The Axeman of New Orleans Preyed on Italian Immigrants | History | Smithsonian
Joseph Romano was set upon in the textbook Axeman manner. A missing panel in his door and a discarded axe was all that remained of the killer when detectives arrived to study the crime scene. Romano was killed instantly by the heavy blows to his skull. By now, panic in the city had reached fever pitch, with local men forming vigilante groups and taking shifts to watch over their streets and homes as their terrified families tried to sleep.
However, evidence that the killer was indeed human was soon to be unearthed, as local man, Al Durand reported to police to have found an axe and chisel on his doorstep one morning, with deep scratch marks in the door itself. It would appear that this phantom killer found the heavy door too strong to penetrate, no doubt leading to every carpenter in Louisiana rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of a massive surge in the need for new, expensive doors within the city!
The next three attempted entries were aborted in a similar way, and the city breathed a collective sigh of relief as the attacks seemed to stop as quickly as they started.
It was several months before the killer was to appear again, this time across the river in nearby Gretna, but this time he left his most gruesome crime scene yet.
The wife of grocer Charles Cortimiglia awoke to find her husband wrestling with a shadowy figure. Despite his struggles, Charles was struck with an axe and fell to the floor.
The killer than turned to Mrs Cortimiglia, who by now was shielding her 2 year old daughter. The dark, hulking shadow then turned the axe on both, fracturing the skull of the mother, and killing the child with one blow. The testimony of Mrs Cortimiglia was to stump investigators.
She described the killer as a large man, yet the panels chiselled out from doors which had been his means of entry were barely big enough for a man of smaller stature to wriggle through.
The letter, addressed to the editor read; Hell, March 13, 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 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 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 no offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. The popular official was met with a volley of shotgun fire as he arrived home on the night of October 15, The police arrested a number of Sicilians, who were to be tried in two groups. After an initial set of acquittals, a mob stormed the jail, murdering 11 of the accused. Such crime was ubiquitous in southern Italian communities all over the U.
Even some New Orleans police officers still believed that the vendetta could explain the Axeman murders. But for their ignorance of serial killers — at the time a novel concept — they cannot be blamed. A close examination of the attacks attributed to the Axeman shows that not all of these assaults were actually his handiwork. But someone was specifically targeting Italian grocers, both inand in when a similar spate of attacks occurred. According to eyewitness accounts of survivors, the Axeman was a white working-class male in his 30s when the attacks began.
From the ease with which he broke into the groceries and his use of a railroad shoe pin, a common burglary tool, the police concluded that he was an experienced burglar. The Axeman vanished from New Orleans after the attack on the Cortimiglias.
The murder of Mike Pepitone in Augustwhile sometimes attributed to the Axeman, actually appears to have been part of a longstanding vendetta. Evidence from police records and newspaper accounts, however, show that he struck elsewhere in Louisiana, killing Joseph Spero and his daughter in Alexandria in DecemberGiovanni Orlando in DeRidder in Januaryand Frank Scalisi in Lake Charles in April The Axeman then disappeared from history.
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The couple was discovered shortly after 7 AM on the morning of the attack by John Zanca, a driver of a bakery wagon who had come to the grocery in order to make a routine delivery. Zanca found both Besumer and Lowe in a puddle of their own blood, both bleeding from their heads.
Besumer later stated to police that he had been sleeping when he was bashed with the hatchet. No evidence existed which could have proved the man guilty, yet police arrested him nonetheless, stating that Oubicon had offered conflicting accounts of his whereabouts on the morning of the attack. Shortly after the attempted murder Lowe stated that she remembered having been attacked by a mulatto man, yet her statement was discounted by police due to her disillusioned state. Robbery was said to be the only possible explanation for the attacks, yet no money or valuables were removed from the couple's home.
Media attention soon turned to Besumer himself, as a series of letters written in German, Russian, and Yiddish were discovered in a trunk at the man's home. Police suspected that Besumer was a German spy, and government officials began a full investigation of his potential espionage.
