The Axeman Murders
New Orleans Canal Street, eary 1900's Published: 12:25 PM - 02-06-11

The Axeman of New Orleans was a serial killer active in New Orleans, Louisiana (and surrounding communities, including Gretna, Louisiana), from May 1918 to October 1919.

As the killer's pseudonym implies, the victims were attacked with an axe. In some of the crimes, the doors to the victim's homes were first bashed open with a chisel.

"The Axeman" was not caught or identified at the time, although his crime spree stopped as mysteriously as it started.

The murderer's identity remains unknown to this day, although various possible identifications of varying plausibility have been proposed.

Not all of the Axeman's victims died, but the savagery and utter randomness of his attacks terrorized much of the populace.

His victims included a pregnant woman and even a baby killed in the arms of its mother.

The Axeman also seemed to draw direct inspiration from Jack the Ripper: he (or someone claiming to be the Axeman) wrote taunting letters to city newspapers hinting at his future crimes and claiming to be a supernatural demon "from Hell".

Dated, "Hell, March 13, 1919," it said:

Esteemed Mortal:

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 fell demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.

When I see fit, I shall come again and claim other victims. I alone know who they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with the blood and brains of him whom I have sent below to keep me company.

If you wish you may tell the police not to rile me. Of course I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have conducted their investigation in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to amuse not only me but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am, for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axeman. I don't think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.

Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in close relationship to the Angel of Death.

Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to visit New Orleans again. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a proposition to you people. Here it is:

I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the 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 mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of those people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.

Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tartarus, and as it is about time that I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, and that it may go well with thee, I have been, am and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fantasy.

The Axeman

Not everyone was intimidated by the Axeman. Some well armed citizens sent the newspaper invitations for the Axeman to visit their houses that night and see who got killed first.

One invitation promised to leave a window open for the Axeman, politely asking that he not damage the front door.

Whether a prank or the real thing, people took the letter seriously. It's been said that, while the residents of the "Big Easy" will use any excuse for a party, there has never been a louder, more raucous evening than that St. Joseph's Night on March 19.

And no one was murdered that night.

The following is a complete listing of the Axeman's victims and how they were killed:

1.Joseph Maggio was an Italian grocer who was attacked while sleeping alongside his wife, Catherine, at their home on the corner of Upperline and Magnolia Streets on the night of May 22, 1918. He survived the initial attack, but died minutes after being discovered by his brothers Jake and Andrew, who lived in the other side of the double, and had come to investigate after hearing his calls.

2.Catherine Maggio was the wife of Joseph Maggio. She was attacked during the night along with her husband on the night of May 22, 1918. Numerous blows were inflicted to her head with an axe and her throat had been cut so deep that her neck was nearly severed.

3.Louis Besumer, also a grocer, was attacked in the early morning hours of June 6, 1918, alongside his mistress Anna Lowe. He was critically wounded in the attack but managed to survive.

4.Anna Lowe was attacked while in bed with Louis Besumer. She had been badly wounded and died a few hours later at Charity Hospital.

5.Mrs. Schneider was attacked in the early evening hours of August 5, 1918. The 8 months pregnant Schneider awoke to find a dark figure standing over her and she was bashed in the face repeatedly with an axe. She was discovered later when her husband returned from work. She was treated for her wounds at Charity Hospital and delivered a healthy baby girl 3 weeks after the attack.

6.Joseph Romano was an elderly man living with his two nieces, Pauline and Mary Bruno. On August 10, 1918, Pauline awoke to find a man standing over her. She screamed and the man leaped off into the night. She entered her uncle's room to find him critically injured. With his dying breath, Romano instructed his niece to call the hospital.

7.Charles Cortimiglia was an immigrant who lived with his wife and baby on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Second Street in Gretna, Louisiana, a New Orleans suburb. On the night of March 10, 1919, screams were heard coming from the Cortimiglia Residence. Neighbors rushed in to find Rosie Cortimiglia kneeling on the floor in a pool of blood next to her husband, who had a gaping hole in his torso.

8.Rosie Cortimiglia was the wife of immigrant laborer Charles Cortimiglia. She was attacked alongside her husband on March 10, 1919 while sleeping with her baby in her arms. She was badly wounded by the axeman, but survived the incident.

9.Mary Cortimiglia was the two-year-old daughter of Charles and Rosie Cortimiglia. She was killed while sleeping in her mothers arms with a single blow to the back of the neck when she and her parents were attacked on March 10, 1919.

10.Steve Boca was a grocer who was attacked in his bedroom as he slept by an axe-wielding intruder on August 10, 1919. Boca survived his wounds. It was duly noted that the assailant chiseled his way through the back door, similar to other Axeman attacks.

11.Sarah Laumann was attacked on the night of September 3, 1919. The 19-year-old suffered numerous head wounds and died at the hospital.

12.Mike Pepitone was attacked on the night of October 27, 1919. His wife was awakened by a noise and arrived at the door of his bedroom just as a large axe-wielding man was rushing out of it (some accounts say she saw two men fleeing her husband's room.) Pepitone was transported to Charity Hospital where he died early the next morning.

Editor's Note: The killings stopped in October 1919. No one was ever charged with the crimes. Were they the victims of an unknown, vicious serial killer? Or perhaps were they the victims of some unseen spectre from the bowels of Hell?

I'll let you decide.

Edited by: Brenda Booth

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