Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Biloxi Confidential

The Corso Murder

Shortly after midnight on Easter Sunday 1971, Nix and several companions, while undisguised, attempted to rob the home of a wealthy French Quarter grocer named Frank Corso. An exchange of gunfire ensued inside the home that left Corso dead. However, before going down, he managed to fire a .38 caliber slug intoNix's belly. Staggering out empty-handed, bleeding heavily, and assisted by his partners in crime, Nix fled, leaving behind a trail of evidence that was a prosecutor's dream come true.

Crime scene investigators found Nix's 9 mm automatic pistol with a bullet jammed in the chamber, a hydraulic jack that was used to break into the house, a bag with handcuffs in it, and enough blood samples to make a good match with the blood type registered to Nix. The bullet jammed in the pistol had been intended for Corso's wife but had misfired when Nix tried to shoot her while fleeing.

Wounded and barely conscious, Nix was carried into an apartment in New Orleans rented under an alias to Nix and his new wife, Sandra Rutherford Nix. Knowing they couldn't check him into a hospital in New Orleans, Sandra and Nix's companions arranged to have him flown on a private plane to Dallas. She took a commercial flight and met her husband's plane at the airport there, then drove him to the hospital.

However, the hospital, as a matter of routine, reported to authorities that Nix had checked in with a gunshot wound. Word of the Corso murder had been out on the teletype to police stations all around the country, including Dallas. Phone calls were made and a connection was established. Nix was arrested and extradited to Louisiana, with the bullet still in his abdomen. He refused to have it removed because it could have been used as evidence against him.

In the end, it didn't really matter. The other evidence gathered at the crime scene was already strong enough to convict him. Plus there were eyewitness accounts from Corso's wife and teenaged daughter that identified him and the other suspects. The prosecution was headed by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison who, several years earlier, had received worldwide publicity for his failed attempt to convict an alleged conspirator with Lee Harvey Oswald of involvement in the murder of President John F. Kennedy. Nix's mother and father both joined the defense team, but even his powerful family connections couldn't save him. In March 1972, a year after the Corso murder, Nix and two of his accomplices were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Under Louisiana law at that time, "life imprisonment" meant just that: "for the rest of their natural lives." There was no hope of parole. Only a governor's pardon could spring them. Over the next decade, Nix would appeal his case to nearly every level — state and federal — but all in vain. After a five-year stint at a federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., on a charge unrelated to the Corso murder, Nix was returned to Louisiana to begin serving his life sentence at Angola.

Determined to secure his freedom by the only means possible — a gubernatorial pardon — he immediately set out toward accomplishing that goal. He needed a scheme or schemes to raise a large sum of money because, his sources told him, pardons could be bought for the right price from corrupt authorities within Louisiana's penal system. Using his Dixie Mafia connections, especially Mike Gillich, he set out on a mission to buy his way out of prison. A moneymaking plan was needed and thus the lonelyhearts scam was hatched.

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