New Orleans. The big easy. The crescent city. The city that care forgot. The Hollywood south. N’awlins. Crawfish town.
A thriving port city nestled on the Mississippi River on its route to the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans is known for its nightlife, its unique food, and of course Mardi Gras. In 1918, New Orleans had a completely different kind of nightlife. A killer was stalking the streets, and god help anyone who questioned his music taste.
I’m Jans Holstrom, and this, is Dread the Unsolved.
May 23rd, 1918. Joseph and Catherine Maggio were sleeping comfortably in their home when someone entered, slit their throats with a straight razor, and then clubbed their heads with an axe.
The papers of the time dubbed him: The Axeman.
June 27th, 1918. Harriet Lowe and Louis Besumer are assaulted in Louis’ grocery store. Louis is smashed above the ear with a hatchet, and Lowe’s face is sliced. A month and a half later, Lowe would die due to complications from corrective surgery to fix a partially paralyzed face caused by the attack. Before she died, she stated that Besumer was actually her killer. He was charged but acquitted. Maybe we don’t give this one to the axeman.
New Orleans was on edge. A killer or killers was roaming the city, dealing out almost supernatural violence. The police were stumped. In none of the cases was there any sign of forced entry. Some surmised a vengeful spirit was haunting New Orleans. Police would later discover the true reason: The Axeman was chiseling small holes in people’s doors; just big enough for a small person to fit through.
The Axeman would go on to attack 9 more people, killing 2. His terrible record as a murderer was overshadowed only by his love of jazz.
March 1919: The Axeman would send a letter that would drive New Orleans into a jazz-fueled panic:
Hottest Hell, March 13, 1919
Esteemed Mortal of New Orleans: The Axeman
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 the blood 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 (and the worst), 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 out on that specific 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.
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March 19th, 1919: New Orleans was filled with jazz. Dance halls were jam-packed with revelers, the streets were filled with musicians. People had bands playing at their homes, and every amateur accordion player was soaking up the limelight afforded to them by this foreboding letter.
No one was attacked on March 19th.
October 27th, 1919: Mike Pepitone is lounging at home when he is brutally beaten in the head with an axe. He will not survive. Pepitone is the last victim of the Axeman.
Over the following years, many attempts have been made to identify this almost supernatural killer. Why did he kill? How did he move so stealthily through people’s houses?
Some say he was a phantom. Able to shrink himself down to fit through the holes he chiseled in victim’s doors, and then grow back to regular size to attack. Others claim he may have been Jack the Ripper, just 30 years removed from his grisly crime spree in London.
Far more claim he was possibly Frank “Doc” Mumphrey, a low-level mafioso who also went by the name Joseph Monfre. As a low-level criminal, and not a very good one. Monfre was constantly being caught committing crimes. He dynamited a store, which I guess was way more common in the early 1900s, and received prison time. All of the axeman attacks line up with periods of time when Monfre was not in prison. This is a point of contention, as some claim Monfre never actually existed.
Whatever the cause for these attacks, to this day they remain unsolved cold cases. The killings stopped just as mysteriously as they began. New Orleans today remains a city almost on the edge of what’s real, what’s supernatural, and what’s unsolved. What do you think? Sound off in the comments and be sure to follow me on social media, @theunsolved on Instagram and @DreadUnsolved on Twitter, and Dread the Unsolved on Facebook.