Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rivet Hedderel -- Brutal Death of a Gentle Man
"I've got to get out of New Orleans...I'm going to be murdered here," the 61-year-old actor told a friend in the summer of 1996 weeks before planning to retire and relocate to Natchez, Mississippi where he owned an historic home.  As "Robert Lans" Hedderel appeared in the original 1960s off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks and sang and danced in the Broadway shows South Pacific and Show Boat.  Equally well-known as a top hairdresser, he created styles for stars Elizabeth Taylor, Alice Faye, and Zsa Zsa Gabor.  In New Orleans, the owner of Rivet's Coiffures was a much beloved figure who appeared in plays at the Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, Gallery Circle, and the Old Beverly Dinner Playhouse.  In Natchez, he reigned as king of the city's Mardi Gras in 1989.

Around 9:00 A.M. on August 19, 1996, a neighbor walking his dog by Hedderel's Creole cottage at 1438 N. Derbigny Street in the city's fashionable Esplanade Ridge section noticed blood puddled on the stoop and smeared on an entranceway.  Police found Hedderel in the house dead from a savage beating and multiple knife wounds.  Missing was the man's 1994 Plymouth Avenger.  Two days later authorities caught a break after the vehicle was found on a street in Chalmette, Louisiana.  Mark Jenkins, a 22-year-old ex-con with a fifth-grade education who served time in 1991 for beating and robbing a pizza delivery man, was identified as a suspect in the killing after he used Hedderel's credit card to purchase gas and jewelry.  The card was confiscated at a department store in Chalmette, but Jenkins fled the scene before police arrived.  Armed with a search warrant, detectives found several items of blood-spattered clothing in the suspect's Chalmette apartment.  Jenkins was arrested in Jefferson Parish on August 22, 1996, three days after Hedderel's body was found.

At his trial for first-degree murder in January 1998, Jenkins did not take the stand, but the jury heard a tape of an hour-long statement he made to police at the time of his arrest.  Jenkins said that he was walking in the French Quarter when Hedderel approached and offered him $100 "just to talk."  At the house on Derbigny Street, the actor added $200 to the offer just "to cuddle."  Jenkins agreed as long as there would be no sexual contact.  A struggle ensued, according to Jenkins, when Hedderel sexually attacked him.  The younger man cut his own hand when he grabbed the knife from Hedderel.  Jenkins tried to stab Hedderel in the shoulder, but missing slashed the actor's face and began punching him.  Jenkins fled the scene, but later returned to retrieve his clothes.  He told police he was forced to defend himself again when the bloodied, but remarkably resilient, sexagenarian started running at him and yelling.  "I didn't know the guy was dead.  I didn't mean to hurt him like that.  I just wanted to hurt him so he'd get off me."  Prosecutors discounted Jenkins' sordid portrayal of the actor as an intoxicated sexual predator.  Not only had Jenkins told several different versions of the deadly encounter since his arrest, bloody marks on the kitchen floor left by Hedderel were strong evidence that he was trying to claw his way to safety, not attack.  Jenkins' subsequent use of the dead man's credit cards pointed to robbery as the motive for the murder.  On January 16, 1998, Jenkins was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

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