Biggy arrived back in New Orleans about eleven Monday morning. He was driving his new red Ford truck. As instructed by Jake, he went straight to Miss Sophronia’s and parked behind the building. Miss Sophronia’s was closed on Monday’s. Biggy knocked on the back door and waited. He could hear hammering inside that stopped when he knocked. Jake opened the door. Jake was just finishing up framing in walls to make Biggy a bedroom. George the plumber had found a used shower stall and Jake had found used lumber and a used bed.
The bed, along with a small bedside table and lamp were outside in the storeroom.
Jake said, “We have you a place to sleep all fixed up, Big Un.” He showed Biggy the small enclosure with walls that went only partially to the ceiling. Just inside the opening into the space was the shower stall and just outside the opening was the door to the toilet. Jake explained that Biggy could put a curtain over the doorway opening to give himself a little privacy and that there was plenty of room for the bed and small table with even enough room for a chair beside it. Everyone hoped this arrangement would only be temporary.
Before Jake left to open Jake’s Place that afternoon, he and Miss Sophronia sat down with Biggy to go over their plan with him. Jake and Miss Sophronia had worked out details at length over the weekend after Miss Sophronia had outlined it to Jake on Friday. It had to be perfect. All three of them had to make sure they knew the story and never let it vary. They made sure Biggy understood he was to tell anyone who asked that he had been sleeping in Miss Sophronia’s back room since coming to New Orleans in March. He had been working for her around the bar since then, cleaning up in the mornings and performing minor maintenance duties. Although he had spent some time in the bar he did not stay there very often in the afternoons and evenings, coming and going through the back door. That was the reason very few of her regulars had ever seen him. He should avoid even going close to any of Jake’s clients. He didn’t have to worry about them seeing him on the street because they wouldn’t acknowledge that they knew him anyway. Willa Mae and Jacques knew the story as well as Biggy did.
Miss Sophronia would go with Biggy to see Missy Allison on Tuesday morning. If all went as she had predicted, Biggy would be free on bond by Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. Once he was free to spend his time at the bar he would assume the duties, in fact, that he was supposed to have been doing since March and would continue to be seen only rarely by customers.
– Page 97 –
Tuesday morning Miss Sophronia and Biggy were at Missy’s office at 9:00. After meeting both of them, Missy asked Biggy to wait in the waiting room while she talked to Miss Sophronia. She asked Miss Sophronia about her relationship with Biggy. Missy said she knew that Biggy had come to New Orleans in March and had first contacted his friend Jake Parrow whom he had known in school.
Miss Sophronia told her Jake had sent Biggy to see her because he had heard she needed someone to help out around the bar. Jake also knew she was big hearted. When she heard Biggy’s story about his mama passing away she had realized he was pretty much a basket case. He didn’t want to stay in the houseboat where he had grown up with his mama and daddy, although his daddy had been dead for several years and so he needed a job and a place to stay. Jake was willing to let Biggy sleep on the floor of his small efficiency apartment but that situation couldn’t go on forever and Jake didn’t need any help at his place. He already had a partner who could help out when he needed someone. “Anyway,” Miss Sophronia told Missy, “Jake knew I had mentioned maybe hiring someone to do the janitorial and stocking duties at my place. There was more to do at my place because I sold food and Jake didn’t.”
“So where does Mr. Bigeaux live?” Missy asked, having barely met Biggy so not yet comfortable with calling him by his first name.
“There was already a little area in my stockroom with a shower. The stockroom is quite large and the makeshift room next to the toilet has been there as long as I can remember. My daddy sometimes let regulars sleep there if they were too drunk to get themselves home. I’m sure Biggy won’t want to sleep there forever, but is has been perfect so far.”
“So he’s been ‘living'” Missy made air-quotes with her fingers as she said ‘living’, “there since March?”
“Yes. Is that really important?”
“It might be. The police are certainly going to want to know what he’s been doing and where he’s been living since he came to New Orleans.”
“Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.” Miss Sophronia said.
