On May 22, 1918, Joseph Maggio and his wife Catherine, would meet gruesome fates at the hands of a fledgling serial killer: The Axeman of Louisiana. The Maggios’ were asleep in their home, on the corner of Upperline and Camp streets, when their murderer broke in and sliced their throats with a straight razor. Catherine’s lacerations were so deep that her head was nearly severed. Dissatisfied with his handy work, the Axeman decided to add his very own special touch by bashing in the heads of his victims with an axe.
The fledgling serial killer, now having committed the first of many heinous acts, found himself longing for the taste of blood again, just a few short weeks later. During the wee hours of June 27, the Axeman would strike again. Louis Besumer and his mistress, Harriet Lowe, were bludgeoned with an axe while they slept, ironically with the very axe that Besumer owned. Both survived the attack, Lowe died in August due to complications during surgery in attempt to repair damage done during the attack.
On the same day that Harriet Lowe passed, the Axeman sought out another victim. 28 year old, pregnant woman, Elmira Schneider, woke to a dark figure looming over her. She was then bashed in the head repeatedly with a bedside lamp.
Just a few days after on August 10, Joseph Romano, an elderly man that was living with two of his nieces, was attacked in his sleep with an axe. Romano survived for a couple of days before dying from his injuries.
It seems that our mysterious Axeman had had his fill. Several months passed without incident; the streets of New Orleans had settled into a false sense of security. On the night of March 10th, 1919 screams racked Jefferson Avenue as the Cortmiglia family woke to discover an intruder inside their home. Charles, Rosie and their young daughter had all been attacked with an ace. Charles and Rosie would survive but their young daughter died on the scene.
It seems, at this point, that our Axman was more than amused with himself. Three days after the Cortmiglia attack the infamous “Axeman Letter” makes it’s appearance:
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.
One would imagine that the Axeman passed the next few weeks hidden in plain sight, observing the chaos that he had created among both the community and law enforcement. Giddy with his handy-work, his thirst for violence peaked once more. On August 10th 1919 the Axeman broke into the home of Steve Boca then attacked him while he slept with of course, an axe. Boca also survived the attack but because of his injuries, could not recall any of the details.
Sarah Laumann, another of his victims who would recover with no recollection of the event, was attacked just a few weeks later. On the night of September 3rd, neighbors of Laumann who had come to visit, broke down the door when she did not respond. Laumann was found unconscious in her bed with sever head trauma and missing several teeth; a bloody axe was discovered on the front lawn.
On the night of October 27, 1919, the Axeman would commit his last “verified” attack, resulting in the murder of Mike Pepitone. Pepitone had been asleep in his bed, next to his wife, who was spared from the attack. Mrs. Pepitone awoke during the attack and witnessed the assailant flee from the scene but could give no definite description.
Many have both analyzed and speculated the identity and motivation of the Louisiana Axeman. Regardless of his methods or madness, his identity and motivations remain a mystery.
Among one theorist is a dear friend of mine, Todd C Elliott. Todd published a well researched, factual timeline of the true Axeman murders. Elliott manages to bind the loose strings of this Louisiana mystery as he investigates all victims and suspects. “Axes of Evil” is an insightful view of this well known, unsolved “Urban Legend” Check out his book here!