When you think of a city as large as New Orleans, you don’t often think that one person, could put the entire population into a panic. But in May of 1918 to October of 1919, that is exactly what happened. The axeman was never identified, and he is our subject to talk about today.
The Axeman, as his name implies, used an axe to murder people. The axe typically belonged to the victims. He gained entry into the homes, by removing a door panel in the back of the home. Robbery was not the motive as no items were taken, other than the lives of the residents.
The majority of his victims were Italian immigrants, or Italian – American. Some media outlets claimed the murders were ethnically motivated, or even had Mafia involvement. There was no evidence to support this theory. Many theories abound, but there is not certain explanation to the crimes. They started and ended mysteriously and nobody has ever claimed the crimes, nor been charged.
- The Victims:
- Joseph Maggio and Catherine Maggio – Joseph, an Italian grocer, and his wife Catherine, were attacked on May 23, 1918 while asleep. The axeman cut their throats, and then used an axe to bash in their heads. Catherine didn’t survive the attack, and Joseph survived the attack by died of his wounds only minutes after he was discovered by his brothers. Bloody clothes from the axeman were found at the scene.
- Louis Besumer and Harriet Lowe – Attacked in the early morning hours of June 27, 1918. Louis, also a grocer, and Harriet were found in the back quarters of the store. They were both in a puddle of their own blood, bleeding from their heads. Both survived their attacks, however over a month later, Harriet died after a failed surgery to help repair the damage from the attack. Harriet claimed it was Louis that had attacked her. He was arrested and served nine months in prison before being acquitted.
- Anna Schneider – Attacked in the early evening hours of August 5, 1918. This was also the day that Harriet Lowe died. Anna was eight months pregnant, an awoke to find a dark figure standing over her. She was bashed in the face repeatedly, her scalp cut open. She was found after midnight by her husband who returned late from work. Anna survived and delivered a healthy baby girl two days later.
- Joseph Romano – On August 10, 1918, Joseph Romano was attacked, his two nieces who lived with him, heard the commotion in the next room. He had taken a serious blow to the head and had two open cuts from it. Unfortunately Joseph died two days later from the injuries.
- Charles, Rosie, and Mary Cortimiglia – An Italian immigrant family, who lived in Gretna, Louisiana, a New Orleans suburb were attacked the night of March 10, 1919. A neighbor heard the screams and rushed over, discovering that all three of them had been attacked and bleeding profusely. Mary, 2 years old, did not survive. Charles and Rosie did. Rosie accused the neighbors Iorlando Jordano and his son Frank of the crime. Charles vehemently denied this. And after they were sentenced, Charles and Rosie divorced, she later announced she had falsely accused them, they were later released.
- Steve Boca – A grocer, was attacked in his bedroom while he slept on August 10, 1919. There was a large dark figure in his room and he was attacked. Steve discovered later that his head had been cracked open. Steve survived and recovered from his injuries and didn’t remember any of the details afterwards.
- Sarah Laumann – Nineteen year old Sarah was attacked on September 3, 1919. Neighbors discovered her when she didn’t answer at the door, she was unconscious on her bed with a severe head injury and missing several teeth. Sarah did recover from her injuries but couldn’t recall any details.
- Mike Pepitone – Mike was attacked on October 27, 1919. He is the last known victim of the Axeman attacks. His wife discovered Mike and he and the room were covered in blood. His wife, wasn’t attacked, but her husband did die.
The Axeman sent a letter in the middle of his killing spree for the citizens of New Orleans, dated March 13, 1919. The letter taunted the police and haunted the citizens by saying that he has never been caught nor would he be. He threatened to claim more victims. And he stated that on Tuesday night, March 19, 1919 he would spare those whose homes played jazz music. If they didn’t “Jazz it out on that specific Tuesday night, they will get the axe.”
The citizens of New Orleans took this to heart and jazz played everywhere in the city that night. There were no attacks.
Were there suspects? Yes there were. Besides some of the victims listed above the police also suspected the following:
Joseph Momfre – A man that crime writer Colin Wilson suggested was the Axeman. He was shot in Los Angeles in December 1920, by the widow of Mike Pepitone, the Axeman’s last known victim. But there is no evidence that a man by this name was assaulted or killed in Los Angeles. Joseph may have been an alias used by Frank “Doc” Mumphrey.
What are your thoughts about this mystery? Please share what you think and let me know of other cases that may be out there.
Be safe and Be careful