Good Morning! And Welcome to Crime Blogs! Today we are going to cover the Axe man of New Orleans. And axe-wielding maniac that roamed the streets of New Orleans.
March 19,1919 and jazz music rang through the downtown parts of New Orleans. Music came from everywhere, bars, clubs, residence. The night clubs and bars were overly packed and was flowing onto the streets. New Orleans was known for its lively atmosphere and this night would be one of the most heavy gig nights in history.
For almost a year, the city of New Orleans had been the subject of multiple attacks of a serial killer, to be specific it was an axe murderer who still to this day has never been identified. The killer is known to history and the people of New Orleans as the Axeman of New Orleans. But it might be impossible to verify whether he’s actually responsible for all the murders that were pointed to him, everybody does know for a fact that from May of 1918 to October 1919, 12 people were viciously attacked across New Orleans, 7 of those 12 died from their wounds.
The victims and the dates they were attacked are listed below:
- Joseph Maggio – May 23, 1918
- Catherine Maggio – May 23, 1918
- Louis Besumer – June 27, 1918
- Harriet Lowe- June 27, 1918
- Anna Schneider- August 5, 1918
- Joseph Romano – August 10, 1918
- Charles Cortimiglia – March 10, 1919
- Rosie Cortimiglia – March 10, 1919
- Mary Cortimiglia – March 10, 1919
- Steve Boca – August 10, 1919
- Sarah Laumann – September 3, 1919
- Mike Pepitone – October 27, 1919
I will cover all these victims later in the blog.
Police noticed in almost every case, there was a small hole that was carved out in the door as if he would crawl through this opening and brutally attack his victims with the axe. The weapon was often in the house and left at the scene of the crime along with a chisel used for breaking through the door.
All the victims of the Axeman had a lot in common. They were mainly women; to police it appeared that men only suffered blow if they got in the Axe man’s way and never seemed to be the primary target. Another thing the victims had in common was they were primarily Italian Americans, who during this time was the white underclass.
During this time of year, the Italian descent were no strangers to violence in New Orleans. It was a city troubled by its tense race relations, it had the largest mass lynching in civic history, it was 11 Italian American’s outside Parish Prison in 1891. Italians and ancestors lived in crowded slums that lacked police presence of other neighborhoods.
Many assumed Italian neighborhoods were run by mafia-esque organizations like the Black Hand, a grounded in some fact but also inflated by prejudice and sensationalism and the recent end of World War I didn’t help the matters.
His first official murder was on May 23, 1918. It was a late spring day, and he used a chisel to remove part of a part and slipped quietly into the home of Joseph and Catherine Maggio. Joseph’s brothers, Jake and Andrew also lived in the home went to check on the couple and they found Catherine’s body draped over Joseph’s whose head and face were brutally beaten.
Joseph was still alive when his brothers found him but died from his wounds shortly after. Catherine’s head was almost detached from her body. Her killer had used Andrews straight razor to slit her throat so deeply that she had been partially decapitated.
Andrew was arrested for the attacked but released shortly after the investigation turned up no evidence linking him to the crime. Police did find a message written in chalk about a black from the Maggio house that read, “Mrs. Maggio will sit up tonight just like Mrs. Toney.”
Over the summer, 2 more attacks happened and 4 more people were brutally attacked, 2 of them died from their wounds, one victims, Louis Besumer did survive the attack. Police believed at this point it was a gangster bent on extortion. But that was quickly dismissed as he didn’t take money or valuables after the attacks.
From August 10, 1918 to Late winter of 1919 there was no attacks reported. But then on March 10,1919 tragedy struck again, this time a family. Charles, Rosie and 2 year old Mary Cortimiglia were attacked in their home after an invader cut out part of their kitchen door. Rosie was found cradling her dead daughter in her arms and was the only survivor. Could you imagine laying there and seeing your dead child and husband and afraid to move.
3 Days after the Cortimigila attack, a letter was arrived at a local newspaper station, the author demanded its publication and the address line was none other than a eerie echo of Jack the Rippers correspondence, from Hell.
Hell, March 13, 1919
They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman…
The author threatened more murders claimed he’d leave no clue except a bloody axe, smeared with his victim’s blood. He also offered the terrified citizens of New Orleans a proposition.
Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is:
I am very fond of Jazz music, and I swear by all devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everybody has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.
Police still don’t know to this day if this was truly the Axeman that wrote this letter, but nevertheless, New Orleanians took this demand to heart and on March 19, the city resounded with Jazz and no attacks occurred that evening.
3 more victims including one death followed in August, September and October of 1919 and after the last attacked October 1919, no more murders occurred. There was speculation that the killer may have struck earlier in the decade around 1911 or 1912.
The Axeman of New Orleans still remains a mystery to this day and the gruesome details of the case echo through the years.
Photo Credit in order: Hutlon Archive/Getty; Wikimedia Commons; Wikimedia Commons; Hulton Archive/Getty; Wikimedia Commons