How the Axeman of New Orleans terrorized the city for 18 months

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – The year is 1918. The United States is embroiled in WWI, and horror will soon find a home in New Orleans.

“There was a lot of excitement in the city and a lot of patriotic fervor going on,” said Pamela Arceneaux, senior librarian and rare books curator at the Historic New Orleans Collection.

According to Arceneaux, amid this patriotic era, the city was also plagued with a figure known as the Axeman.

There were 12 attacks during this roughly 18-month period - and six deaths.

The Axeman would enter people’s homes while they slept in their beds. The Axeman didn’t carry around his own tools.  He simply would chisel his way in, usually through a back door, find whatever was handy, and go to work.

The first one was particularly brutal: the Maggios were found with their throats slashed and their skulls bashed in with an axe.

In other cases that followed, only an axe was used.

After the triple attack on the Cordimiglias, the Axeman sent a letter to The Times-Picayune. It was post-dated “from hell” and went on at length about how the Axeman would never be caught, no one could find him, the police were stupid in the case, and he was a “foul demon from the hottest hell.”

He made a proposition in this letter to the citizens of New Orleans: He would fly over the city at exactly 12:15 on March 19, 1919, which happened to be Saint Joseph’s Day.

That’s when he would spare anyone and everyone who was playing jazz music. Better safe than sorry, have a jazz party.

So, it was a hot time in the old town that night.  As the witching hour of 12:15 came and went, it seemed that the danger had passed.

A local composer, Joseph Davilla, was inspired to write a piece he called “the Mysterious Axman’s Jazz, or “Don’t Scare Me Papa.”  Davilla’s composition became very popular.

There were two more attacks following this incident.  As the months went by after that last attack, the axe murders seemed to cease just as mysteriously as they had started.

The Axeman was never caught.

It sort of receded back into yet another New Orleans legend.