Missy stood up and extended her hand. “Thank you, Miss O’Mahony. I just wanted to get this little bit of background on Mr. Bigeaux before I talked to him.” The two women shook hands and Missy walked Miss Sophronia to the door of her office where she asked Biggy to come in.
Miss Sophronia said to him, “You can get yourself back to the bar, can’t you, Biggy? I need to go back and get ready to open up.”
“Thank you, Miss Sophie.” Biggy said.
Biggy was nervous and it showed. When Missy indicated a chair in front of her desk he sat on the very edge. It looked as if he might flee at any moment.
– Page 98 –
Missy sat down behind her desk and smiled at him. “Mr. Bigeaux. Your first name’s Clarence? Is that right?
““Yeah.” Biggy said and then quickly followed it with “Yes, ma’am.”
“But most people call you Biggy?”
“Is it okay for me to call you Biggy or would you prefer Clarence or Mr. Bigeaux?”
“Biggy’s fine, ma’am.”
Missy chuckled. “Good. Call me Missy and drop the ‘Yes, Ma’am’ stuff. Just sit back and relax. I promise not to bite you. I know this is difficult but remember, whatever happens, I’m working for you and I will always be on your side. My job is to find out what really happened and determine the best way to get you through this. It’s not going to be easy for you but, if I do my job right, it won’t be that hard, either. Okay?”
Biggy began to relax. “Okay.”
“Now, you’re friends with Jake Parrow, is that right?”
“Jake came to see me on Friday and told me what you had told him about what happened that Friday night …” she looked down at her notes. “May 27. In a few minutes I’m going to ask you to tell me in your own words what happened that night but I want to clear up your relationship with Jake first. He said you came to see him back in March, right after your mama died because he was the only person in New Orleans you knew. Is that right.”
“He said the same day you came to see him he sent you to see Miss Sophronia and after hearing why you had come to New Orleans she offered you a job as well as a place to sleep. Is that right.”
“Yes.” Biggy had gone over the story so many times on Monday afternoon with Miss Sophronia even he halfway believed it was true by Tuesday morning.
“Jake told me that since March he has only seen you a few times when you’ve come by his bar for a beer. Is that true?”
“Yes.” Biggy lied.
– Page 99 –
“He said he came to see me and is guaranteeing my fee to represent you only because he has known you since the two of you were boys in school together and he doesn’t want to see you spend time in prison for something you didn’t mean to do. You are fortunate to have such a friend.”
“I know.” Biggy said.
Missy Continued, “He doesn’t want anyone to know he is actually paying my fee. So, if the police ask about your relationship with Jake Parrow, you’ll be able to tell them the truth, just as you’ve told me.”
“What if they ask me something about who’s paying your fee?”
“They won’t. It’s unethical. Besides, the police will never question you without me right there with you. I can step in at any time and prevent you from answering for any reason. Got it?”
Biggy was really beginning to like this woman. Besides, she was good looking. Ten or fifteen years older than Biggy, but still a very attractive woman. “Got it.” he said, sitting back in his chair now, very relaxed.
“Good. Now it’s time for you to tell me in as much detail as you can about what happened on that Friday night. Take your time.”
Biggy told her about how he had followed Polly from the streetcar and saw a man who he thought must have been her neighbor follow her down the driveway and begin fighting with her. He told her how he heard the man threaten to rape Polly and that was when he couldn’t stand it any longer. At that point he left his hiding place behind a truck parked in the driveway and started running towards the two of them. Polly saw him and began to scream. When Polly began to scream the man looked back over his shoulder and saw Biggy running towards him. The man shoved Polly backwards as hard as he could just as Biggy tackled him. Biggy remembered the man’s head hitting the concrete. All Biggy could see was Polly laying there with blood running from the back of her head. He was so mad that he began to smash the man’s face with his fists but quickly began to be afraid of being seen so he ran away. His truck was parked on Carrollton almost a block away. He ran to his truck and drove straight to his houseboat on Bayou Lafourche.
