13 Unsolved: How a Houston cold case murder 5 decades ago during dice game was cracked

Courtney Fischer Image
Thursday, March 28, 2024
13 UNSOLVED: How a murder 5 decades ago during dice game was cracked
Houston police gave access only to ABC13's Courtney Fischer into the case files of a murder five decades ago that investigators had just solved. They say, though, there's more work to be done.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Louis Jean Batiste was shot and killed during a dice game in the Third Ward nearly 50 years ago and the killer was never caught -- until now.

Another Houston cold case has been solved. Now, Houston police are asking for your help finding Batiste's family.

Houston police are sharing their process only with our Courtney Fischer, creator of the Unsolved series on Eyewitness News, also streaming on Hulu.

For the first time, HPD is opening the nearly five decades-old case file, barely legible after decades of being boxed up.

Batiste's murder case is one of dozens of unsolved murders of Black men from the 1970s, now being reinvestigated thanks to a grant HPD received in 2021: The Emmett Till Grant.

In Batiste's file, long gone are the nine crime scene Polaroids. There's no physical evidence left.

But there is a story about what happened on May 29, 1976 in the Third Ward, as Batiste gambled one evening with the neighborhood group of 20, including a man named Booker Ballenger.

"They would pull their money together, buy big boxes of chicken and go in the alley," HPD Detective Darcus Shorten told us. "They shared it and they also played dice."

That night, someone brought a gun. Police say Batiste had it, Ballenger confronted him, shots were fired, and Batiste died.

"By the time police arrived, most people had scattered. That's where the confusion comes in because it's almost like you jump a scene," Shorten explained, citing the case file.

In the days that followed, police tracked down witnesses, built their case and tried charging Ballenger with Batiste's murder. But Shorten says back then, the district attorney's office said there wasn't enough evidence.

"They said: find more witnesses. So (officers) did. And when they go back and say we found more witnesses, it was: find more witnesses," said Shorten.

Then, Batiste's case just got left behind.

"But now the DA's office says, 'Wow, I think we have a good case here,'" said Shorten.

Ballenger is now being charged with murder, Shorten told Eyewitness News, 48 years after allegedly killing Batiste. "It took the disaster -- what happened to Emmett Till - it took all the energy that went toward his unfortunate death. Now we're using his name to help others."

Ballenger is dead, so he'll never face trial. But the case isn't closed. Houston police are now searching for Batiste's relatives. They want to share the developments with family, no matter how distant.

Batiste's case is currently one of 48 being investigated using funds from the Emmett Till grant. Under the grant, a Black man killed in the 70s, whose murder remains unsolved, can be reopened. HPD says they have yet to review cases from 1971, 1972, and 1979.

If you believe you might be a relative of Louis Jean Batiste, call the Houston police cold case unit at 713-308-3618.

For news updates, follow Courtney Fischer on Facebook, X and Instagram.