The sounds of jazz has always had a special connection to New Orleans. It’s almost impossible to go down Bourbon Street without hearing the unmistakable call of a saxophone. But the link between the big easy and the devils music is a much darker one than you might expect.
May 22sd 1918 Joseph Maggio and his wife Catharine were asleep when someone broke into their home threw a broken out panel in their door. The intruder then found the family’s axe and a straight razor and then proceeded to attack the couple, He hit both of them both with the axe several times and then slit their throats. Strangely the killer didn’t take anything from their property and no motive for the brutal slaying could be found. Unfortunately for New Orleans the Maggio murders were just the first in a long stream of attacks done by what the media called the Axeman.
June 27th the same year the Axe Man struck again attacking Louis Besumer and Harriet Lowe again with an axe found in the home and while the couple was sleeping. Louis would survive the attack but Harriet would succumb to the effects of her wounds weeks later. August 5th Anna Schneider an expecting mother was attacked while her husband was at work. Luckily she survived and later gave birth to her baby girl. On August 10th Joseph Romano an elderly man living with his daughters was the next victim. When the daughters rushed into to save their dad they found a large dark skinned man in a suite and hat fleeing the room. Romano would unfortunately succumb to his injures two days later.
March 10th 1919 the Axe Man would commit what might be his most heinous attack yet by striking Charles and Rosie Cortimiglia along with their young daughter Mary with the family axe. Both Charles and Rosie survived but unfortunately Mary didn’t. Three days after the attack on the Cortmiglia Family a letter arrived to the news media. In the letter the Axe Man claimed to be a demon and said that he would kill again that Tuesday unless everyone in New Orleans was playing Jazz music. That night the town gathered in music halls to here jazz bands play and those who couldn’t make it hired jazz bands to play in their homes. True to his word no one was attacked that night.
A jazz band of the time.
It would be a few months before the Axe Man would strike again attacking Steve Boca in exactly the same way as the others. A month later he attacked Sarah Laumann. Both would survive their attacks but neither were able to describe their attacker. The last to die by the Axeman’s hand was Mike Pepitone on October 27th 1919. His wife who found him claimed she saw a large man with axe fleeing at the time. After that the murders just seemed to stop.
Police never did find anyone they could prove was behind the Axeman attacks. Some speculate the attacks were committed by the mob since many of the victims were Italian business owners. Others think that the attacks might have been a sick promotion for jazz music pointing to the killer’s strange request. Unfortunately there was almost no forensics at the time so we will probably never discover the Axeman’s true name. The citizens New Orleans seem to have settled to just keeping playing the jazz the city is now famous for and hope that’s enough to keep the Axeman away for good.
A song named after the Axeman.