The New Orleans police were called to a gruesome scene in the early morning of May 22, 1918. Joseph Maggio, a grocer, was sleeping in bed with his wife when they were repeatedly struck in the face. Catherine’s neck was cut so severely; she was nearly decapitated. Joseph’s skull was crushed by his own ax. The police discovered the ax in their bath and a razor near the bodies. Joseph’s brother was suspected initially as it was his razor, but he was later cleared. There wasn’t enough evidence to prove it. The Maggio’s were the first of many killed by the Axeman of New Orleans.
Just two weeks later, another grocer was attacked. Louis Besumer survived the attack. However, he was not alone. His mistress, Anna Lowe, was with him and died from her injuries. The Axeman attacked a family of three in March the following year. Charlie Cortimiglia and his wife survived, but their two-year-old daughter did not. The police arrested the next-door neighbors. The families both were grocers, so the police assumed they were trying to get rid of the competition. But there was no evidence to support this.
There were many similar murders around the time of the Axeman killings. It is difficult to tell which were only his. His killings consisted of entering a home and using the victim’s owe ax to injure or kill. The ax was usually left behind at the crime scene.
During the early 1900s, the Italians were flourishing in New Orleans. Police, at one point, had thought these murders were done as a hate crime against the Italian immigrants. Many Italian immigrants had a way of life that some people disliked. Italian immigrants tended to have a disliking towards the police. Because of this, they often settled disputes among themselves.
The Italians did not miss the pattern of crime in the area. They were terrified. Many men would stay up through the night to protect their families from harm. Terror filled the streets of New Orleans. Crime in New Orleans was wreaking havoc on the city.
Like Jack the Ripper, the Axeman of New Orleans taunted the public through the local newspaper. The Axeman of New Orleans wrote to the New Orleans Times-Picayune and addressed the letter to “Esteemed Mortal.” Ned Hemard quoted the Axeman in his article stating, “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.”
The Axeman was a huge fan of jazz music. In his letter, he stated, “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 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.”
On this night, there were no killings. Was it due to the amount of jazz played that night?
According to Smithsonian Magazine, the Axeman was identified by survivors as a middle-class white man. Based on how quickly he got into homes, he was a skilled burglar who most likely had a record. While it isn’t known how many victims the Axeman had, it is estimated he killed at least 12 people. The killings lasted only a year and a half ending abruptly in the fall of 1919. To this day, the Axeman was never caught.