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A Little NOLA History, Part One: The Axeman Cometh

While watching The Originals, we’ve learned a lot about the supernatural side of New Orleans. We’ve heard a few of their superstitions, too, and I’ve even researched a few because I’ve always been the curious type when it comes to the history of places I love. And, yes, I do love New Orleans. I spent a week down there in 2016, and it was amazing.

That being said, there’s been a few things that have been mentioned, in passing and mostly by Vincent, during the course of the show that I’ve been curious about . . . and maybe you have been, too.

The first “legend” I remember Vincent mentioning was “The Axeman.” Now, the name alone is enough to conjure images of slaughtered bodies, and a masked maniac with an axe. But, what was the truth behind Vincent’s mentioning of him?

This is when I turned to Google, and shit got real.

 

About 100 years after Jack the Ripper terrorized the seedy side of London, there was The Axeman in NOLA. For nearly a year – from May 1918 to October 1919 – the city was gripped by fear. People played jazz music in a frenzy, but not just out of love of the genre or the party atmosphere. They played out of fear. And much like the story of Jack the Ripper, The Axeman has never been identified.

The Axeman may be, singularly, the reason why you hear jazz music everywhere you go. You’ll find out why in a minute.

But, The Axeman had a type. Where Jack attacked prostitutes, The Axeman attacked mostly Italian-American immigrants. The first victims – Joseph and Catherine Maggio – were attacked in their home, while they slept. First, their throats were slashed, and then their heads were beaten in with an axe. Their own axe. And, when The Axeman was done, he pulled off his bloody clothes, dressed in some of Joseph’s, and fled the scene.

Next were Louis Besumer and his mistress, Harriet Lowe, who were also sleeping in the wee hours of the morning when they were attacked. Louis was hit with his own hatchet, in the head, and Harriet was struck above her left ear. Although they both survived the encounter, Harriet died later that year from a failed surgery, and Besumer confessed that he was the one who had attacked her, and he was arrested.

However, there was another murder in August of the same year, that was similar to both attacks that had already happened. Mrs Schneider was attacked in her home, with a hatchet, but the kicker with this one was . . . she was 8 months pregnant. Her faced was hit and slashed but she also survived, remembering little of the attack, and giving birth to a healthy baby girl two days later. Again, someone was arrested, but he was released when authorities realized this attack was related to the first back in May.

Later that same month, an elderly man was attacked while he was sleeping, struck in the head with a hatchet. Joseph Romano managed to walk to the ambulance when it arrived, but died two days later from his injuries. Joseph lived with his two nieces, who had been woken up by the sounds of a struggle, and were able to identify their uncle’s attacker as “a dark-skinned, heavy-set man, who wore a dark suit and slouched hat.”

New Orleans was quiet for quite a few months, but The Axeman struck again in March with what I think is the most brutal attack. Charles, Rosie, and 2-year-old Mary Cortimiglia were attacked with the only fatality being Mary. Rosie suffered a sever head wound, and was later hospitalized. Out of spite, she accused Iorlando Jordano and his son, Frank, of the attacks. Frank was found guilty, and sentenced to hang. Iorlando was sentenced to life in prison. Charles and Rosie later divorced, and Rosie confessed that she had accused innocent men, and they were both released.

The next major event in the case was a letter sent to the newspapers of the area, claiming to be from The Axeman himself. And, even the letter resembled that of Jack the Ripper, saying he was writing “from Hell,” and predicting more murders.

Hell, March 13, 1919

Esteemed Mortal:

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.

The Axeman

And, then, again, in August . . . he struck again. Steve Boca was attacked, again while sleeping, struck about the head with an axe. He also survived his attack, and remembered little about it. Like the attack on the Cortimiglia family, there was a panel removed from a back door of their house. So, a trend was developing.

Sarah Laumann was attacked in September. Again, while she was sleeping. Again, stuck in the head with an axe that she owned, that was found on the scene. She was discovered by concerned friends, survived the attack, with little to no memory of it.

I mean, what better way to make sure that people don’t remember the attack than to hit them about the head?

The last attack attributed to The Axeman was in late October of 1919. Mike Pepitone was attacked in his bedroom, struck in the head, found covered in his own blood as was most of the room. The last attack of The Axeman’s was fatal.

The fact that The Axeman said he would spare anyone playing jazz music is so very New Orleans. And in New Orleans fashion, they figured out how to make it a party.

People played jazz at all hours, hoping that it would save them. These folks were the unlucky ones:

Some of the names are spelled differently, and I’m not really sure why. But, anyway . . .

So, the moral of the story here . . . play jazz and you can survive a serial killer? Or you throw the city a party. Back in 3.05 “The Axeman’s Letter” we see the witches celebrate the Fete de Chadeau, where they give gifts to the city and then party with jazz music in celebration of surviving The Axeman (Vincent explains that in the episode, too.)

Vincent: What? The year was 1919, and after terrorizing the city for months with an actual ax, he writes a letter to the Times-Picayune. Claims he’s a demon. He says he’s gonna kill thousands the next night. The only way he wouldn’t was if every house in the city threw a party and played jazz as loud as it could. Every single house in the city did. No one died! Haha! Now, some people think it was a vampire. He was actually a witch.”

Camille: “How do you know he’s a witch?”

Vincent: “Oh, he’s a witch. The day he chose was Fête de Cadeau. That’s the day that every witch gives a gift to the city in hopes that the city gives one back. Now, Axeman’s “idea” of gift was not murdering people for a day, and in return?”

The episode kind of hints that perhaps Lucien was The Axeman, as he seemed to thoroughly enjoy the slicing part of killing (and slicing his own face).

I love that the writers/producers/etc have actually looked into the area where their show is set, and are pulling in the city’s history to their own story lines. Whereas The Axeman wasn’t as brutal (or fatal) as Jack the Ripper, he certainly made his mark on the town. Even today, there are musicians on the street at all hours. Maybe that’s why The Axeman stopped?

RELATED | Check out Gallien Krueger at musiciansfriend.com

In my research, I found a few sites dedicated to The Axeman and his reign of terror. Click here, here, and here if you’re interested in seeing more newspaper clippings from the time. And, for more information on episode 3.05, read my Thirteen Things We Learned!

Stay tuned for haunting true tales from New Orleans!

Allison

Just me. Obsessed with Joseph Morgan, Ian Somerhalder, and pretty much anything else with fangs

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