Not in the Gulf of Mexico, but rather in the pages of their very own newspaper.
More than 25 years after he began to ask questions about how his ancestors owned a sizeable chunk of the Louisiana Purchase one minute, and were virtually indigent the next, Lloyd Patrick Larrieu was finally launching his public legal assault on what he claims is history gone badly awry.
The first volley in what could be climactic end to a tale — murky even by Louisiana political and legal standards — was signaled by a legal notice placed by Larrieu in the Times Picayune on April 11.
The notice was repeated in the paper on April 13 and 15.
It stated that a judgment of possession had been rendered and signed in Civil District Court in the parish of Orleans, state of Louisiana on March 17, 2004.
The notice then gave the probate number before continuing that the probate had been registered and recorded in the conveyance office, Parish of Jefferson, State of Louisiana on March 22, 2006.
It pointed to a parcel of land — just over 1,492 acres “of an undivided interest in Kenner, La.”
The legal notice continued: “Notice is hereby given to all persons, residences, public entities, corporations, et al to cease and desist trespass on said Real Property or a writ of eviction shall be installed to satisfy judgment.”
By coincidence, the New York Times reported on the history of the Kenner area in a March 18 front-page report.
“Long before this suburb west of New Orleans was shaken by Hurricane Katrina,” the Times stated, “it was notorious for its fierce political infighting, for name calling and mudslinging, for charges and countercharges of cronyism and corruption.”
Lloyd Patrick Larrieu doesn’t need convincing.
If this legal notice is successfully pursued, Larrieu believes he stands to lay lawful claim to a fortune many times larger than the $15 million that the U.S. paid Napoleon back in 1803 for a slice of real estate that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border.
Larrieu tells a dark tale of the bayou that stretches back into the middle of the 19th century and the arrival in New Orleans of his great-grandmother Mary Clarke.
Clarke was from Galway, and like so many single Irish women of her time she took her chances with the stormy Atlantic and the new continent by striking out alone at some point in the 1860s. Her gamble paid off when she met and married a man named August Larrieu.
Mary and August had four children and the family made itself financially comfortable by means of a thriving dairy business spread over large area of fertile delta soil.
That soil is now covered by the asphalt and concrete of the vastly expanded, albeit wounded, city of New Orleans.
According to Lloyd Patrick, or Patrick as he generally goes by, part of the old family estate also covers City Park, a 1,500-acre botanical oasis in the heart of the city’s downtown area.
Mary’s idyllic life was shattered in 1890 when her husband died. Certain matters surrounding August’s death remain a matter of some controversy as far as Patrick is concerned. One is a document purporting to be August’s will.
Larrieu is certain that the document was a forgery, part of a plan by what he calls “nefarious cabal” of New Orleans hustlers to relieve a now rich Irish widow of her considerable inheritance.
As Larrieu tells it, the forces arrayed against Mary Larrieu and her family were overwhelming. The young woman who had set out from Ireland with hope in her heart, who had married well and prospered, was to die penniless in 1938.
The saga didn’t end with Mary Larrieu’s death, however. According to Lloyd Patrick Larrieu, her children’s claims on the family estate were also dissected and destroyed in the following years.
For example, a judgment of possession, which followed the death of her daughter Marie under mysterious circumstances in June 20, 1956 was, he said, deliberately held back from the family.
Larrieu managed to get his hands of the document some years ago when his quest was in its early stage. The murky circumstances surrounding Great-aunt Marie’s death, Larrieu said, center on incomplete burial records and two different descriptions of her in hospital records.
Oddly enough, indeed very oddly, Mary’s son and Larrieu’s grandfather, also August Larrieu, passed away on that very same date.
Grandpa Larrieu suffered serious injuries after apparently falling down the steps in front of St. Jude’s Catholic Church in New Orleans. His grandson reckons he was pushed.
More than that, he believes that when his grandfather declined to die quickly enough from his injuries, he was slipped a little helper as he lay on his hospital bed.
In the early days of what looks like a most quixotic pursuit, Larrieu battled his way through the morass of Louisiana’s archives and property law without the aid of an attorney. He became a self-taught expert and began filing his own claims in the state’s court system.
Now, he said, it’s time to act.
“I’ll be trying to soothe the fears of people on these properties. They are not going to be kicked off their land,” Larrieu told the Echo.
“But this is the largest land fraud in the United States. You can’t give bad title and expect to walk away with clean hands. We want what belongs to us. We want it returned. It’s time to collect my family’s estate,” he said.