Between May 23rd, 1918 and October 27th, 1919 there were 6 murders and 6 attempted murders that took place in New Orleans. The media would later point out the similarities in some unsolved murders that date back to 1911.
The killer’s Modus Operandi was simple but brutal, the killer would more often than not break into their victim’s homes by removing a panel in the backdoor with a chisel, they would then lay that panel down on the floor and attack their victims with a cut throat razor and an axe. Usually, the axe would belong to the victims and it would always be left at the scene of the crime.
Authorities would later discover that these murders weren’t motivated by robbery as nothing would ever be taken from the victim’s homes. It was also clear that the victims were all mainly Italian immigrants or Italian-Americans, which led many to believe these murders were either racially motivated or paid for by the mafia.
Victims 1 & 2: Joseph and Catherine Maggio.
On May 23rd, 1918 married couple Joseph and Catherine were asleep when their home was broken into and their throats were cut. Before leaving the scene the murderer bashed the couple’s heads in with an axe.
Catherine died instantly, with her throat being slit so deep that her head was almost severed from her body but Joseph survived the attack but later died after being discovered by his brothers Jake and Andrew two hours after the attack.
Authorities discovered the murderer’s blood-soaked clothing at the scene, along with the cut-throat razor used to slit the couple’s throats. The razor ended up belonging to Joseph’s brother Andrew who was a barber.
Victims 3 & 4: Louis Besumer and Harriet Lowe.
On June 27th, 1918 at his residence located at the back of his grocery store Louis was asleep with his mistress Harriet when they were attacked with an axe.
Louis was struck with his axe just above his right temple which resulted in a fractured skull, whereas Harriet was struck just above her left ear, they both survived the attack. The pair were discovered in a pool of their blood at 7 am by delivery man John Zanca. Louis’ axe was left in the bathroom by the attacker.
Authorities arrested 41-year-old Lewis Oubicon, an African American man who was employed by Louis. There was no evidence that Lewis had any involvement in the attempted murders and was later released.
After authorities found letters written in German, Russian and Yiddish at Louis’ home, they suspected that he was a German spy and they started a full investigation into a potential plan for espionage. Harriet was interviewed by police when she was in hospital as she was drifting in and out of consciousness, she told police that Louis was a German spy and police arrested him. Two days after his arrest the two lead detectives were demoted due to poor police work and Louis was released.
Then in August of 1918, when Harriet was on her death bed in hospital due to a failed surgery to restore her paralysed face she told authorities that Louis had attacked her with his axe and again Louis was arrested. A couple of days later, Harriet passed away and that made the case against Louis harder to prove.
After spending 9 months in prison, Louis was acquitted of murder on May 1st, 1919 after a jury deliberated for 10 minutes. Whilst Louis was in prison, more axeman attacks had occurred.
Victim 5: Anna Schneider.
On August 5th, 1918 a heavily pregnant Anna was woken up by a figure standing at the end of her bed. She was continuously beaten in the face with a bedside lamp and it had resulted in her scalp being cut. Anna was discovered covered in blood just after midnight by her husband Ed. Anna stated she remembered nothing about the attack and two days later she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
Convict James Gleason was originally arrested for the attack but was released soon after because of the lack of evidence. There have been no other suspects mentioned in the attack.
Victim 6: Joseph Romano.
On August 10th, 1918 Joseph’s two nieces that he lived with sisters Pauline and Mary were abruptly woken up by a struggle they heard coming from their uncle’s room. The sisters went into their uncle’s bedroom where they found him with two open cuts to his head after being hit in the head.
Later, the sisters would tell authorities that the attacker was fleeing the scene when they walked into their uncle’s bedroom. They described the attacker as a dark-skinned, heavyset, dark suit-wearing male with a hat.
Joseph was able to walk to the ambulance after the attack but he died two days later in hospital from head trauma. It was discovered that he was attacked with an axe that was later found in his backyard.
Victims 7, 8 & 9: Charles, Rosie and Mary Cortimiglia.
On March 10th, 1919 husband and wife Charles and Rosie were asleep with their infant daughter Mary when screams were heard coming from their home by the neighbours.
Neighbour Lorlando Jordano rushed across the street and found Rosie with a serious head wound whilst she was holding her deceased baby and Charles was laying on the floor covered in blood from his head wound. Police found a blood-soaked axe on the back porch.
The couple was rushed to the hospital where it was discovered that they both had skull fractures. Two days later Charles was released from hospital but his wife Rosie had to remain in the hospital for more treatment.
When Rosie was interviewed by police in the hospital she said that her neighbour Lorlando Jordano and his son Frank were responsible for the attack and murder of her daughter. Charles denied his wife’s claim and said that it was not the father and son who attacked them.
During the police investigation, they discovered that Lorlando was too old and frail to have committed the attacks and that his son Frank was too tall and heavy to have been able to fit through the removed panel from the back door. Nevertheless, police still arrested and charged the father and son for the attack and murder.
Both men were found guilty and Lorlando was sentenced to life in prison and his son Frank was sentenced to death by hanging. After the trial, Charles divorced his wife Rosie and a year later Rosie confessed that she had lied out of jealousy and spite about the father and son being involved in the attack and murder of her daughter. Lorlando and Frank were released not long after Rosie admitted she lied.
Victim 10: Steve Boca.
On August 10th, 1919 grocer Steve was attacked whilst he slept by an intruder wielding an axe. When he regained consciousness he ran outside to investigate the intrusion but realised that his head had been split open.
After making his way to his neighbour Frank Genusa’s home he collapsed and lost consciousness. He would eventually recover from his wounds but he had no memory of the attack or the attacker.
Victim 11: Sarah Laumann.
On September 4th, 1919 neighbours of 19-year-old Sarah broke into her home after they were unable to reach her. They found an unconscious Sarah with a head wound and a blood-soaked axe on the front lawn.
Sarah suffered a severe head injury from being beaten with a blunt object and she was missing several teeth. She recovered from her injuries but had no memory of the attack or attacker.
Victim 12: Mike Pepitone.
On October 27th, 1919 and his wife was woken up by a loud noise and she went to the bedroom door where she saw an axe-wielding man fleeing from the scene.
Her husband Mike had been violently attacked with an axe and his blood was splattered all over the place including on a photo of the Virgin Mary. Mike died from his severe head injury.
The Axeman’s Letter:
On March 13th, 1919 just 3 days after the Cortimiglia family attack the infamous Axeman sent a letter to the local newspaper that said;
Hottest Hell, March 13, 1919
Esteemed Mortal of New Orleans: The Axeman
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 offence 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 (and the worst), 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 out on that specific 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.
The crime writer Colin Wilson believed that the Axeman was Joseph Momfre, who was shot and killed by the last victim of the Axeman Mike Pepitone’s wife in December 1920 in Los Angeles. Another crime writer named Michael Newton researched Wilson’s theory and was unable to find anyone by the name of Joseph Momfre who had been killed or assaulted in Los Angeles. Based off of Wilson’s theory academic Richard Warner believed that the Axeman was Frank “Doc” Mumphrey who used the alias Leon Joseph Monfre/Manfre.
Still to this day we are no closer to knowing who the Axeman of New Orleans was.
It is believed that the Axeman was responsible for up to 17 murders and 14 attempted murders.
Rest In Peace Joseph Maggio, Catherine Maggio, Harriet Lowe, Joseph Romano, Mary Cortimiglia and Mike Pepitone.