The Axeman of New Orleans

History is full of unsolved murders. One of the most famous historical figures is Jack the Ripper, a serial killer who stalked London in the Victorian era. His identity has never been discovered despite his fame. America has several unsolved serial-killing sprees. One of these, which took place in New Orleans in the early 20th century.

He came to be known as the Axeman for his favored murder method, and his reign of terror began in May of 1918. On the 23rd of that month, Joseph Maggio, an Italian grocer, and his wife Catherine were butchered in their sleep. Their throats were cut and their heads were destroyed with an axe. Nothing was stolen, and the killer even left his bloody clothes at the scene.

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About a month later, Louis Besumer and his mistress, Harriet Lowe, were attacked with an axe. Both survived the attack, but Harriet died a month and a half later. She accused Besumer of her attack, but he was acquitted after a trial. Besides, he had been attacked, too.

In August, the Axeman struck again, attacking a pregnant woman. She, too, survived, but suffered a severe cut to her head.

By this time, the police started to realize they might be dealing with a serial killer.

Before the police could investigate much further, another attack occurred. Another Italian grocer, named Joseph Romano was attacked in his home. His two nieces, who lived with him, saw the attacker fleeing and were able to provide a description. They said he was dark-skinned and heavy set. As in all the other cases, the assailant stole nothing. Sadly, their uncle died from severe head trauma two days after the attack.

The city was in a panic with this murderer on the loose. People were careful to bar their doors at night, and some even began keeping loaded weapons close by at all times.

There were no more Axeman murders in 1918, and some began to believe that the killer must have left town. They were wrong.

On March 10, 1919, in the neighboring town of Gretna, another attack occurred. Charles and Rosie Cortimiglia, Italian immigrant grocers, and their two-year-old daughter Mary were attacked by an axe-wielding man. Rosie and Charles were severely injured, but their daughter was killed. Rosie first accused her neighbors of the murder, but eventually recanted her accusation.

Then, on March 13, the major New Orleans newspaper received and printed a letter that was allegedly from the killer. In it, he called himself the Axeman. He also promised that he would be roaming the streets on March 19, and anyone who was listening to jazz music would be spared his axe. But he swore to kill anyone not listening to his favorite musical genre.

Needless to say, jazz music issued forth from every house and dance hall in town that night. No one was murdered.

But the Axeman was not finished. In August and September, three more people were attacked by an axe-wielding assailant who broke doors to enter the victims’ homes and stole nothing.

On October 27, 1919, Mike Pepitone was attacked in his home and struck in the head with an axe. His wife saw the killer escaping, but could not provide any identifying characteristics. It wouldn’t matter, though, because this was the Axeman’s last attack.

After the Pepitone murder, the Axeman was never heard from again. To this day, no one knows anything about his identity or what became of him.

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