‘Ada and the Doc’ book on old murder case gets new life

Show caption

Franklin historian Pam Heffner and retired Nicholls State University librarian Fran Middleton can tell you a lot about Ada LeBoeuf and Dr. Thomas Dreher.

Heffner spearheaded a three-year effort to have the 2000 Charles M. Hargroder book, “Ada and the Doc: An Account of the Ada Leboeuf-Thomas Dreher Murder Case,” reprinted so that the mostly forgotten but most historic story of the first woman convicted and hanged in Louisiana wasn’t lost forever. Middleton, fascinated since childhood by stories of the unusual double murder trial, has delved into extensively researching the case, perhaps eventually writing her own book on the subject.

Heffner, who grew up in Franklin, learned about “Ada and the Doc” from Karen Aguillard, wife of St. Mary Schools Superintendent Don Aguillard, over dinner one evening.

“There were 15 other people there, and nobody else knew anything about the story,” Heffner recalled. “That’s what got the ball rolling.

“I don’t ever recall my mother or my grandmother talking about this. Amazon.com calls it history that’s almost lost, and it’s the truth.”

Checking around Franklin and beyond, Heffner learned that many copies of the book had been stolen from public libraries over the years. Amazon and Ebay asking prices of $100-$600 for the book reflect its scarce numbers, she said.

First published by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Center for Louisiana Studies, Heffner started there in her quest to have the book made accessible to more people.

A letter-writing campaign followed, and she eventually got the go-ahead from the center to pursue a second printing of the book. Finding the author’s heir to obtain permission was another involved ordeal, Heffner said. With his approval in hand, Heffner arranged for the St. Mary’s Episcopal Church Women to assist with the project. L-H Printing in Morgan City made the 1,000 new, soft-cover copies of “Ada and the Doc,” which the women’s group began selling last weekend. The $20 books will also be on sale at Middleton’s book talk on Sunday.

Middleton, of Thibodaux, said her mother was at the LeBoeuf-Dreher trial.

“She was there when the sentence was rendered and she sat through most of the trial. She was a teenager, and was there with a friend. My mother used to tell the story to my sisters and me.

“I’ve always been fascinated by this. I have a sister, who lives in College Station, who’s always been fascinated by this,” Middleton said.

In a nutshell, Middleton summed up the case.

“It starts July 1, 1927, with the murder of James LeBoeuf and ends Feb. 1, 1929, with the execution of his wife, Ada Bonner LeBoeuf and her alleged lover, Dr. Thomas Dreher.”

Rumors of an affair between LeBoeuf and Dreher had circulated for several years. “It was a loveless marriage, her husband was superintendent of the Morgan City power plant, and was shot probably by James Beadle, using Dreher’s shotgun, on Lake Palourde,” Middleton said.

Beadle was Dr. Dreher’s handyman and a father of seven. The alleged triggerman was not hanged, but served time in Angola from August of 1927 until 1941. He was paroled, moved to Berwick, and died in 1955, Middleton said.

“Basically the evidence was not even at best circumstantial,” Middleton said. “The jury was 12 white men. The judge was just 30.”

The backgrounds of the prinicipals involved, the handling of the trial, and the coverage of the case by the state’s major newspapers also figures into the twists and turns of Middleton’s ongoing research. “It’s more than history. This event weighs heavily on the collective conscience of that area.”

Copies of the book can also be obtained by emailing Pam Heffner at stmarysecwfranklin@gmail.com.