Family Affair: The Story of the Canal Street Brothel
Jeanette Maier was born in Galveston, Texas, in 1958. Five months later her father dropped dead from heart failure, a complication from a childhood bout with scarlet fever. Jeanette's mother, Tommie Taylor, found herself alone, a 19-year-old widowed housewife with two kids, so she packed up and moved back home to New Orleans.
Jeanette grew up in the French Quarter, where her grandfather owned a saloon. "She took her first steps in Tony's Spaghetti House on Bourbon Street," Tommie recalls.
Most women who become prostitutes don't willingly sashay into the life. They don't go into it because of the great pay, the wonderful benefits, or the ideal working conditions. They are dragged into it by force or circumstance, or they go because they feel like they have no other choice. Jeanette Maier was no exception. "I had a real rough childhood," she says. She lost her virginity when she was six. One night when her mom was out, Jeanette's uncle slipped into her bedroom. When he was finished with her, Jeanette crawled into the bathroom and tried to scrub herself clean.
When she was eight, a friend's uncle wanted to touch her. Jeanette charged him a quarter. "I learned how to use my sexuality to get what I wanted and to make money," she says.
At age 12 she ran away from home. In the early 1970s it was easy to get hooked on drugs. Jeanette fell hard into that trap. "I shot up anything I could get," she says. A year later she found herself in Houston where she was gang raped and left for dead.
As a teenager, she fell in love with a Navy man. They got married and settled in Baytown, Texas. She cleaned up and started a family. But it was the mid-1970s, a time when the medical profession knew nothing about postpartum depression. After the birth of her second child, Jeanette suffered a bout of depression, so her doctor put her on synthetic morphine. Nearly 30 years later, she looks back on it and says, "It put me back on the road to disaster."
When her husband found out about the drugs, and the affair she was having with a married couple down the street, he threw Jeanette and the kids out.
In 1977, Jeanette retraced her mother's footsteps and fled Texas for the familiar streets of New Orleans. She managed to land a decent job but soon discovered that the pay wasn't enough to feed her two kids and her drug habit. She found the money she needed working as a stripper. She also had a new man in her life, a biker named Crazy Johnny. One night at a strip club, Johnny said, "You can make more money working for an escort service than you can doing this."
By 1980, Jeanette was running a pair of escort services. She advertised them in a local paper as Valley of the Dolls and Garden of Eden. She dumped Crazy Johnny and quit taking drugs. "One day I just woke up and looked in the mirror and said, 'What the hell am I doing?' and I walked away." From Crazy Johnny and from drugs, but not from prostitution.
Through her escort services, Jeanette supplied girls to hotels, parties and private shows, and they were regulars at frat houses, bars and some of the city's best restaurants. "If people knew some of the things we did on those tables," she says, "I don't think they would eat there."
At shows and parties, Jeanette and the girls did a 45-minute stage routine that involved bananas and whipped cream. Then they mingled, working the crowd and making arrangements for private performances.
One night Jeanette got a call from a hotel. When she arrived for her appointment, she walked into a room filled with a dozen NFL players who were in town for a game against the Saints. It was a boozed-up locker room party and Jeanette was the only party favor. She smiled and said, "Who's first?" A little while later she waltzed out with her purse stuffed with hundred-dollar bills.
According to Jeanette, the secret to handling so many guys at one time is a little trick she later taught to all of her girls. Wiggling two fingers in the air, she says. "I call it the prostate massage."
In 1990, Jeanette started college. Occasionally, her seductive powers came in handy at school. "I had this one nursing class I had to get an A in, so I slept with the professor." She got the A.
By the mid-1990s, Jeanette was making a lot of money, and the cops usually left her alone. Of course, it didn't hurt that she was frequently the entertainment at a favorite police watering hole.
On Tulane Avenue, directly across the street from the courthouse, was a little bar called the Star & Crescent, named after the design of the New Orleans Police Department badge. It was a cop bar doing business as a private club. Through a couple of cutouts, an NOPD detective and a Treasury agent owned the place. You couldn't get in without punching the right code into a keypad mounted outside of the door. The code was *69.
Jeanette says that she and her girls got called to the Star & Crescent a lot. "I mean, you're doing a sexual act in front of a roomful of DA's, judges, and police," she says, "so how can they arrest you?"
Apparently they couldn't, but later the FBI could.