The Notorious Axeman of New Orleans
New Orleans has always had a reputation as a lawless delta city, and during the early 1900s, that reputation received a dark taint as the Axeman’s shadow was cast over it. Serial killers have likely been with us throughout history, but with the advent of the diverse, populous and above all anonymous cities, they were given the ideal hunting ground.
The same way Jack the Ripper terrified London less than forty years before, the Axeman’s crimes drove the city of New Orleans into a panic. Accusations were flying left and right, people seized on anything they could to feel safe, and the city fell into a state of defensive terror.
The first victims of the notorious Axeman were Joseph and Catherine Maggio, a grocer and his wife who were killed in May of 1918. They were found by Joseph’s brothers, who entered the apartment and were horrified to find the husband and wife dead in their bed. They had both been dispatched by blows with an ax, but it was clear that the greater damage had been visited on poor Catherine. Her head was nearly struck from her body by the force of the blows. Nothing was taken, and eerily enough, the murderer’s bloody clothes had been left in the apartment; apparently, he had stopped to change before he left.
The details of the Maggios’ killing told the police a few things. First, the killer’s aim was definitely murder. Valuables and money left in plain sight were not taken. Second, the killer planned his attack. He would have had to bring along clean clothes to change in to. Third, the killer was very strong. He battered down the back door to reach the couple.
The Axeman’s next victims were luckier than the Maggios. The next couple was severely wounded, but they both survived. In an odd twist, the male from that couple, Luke Besamer, spent some time under suspicion as a German spy after his correspondence was uncovered during the investigation. A woman known only as Mrs. Schneider was attacked while her husband was at work, but though her face was bloodied and battered, she survived and even gave birth a short while later.
Charles and Rosie Cortimiglia, a married couple, were the Axeman’s next target. Both were badly wounded by the attack. Though they survived, their daughter, a two year old sleeping in her mother’s arms, did not. She had been killed by a single blow to the back of the neck.
Two unrelated people, Steve Boca and Sarah Laumann were attacked next. The mode of entry and the attacks were the same, but neither died from the wounds. Neither could offer the police any details of their attacker.
The last death associated with the infamous Axeman was Mike Pepitone, caught at home alone and attacked so viciously that his room was soaked with blood.
By the time the people of New Orleans realized that there was a killer in their midst, the killer had started playing with the press. A letter was sent to the newspapers where the Axeman declared himself an invisible spirit from hell. He told the people of New Orleans that tey were lucky that he did not kill every night, and stated that on a date a few nights from then, he would be making a visit to a home to kill the inhabitants therein. However, any home or venue that had jazz playing would be spared.
As may be expected, every jazz band in New Orleans were booked that night, and the dance halls were filled to capacity.
Whle the town was largely terrified, there were some citizens who were justifiably angry. There was more than one challenge to the Axeman to come visit at certain homes, and one such invitation said that the door would be left open for him.
In 1919, the Axeman’s attacks stopped as quickly as they had began. Whether he died or was incarcerated for some other reason, there is no telling what happened to him. Some mysteries can be solved, but as the years go by, the Axeman’s legacy remains one of eerie uncertain fear.