Missy finished making notes and then asked, “Did you know the man was dead when you ran away?”
“No.” Biggy replied.
“When did you know?”
“When Jake came to see me on Sunday morning.”
– Page 100 –
“Do you know the man’s name?”
“I do now because Miss Sophronia told me yesterday when I got back to town. I think she said it was Paul but I don’t remember his last name.”
“Bonificio. Paul Bonificio.” Missy said. “So tell me the exact words you heard Mr. Bonificio say to Miss Duplessis? Did he say ‘I’m going to rape you?'”
“I’m not sure.” Biggy said. “He was yelling something about why, if she didn’t even want to come into his apartment to have a beer, she would let him come to her apartment when she was having a party with some of her friends. He wanted to know if she just did that out of pity. He was calling her ‘Bitch’ the entire time and was pushing her around. Then he said something like, ‘You probably think I’m not as much of a man as your other friends, don’t you, Bitch. Well, I’m going to show you.” After he said that he grabbed her by her hair and started to drag her down the driveway towards the backyard. That’s when I couldn’t take it anymore and started running towards him. I didn’t hear him say anything else except ‘What the hell?’ just as I tackled him.”
Missy studied her notes some more. “So, Biggy. Why were you there? You seem to know Polly’s name but didn’t know him. Is that right?”
Biggy said. “Yes.”
“How did you know Polly’s name?”
“I had seen Polly one night at Jake’s bar. It was a couple of weeks before that Friday night. I ask Jake if he knew her and he didn’t but before she left he had heard her friends calling her Polly. That’s how I knew her name.”
“Was that night you saw her at Jake’s Place the first time you had ever seen her.”
Biggy hesitated and turned a bright red color. He looked down at the floor. “No.” he whispered.
Missy waited a minute for him to compose himself and then asked. “When had you seen her before?”
“Several weeks before that I saw her on the streetcar one night. I got on at Lee Circle and she was on it. She was just so pretty. I wanted to get to know her but I knew she would never look at a slob like me. When enough people got off the car I worked my way back to where she was sitting on one of those side seats that are at the front and the back of the streetcars. She was on one of those. At the back. I stayed standing up in front of her where I could look at her close. I wasn’t thinking about it and I didn’t mean to scare her but I might have because when the car stopped for a red light at Napoleon she suddenly jumped up and pushed past me to get off.
– Page 101 –
“Did you try to find her again after that?”
“I thought about her all the time but I didn’t do nothin’ about it until that night I saw her in Jake’s.”
“How did you find out where she lived?”
“I followed her and her friends outside when they left Jake’s Place that night and I heard her tell them she could just walk home and they said they would walk with her. It was really easy to follow them down the street to where they turned down her block. I didn’t see exactly which house she went into but I found it later.”
“Between the night you saw her at Jake’s Place and the night of the attack, did you see her again?”
Once again, Biggy looked down at his feet before saying, sheepishly, “Do I have to tell you?”
“Biggy, do you know what attorney-client privilege is?”
“Attorney-client privilege means that, no matter what you tell me, even if you tell me you followed Polly that night with the intention of killing her or raping her yourself …”
Biggy jumped up and interrupted her. “I would never do that! Never! I couldn’t have ever hurt her! I loved her.”
Missy said calmly. “Sit back down, Biggy. I wasn’t trying to imply that you were planning to hurt her in any way. I was just saying that to explain about attorney-client privilege. Even if you had planned to do her harm, I am bound by a solemn oath never, under any circumstances, to divulge to anyone anything you and I talk about without your permission. I won’t knowingly lie for you, but I will assume that anything you tell me is the truth. Do you understand that.”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
“Good. Besides my oath to protect you no matter what you have done, when we go to the police for you to turn yourself in they are going to begin to ask you these same questions but you will only have to answer their questions if I allow you to. Do you understand that?”