Weeks later, after going in and out of consciousness, Harriet Lowe told police that she thought Besumer was in fact a German spy, which led to his immediate arrest.
Two days later Besumer was released, and two lead investigators of the case were demoted due to unacceptable police work. Besumer was once again arrested in Augustafter Harriet Lowe, who lay dying in Charity Hospital after a failed surgery, stated that it was he who had attacked her more than a month previously with his hatchet.
Axeman of New Orleans - Wikipedia
He was charged with murder, and served nine months in prison before being acquitted on May 1,after a ten-minute jury deliberation. As is mentioned previously, Lowe was hacked above her left ear and found unconscious at the scene of the crime before she was rushed to Charity Hospital.
The Times-Picayune sensationalized Lowe and her outspoken nature upon discovering that she was not the wife of Besumer, but his mistress. A Charity Hospital source discovered the scandal, when Besumer asked to be directed to the room of "Mrs.
Harriet Lowe," and was inevitably denied access as no woman by that name was a patient. Besumer's legal wife arrived from Cincinnati in the days immediately following the discovery, which further inflamed the ongoing drama. After the truth of her marital status was revealed publicly, Lowe told reporters from the Times-Picayune that she would no longer aid the police in their investigation, as she suspected that it had been Chief Mooney who first informed the press of the scandal.
One side of her face was partially paralyzed due to the severity of the attack. Just prior to her death, Lowe told authorities that she suspected it was Louis Besumer who had attacked her. The 8 months pregnant, year-old of Elmira Street awoke to find a dark figure standing over her and was bashed in the face repeatedly.
Her scalp had been cut open, and her face was completely covered in blood. Schneider was discovered after midnight by her husband, Ed Schneider, who was returning late from work. Her husband told police that nothing was stolen from the home, besides six or seven dollars that had been in his wallet.
The windows and doors of the apartment appear to have not been forced open, and authorities came to the conclusion that the woman was most likely attacked with a lamp that had been on a nearby table. James Gleason, who police said was an ex-convict, was arrested shortly after Schneider was found.
Gleason was later released due to a complete lack of evidence, and stated that he originally ran from authorities because he had so often been arrested. Lead investigators began to publicly speculate that the attack was related to the previous incidents involving Besumer and Maggio. On August 10,Pauline and Mary awoke to the sound of a commotion in the adjoining room where their uncle resided. Upon entering the room, the sisters discovered that their uncle had taken a serious blow to his head, which resulted in two open cuts.
Axeman of New Orleans
The assailant was fleeing the scene as they arrived, yet the girls were able to distinguish that he was a dark-skinned, heavy-set man, who wore a dark suit and slouched hat. Romano, although seriously injured, was able to walk to the ambulance once it arrived, yet died two days later due to severe head trauma.
The home had been ransacked, yet no items were stolen from Romano. Authorities found a bloody axe in the back yard and discovered that a panel on the back door had been chiseled away.
The Romano murder created a state of extreme chaos in the city, with residents living in constant fear of an axeman attack. Police received a slew of reports, in which citizens claimed to have seen an axeman lurking in New Orleans neighborhoods. A few men even called to report that they had found axes in their back yards.
The retired detective cited similarities in the manner by which the two sets of homicides had been committed, as reason to assume that they had been conducted by the same individual. Dantonio described the potential killer as an individual of dual personalities, who killed without motive.
This type of individual, Dantonio stated, could very likely have been a normal, law-abiding citizen, who was often overcome by an overwhelming desire to kill. He later went on to describe the killer as a real-life "Dr. On the night of March 10,screams were heard coming from the Cortimiglia Residence. Grocer Iorlando Jordano rushed across the street to investigate.
Upon his arrival, Jordano noticed that Charles Cortimiglia, his wife, and their daughter had all been attacked by the unknown intruder. Rosie stood in the doorway with a serious head wound, clutching her deceased daughter. Charles lay on the floor, bleeding profusely. The couple was rushed to Charity Hospital, where it was discovered that both had suffered skull fractures.