New Orleans history is rich with tales of organized crime, corruption, vampires, voodoo, witches, and gruesome bloody murders. One of the most notorious unsolved serial murder cases was that of the Axeman.
Thirty years after Jack the Ripper terrorized London, another brutal killer bloodied nights in New Orleans. Half a world away from the infamous London serial killer, a mysterious man with an axe reportedly broke into homes and cleaved people to death throughout 1918 and 1919. The Axeman’s reign of terror began on May 23, 1918 with the murders of a grocer and his wife. Though at least six people were violently slain, no one really knows how many people the Axeman killed, but he had an affinity for killing grocer’s wives.
The Axeman murders terrorized all of New Orleans as the Jack the Ripper killings did London. The mysterious nature of the crimes and the seemingly random violence meant no one was safe. The New Orleans murders took place in the middle of the night; most victims were killed in their beds with their own axes.
At one point, the masses of New Orleans suspected a Mafia base for the killings. The rumor was fueled by the fact that many victims were Italian and lived in rooms next to their stores.
Authorities reportedly dismissed Mafia ties due to the nature of some of the killings. At the time, authorities said Mafia killers would not harm women. The Axeman allegedly killed women, and a young girl was also listed as a victim. In fact, some experts noted that men tended to be involved as victims only when they obstructed the Axeman’s ability to kill women.
On March 13, 1919, someone wrote to a New Orleans newspaper claiming to be the killer. The letter taunted authorities and reported that the Axeman loved jazz music. It also claimed there would be a murder a quarter past midnight. Homes where jazz music was heard would be spared violence, said the letter. Homes throughout the city reportedly played jazz music loud enough to be heard in the streets. Whereas no one knows if the letter was a hoax or if the Axeman truly had a penchant for jazz, no murders occurred that evening.
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.
When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.
If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse 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 with the Angel of Death.
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 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 just 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 your 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 it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, 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 fancy.
Interestingly, there may have been similar murders in New Orleans in 1911. Reportedly, several instances of brutal axe murders, where the targets were Italian merchants, all killed in the same manner occurred at that time as well. The perpetrator also would break in through the back door and slay the victim with an axe in their beds.
Many theorize that the murderer was a respectable citizen by day who carried out a violent agenda in the heat of the night. During the killing spree, and throughout the years following, several individuals were accused or suspected of the murders. One woman retracted accusations against 2 business rivals after she fell ill, and a man accused by his mistress was found not guilty within minutes after a coroner testified about the case. Almost 100 years later, the identity of the Axeman of New Orleans remains a mystery.
The New Orleans killing spree ended with the last of the murders on October 27, 1919.
- 1919: A serial killer had New Orleans on edge. The Times-Picayune website. October 23, 2011. http://www.nola.com/175years/index.ssf/2011/10/1919_a_serial_killer_has_new_o.html.
- Katz, H. Cold Cases: Famous Unsolved Mysteries, Crimes, and Disappearances in America. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Publishing Group; 2010:53-62.
- Ramsland, K. The Axeman of New Orleans. Crime Library website. http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/weird/axeman/index.html.