At the corner of Orleans Street and Dauphine Street in the heart of the French Quarter sits a rather unassuming four story Greek Revival house of an indistinct shade of pale pink. Black wrought iron elegantly compliments the simplicity of the pale wall colouring. Walking past it, no one would guess that it was once the site of a pretty gruesome murder that happened in the 19th century. Local paranormal enthusiasts probably know the house better as The Sultan’s Palace, so if you’re ever in town and want to have a gander, ask for that rather than The Gardette-Laprete House.
The house was built in 1836 for a dentist from Philadelphia named Joseph Coulton Gardette. Not long after it was built, he sold it to a local businessman named Jean Baptist LaPrete who used it to showcase his vast wealth. Once the Civil War came to an end, however, so did Monsieur LaPrete’s fortunes. He was forced to rent the house for income and the first new occupant was a bit unusual.
There has never been a lot of information available on exactly who the renter was, but it has been alleged that he was from Turkey. He was allegedly a deposed ruler of some eastern land with a brother who was a Sultan who remained behind in Turkey. His arrival in New Orleans was seemingly larger than life. Included in his entourage were eunuchs, men, tapestries, trunks and suitcases and women. Lots of them. Once moved into his new home, the balconies were permanently closed and locked. It was said he intended to use the house as a palace where his pleasures could be satisfied. Rumours spread that he would kidnap local women and indoctrinate them into his hedonistic lifestyle, growing his already sizable harem. Some say he tortured the kidnap victims. Others hinted that it wasn’t just women of all ages taken in; boys were there as well. The house soon became known as “The Sultan’s Palace”.
One night, the sounds of pleasure gave way to screams of terror. Alerted neighbours cautiously approached the house; they were used to rowdy sounds emanating from the Sultan’s Palace, but this was different. They found blood oozing out from under the front door and immediately called for the police. When knocks when unanswered, they forced their way inside. An unspeakable scene met them inside the house. Blood was everywhere. Splattered on the walls. Spread on the floor. Body parts strewn haphazardly around. They found all the women of the harem, as well as the young boys, had been sexually assaulted. Even the guards brought with the Turk had been raped before being violently mutilated. The Turk himself did not escape death; his body was located buried in the courtyard where he’d been buried alive.
So who was behind this heinous crime? No one has ever had the real answer, but two theories developed in the days after the gruesome discovery:
1. Pirates. While this may seem like a far fetched idea, one only has to look into the history of Louisiana to learn that one Jean Lafitte, French pirate and privateer. Pirates were very much part of the culture of Southern Louisiana. So perhaps the Sultan had business with some local pirates and it had gone south and they were out for blood.
2. Family. Remember the brother that this alleged deposed ruler left behind in Turkey? Some think he sent men to New Orleans to murder the brother living here to remove any inheritance competition. Others think it might’ve been a case of avenging their family for theft of the family fortune.
Whatever the reason for this heinous crime, it certainly left behind its fair share of ghostly happenings. In the months after the crime, passersby insisted they could hear Oriental music emanating from the house as well as the scent of incense. Some have heard ghostly screams from unknown parts of the house and yet others have seen the ghostly visage of the Sultan himself.
While the house fell into disrepair for many years, it was put to use again in the 40s and 50s and at some point turned into an apartment building. To this day residents report seeing individuals around the house wearing Oriental clothing and hear footsteps when no one is around.
* I found many variations of this second surname while researching, but I decided to go with this one.