The Axeman of New Orleans was a serial killer who operated in New Orleans, Louisiana and nearby areas from May 1918 to October 1919.

Obviously, the Axeman's preferred method of murder utilized an axe. He often chopped his victims' doors down before entering the homes and laying into the people inside. Several of the Axeman's early victims were Italians, some of them with ties to organized crime, leading authorities to believe the attacks were some sort of Mafia vendetta. However, too many were not Italian or had no ties to the Mob, and a great deal of fear built up about who the Axeman was and where he would strike next.

The Axeman attacked at least a dozen people and killed eight, including several grocers and a mother and her infant daughter. Several people attacked were able to survive despite gruesome injuries.

In addition to murdering seemingly random people with a bloody great axe, the Axeman also enjoyed sending taunting letters to local newspapers, similar to the ones sent a few decades earlier by Jack the Ripper, dropping vague hints about his future attacks and claiming to be a demon. And of course, he was never captured or identified. You'd think a guy toting a gory axe around the city would be pretty easy to spot, but I guess not. There have been some people who have, ahem, made stabs at the killer's identity in the decades since then, but they really don't seem to be very good guesses.

So you've got a serial killer who's definitely in the top quarter, as far as interesting serial killers goes, right? He kills people with an axe, he sends erudite but deranged letters to newspapers, taunting people and claiming to be a demon from Hell, and no one really knows who he was or what happened to him. But does he have anything else, any particular quirks that really push him into the Top Ten list of interestingly dangerous serial murderers?

Why, yes. Yes, he does. Apparently, the Axeman was a jazz fanatic.

He sent a letter to the papers on March 13, 1919, claiming that he would commit his next murder at 15 minutes past midnight on March 19 -- but he would pass over any location where a jazz band was playing. So on March 19, every jazz hall in New Orleans was jam-packed with people, and jazz bands performed at hundreds of houses all over the city. There were no murders at all that night -- either the Axeman was satisfied that everyone was listening to jazz, or he was just planning on throwing off the police.

The Axeman's odd love of jazz is the thing that's gotten him quite a bit of attention in music and pop culture. A New Orleans songwriter named Joseph John Davilla wrote a song called "The Mysterious Axman's Jazz (Don't Scare Me Papa)" in 1919. An Australian band called Beasts of Bourbon released an album called "The Axeman's Jazz" in 1984, and a progressive rock band from Las Vegas called One Ton Project released a song in 2007 called "Deathjazz" that told the story of the Axeman. A writer named Julie Smith fictionalized the story for a novel called "The Axeman's Jazz" in 1991, and Poppy Z. Brite wrote a story called "Mussolini and the Axeman's Jazz" in 1997. And the Axeman is mentioned in Sister Vigilante's story in Chuck Palahniuk's "Haunted" in 2005. And in 2007, Haden Blackman and Cary Nord created a short, stylized comic story called "The Axeman" for Dark Horse Comics' "MySpace Dark Horse Presents" comic site that also included references to serial killers H.H. Holmes, Joe Ball, and Ed Gein.

There haven't yet been any movies featuring the Axeman, but I wouldn't be surprised to see one someday. You got a mysterious, jazz-loving madman with an axe, and it's all set in N'awlins? Someone could clean up with that in the theaters...

UPDATE: synechdouche says: "The Axeman was too careful to axe in the door -- he used a chisel to remove a single panel and then was able to gain entry by unlocking the door (according to Gumbo Ya-Ya)."


Hell, March 13, 1919

Editor of the Times-Picayune
New Orleans, La.

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 fell demon from the hottest hell.  I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.

  When I see fit, I shall come again and claim other victims.  I alone know whom they shall be.  I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with the 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 not offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to amuse not only 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 found 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 those 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 as it is about time that 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.



Yes, this was a real letter to the editor. Found in the authority of Louisana folk tales that is Gumbo Ya-Ya, pages 85 and 86. The text also notes that this letter appeared three days after the now defunct New Orleans States questioned the motives and identity of the Axeman following an incident wherein a woman watched as her husband received a head injury and their two year old daughter was murdered in her arms. And yes, this all really happened, despite the source being a book of folk tales—some say the Axeman was a midget because only a single panel of the door was removed and the door was always left locked . . .

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