– Page 102 –
“So, even if it is embarrassing for you to answer my questions about Polly, I’m only asking you because that’s how I can best help you. If the police ask you something that I haven’t already asked you I will not allow you to answer until you and I have a chance to talk about it without anyone else present before you answer them. But if they find out you have told them something that isn’t true, and believe me they will try every way they can to make you out a liar, it’ll be very bad for you. I won’t be able to help you then.”
“So, I’ll repeat my question. Between the night you saw Polly at Jake’s Place and the night of the attack, did you see her again?”
“Yes. First I went back and drove down her block one afternoon and figured out which house she had gone into.” As if he was remembering it for the first time Biggy added. “I just remembered, a man was sitting on the front porch with a beer. It might have been the same man who attacked Polly.”
“So that was the only time you’d ever seen him until that Friday night?”
“So what about seeing Polly.”
“Well, after that afternoon that I drove by her house I started thinking about the night I saw her on the streetcar and what time it was. When I first saw her she was talking to a guy who she obviously knew. He got off somewhere not too far past Lee Circle and when he got off I heard her say ‘I’ll see you at work tomorrow.’ so I figured out she must have been going home from work and guessed that maybe she took the streetcar home every night about the same time. So once I knew where she lived and about what time she should get home, all I had to do was park on Carrollton close to where I thought she would get off and wait for her.
“I discovered what time she got to the Maple Street stop the first, or maybe second, night I watched for her and followed her to her house. There were no lights on in the front of the house and the man wasn’t on the porch. She walked down the driveway. A light was on above a doorway almost to the back of the house. The light lit up the driveway but the front of the house was in shadow. I saw her unlocking the door near the back as I walked by. I noticed large bushes on the other side of the house and it was very dark there. I glanced around to make sure no one else was on the sidewalk and slipped into the space between the house and bushes. Right after I did a light came on toward the back on that side of the house. I very quietly got myself to where I could see through a crack underneath the blind at the window. I was looking into her bedroom but she was in the bathroom and I couldn’t see her in there.”
Biggy stopped. He sobbed. “I don’t think I can go on. I am really ashamed of myself.”
“That’s okay.” Missy said and she waited a moment, giving Biggy a chance to recover, before asking. “Did you stay there until she came back out of the bathroom?”
– Page 103 –
“Did she still have her clothes on?”
“Some of them.”
“Did you get excited.”
“How long did you stay there?”
“Not more than a minute or two. She went back into the other room, right at the very back of the house. I crept back to the corner but there was a lot of light shining out of the windows into the backyard. It was very open and I was afraid of being seen so I just crept back to the front of the house and made sure no one was coming along the sidewalk before I walked back to Carrollton.”
“Do you remember what night that was?”
“I think it was the Friday night before I saw that man attack her.”
“So that would have been May 20?”
“I guess so. If you say so.”
“When was the next time you went back?”
“Not until the next Friday when the attack happened.”
“So you only peeped at her the one time?
Missy spent some time looking over her notes before saying, “I think that’s enough about the incident for right now. Tell me a little about yourself, Biggy. Miss Sophronia told me you were living on a houseboat with your mama when she died not long before you came to New Orleans?”
“How did your mama die?”
– Page 104 –
“She just died. The coroner said it was ‘natural causes’. She was really, really fat, like me only even bigger. And she smoked cigarettes and drank a lot of beer and just sat in a big old wooden chair on the deck of the boat all day. I came home from work one afternoon and she was dead. I called the sheriff and he came out with the coroner who pronounced her dead. The sheriff questioned me and was satisfied that she died of natural causes so they gave me a death certificate and had me contact someone to bury her.”
“What kind of work did you do, Biggy?”
“I was a garbage man. I drove a truck for Lafourche Parish and picked up garbage all the way from down at Grand Isle back up to Golden Meadow.”
“That’s hard work. How long had you been doing that?”
“Since daddy disappeared back in …” he hesitated, “sometime in the 80’s. I don’t remember exactly what year. I think I was seventeen. I quit school and got a job for the Parish Solid Waste Authority.”
“What grade were you in in school?”
“The ninth. I had had to repeat several grades.”
