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John Garst

was probably born Ella Cherwiss in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was an African American woman whose death in New Orleans at age twenty-eight is the subject of the ballad “Ella Speed” (also known as “Alice B.” and “Po' Li'l Ella”). With her husband Willie Speed, she had a son and possibly other children.

For several years before her death, Ella Speed was a prostitute. In the spring of 1894, while an “inmate” at “Miss Lou” Prout's sporting house at 40 South Basin Street, a luxurious parlor house built nearly thirty years earlier for the renowned madam Kate Townsend, Speed met Louis “Bull” Martin, an Italian American born in July 1866. A short, stocky bully and small-time thug, Martin lived with his parents and worked as a bartender at Trauth's Saloon near the Dryades Street market. In August 1894 he was arrested for beating up ...