Society

Stoned Ghost Hunters Burn Down 1850s-Era Plantation Just Outside New Orleans

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

LeBeau Plantation House survived the 125 mph winds of Hurricane Katrina, only to be burned down by pot-smoking “ghost-hunters” on Friday.

Seven men were arrested for burning down the 1850s mansion in Arabi, La. They were allegedly drinking, smoking marijuana, and “trying to summon” ghosts.

"We all heard the ghost stories while growing up," St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jimmy Pohlmann told the Times-Picayune. "In combination with smoking dope in there, it appears it was intriguing to them."

Seven suspects, ages 17 to 31, entered the vacant mansion, which was built in the 1850s, through a gap in a fence on Thursday. A fire erupted at 2 a.m. Friday morning, according to Fire Chief Thomas Stone.

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"They had been looking for ghosts, trying to summon spirits, beating on the floors," Doran said.

A judge ordered a $450,000 bond Monday for the group’s ringleader, Dusten Davenport, 31, of Fort Worth, who allegedly decided to start the fire and began stacking up pieces of wood.

Judge Perry Nicosia order $75,000 bond for the other six men. They face charges of arson, simple burglary, and criminal damages in excess of $50,000, the Sheriff’s office said.

Watching over the historic landmark is the job of Meraux Foundation, but even their “best efforts” couldn’t save it.

“We made our best efforts to secure the land from trespassers. We installed an eight foot fence around the property and posted signs,” the foundation said in a statement. "But it is doubtful that anything short of 24 hour patrols would have kept out these intruders intent on engaging in illegal activities."

LeBeau Plantation sits just 10 minutes east of New Orleans, on the border of the Lower Ninth Ward. These low-lying areas saw the worst of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

"But you could look beyond the weathering and all that and see how beautiful it once was, and there is just not a lot of places like that left, especially in St. Bernard," said Michelle Mahl Buuck, author of "The Historic LeBeau Mansion: A Forgotten Monument."

"Since Katrina, St. Bernard has really got to hold on to what it has, because so much already has been lost," she said.

All but one of the suspects work at Circulation Marketing, Inc., a sales and marketing firm based out of Salt Lake City, Utah.

The president of the company, Richard E. Milne, said in a statement that he "was shocked and saddened to hear of the alleged involvement in the burning of the abandoned historical home by several young men that have been working as independent sales representatives with our company."

"If true, it appears that these young men, on their own personal time, late at night, made some very foolish decisions and will have to suffer the consequences of their actions," he added.

Sources: Newser, Times-Picayune