“Did you ever finish.”
“Do you think you might like to finish some day?”
“Maybe. I’ve thought about it since I came to New Orleans.”
“I think it would be a really good idea. And it will help to make the people that will be deciding on what to charge you with a little more sympathetic towards you if they think you want to get your GED. Do you know what that means?”
“Yeah. Ray, my boss at the SWA, used to talk to me about maybe doing it but I was workin’ so hard back then I didn’t want to. I might do it now, though.”
Missy picked up a Times-Picayune from her desk. “Can you read?” she asked Biggy.
“Do you read well?”
“Pretty good, I guess.”
– Page 105 –
She tossed him the paper and told him to look for a headline about a new tiger at the Audubon Zoo. She wanted him to read it to himself and then tell her about what he had read. He flipped through the pages until he found the article and then read slowly, mouthing the words and following along with his finger but after a few minutes he looked up and said, “It says the Audubon Zoo just got a new male tiger on loan from the San Diego Zoo. They’re going to try to get him to mate with a female they have at the zoo here.”
“Good.” Missy said. “I didn’t want to embarrass you but it is important that I know how well you can read and understand what you read. It would appear you do quite well.”
“Thank you.” Biggy said.
Missy looked at her watch. “It’s ten-thirty now. I have arranged that Detective Sergeant Labadie of the NOPD and Ms. Angela Jacobson, an Assistant District Attorney, meet us here at eleven. When they arrive, I will summarize briefly what you have told me, referring to your actions as causing the accidental death of Paul Bonificio and asking the ADA for a charge of justifiable homicide. She will either accept my recommendation immediately or withhold formal charges until a future date. Either way, you will be asked to sign a statement admitting to being the cause of the accidental death of Mr. Bonificio. The wording of this confession is extremely important. We are admitting nothing in writing regarding the circumstances leading up to that death, only that the death was caused by your hand and that it was not planned ahead of time. My secretary will have this confession ready for you to sign at the appropriate time.
“At some point, possibly before you sign the confession or immediately after, Sergeant Labadie will read you your rights. The reason it is important for them to read your rights to you is so that you know that you are not required to answer any questions without your attorney. That is a moot point in your case since I will already be present but they are required to read them to you anyway. In the very unlikely event that Sergeant Labadie should want to be a bad-ass and take you to jail for the time between your confession and the setting of your bail, remember that you have not waived your rights to an attorney and I strongly advise you not to speak to the sergeant or any other police officer about anything at all, even if it seems totally unrelated to the incident. Do you understand that?”
“Yes, but I thought you said I wouldn’t have to go to jail?”
“I don’t believe you will but there is that chance.” Missy said and hesitated a moment before continuing. “Now, once your confession is on the table, either Sergeant Labadie or ADA Jacobson can ask you any questions they want and I’m sure they will. Every time they ask you a question, you are to look at me. I will nod my head in the affirmative if I deem it to be okay for you to answer. Else, I will answer instead. You understand this, right?”
“Yes.” Biggy replied.
– Page 106 –
“They will probably ask you to repeat the same things you have already told me, including exactly what you heard Mr. Bonificio say to Ms. Duplessis. Be as precise as you can in repeating it exactly as you said it to me. Do you need for me to read it back to you now.?”
“Okay. They’re probably also going to ask you why you were there. If they do, I am going to cut in and explain that we are not prepared to provide those details to them at this time. I will tell them that I can assure them that you had no intention of causing bodily harm nor injury to anyone but cannot give them further details at that time. Once I have answered them in that way they will ask no further questions about why you were there.”
“Okay.” Biggy said.
“Another thing I’m sure they will ask about is how long you’ve been in New Orleans, why you came here and what you have been doing. Once you, or I, have answered all their questions, I will ask the ADA what she has in mind to ask for bail and the two of us will likely discuss it unless she surprises me and asks for no more than $5000. If the two of us, she and I, can come to an agreement on how much to ask for bail, it is actually possible that she will be able immediately to speak to a judge — There are several judges at the criminal court who can set bail for cases such as this — and the judge can make a decision on the phone. If that happens, you will be free until actual charges are brought. Otherwise, Sergeant Labadie will take you to the district office on Magazine Street and put you in a holding cell until the hearing later in the afternoon. Questions?”
