Axeman of New Orleans
What brought the city to their attention was the first crime made on May 23, 1918 when an Italian grocer, Joseph Maggio and his wife were butchered in their apartment during the night above the Maggio grocery store (Taylor). In the crime scene was the weapon, an axe, which seemed to have had been covered in blood. As police dug into the case, several suspects were questioned, but investigators seemed to be lacking evidence and the only clear clue seemed to be a message written in chalk near the home reading; “Mrs. Joseph Maggio will sit up tonight. Just write Mrs. Toney” (Taylor).
Looking back into files, what seemed to appear was a case similar to the Maggio’s. Standing out was the use of an axe to chisel out an access way into the victim’s homes. More importantly in 1911 there were three other murders targeted towards Italian grocers (“Axeman”). There had to have been some kind of pattern forming. One month after the Maggio crimes came another scene of Louis Bossumer and Annie Harriet Lowe. Annie, discovered by neighbors lying in her own blood, claimed that her common law husband Mr. Bossumer attacked her. He lived behind his grocery store, but notice he was not Italian and survived, with a fractured skull (Smith).
Popping out in the scene was again the access of the killer. In the house of Mr. Bossumer nothing was stolen, but the kitchen door was chiseled and lying on steps. After hospital treatment they were both released and with no charges pressed against them. Knowing that the “boogeyman” was still out there, New Orleans was preparing for another unplanned attack, and sure enough it took place a couple months later in August. Attacked, but not killed, was Mrs. Edward Schneider: she was found unconscious, with many gashes, and a few teeth missing from a fall of the axe. Seeing a small phantom-like form standing over her bed, she had awakened.
No evidence was gathered, as with the murder of Joseph Romano who was an Italian grocer and was attacked just like others (“Axeman”). Police were never able to pick up any evidence of the identity of the Axeman. Now chaos was pouring through the city as families went into search groups and protected their families with shotguns. The month of August continued with exciting events, as the killer was spotted on August 11 attacking people in the streets, as rumors said (Taylor). Manhunts were created but nothing helped and even on August 21 a suspicious man was found leaping a fence but once again nothing was concluded.
On August 11, a man named Al Durand found an axe and an attempt to chisel through his rear door, but apparently the door seemed to be too thick to cut through. Three more pieces of evidence appeared in three different ways. The rear door of Paul Lobella’s grocery and house was chiseled through while no one was home and with in the same day grocer Joseph Le Bouef reported an attempt to chisel through his rear door in the night. The last of the three pieces of evidence followed the next day when A. Recknagle, a grocer, found chisel marks on his back door also.
Leaving the month of August and moving towards September 15 and past the disappearance of the Axemen for a while, were noticed more attempts of cutting through the door of Paul Durel’s house (Smith). Notice how these attempts all happened to grocers. Leaving the police questioning, the Axeman left the city for a while and no further crimes were reported until the year 1919. The day came in 1919 when the killer’s worst crime occurred. On March 10, across the river from New Orleans, Mrs. Charles Cortimiglia, a grocer’s wife, repeatedly denied the gruesome attack of her husband by a large man in dark clothing with an axe.
The husband died and fell to the floor, and the wife was next on the list with her baby. While she asked and begged for mercy, the Axeman came down with the deadly weapon and killing the infant and leaving the mother with a fractured skull (Taylor). Notice the man who died was a grocer, maybe not Italian but the fact still connects with the other murders. Giving up, the police began thinking the impossible and saying that the Axeman really was not a man, but possibly a midget, with a better chance of falling through the cuttings of the doors.
The police had to keep in mind what the victims saw, a “large man in a black suit. ” Grasping for hope, the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper received an unexpected letter from the unknown Axeman, which was a huge piece of evidence. Summing up what the letter read, the Axeman declared he was invisible and no one would ever catch him. He alone knew who the victims were and he would leave no evidence except his bloody axe that would send people below to keep him company. He declared the police were stupid, but then again stated they were wise and knew how to keep him away from all harm.
He said he is the worst murderer ever, but he could be much worse. Then what surprises them all is he blatantly says at 12:15 on next Tuesday night, he is going to pass over New Orleans and in his infinite mercy he is going to make a little proposition to the people, and 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 everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people.
People who do not jazz it up on Tuesday night will get the axe. ” He leaves the letter signed as The Axeman (Wright). The people of New Orleans tried their best to follow what was asked but could not manage to arrive at peace with the Axeman. The people jammed with revelers, friends and family gathered to sing, and they did their best to “jazz it up,” which was suggested. The axe attack of Sarah Laumann made the people return home into safe hiding. What was different about this crime scene and what separated it out from others, was the fact of how the killer got in.
He did not do his normal routine; instead he attempted to go through the window (Taylor). Riot in the city was now beginning to occur because Sarah was not a grocer or an Italian, leaving the gates open for everyone to be attacked, throwing the police off kilter. However, the next crime put them back on track. Another survivor, Steve Boca, trembled to walk with axe wounds. He managed to make it to his friend’s house who called for help, and did his best to help treat the wounds. Police found the normal signs of the Axeman, the chiseled door and bloody axe on the floor.
Nearly a year later on September 2, a local man fired his gun at an attacker who broke into his house, but of course he escaped. Making his last impression on everybody, The Axeman had one more victim on his list to keep him company. Mike Pepitone was butchered as a grocer, in his bed at night. The room next to his, holding his six children and wife, was not touched. Noticing the relationship between the first and last murder, both were butchered and grocers. His coming and going was done and New Orleans, still frightened, in their shoes slowly started to calm down.
Even though the police still have this case labeled as unsolved, the reason may as well be because that generation has all passed and they are now dealing with today’s issues and keeping everyone else safe. Just because the police have not come to a conclusion does not mean other people do not have one. A possible conclusion came to mind, that the guilty party is Joseph Mumfre. Though he is not referenced in the evidence, Esther Albano, who was the widow of the Axeman’s latest victim, later killed him.
As the investigation was being made, certain things about Mumfre stood out, to making him the possible murder Mumfre was once the leader in a jazz band, which was one of the Axeman’s suggestions to keep him away. Another aspect of the band was they seemed to have preyed on the Italians, and half of the Axeman’s murders were Italian (Taylor). This unsolved case soon became old news and people moved on and unpleasantly found peace with the Axeman, who disappeared to the coast.