Three miles north of Highway 51 in Amite, just after midnight Tuesday, July 26, 1960, 59-year-old John O’Brien turned off the lights inside the Spar Service Station and stepped outside.
Turning back to the door, he locked up, holding his keys in his right hand and a flashlight in his left.
As he turned, three shots rang out. The first pierced his shoulder and ricocheted off the door frame. The second plowed through his nipple on the right side of his chest. The third shot pierced his heart.
John O’Brien died without hearing or seeing his assailant.
Two miles away, the sound of gunshots woke Russell Edward Thompson, the station owner. He phoned his place of business. Getting no answer, he called the sheriff’s office and drove to the service station.
On the dark, moonless night, Thompson saw a small light beam in the paved driveway. Moving closer, he found O’Brien, lying on his back, lifeless, with his eyes open, and his hand clutching the flashlight illuminating his face.
Startled, Thompson ran back to his truck and awaited law enforcement. He and Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Deputy W.B. Ricks found the drawers of both the inside and outside cash registers open and devoid of cash.
Based on the station’s daily average income, Thompson estimated the murderer had taken O’Brien’s life for less than $200. O’Brien left behind a wife and seven children.
A neighbor approached the crime scene from next door. Also awakened by the shots, she described for Deputy Ricks the noise that followed. The getaway car sounded as if it had no muffler.
Four days before the murder, Robert “Bobby” Milton McAllister, 20, of Ponchatoula got a letter from an ex-girlfriend in California. She wanted him back, but the move to California would cost more than he made building state highways. As he discussed his options with a co-worker, Calvin Neuman Carney, 26, of Independence told him to forget it. Getting that much money, he said, would require robbing people.
That Saturday night, McAllister and Carney held up a Billups gas station in Hammond. However, the adjoining store had too many customers, and the attendant kept a shotgun behind the counter. The outlaws escaped with only one Moon Pie and two Barq’s sodas.
Sunday night, they traveled to Amite, planning to rob Russell Thompson’s service station. This station did not have the customers Hammond had, but a milk truck arrived with a delivery, just as they entered the store. Once again, they walked away with no cash.
The next day, still frustrated over their weekend failures, the pair stopped at a Hammond pawn shop, where pawnbroker Ben Jackson sold Carney a .32 caliber revolver.
That evening, they picked up Carney’s 16-year-old girlfriend, Diane Dennis, after her shift ended at Jack’s Café in Albany. The three of them drank at an Albany bar until late in the evening. Before Carney dropped Diane at her home, the girl discovered the newly purchased pistol in Carney’s glove compartment. McAllister said the gun was his and slammed the glove box closed.
At 11 o’clock that evening, the drinkers dropped Diane at her home and headed to Amite and the Spar Service Station.
Investigators found Calvin Carney’s muffler-less car the next day at Dennis’ home in Albany and arrested them both. Carney confessed to his part in the crime and directed investigators to the gun he had wrapped in a towel and thrown into a bush behind his home. Livingston Parish sheriff’s deputies found Bobby McAllister two days later, hiding out on a relative’s farm in Springfield. Searching McAllister’s home, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Tom Sanders found $90 in cash in a half-gallon Mason jar.
An all-male jury of 12 convicted both men. Carney received a mandatory life sentence for armed robbery, and McAllister received the death penalty. However, the story does not end there.
In 1965, Bobby McAllister’s attorneys filed a writ of habeas corpus insisting the court had violated their client’s right to a fair trial. The four Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s deputies investigating the case and testifying at trial were also in charge of the jury, working closely in closed quarters with them throughout the trial.
In 1966, U.S. District Judge E. Gordon West ruled in McAllister’s favor, ordering the State of Louisiana to retry him, or set him free.
In 1967, Calvin Carney surprised the Defense and testified against his friend. Found guilty again, McAllister returned to death row in the Angola Penitentiary.
Two months later, the state pardoned Calvin Carney for his cooperation and released him from prison.
In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily declared the death penalty an illegal practice. In an interview with the State Times newspaper, McAllister told a reporter his latest appeal looked good and that he expected the court to release him “within a year or so.”
Five months later, someone stabbed McAllister in the exercise yard using a homemade knife. Inmate Eddie J. Burkhalter, serving life for shanking Inmate Eugene Sales in 1970, stood trial for the crime, but a jury found him innocent. The question of who killed Bobby McAllister remains a mystery.
Eddie Burkhalter died at the Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, Louisiana, in 2017.
Calvin Carney suffered a heart attack and died in January 2020 at his home in DeQuincy.
When he died, Carney, married with children and grandchildren, lived 10 miles from the Phelps Correctional Center, his residence in 1967. He worked decades at the Jerry Yellott Ford Dealership before retiring as a mechanic with the City of DeQuincy.