Huey Long

A month before his death, Senator Huey Pierce Long of Louisiana informed the U.S. Senate that his enemies were planning to assassinate him. Long frequently expressed fears about physical violence, but the pronouncement soon before the shooting made his previous statements appear credible.

While attending a legislative session in Baton Rouge on 8 September 1935, Long was fatally wounded in the halls of the Louisiana State Capitol building. Allegedly, Dr. Carl Austin Weiss shot Long outside the doors of the governor’s office, and Long’s bodyguards killed Weiss, shooting him approximately thirty times. Weiss died at the scene, and Long died about thirty hours later.

As a federal senator, Long had no legal power in the state legislature, but he exercised dictator-like control over Louisiana and regularly attended state sessions. Long was elected as governor in 1928 and successfully fought impeachment charges in 1929.

Halfway through his term, he won a position in the U.S. Senate, but refused to vacate the governorship to the lieutenant governor. Long took his Senate seat in 1932 after his handpicked successor, Oscar Kelly Allen, was elected. Long launched a nationwide campaign for wealth redistribution, known as the “Share Our Wealth Society,” and waged war on big business, especially Standard Oil.

He engaged in unethical and illegal practices such as requiring all of his employees to sign undated resignation letters, allowing him to dismiss them at whim. Such behaviors earned Long enemies; while he was in power, there were two political parties in Louisiana: Longs and anti-Longs. Business interests and conservative politicians hated him, but his platform received mass support.

At the zenith of his reign, Long controlled nearly every aspect of state and local government, but brought much-needed improvements like paved roads and schools to Louisiana. He was considered a possible threat to his estranged ally Franklin D. Roosevelt in the presidential election of 1936 when a bullet stopped his rise to power.

Long’s supporters used the shooting as a campaign issue for the state elections of 1936, claiming that political opponents were behind the shooting. Drawing attention to the senator’s prophecy of an assassination attempt, gubernatorial candidate Richard Leche and other pro-Longs called the opposition the “Party of Murder” and the “Assassination Party.”

According to the theory, Weiss had attended a gathering at the DeSoto Hotel in New Orleans on 22 July 1935 where he and several other men discussed murdering the senator. One version even states that the men drew straws to determine who would actually commit the deed. Long employees recorded the meeting, and the transcripts served as the basis for Long’s own claim of an assassination attempt.

There was a meeting at the hotel, but it was a well-publicized anti-Long political conference, and most sources agree that Weiss, who showed little interest in politics, was not present. Regardless, the conspiracy allegations died down after pro-Long candidates defeated their rivals in 1936, and despite campaign promises, the Longites never brought charges against any of the alleged conspirators.

Even as pro-Longs blamed Weiss, others were looking in the opposite direction, claiming that Long’s bodyguards killed him. Weiss, who might have been angry about a racial slur against his family or the plans to gerrymander his father-in-law’s judicial seat, hit Long on the mouth.

The guards responded with gunfire, and the senator took a bullet meant for Weiss. Long did have an unexplained mouth wound, and the guards’ testimony did not agree on key points, such as how many shots Weiss fired or how Long received the lip wound.

Bodyguard George McQuiston refused to testify at an inquest, leading observers to think that the guards had something to hide and were conspiring to cover up the facts. In 1936 K. B. Ponder, an investigator for Long’s life insurance company, concluded that the guards shot Long.

Conversely, official investigations in 1935 and 1992 found that Weiss alone was responsible for Long’s death, but many questions remain. Doctors never performed an autopsy on Long, and Weiss’s corpse was not examined until it was exhumed in 1991.

Weiss’s .32-caliber pistol and the case file were missing for fifty years, and it was fifty-six years after the incident that ballistics tests were performed on the alleged assassin’s weapon. The analysis was inconclusive. A spent round found with the gun did not match bullets fired from the weapon, and the identity of Long’s killer remains an open question.