rock Island Auction Company's Premier Auction, May 13-15.

New Orleans Police

Under Healy, the New Orleans Police Department bought high-powered cars and speedy armored motorcycles to pursue getaway cars “as part of the 100 miles per hour police force.”

The vehicles would be used in “striking relentless blows” against a wave of petty hold-ups and burglaries in the outlying precincts, Healy announced.

The department purchased Tommy guns to match the criminal firepower of bank robbers.

He closed down 1,000 gambling halls at the behest of anti-gambling interests despite knowing that under the law they would be reopened, remarking, “What do they want me to do? Do they want me to shoot all gamblers as fast as we arrest them? All we can do is make arrests. … We raid them again and they open up again. Their charter protects them. This raiding keeps on forever with no definite results.”

In 1928, two of Al Capone’s brothers were arrested in New Orleans upon Healy’s order. Released because of lack of evidence, Healy ordered them out of town or risk further arrest.

New Orleans Police Superintendent Thomas Healy's Colt Government Model pistol with the engraving and the grips with his initials and carved eagle. He served in the position from 1925 to 1928.

New Orleans Trunk Murder

In the midst of this Roaring 20s sense of self-indulgence was the rollicking French Quarter. Its vibrancy drew writers and artists. Its low rents drew working class people as more wealthy residents departed away from the sugar refineries and warehouses.

A cleaning lady stepped into the second floor apartment on Ursulines Avenue, a few blocks from the Mississippi Riverfront and Jackson Square. On an October morning of 1927, she discovered blood. She cried out for help. Two men responded and the police were called.

Officers entered the apartment and found more than just drops of blood. They found a grisly crime scene. A gore-covered bathroom, and fingers. Blood-spattered women’s clothes. A bloody cane knife. And in a pair of trunks, the bodies of two women, decapitated and dismembered. They were Theresa and Leonide Moity, and they had been bludgeoned to death before being expertly cut apart and stuffed in the trunks.

Leonide and Theresa were sisters-in-law. Leonide was separated from her husband, Joseph Moity, and Theresa announced to her husband, Henry Moity, the previous day that the two women were moving out. Healy, the police superintendent, knew the brothers must be found.

Joseph, who had taken their children to live with his parents in New Iberia, La., turned himself in the night the bodies were discovered. He insisted his brother Henry was the killer. Healy learned that Joseph left after catching Leonide with another man. The couple fought over money, accusations of infidelity, and heavy drinking.

A view of the engraving on the barrel, slide, and rear grip strap of the Colt Government Model pistol owned by New Orleans Police Superintendent Thomas Healy. He served in the position from 1925 to 1928.

Henry Moity was in the wind. He served in the U.S. Navy but received a dishonorable discharge. Healy radioed the seven ships set to depart New Orleans with a description of Henry including his bushy dark hair, dark brown eyes, and tattoos on his arm of a flower with a lady’s face and a nude woman.

Two days later, crewmen on the freighter Gem, reported Henry to the Lafourche Parish Sheriff.  Henry had given a fake name but was recognized by his tattoos described in newspaper accounts.

Henry first denied the killings saying it was the work of a redheaded Norwegian and that he was forced to assist. He eventually caved, giving a full confession, believing Theresa was having an affair with their landlord and that he resented his sister-in-law for being a negative influence on his wife.

The parish coroner noted the murderer’s skill with a knife.

“The killer who decapitated Mrs. Henry Moity . . . knew enough not to try to cut through the bone, but to cut through the joint.”

Henry had worked as a butcher’s assistant in New Iberia before moving to New Orleans. He was found guilty and given two concurrent life sentences.

The engraving on the underside, including trigger guard and front grip strap, of the Colt Government Model pistol owned by New Orleans Police Superintendent Thomas Healy who served in the position from 1925 to 1928.

New Orleans Police Scandal

Before ascending to the superintendent position, Healy, as head of detectives, found himself in a scandal involving his predecessor, Guy Molony.

Superintendent Molony, who had a history as a soldier of fortune, was caught up in a false arrest investigation for which the facts remain murky nearly 100 years later. During the investigation, Healy was accused of withholding information in the investigation but was cleared.

Conveniently, the scandal went away after the suicide of a police commander of officers involved in the incident was viewed as an admission of guilt in the whole affair.

After the dust cleared, Molony subsequently returned to Honduras where he had previously served as a mercenary. This cleared the way for Healy, who was unscathed by the accusations he faced in the scandal, to be made superintendent of police in the spring of 1925.

New Orleans Police Superintendent Thomas Healy's Colt Government Model pistol on offer in Rock Island Auction Company's May 13-15 Premier Auction. Healy served in the position from 1925 to 1928.

Colt Pistol

Thomas Healy received this beautifully engraved Colt Government Model pistol shortly after he was elevated to head of the New Orleans Police Department in 1925. During his time leading the N.O.P.D., Healy ran off Al Capone's brothers, helped solve a grisly murder, shut down gambling salons, and increased the department's crime-fighting capabilities.

This early 1911A1 model has floral scrolling engraved in flourishes over 25 percent of  its exquisitely blued surface and has the owner's initials engraved on the grips along  with an eagle clutching arrows and an olive branch. This magnificent example of  a Colt Government Model of the M1911A1 will be offered at Rock Island Auction Company’s May 13-15 Premier Auction.


The Trunk Murders and Sausage Ghost of the 1920s, Atlas Obscura

Amid Roaring Twenties New Orleans, a brutal French Quarter murder shocked the city, by Dylan Jordan The Historic New Orleans Collection

History of the New Orleans Police Department

The New York Times archives

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