Warren Frey holds up The Eunice News that reported the Frey family’s encounter with three men who found themselves on the defense when the family fought back 47 years ago. (LSN photo by Myra Miller)
A day when the bad guys lost
Events that happened 47 years ago seem like they happened yesterday to Warren Frey of Mowata.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. The fear and trauma to my entire family was unreal. The robbers were known as the ‘Dixie Mafia,’ and the head of this mafia was killed,” Frey said.
“My only regret that I did not kill them all. My wife and children suffered the most, being tied up and gagged at the mercy of these criminals.”
Frey, now 80, was 34 years old at the time of the gun fight.
His wife and four children were home with him, along with his mother, 65, and father, 67, next door.
Frey added, “I was in the mode and frame of mind of, “protect my family ...”
A front page headline in The Eunice News on June 22, 1971, read, “Frey family resists holdup; bandit killed in gun fight.”
A photo taken of the Mowata rice farmer Harry Frey also appears with the article. The caption under the photo reads, “Shown above, is the home of prominent Mowata rice farmer, Harry Frey, where an attempted robbery leaving one man dead took place last Thursday night. The bandit killed in the shoot-out was later identified as a convicted felon with a long record of jail breaks in Tennessee, Georgia and Louisiana. Two men accompanying the one killed were fired upon as they drove into the driveway at the left of the picture by Warren Frey. The younger Frey is the son of Harry who lives in another home to the right of the picture. He was escorted along the highway in the foreground to his father’s house, some 50 yards away, while being held at gunpoint by the robber.”
Warren Frey will be at a book signing Saturday, June 23 from 10 a.m. until, at Rocky’s Restaurant in Eunice. The book, a true story, titled, Gunfight at The Freys is about the 1971 holdup, gunfight and robbery at the Freys. Books will be on sale at the book signing.
Frey wanted a book written about all the details of that fearful and dreadful night. He is excited about reading his first copy, and added, “I’m glad to see this, the book, come to pass. I never dreamed that a book would print about true facts of my family and what we went through on that terrible evening. However, I’m looking forward to owning and reading the first print copy.”
The Eunice News article gives details of that June 1971 event. The article said, “One man was shot and killed and two others are still being sought in the attempted armed robbery of prominent rice farmer Harry Frey of Mowata, last Thursday night.
“According to the account given, Warren Frey, son of the elder Frey, went to the front door of his home when someone called him by name and identified himself as a sheriff’s deputy wanting to talk to him.”
“Warren then opened the door and was shown a pistol being held by one man accompanied by two more. The two other men then taped the wife and four children of the younger Frey while the third man led Frey to his father’s home at gunpoint along the highway in front of the homes.
“The two men who stayed with the family reported to have been wearing masks while the third man leading Warren to the home was unmasked.
“When they arrived at the elder Frey’s home, Warren notified his father of what was happening while summoning his father to open the door.
“Once inside the Harry Frey home, the gunman led the younger Frey and his mother and father to the bedroom in the home where a safe was kept.
“On receiving the combination from his father, Warren opened the safe and started to hand valuables over to the gunman. Warren then saw a chance to get the pistol from the gunman and a scuffle followed.
“During the scuffle the robber broke a window on one of the doors of home attempting to get the attention of his mates in the house some 50 yards away. The pistol then went off hitting the bandit under the arm while Mrs. Frey began hitting the robber with a heavy-duty flashlight over the head and face.
“In the meantime the elder Frey removed a 30.06 from a rifle cabinet and shot the bandit. The shooting took place in the bedroom where the safe was located.
“After the shooting in the home, with the robber apparently dead, Warren then went outside to a small tenant home in the back yard and gave the pistol to a hired hand while he kept the rifle.
“The younger Frey then started back to his home across the back of the two homes. When he started across the yard the robber’s companions then backed out of the driveway of Warren’s home and drove toward his father’s house.
“They stopped in the driveway at the home of the elder Frey and the man on the passenger side of the vehicle got out. Warren fired the rifle from the backyard and apparently hit the man as he spun back into the car.
“The car then drove off down the highway with the tenant following through the back yard and firing with the pistol at the car which he said was moving very slowly.”
“Law enforcement authorities were called, and a state trooper arrived shortly thereafter. The tenant then had a rifle.
“As the trooper approached the home, his car was shot at by the tenant, who thought the intruders had returned.”
“Upon later investigation by Sheriff Elden Arceneaux after the robber was pronounced dead by the Acadia Parish coroner, he was identified as Lonas Ray Caughorn of Monroe who was being sought in Mississippi by authorities with one of them thought to be badly wounded.
“According to Sheriff Arceneaux, residents of the area were asked to be on the look-out for an abandoned 1965 Cadillac. The car is light blue and bears Mississippi license tags. It is believed to have a connection with the attempted robbery.
“The sheriff also said that two hand guns found on Caughorn after the shooting have been traced to Monroe where they were stolen during a theft on June 10.
“He said that a dragnet throughout the South had been enacted to try to capture the two companions of Caughorn who were involved in the case.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Harry Frey were taken to the Moosa Memorial Hospital following the robbery attempt where both of them were reported doing fine.”
According to Warren Frey, one of the bandits who accompanied Caughorn, he saw and identified him in Baton Rouge. “His name was Harvey Love, and I picked him out in a line up. At the time of the robbery he wore a mask. The lawyer there when I picked him out asked me how would I know him without a doubt. “I got in his face, and said, “I smelled him! I know!” “After being scared to death and mad, I know him.”
According to Frey he does have knowledge that Love was killed at a later date. The other man who accompanied Caughorn, Frey does not recall what happened to him after the robbery. He said, “However, Acadia Parish Sheriff Ken Goss had details about him.”
Frey also said of Caughorn, and later was told by his mother, she said, “Not surprised of my son. He’s been in trouble since 14!”
Tom Coleman, production manager of Louisiana State Printing, LLC, remembers very well the June 1971 shoot out.
Coleman said, “I picked up the phone to call someone when I overheard two women talking.
“Normally, on our party line, if there were voices on the other end I would immediately hang up. But I heard one woman tell the other “and killed him dead.” Well, my curiosity was piqued, and I continued eavesdropping on their conversation. I learned of an attempt to rob one of our neighbors, my cousins’ grandparents, Harry and Annie Frey.
“The bad guys were disguised as sheriff deputies, and one was shot and killed and another wounded. I stayed on the phone as the story was relayed from house to house, and more details emerged. But the two robbers were on the run and had not been apprehended that evening. I slept with a loaded shotgun next to my bed.
Coleman added, “I was a fresh 17-year-old EHS graduate preparing for college in the summer of 1971 living on our farm in Mowata about two miles from the Freys.”