Kent “Frenchy” Brouillette, a colorful and infamous mob character known for his dealings with New Orleans Mafia godfather Carlos Marcello, was found stabbed to death in his New Orleans home Saturday, authorities confirmed Sunday.
Brouillette was found by police about noon Saturday after they responded to a report of a man stabbed inside a home in the 2400 block of North Tonti Street.
New Orleans police issued an arrest warrant for William R. Bonham, 50, on a count of second-degree murder in connection with the case.
Over five decades, Brouillette was frequently targeted by the FBI and was convicted on multiple federal and state charges for corruption, bribery and racketeering.
The larger-than-life character, who loved New Orleans “like it was a religion,” was a formidable figure in his heyday and was one of the wealthiest criminals in New Orleans, according to journalist and author Matthew Randazzo, who has written extensively about Brouillette.
The mobster was known for his lavish tastes and would wear designer suits, alligator boots and rings on every finger. He drove brand-new Cadillacs.
He was a go-between for former Gov. Edwin Edwards and Marcello, leader of the city’s major organized crime family, Randazzo said.
Reached Sunday, Edwards said he wasn’t aware of Brouillette’s death.
“Oh, my. This violence is unbelievable,” Edwards said. “All I can say is he’s been very supportive and helpful through the years.”
Edwards described Brouillette as being “distantly” related to him; Brouillette described Edwards as a cousin. Randazzo said they were third cousins, once removed.
“We’ve had a long relationship but not very close through the years,” Edwards said. “I ran into him; he ran into me.”
Although during his heyday Brouillette lived the high life, his lavish lifestyle and weaknesses would ultimately get the better of him, Randazzo said, describing a man who ping-ponged from $500 dinners and drinks in French Quarter restaurants to weeks spent on the streets or in public housing, broke and living in a drunken or drug-induced stupor.
Ultimately, Brouillette’s addiction to drugs and alcohol would cause bouts of homelessness, Randazzo said, until he would decide to try to get clean. Toward the end of his life, however, those spurts would last only months at a time, he added.
“He really was a legit old school drunk gangster,” Randazzo said. “From 1953 to 2015, Frenchy was more or less continually on a bender.”
In 2010, Randazzo and Brouillette published a book together, “Mr. New Orleans: The Life of a Big Easy Underworld Legend,” in which Brouillette is portrayed as a gregarious Southern gangland fixer and roustabout who “snatched my big brother’s Harley-Davidson and gunned that sucker all the way from Marksville, Louisiana, down Highway 61 to the Orleans Parish Criminal Court.”
He stayed, earning what he described as “my 1,600-page FBI file, (listing) my dozens of Louisiana criminal indictments and my various divorce settlements without finding a single reference to anything resembling respectable employment.”
In the book, Randazzo and Brouillette highlight an outgoing, charming side to the gangster.
“The moral of my story is that crime doesn’t pay, but fun pays and pays and pays,” they write, describing Brouillette’s role in the fun side while playing down the more violent portrayals of him by police and prosecutors.
“The cops will transform every crook they arrest into Al Capone if you give them the leeway, and Lord knows I’ve given them a couple hundred chances to smear my name over the years,” Brouillette is quoted as saying.
“I made my bread exclusively through the sale of the sort of fun no one wants you to have,” he goes on. “The only thing I’ve ever shot was booze, that and a damn sparrow I shot off her nest when I was a li’l redneck kid.”
In the book, Brouillette has a few comments about Edwards and what brought the governor down.
“Forget what people say about me. Cousin Edwin was the finest pimp Louisiana has ever known,” he and Randazzo wrote. “If Huey Long had been born a few decades later, Edwin would have twisted the Kingfish’s mind, turned him out and had him happily tweaking johns all around Baton Rouge.”
According to federal court documents, Brouillette’s criminal activity began well before 1971, when he and another defendant, Joan Clemens, were caught operating a prostitution ring headquartered at the Imperial House Motor Hotel on North Causeway Boulevard.
That was “the alleged nerve center” of the operation, and federal agents seized “various address books and files, bankbooks, pictures and documents,” according to court records. Although Brouillette was convicted, a federal appeals court later threw out the search warrant.
Working with federal officials, the Jefferson Parish vice squad got a tip that Brouillette kept address and convention books and a “rotary type cardex system containing names and places of persons used and engaging in prostitution activities,” according to a federal warrant application.
The feds noted that Brouillette already had arrests dating back to 1964 for “pandering, maintaining a house of prostitution, conspiracy to commit prostitution, keeping a disorderly place and related charges.”
Marcello, who controlled an illegal gambling network in Louisiana, invoked the Fifth Amendment at a Senate committee hearing on organized crime led by future Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Marcello then reportedly put $500,000 behind Richard Nixon, through Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa, in Nixon’s losing 1960 presidential campaign against John F. Kennedy.
Marcello’s name cropped up in various JFK assassination theories, and a House Select Committee report in 1979 mentioned “credible associations relating both Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby to figures having a relationship, albeit tenuous, with Marcello’s crime family or organization.”
In the Randazzo book published last year, Brouillette describes Ruby — who killed presumed Kennedy assassin Oswald — as “another Marcello family goombah.”
Marcello died in 1993, less than four years out of prison on a racketeering and conspiracy conviction for bribing state officials that was later overturned.
Randazzo said Brouillette would want to be remembered for his influence, and also for his charm, gained as a “shy country boy” who found himself immersed in a wild, at times glamorous, lifestyle and grew to adore his own notoriety.
“He was beloved within seconds, extremely beloved by working women, the sort of person you could take to meet your grandma,” Randazzo said. “He was really a complicated, complex figure.”
Randazzo said he couldn’t speak about what might have caused someone to kill Brouillette.
Neither did Edwards, who on Sunday asked to send wishes to Brouillette’s family.
“All I can say is I’m very sad about what happened,” Edwards said. “He doesn’t deserve this type of send-off.”
Homicide Detective Robert Bachelder is in charge of the investigation of Brouillette’s death and can be contacted at (504) 658-5300.