The axeman of New Orleans makes you afraid of sleeping. What if you sleep in the comfort of your bed and never wake up? And have you woken up only to find your loved one brutally murdered or yourself wholly covered in blood?
This fear haunted the people of New Orleans in the early 1900s when one serial Killer went on killing people with their axe. The Killer came to be famously known as the Axeman of New Orleans.
1. Most Horrible Murderer
From May 1918 to October 1919, the wretched murderer attacked a dozen people in New Orleans and nearby areas on the Mississippi River. ‘The axeman of New Orleans’ name was not given by the Killer but by the police and people of New Orleans as he mentions in his letter, “you Orleanians” and “your foolish police” call me the axeman. Till today the horrific murderer and perhaps the worst spirit is unknown. He was never caught.
He considered the investigations of the police to be “utterly stupid” that amused even Satanic Majesty and Francis Josef. He thought of himself as a dreadful killer, as he mentions in his infamous letter, “undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer.” A letter that he hoped would be delivered to all through the newspapers as he said, “Hoping that thou wilt publishes this.”
Entering from the back door, the axeman would attack the victims when they were asleep. The serial Killer would not take anything or leave behind anything at the crime scene except the bloody axe. The axe was the only evidence left behind.
According to the letter, the monster from the hottest hell would spare any human being who played Jazz because he liked it. Such a warning was given to the residents of New Orleans. And he swore this by all the devils in the nether regions to not harm the ones playing Jazz.
Based on this, Joseph John Davilla, a local artist, wrote a song in 1919, “The Mysterious Axeman’s Jazz,” which became popular among the people of New Orleans. Miriam Davis wrote a book called The Axeman of New Orleans (Published by Chicago Review Press).
2. Victims of The Cold Hearted Killer
Joseph Maggio, an Italian grocery shop owner, and his wife Catherine were the first victims of the axeman. The axeman of New Orleans first attacked on May 23, 1918. The Killer entered from the back door of their house and attacked them while they were sleeping. He first cut the couple’s throat with a straight razor that belonged to Joseph Maggio’s brother, Andrew Maggio, and then slammed their heads with an axe.
Andrew lived in the neighboring flat of his brother and ran a barber shop from where he’d taken the straight razor. Joseph Maggio and his wife Catherine both died. Catherine died immediately, and Joseph died a moment later after Andrew found them. The police found the bloody clothes of the murderer as he changed to new clean clothes.
Andrew could not come to his brother’s house on time because he was drunk and heard no noise. He became the prime suspect of the police, but he was released due to the lack of evidence.
Louis Besumer and Harriet Lowe, his mistress, were attacked on June 27, 1918, while they were asleep in their quarters. Louis Basumar was attacked above his right temple, while Lowe was cut down over the left ear. Both of them were lying in the pool of their blood till morning.
A regular delivery guy, John Zanca, came to their bakery for delivery in the morning and discovered Louis and Lowe covered in their blood. The police arrested Lewis Oubicon as a suspect who joined Besumer’s store a week before the attacks began. However, no sufficient evidence was found, and he was later released. Both the victims survived the attack.
After the incident, Lowe kept making false and sensational statements regarding the incident and Besumer. A bunch of letters in German, Russian, and Yiddish language were found in Besumer’s house. Everyone’s attention turned from the axeman to Besumer. He was suspected of being a German spy, and a full-on investigation was conducted on him.
In a statement from Lowe, she said she thought Besumer was a German spy, and he was immediately arrested. Louis Besumer was released two days later, but he was again arrested because Lowe, who was dying in Charity Hospital due to a failed surgery, said that Besumer had attacked her a month ago with his hatchet. But the charges of the murder were dropped, and again he was acquitted. Lowe died due to the fruitless surgery to restore her partially paralyzed face.
The victim of the third attack was Mary Schneider, who was attacked on August 5. She was a 28-year-old lady and eight months pregnant. She saw a dark figure looming over her who bashed her face repeatedly. She was discovered by her husband, who came home late from work.
She survived the attack but suffered a severe head wound. Her baby, too, was fine, and she delivered a healthy baby girl. According to the police, Mrs. Schneider could have been hit by a lamp on a nearby table. At this point, the police publicly assumed it to be connected to the previous murders of Maggio and Besumer.
The next victim was Joseph Romano, an older man living with Mary Bruno and Pauline, his two nieces. The sisters heard some noise from the room of their uncle, Joseph Romano, and went to check and found their uncle to be severely injured. The girls saw the attacker when he was running away.
According to them, he was a dark-skinned chubby man wearing a dark suit and slumped hat. Due to severe head trauma, Joseph Romano died two days later. In this case, a bloody axe was also found, and the axeman entered the house from the back door. After this murder, the city was filled with extreme confusion and fear.
There were reports of people seeing the axeman in the neighborhoods of New Orleans. John Dantonio, the then-retired Italian detective, publicly assumed that the person behind the axeman murders was the same person who slaughtered several people in 1911.
How the murders were committed in both cases were similar; hence, he believed the same person conducted them. He said that the person behind these murders killed the victims without any motive, and they were driven solely by the desire to kill.
