The rough-and-tumble, unmistakably deep south Cajun district of Houma, Louisiana, may seem — to outsiders — an unlikely place for a gay nightspot and unofficial LGBTQ community center such as the Drama Club to thrive.
Such had been the case, though, for more than five years leading up to Christmas Eve 2009, when a raucous, joyful holiday party and pre-birthday celebration for beloved Drama Club manager Robert LeCompte ended in murder.
At 3:22 A.M., Randy Chestnut, the owner of the Drama Club who shared a home with his best friend LeCompte, telephoned police to check on the bar. He had spoken to LeCompte earlier after the bar closed, and had expected him to come directly home.Officers found the club unlocked and discovered LeCompte on the floor. Blood had poured forth from his neck and upper torso via 13 stab wounds shaped in a way to suggest the weapon had been a Phillips-head screwdriver.
About $4,000 cash was missing from the premises, so robbery may have seemed an obvious motive. But then, beneath LeCompte, investigators discovered a sopping napkin upon which was written in ballpoint pen: “You gave me AIDS.”
Robert LeCompte had been diagnosed HIV-positive in 1995. Focus shifted, then, to a possible hate crime or revenge killing.Detective Lieutenant Terry Daigre of the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Department, who was well-liked and respected by Houma’s gay population, questioned the previous evening’s partiers. They all indicated that the last person seen alive with LeCompte was Jorell Young, 23, a former Drama Club employee.
While no security cameras existed at the Drama Club itself, Daigre managed to track down video footage of Young paying cash to fill up his car at a nearby gas station, not long after the murder.
Daigre asked Young why anyone might have wanted to attack LeCompte, to which the ex-bartender replied, “Somebody must have thought he gave them AIDS.”
The detective told Young to write that statement down. Young did, scrawling: “I believe Robert LeCompte was killed because he gave some1 AIDS.”
That Young’s language matched the note at the crime scene would prove to be more than a mere coincidence. Still, with no physical evidence, the investigation would prove to be an uphill battle.
Rumors abounded that LeCompte and Young, who were close buddies, had an occasionally sexual “friends with benefits” relationship. Young, who had girlfriends and had fathered a daughter, denied being anything but straight and said he just enjoyed the color and camaraderie he found at the Drama Club.
It also came to light, however, that Young collected and expressed fascination with military knives. In addition, he had been arrested in times past for domestic violence and illegal weapons possession.
After months of fighting and even violence with Young at home, Darkus Baker, a woman who was pregnant with his second child, called Detective Daigre in hysterics. She said that Young had abused her for the last time, and she was ready to supply evidence that would connect her lover to the murder of Robert LeCompte.
Jorell Young’s murder trial commenced on November 26, 2012. Baker testified that early Christmas morning, Young had come to her trailer, handed her a Walmart bag containing a bloody shirt, and said: “Something bad happened; I had to kill somebody.”
Baker also said Young showed her a bloody key chain with “Robert LeCompte” written on it, and was in possession of stacks of cash in small bills. All those items appeared before the court as evidence.
Nothing indicated that Young was HIV-positive, however, leading investigators to conclude that the “You gave me AIDS” note was an intentionally planted false clue.
Instead, the prosecutors argued, Young had walked off his job days earlier and simply wanted money for Christmas expenses. His motive was simple robbery.
Young, in turn, claimed that he merely witnessed the slaying.
The jury, however, found Jorell Young guilty of first-degree murder. In January 2013, a judge sentenced Young to life behind bars without the possibility of parole. Young presently resides at the Angola correctional facility.
The Drama Club remained open until February 2014. It closed with an all-night celebration, no small part of which was a tribute to the life of Robert LeCompte.
Main image:Robert LeCompte [Terrebonne Sheriff’s Office]