It was a different time then.
Throughout the early 1900s all the way to the late 1960s, Beaumont was booming and new faces filled the streets at all hours of the day and night. Prostitution, gambling, crime and police corruption were commonplace. Since then, things have quieted down a bit and many who saw Beaumont’s heyday have come and gone. With them went much of the colorful history of early Beaumont.
But one Beaumont police officer is working to preserve that history.
What started as a small tour for youngsters has since grown into more than just a walk down memory lane.
With a basement full of old evidence, guns, pictures and other paraphernalia, BPD Officer Doug Kibodeaux has erected a sizable display of some of BPD’s most treasured history, captured in a small but impressive museum in the basement of the police station in downtown Beaumont.
“They were just gonna destroy ‘em,” Kibodeaux said. “It was just laying around. I’ll tell you what, when I started here three years ago in this office, they were conducting Cub Scout tours through here. They had like two of these displays with stuff just thrown in it, and that was it. It was embarrassing to me.”
After a few short years, the 30-year peace officer has collected and saved thousands of pictures and items of memorabilia of early Beaumont, from a full panoramic of one of Beaumont’s first police forces in 1916, to early Colt handguns and wanted posters of serial killers whose crime sprees brought them through Beaumont.
“This is a regular police officer, and he made $133 a month,” Kibodeaux said, pointing to one of many aging police photos in the museum. “Of course this was in 1940.”
What’s more, not every policeman was equal to his peers in the eyes of the paymaster.
“The really interesting part, this black guy right here, he was making half the pay scale as a regular patrolman doing the same job,” Kibodeaux said. “Most people don’t realize it, but up into the ’50s, black police officers had no arrest power for whites. They could not arrest a white man. If they had to get a white man arrested, they had to call a white man (police officer) to do it.”
Even after a lifetime with BPD, the first African-American BPD police officer to retire with the department could not arrest whites.
“This is the entire police department in 1924,” Kibodeaux said, pointing to a black and white photo. In the crowd of bobby hats and badges, a single black face stands out. “At the time, there was a guy by the name of Bill Freeman. He was the only black police officer we had. He worked in the black areas of town because, as I said, he didn’t have arrest power for whites. It makes him stand out. Even though he was the third black police officer they had, he was the only one actually listed on the payroll and actually stayed on long enough to get some kind of retirement. He retired in the 1930s after 30-some-odd years with BPD.”
Arrests and mugshots taken by police officers were just as common at the time as they are today, with one key difference: The charges attached to each mugshot might be considered bizarre by today’s standards.
“Some of the things they arrested them for, I mean, we didn’t even know what they were,” he said.
Some of these charges, written in ink at the bottom of each discolored mugshot, included knob-knocker (safe cracker), hotel prowler, box car burglar, white slavery (compelling prostitution), voodoo doctor and many others.
“That year (1927) there were actually five arrests for chickens at-large,” Kibodeaux said.
The BPD museum boasts historic guns that came close to a tragic fate in the junkyard.
“We destroy all our weapons,” Kibodeaux said. “We can’t resell them or give them away or anything like that, so they were gonna destroy them. And there are some of them … my God.”
The museum’s gun cases are a gun-lovers dream and include one of the first Colt 1911-style semi-automatic handguns — with matching serial numbers — as well as an 1884 Winchester rifle, each one with a likely story to tell.
“All these guns were taken off somebody,” he said.
Luckily, another piece of Beaumont’s history remains intact.
Kibodeaux pointed to the “grandaddy” of Colt handguns. “There are very few of these left,” he said.
Kibodeaux’s next project is a small basement ward dedicated to Beaumont’s history of crime and police corruption investigated by federal agents in the 1960s.
“Beaumont was notorious back in the 1950s all the way to the late 1960s for houses of prostitution, gambling, everything like that,” he said. “I mean, they knew about us in other parts of the country. It was such a big deal here. and the police department basically kind of went along with it.”
That all came to an end when federal agents and lawmakers cracked down on Beaumont’s booming organized crime business as part of the James Commission.
“Mulligan, the chief of police at the time, lost his job,” Kibodeaux said.
But more research needs to be done before the newest wing is complete. To help the process, Kibodeaux is asking the public’s help in documenting Beaumont’s seasoned history of crime and punishment. He said anyone with old pictures of police stations or police officers can contact his office at (409) 730-4433. All pictures or memorabilia will be returned to their owners, he said.
“If you’ve got something old, old pictures, anything like that, I’ll scan them and return them,” he said.
While the museum doesn’t have hours during which it is open to the public, call Kibodeaux for group tours or to make an appointment to see the collection.