Who Killed Leopold Cordova? A Century Later the Case Remains Unsolved

On November 19th, 1919, Dr. Leopold Cordova and his wife were shot and left for dead at Lee Circle in New Orleans. Mrs.Cordova astonishingly survived a shot to the head and was taken to Charity Hospital where the story of the events of that night began to unfold for police.

The events of the night began when Mrs.Cordova and her husband left the house with their driver, and when they arrived at their destination, someone brutally shot Dr.Cordova. During the attack, Mrs.Cordova passed out, and awoke to find not only that she had been shot as well, that her corset was no longer on her body, but instead underneath her dead husbands. Speculation that this murder was done as a robbery was done as a robbery was undermined by the statement from Mrs.Cordova saying she had nothing of importance or value on her or in her corset before or after it was removed. 

From Charity Hospital, Mrs.Cordova told police that there was another man in the Cordova automobile that night named Andrew J. Whitfield, who she insisted must be the murderer. Upon further questioning, however, Mrs. Cordova’s story began to change and police dismissed it as part of her unstable mental and physical condition.

A man named Jefferson Harvey Thomas came forward to the police and said that his friend that he lives with, Andrew J.Whitfield, is responsible for killing Dr.Cordova, stealing the Cordova’s family jewels, and throwing away Dr.Cordova’s empty pocket book and the empty shells from his gun he used to shoot them. The police act on this statement by bringing Mr.Whitfield in and questioning him and other potential witnesses, only to find that Mr.Whitfield had an alibi for that night by the name of Holly Thibodeaux, who said Whitfield was the man he played cards with at Crescent City Billiard Hall until 1am about the same time the murder took place. 

Yet when questioned by the police about any relation to the Cordova’s or statements made about the night, he admitted to getting into the Cordova’s car at Lee Circle. The Cordova’s vehicle had hit a streetcar and Whitfield said he helped to repair the Cordova’s vehicle and drove it for a time until he reached St.Charles and Canal Street where he then promptly left their vehicle. He said that the two men, who appeared to be Latin and friends of Cordova’s, got into their car as Whitfield was leaving to the Crescent City Billiard hall to play in a seven-and-a-half game there, which was confirmed by Holly Thibodeaux. 

Detroit Publishing Company, Canal Street, New Orleans, 1905, Dry plate negative, 8×10, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, https://www.loc.gov/item/2016796043/.

When Superintendent Mooney put Holly Thibodeaux under oath, however, he refused to to give a positive alibi for Whitfield. With no other evidence to support his innocence, Whitfield’s was arraigned Tuesday morning at Second City Criminal court and charged with the murder of Dr.Cordova and shooting with intent to kill Mrs.Cordova. He was not represented by a counsel and pleaded not guilty. 

On April 20th, 1920, five months after Whitfield was arrested, the Cordova Murder case had still come to no conclusion. A jury acquitted Whitfield of the murder leaving the District Attorney to state that he would consider any new evidence that could point to someone else.

One popular theory was that Latin Americans murdered Dr.Cordova. Two men were mentioned previously as having appeared to be Latin American and friends of Cordova’s as they got into their car by St. Charles and Canal Street. Holly Thibodeaux initially put this theory into the police departments mind when he stated that he had seen these men and that they were Honduran and worked for the Foundation Company at one of their plants. They are suspicious seeing as they were seen with the Cordova’s before the murder occurred and haven’t been seen since. The Cordova’s jewels were also found to be missing after they were never to be seen again. Many Hondurans lived in New Orleans 1919, and Dr.Cordova had even served as Jr. Honduran Council General.

These two Honduran men worked for the Foundation Company, which was a New York subaqueous concrete construction firm founded in 1902 that specialized in the construction of bridge piers and building foundations. The company was a leader in the development of the pneumatic caisson method for the construction of foundations. Additionally, the company also worked on power houses/stations, shipyards, and docks. The shipyard was fairly near to where the murder took place at Lee Circle and Holly Thibodeaux said he saw the book records of when these men worked. The day of the murder they weren’t working and by the next day they had vanished. He also overheard that these men were not qualified to do the hard work and were under suspicion. 

Did these men commit the crime? We will never know as the murder of Dr. Cordova remains a cold case. Mrs.Cordova continued to question who it was that murdered her husband, but never was able to come to a conclusion.

Bibliography

Along the Sunset Route, 1915, http://www.storyvilledistrictnola.com/canal.html.

The Banana Trade.” Louisiana State Museum Online Exhibits Coffee Trade and Port of New Orleans, 2018.

“Big Match Is Rained Out; Burke-O’Brien Box Tonight,” Times-Picayune, November 11, 1919, Access World News – Historical and Current.

“Chief Cannot Shake Nerve Of Whitfield Man Accused of Murder Goes to Cell in Exhausted,” Times-Picayune, November 16, 1919, Access World News – Historical and Current.

“Guide to the Foundation Company Records .” Smithsonian Institution Online Virtual Archives . Accessed October 31, 2019. https://sova.si.edu/record/NMAH.AC.0974.

Martinez, Carlos M. “The ‘Re-Latinization’ of New Orleans in the Twentieth Century: Multiple Waves of Hispanic Migration.” The “Re-Latinization” of New Orleans in the Twentieth Century: Multiple Waves of Hispanic Migration, 2010. https://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/1175.

“May Never Solve Cordova Murder No Evidence Obtained That Would Involve Others, Says Luzenberg,” Times-Picayune, April 20, 1920, Access World News – Historical and Current.

Mendes , John T. Luxury Auto on Howard Avenue at Lee Circle. Photograph. Louisiana Digital Library . New Orleans , n.d. The Historic New Orleans Collection .

“Players Back Alibi As Woman’s Tale Infers Opposite Holly Thibodaux Tells of Gambling With Whitfield,” Times-Picayune, November 19, 1919, Access World News – Historical and Current.

“Points To Whitfield As Husband’s Slayer Mrs. Cordova Declares Murderer Entered Car at Lee Circle and Rode to Spot Outside City,” Times-Picayune, November 19, 1919, Access World News – Historical and Current.