Charles Cortimiglia, his wife Rosie Cortimiglia, and their daughter Mary Cortimiglia were the axeman’s new targets. They were Italian immigrants who were also attacked in their sleep. On hearing screams of his neighbor Iorlando Jordano, a grocer, hurried to enquire.
Reaching the house of Cortimiglias, he found them attacked by someone. They were immediately taken to Charity Hospital. Nothing was stolen, and nothing was left behind except the bloody axe. The couple survived the attack. However, they lost their daughter.
Rosie, after gaining consciousness, declared that Iorlando Jordan and his son Frank Jordan, who were 69 and 18 years old, respectively, attacked them. Iorlando was in too poor health to have committed the crime, while Frank was too tall and heavy to enter from the back door. But the police still arrested them and they were found guilty later, even with insufficient evidence.
After the trial, Charles divorced Rosie. Later Rosie said that she falsely charged the father and son because of envy and hatefulness. And since her statement was the only evidence against the father-son duo, they were released from jail.
The attack on Steve Boca on August 10 was the first after the axeman publicly ridiculed the police and addressed the New Orleanians with his notorious letter. Steve’s head, too, was cracked open like the other victims.
After gaining consciousness, the grocer rushed to his neighbor Frank Genusa, lost consciousness again, and collapsed. After recovering from the injuries, he remembered nothing about the attacker except a dark figure standing over his bed.
Sarah Laumann was the latest target on September 3, 1919. She lived alone, and the neighbors found the young woman covered in her blood with several teeth missing. She, too, could not remember anything about the attack upon gaining consciousness.
The last known victim of the axeman was Mike Pepitone, who was attacked on October 27, 1919. The wife of Mike Pepitone saw the attacker running away and found him wrapped in blood.
3. The Jazz Band and Jazz Music
On March 13, 1919, newspapers published a letter from the axeman addressed to the esteemed mortal. The axeman hoped they would help his message reach out to the people of New Orleans as he said, “Hoping that thou wilt publish.” He does not consider himself a human being but a good spirit from the hottest hell.
He makes it clear in the letter that he did not give the name axeman as he says, “you Orleanians” and “your foolish police” call me the axeman. He mentions he will come for other victims. He makes fun of the police by calling them “foolish police” and their investigations utterly stupid, which entertained not only him but Satanic Majesty and Francis Josef.
Being a good spirit, he has shown infinite Mercy as he could slay thousands of the best citizens but didn’t. He could have been the worst spirit, but he did not strike daily. He says that the following Tuesday night at 12:15 or earthly, he will again come to New Orleans. He again shows his infinite Mercy as he makes a little proposition to the people. He likes jazz music and will spare anyone if he witnesses a Jazz band in full swing at the earthly time.
The more people have a Jazz band; the better it is for them. And those not playing Jazz or not having a jazz band on that specific Tuesday night will meet the axe of the axeman of New Orleans. Every house had a Jazz band that night.
Those who did not have a band went to the New Orleans dance halls where professional, and amateur bands played Jazz. Following this, Times-Picayune published a cartoon where a family is seen playing jazz music in fear. No Murder Was reported the following Tuesday night.
4. 3 Theories Regarding The Murders
4.1 Italian Grocers
The axeman of New Orleans primarily targeted Italian immigrants and Americans, causing many to believe that the axeman’s victims were being killed for their ethnicity. Even though the axeman killings targeted Italian immigrants, especially the Italian grocers, there is no evidence to prove this, as the axeman was never caught.
4.2 Female Victims
Some believed that the axeman mainly targeted the women as, in some cases, only the woman was killed, not their husband. And the axeman attacked or killed the husbands only when they tried to stop him.
4.3 Promotion of Jazz Music
Some also believed that the axeman was a lover of Jazz music and that the sole reason behind all these murders was the promotion of Jazz in New Orleans. In his letter (addressed to the esteemed mortal), he warned the people of New Orleans that those who play Jazz would be spared. Otherwise, he will slay thousands of the best citizens of New Orleans.
He will have Mercy on those whose houses have a jazz band in full swing; he swore this by all the devils in the nether regions. This was his little proposition to the people of New Orleans. Joseph John Davilla composed a song in 1919, “The Mysterious Axman’s Jazz” (Don’t Scare Me Papa), which became famous in New Orleans.
Several considered this an urban legend as insufficient evidence exists to identify the Killer. The crime spree ended abruptly, just like it had started. Miriam Davis wrote a book entitled “The Axeman of New Orleans,” highlighting every event of these murders. In an interview with Vice, the author said separating facts from fiction was easy.
NOLA.com also covers the axeman’s story in their podcast, Voodoo City (episode 4: The Axeman Cometh). Listen to the Fresh Hell Podcast (E22: MURDER – The Axeman of New Orleans). This American horror story of the Axeman till day can make you think twice before going to sleep.
Click here to read something you may also like.
Payal Halder is a media student who writes on various issues. Having worked in organizations like ABP News (Hindi) she’s learned to dive deeper into matters and write a thorough piece. Currently, she is interested in exploring and writing about a few real incidents, in an objective manner.