February 1, 1935
New Orleans, Louisiana
Louis Kenneth Neu (28) is executed for the murder of two men
Neu’s victims were killed a week apart and separated by 1,300 miles (2,100 km). Lawrence Shead (some sources erroneously spell his name Snead) was 35 when his head was beaten with an electric iron. He was killed in his apartment on September 10, 1933, and Neu stole his car and a suit, among other items. Neu drove the stolen car to New Orleans where he met with 67-year-old Sheffield Clark in his hotel room on September 17. Clark was beaten with a blackjack (a rubber club often used to incapacitate victims) and strangled.
To evade detection, Neu had removed the license plate from Shead’s car and replaced it with a pasteboard (a stiff board fabricated from sheets of paper or paper pulp bound together with paste) sign reading “In Transit.” Neu was stopped in New York’s Holland Tunnel by an officer who wanted to question Neu about the pasteboard plate, though Neu assumed the office was arresting him in connection to the killings and readily confessed to both.
Neu claimed Shead had been killed in self-defense during a “drunken fight,” while police suspected Clark had been killed after refusing to give Neu money. “Psychiatrists,” however, as The Paterson Evening News reported on February 1, 1935, “said Neu was a Jekyll-Hyde personality and killed Shead when the blood lust seized him.”
While his crimes were noteworthy in their own rights, it was Neu’s courtroom and prison demeanor that captivated the press. The former cabaret entertainer amused the courtroom with various songs and dances, to the point of being given the moniker “the singing slayer” by the press. One such song included the refrain “I’m fit as a fiddle and ready to hang.” Neu was convicted — who had attended his trails clad in Shead’s stolen suit and Clark’s stolen shoes, a fact he himself pointed out to the judge and jury — and sentenced to death, Louisiana judge A. D. Henriques concluded the reading of the sentence with, “May God have mercy on your soul.” “Thanks,” Neu replied, “and good luck to you, too, judge.”
The states of Louisiana and New Jersey fought for who would be the one to execute Neu. In response, Neu stated “I’d rather hang than burn in the electric chair.” Whether the courts took Neu’s wish into consideration is unknown, though ultimately it was decided he would hang in Louisiana.
Neu’s antics were not restrained while in prison. He entertained reporters and guards with more songs and dances, including a routine he called the “gallows’ strut” which he hoped to perform directly before his execution if he were so permitted.
On February 1, Neu went to the scaffold singing Love In Bloom and tested the steel trapdoor with “half a dozen light dancing steps.” As the noose was slipped over his head, Neu thanked the executioner for the bag of shrimp he had previously sent the condemned man. Neu’s last words were directed at a friend who was a witness to the execution: “Goodbye, Bill. Are you the last fellow I have to look at?”
Lawrence Alfred Shead. Find A Grave. Accessed: February 1, 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/104732862/lawrence-alfred-shead
Hawkins, Erik. “The Killer Crooner And The Death Of A Thrill-Killer: LGBT True Crime Of The Past.” Oxygen. June 26, 2019. Accessed: February 1, 2020. https://www.oxygen.com/crime-time/indecent-advances-lgbt-true-crime-past-history-shocking
Odell, Robin. The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2010
“Sings, Dances En Route To Gallows.” The Owensboro Messenger. February 2, 1935
“Would Dance On Gallows.” The Border Cities Star [Windsor, Ontario]. February 1, 1935
Cahill, James R. “Shead Murder Avenged On Gallows At New Orleans.” The Paterson Evening News. February 1, 1935
“Singing Killer Pays For Murder of Tennessee Man.” The Paterson Evening News. February 1, 1935
“Fit As a Fiddle, Ready to Hang, is Neu’s Song.” Alexandria Daily Town Talk. December 12, 1933
“Kenneth Neu Is Ready for ‘Rope’.” The Herald-News [Passaic, New Jersey]. September 25, 1933
“Neu Is Facing Extradition To New Orleans.” The Charlotte News. September 23, 1933