“Is there any chance I will have to go to Central Lockup overnight?”
“I don’t think that’s likely but I can’t say for sure. I can only tell you that I am going to do everything in my power to prevent it.”
“Thank you.” Biggy said.
“Okay.” Missy looked at her watch. “It’s ten to eleven. They’ll be here in ten minutes. Do you need to use the restroom?”
“No. I’m okay.”
“Good. How about some water or a Coke or something?”
“I could use a Coke.”
“Okay, I’ll have Theresa get you one out of the fridge when she shows you to the conference
– Page 107 –
Missy stood up and led Biggy back out to the front office where a receptionist sat. “Theresa,” Missy said, addressing the receptionist. “Would you show Mr. Bigeaux to the conference room and, on the way back there, get him a Coke from the fridge in the kitchen.”
Theresa smiled. “Sure.” She got up and came around the counter. “Follow me, Mr. Bigeaux.” she said and led the way toward a hallway. The first doorway they came to was the kitchen. She said, “Wait here.” as she went inside and got a small bottle of Coca-Cola from the refrigerator. She opened it and came back out and gave it to Biggy before proceeding back down the hall. At the end of it was a conference room that was empty except for a heavy-duty table with ten chairs around it, four on either side and one at each end.
Theresa flipped on the light switch and motioned to the chair on the back side of the table closest to one end. “You should sit there. Ms. Allison likes to have her clients on her left. She will sit at the end and the police sergeant and ADA will sit on this side, facing you. “I’ll leave you here. As soon as they get here, Missy will bring them in and indicate where she wishes them to sit. Is there anything else you need?”
“No.” Biggy said.
Theresa went out, closing the door behind her.
It was less than five minutes before the door opened and Missy Allison came in followed by a woman in her forties and a man who appeared to be a few years older. The woman was stocky and severe looking. Her hair was pulled up into a knot at the back of her head. She wore almost no makeup. The man was clean-shaven, had close cropped hair and wore jeans and a T-shirt. The man was wearing a badge hanging from a lanyard around his neck. The woman was wearing a smart looking nametag identifying her as Angela Jacobson, Assistant District Attorney.
Missy indicated that Ms. Jacobson and Sgt. Labadie should sit at the side opposite Biggy and took her own seat at the end of the table. She introduced Biggy to each of them.
Thirty minutes later it was all over. It had gone almost exactly as Missy had said it would. Ms. Jacobson had accepted Biggy’s admission of accidental death and he had signed the statement. Sgt. Labadie had questioned him just as Missy had said he would and Biggy’s answers seemed to satisfy the sergeant and Ms. Jacobson that the death had, indeed, been accidental.
Missy asked Biggy to wait outside for a few minutes. After Biggy left, Sergeant Labadie confirmed what Jake had told Missy that Polly Duplessis’ and Biggy’s stories matched almost exactly. The ADA said she would need to know the exact circumstances of Biggy’s being present but if there was a satisfactory explanation of why he was in the driveway that night that did not implicate him in the commission of a crime and as long as the NOPD concurred, she was satisfied that Biggy’s actions were justifiable under the circumstances. In fact, she believed that Biggy had prevented a crime from being committed.
– Page 108 –
Missy provided the two the complete circumstances of Biggy’s presence on Burthe Street that night. She told them that he had admitted to stalking Ms. Duplessis and understood that it was wrong. If they released Biggy without bringing any charges against him she would make sure that he understood that if at any time in the future Ms. Duplessis or any other woman, for that matter, brought a complaint against Biggy for stalking, he would not only be placed under bond but it was always possible that charges could be filed against him in the present case. While he might not be found guilty even if charges were filed, his life would be miserable until it had been resolved.
– Page 109 –