Sean Payton invited me out for drinks the other night. Normally, I’d turn him down, but he mentioned to me that he had some ideas on what to do to revitalize my running game, so I said fuck it and headed to the Bayou to catch up. Somewhere along the way, after my ninth or tenth Sazerac, and just before Sean slunk off to the champagne room with the barmaid, I stumbled out onto Bourbon Street… where an old fortune-teller just happened to know I was coming. In my quest for finding some running plays featuring disguised cuts into the B gap, I instead stumbled upon a tale with a much more deadly kind of cut…
THE AXEMAN OF NEW ORLEANS
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Date: May 1918 – October 1919
The Story: As the First World War drew to a close overseas, residents of America were gripped with the thrilling, yet, terrifying, story of a serial killer in the state of Louisiana. In the 18 months that the killer was active, six people were murdered and a dozen others injured, thanks to attacks from an unidentified murderer armed with an axe and straight razor, which were not the killer’s, but instead belonged to the owner or resident of the house that the killer entered. To this day, the killer has never been caught nor even identified, although some theories abound about their identity. The Axeman has entered popular culture in a number of ways since these events, primarily in the musical world, where a song by John Joseph Davilla called “The Mysterious Axman’s Jazz (Don’t Scare Me Papa)”, which became a big hit for a while afterwards.
What’s Weird: The killer attacked both men and women, though there were an unusually high number of Italian-American victims, possibly suggesting a racial motivation behind the killings. Some theories also believe that the killer focused primarily on female victims, and likely only murdered male ones when they interfered in an attempt to go after a woman. Other than this, there don’t appear to be any clear signs of links between the victims, other than their shared geographic locale and the fact a great number of the male victims worked as grocers throughout the city.
The killer, whoever they were, still relished the spotlight all the same; a letter, published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune as well as other newspapers, indicated that they would also spare people from murders in houses or buildings where jazz music was being played. The letter, dated March 13th, said that the killer would strike again at 12:15 AM on March 19th; that night, every dance hall was filled to capacity and hundreds of houses hosted parties with jazz music playing. No murders were reported that night.
What might have happened?
With no clear leads on any theory, it’s difficult to speculate on what could have happened; some people believe that the killings may have been Mafia-related, due to the fact that so many victims were of Italian heritage; some others claim that the killer was simply a sadist who specifically targeted women for any number of possible reasons, including possibly that it would be easier than attacking men, or that he got off on it.
The Axeman also typically broke into homes using a chisel to pry off a door panel, and then entered the house; due to the fact that virtually all contents of every house that was entered in the crime spree were left undisturbed, this also rules out the possibility that these murders were committed in the name of a simple robbery.
Some others have postulated that the killer committed these slayings solely as a way to promote the spread of jazz music, which was in its fledgling days in the late 1910s but would explode across the United States and much of the rest of the Western world in the decade that followed.
A crime writer by the name of Colin Wilson believes that the Axeman was a man by the name of Joseph Momfre, who was shot to death in Los Angeles in 1920 by the widow of Mike Pepitone, the Axeman’s last known victim. However, there’s some doubt behind this theory due to the fact that there’s no record in California of this crime having been committed, as there’s both no record of a murder victim with that name, nor a woman with the name of Pepitone (or Esther Albano, as she’s referred to in some documents) who was arrested or tried for the crime. This doesn’t entirely rule this theory out, though, as Momfre was not an unusual surname in New Orleans during this era, and records from New Orleans show a man with this name who had a number of links to organized crime. All the same, as stated above, with no clear links or motive in place, it’s very difficult to even begin to speculate on the killer’s identity.
There are a few other murders from 1911 and 1912 that have at varying points been credited to the Axeman; however, without the typical approach of using the axe or the razor (preferring to use a gun instead), it’s difficult to confirm these, and thus many researchers have chosen not to directly associate these with the Axeman.
Coach Carroll’s Hypothesis: All’s I know is that the Ryan family have a very long-running tradition of the male folk driving large vans, and I’m not stating conclusively here, but I think we have to consider the possibility that Rob and Rex’s great-granddaddy got a little loaded in the pursuit of a footjob one night and found out the hard way that there was so much out there yet that he hadn’t tried… and wanted revenge when he got denied the first time…
Banner image courtesy of Low Commander of the Super Soldiers.