The Axeman of New Orleans
The Axeman of New Orleans was an American serial killer active in New Orleans, Louisiana (and surrounding communities, including Gretna), from May 1918 to October 1919.
As the killer's epithet implies, the victims usually were attacked with an axe, which often belonged to the victims themselves. In most cases, a panel on a back door of a home was removed by a chisel, which were both left on the floor near the door, followed by an attack on one or more of the residents with either an axe or straight razor. The crimes were not motivated by robbery, and the perpetrator never removed items from his victims' homes.
The majority of the Axeman's victims were Italian immigrants or Italian-Americans, leading many to believe that the crimes were ethnically motivated. Many media outlets sensationalized this aspect of the crimes, even suggesting Mafia involvement despite lack of evidence. Some crime analysts have suggested that the killings were related to sex, and that the murderer was perhaps a sadist seeking female victims. Criminologists Colin and Damon Wilson hypothesize that the Axeman killed male victims only when they obstructed his attempts to murder women, supported by cases in which the woman of the household was murdered but not the man. A less plausible theory is that the killer committed the murders in an attempt to promote jazz music, suggested by a letter attributed to the killer in which he stated that he would spare the lives of those who played jazz in their homes.
The Axeman was not caught or identified, and his crime spree stopped as mysteriously as it had started. The murderer's identity remains unknown to this day, although various possible identifications of varying plausibility have been proposed. On March 13, 1919, a letter purporting to be from the Axeman was published in newspapers saying that he would kill again at 15 minutes past midnight on the night of March 19, but would spare the occupants of any place where a jazz band was playing. That night all of New Orleans' dance halls were filled to capacity, and professional and amateur bands played jazz at parties at hundreds of houses around town. There were no murders that night.
Not everyone was intimidated by the Axeman. Some well-armed citizens submitted announcements to newspapers challenging the Axeman to visit their houses. One promised to leave a window open for the Axeman, politely asking that he not damage the front door.
The perpetrator was never identified, and the murders remain unsolved.