And Now You Know: Leader reporter punched in nose, swims river to escape attackers
By the end of the summer of 1951, there was turmoil in Calcasieu Parish that extended to “East Orange.” An expose of gambling had begun. Five newspapermen in Lake Charles had been accused and indicted by a grand jury for defaming the character of three confessed gamblers, one of whom was Claude Williams of Orange, the owner of the Showboat.
Joe Parsley, at the time a 27 year old reporter for the Orange Leader, had taken a hard stand against gambling and had used his column, “About Town,” on the front page of the Leader to state his opinion of gambling in general and Williams in particular.
On the night of September 2, Parsley had to swim the Sabine River fully clothed to escape a trio of men who attacked him as he was leaving the Showboat, Williams gambling establishment and night club.
Parsley said the incident started about 2 a.m. as he was leaving the Showboat. The Showboat had a reputation as being a rough gambling spot where winners were often detained by any means necessary until they lost their winnings to the Showboat’s gambling tables.
Parsley identified the leader of the men who attacked him as a “210 pound bouncer employed by the Showboat, located just across the Sabine River from Orange.”
He had been using his column to lead a hard hitting campaign against gambling in Orange County and Calcasieu Parish. Parsley wrote he was the second Leader reporter to be attacked in a Louisiana night club this year.
The other reporter was Bob McHugh who was attacked and beaten with a rubber hose in front of Buster’s Night Club, about 100 yards east of the Showboat.
Parsley said he was attacked as he was leaving the Showboat with his wife and a friend he did not identify. He gave the following account:
“We were walking down the ramp to the landing and this bouncer and his two buddies were standing about midway on the ramp. A group of five or six Orange cab drivers were sitting nearby.
Just as we passed the bouncer, he let me have it right on the nose, knocking me against a post which supports the canopy over the entrance to the place.
Before the bouncer could follow up, Margie (Mrs. Parsley) stepped between us. I told the friend with us to get Margie across the river and they headed for the car as I took off for the nearby marsh. As they left, I yelled to the bouncer and his buddies, ‘don’t hurt them, it’s me you are after.’
Then I headed for the river with the three following me. As I left, the bouncer shouted, ‘you better not come back over here.’
As I reached the foot of the river bridge, I saw the others had gotten away to Texas and the bouncer and his buddies had gotten into a cab and were headed in my direction.
There was no time to undress, so I dived into the river with all my clothes on and swan across to the Texas side where I came ashore inside the Navy base and had to climb a barbed wire topped chain link fence to get out.”
Parsley showed up at work the next day with a badly swollen nose.
Showboat owner Williams denied the incident happened and stated the bouncer who was an ex-employee did not punch Parsley, pursue him, nor have any contact of any kind that night with Parsley.
Two Calcasieu Parish deputy sheriffs went to Parsley’s home and asked him to file a complaint in Lake Charles against the three men who were accused of attacking him.
“I told them on the basis of my experience in a county adjoining their own and in view of what happened in Lake Charles last week to five newspapermen, I do not have enough faith in Calcasieu Parish justice to bother filing charges against my attackers,” wrote Parsley.
“And now you know.”