BATON ROUGE, La. -- Just after dawn, men with shovels and a backhoe began digging in the Weiss family plot in Roselawn Cemetery.
After almost three hours of careful digging, a rusted steel vault was uncovered, and its dome was lifted to reveal a collapsed cypress coffin.
Inside the coffin were the remains of Dr. Carl Weiss, who has long been believed to be Huey P. Long's assassin -- and, a scholar hopes, the answer to one of Louisiana's most riveting mysteries.
Weiss, a respected doctor, was shot to death by Long's bodyguards just after Long was fatally wounded in a state Capitol hallway in 1935. Weiss' body was exhumed yesterday for an autopsy to determine whether any aspect of the bodyguards' accounts of that night can be verified.
No autopsy was ever performed on Long or Weiss. And some historians and Long opponents have asserted that the coroner's inquest was a whitewash.
James E. Starrs, a forensic scientist at George Washington University, is investigating the mysteries that surround the assassination of Long, the political boss who was first governor, then senator and who had his eyes on the presidency.
Starrs and his team say they hope that an examination of bullets and tissues in Weiss' remains will lead to answers about the murky events on the night of Sept. 8, 1935.
Weiss was never officially named the assassin, but the label has stuck.
"There's an endless sea of fabulous fictions about this case," Starrs said yesterday. "I hope that science can put some of them to rest."
The Weiss family has unwaveringly maintained that Weiss is innocent, and Weiss' son, Carl Jr., was at the cemetery yesterday.
Weiss' remains were taken to a laboratory in Lafayette about noon and the autopsy was begun a few hours later. It is expected to be completed tomorrow.
In addition to looking for bullet holes and bullets, the scientists will analyze tissue and bone marrow samples for toxins, poison and disease in a search for signs of physiological or pathological causes that might have prompted the well-regarded Weiss to behave irrationally.
On the night Long was killed, bodyguards surrounded the senator as he walked along the marble corridor in the Capitol he had built. Witnesses said a thin young man in a white suit appeared from behind a pillar, shoved a gun against Long's body and fired once. A rain of gunfire followed.
Mortally wounded but alive, Long fled to the basement. The young man, Weiss, lay dead on the floor, his linen suit a checkerboard of blood.