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The Axeman of New Orleans: Jazz, Murder, and Mystery


In the sweltering summer of 1918, a shadow of terror fell upon New Orleans. It wasn’t the suffocating heat, nor the looming threat of the ongoing World War. It was something far more insidious, far more personal. It was the Axeman, a shadowy figure who, for months, stalked the city’s streets, leaving a trail of blood and unanswered questions in his wake. The Axeman’s reign of terror, a chilling blend of brutal violence and inexplicable motives, would forever become a part of the city’s lore, a haunting reminder of a time when fear gripped the very soul of New Orleans. This is the story of the Axeman, a tale that intertwines jazz, murder, and a mystery that remains unsolved to this day.

Table of Contents

The Reign of Terror

The Axeman’s first confirmed attack occurred on May 23, 1918, at the home of Joseph and Catherine Maggio in the city’s historic French Quarter. The Maggios were brutally murdered, the weapon of choice a heavy axe that left a gruesome mark on their bodies. The attack was shocking, but it seemed like a tragic isolated incident. However, the chilling truth was only beginning to unfold.

The attacks continued throughout the summer, spreading fear and panic through the city’s streets. On June 1, 1918, the Axeman struck again, this time at the home of Joseph and Mary Bruno in the Treme neighborhood. The Brunos were found dead, their bodies mutilated in a manner eerily similar to the Maggios’. The brutality of the attacks, the seemingly random choice of victims, and the lack of any clear motive left the city in a state of terrified paralysis.

The Axeman’s reign of terror was not limited to the French Quarter. The attacks spread across various neighborhoods, each one adding to the growing fear and desperation. The victims were diverse, ranging from Italian immigrants to wealthy white families, adding to the sense of randomness and unpredictability.

The weapon, a large axe, became a symbol of fear and dread, its distinctive shape etched into the collective memory of New Orleans. The police, despite their best efforts, found themselves outmatched by the Axeman’s elusive nature. The investigation was plagued by dead ends and conflicting theories. The public, meanwhile, lived in a state of constant paranoia, with every creak of a floorboard and every shadow in the night fueling their anxieties.

The “Jazzman’s Letter”

As the attacks continued, the city’s nerves were stretched to their limit. The police were under immense pressure to find the killer, and the public was desperate for any glimmer of hope. In the midst of this escalating crisis, a mysterious letter arrived at the offices of the Times-Picayune, New Orleans’ leading newspaper.

Dated March 19, 1919, the letter, penned in a rambling and cryptic style, claimed to be from the Axeman himself. It contained a chilling mix of boasts about his past crimes and threats of future violence. The letter, known as the “Jazzman’s Letter,” began by addressing the newspaper, stating:

“They say I am a murderer. Well, I am.”

The letter then went on to claim responsibility for the attacks and offer a bizarre explanation for his motives. The writer claimed that he had been sent by the Devil to punish the people of New Orleans for their sinful ways. He specifically targeted those who refused to follow his orders, which, according to the letter, included playing jazz music on Tuesday nights.

The letter concluded with a chilling warning:

“If you [the people of New Orleans] will be good, I will not have to come back. But if you are bad, then I will come back to kill more.”

The “Jazzman’s Letter” sent shockwaves through the city. It was a macabre masterpiece of psychological terror, leaving a deep impact on the investigation and the public psyche. The letter appeared to offer clues about the Axeman’s motives, suggesting a warped and sinister ideology. But it also raised more questions than it answered. Was the letter authentic? Was the writer truly the Axeman? Was it a bizarre attempt at psychological warfare, meant to further destabilize the city?

The Aftermath

The “Jazzman’s Letter” did have a tangible impact on the investigation. While its cryptic message offered little concrete evidence, it seemed to have a chilling effect on the Axeman’s activities. The attacks, which had been occurring with a frightening regularity, abruptly ceased after the letter’s publication.

The city, though still on edge, began to breathe a collective sigh of relief. The reign of terror had come to an end, but the mystery surrounding the Axeman remained unsolved. The police investigation continued, but without any new leads, it ultimately fizzled out. The Axeman’s true identity, his motives, and the reasons for his sudden disappearance remained a haunting mystery.

The Lasting Legacy

The story of the Axeman of New Orleans has long captured the public imagination. The case became a part of the city’s folklore, a chilling reminder of a dark chapter in its history. The Axeman’s legacy has been explored in numerous books, movies, and TV shows, each offering their own interpretation of the events and the man behind the mask.

The Axeman’s story remains a testament to the power of fear and the enduring fascination with the unsolved. Even today, the mystery surrounding the Axeman continues to intrigue and fascinate. The case serves as a reminder that even in a bustling city, shadows can linger, secrets can remain buried, and the past can never be truly erased.


Q: Who were the victims of the Axeman?

A: The confirmed victims of the Axeman include:

  • Joseph and Catherine Maggio: Murdered on May 23, 1918, in their home in the French Quarter.
  • Joseph and Mary Bruno: Murdered on June 1, 1918, in their home in the Treme neighborhood.
  • The Schittner family: Murdered on June 10, 1918, in their home in the Desire neighborhood.

Q: Why did the Axeman target specific people?

A: There is no definitive answer to this question. Theories suggest that the Axeman targeted victims based on their race, ethnicity, or social status. Others believe that the attacks were random, driven by a desire for violence and chaos.

Q: Is there any evidence connecting the Axeman to the “Jazzman’s Letter?”

A: There is no direct evidence linking the Axeman to the “Jazzman’s Letter.” However, the letter’s timing, its chilling content, and the cessation of attacks after its publication have led some to believe that it was a genuine communication from the Axeman himself. Others believe that the letter was a hoax, designed to sow fear and further destabilize the city.

Q: Who are the main suspects in the Axeman case?

A: Several individuals were considered suspects in the Axeman case, but none were ever formally charged or convicted. Some of the main suspects included:

  • Joseph Mumfre: A known criminal who was in prison at the time of the attacks. He was a suspect due to his history of violence.
  • Clarence Gill: A neighbor of the Maggio family, Gill was considered a suspect due to his knowledge of the family’s routines and his possible motive for killing them.
  • A local Italian immigrant: This individual was suspected due to the Axeman’s targeting of Italian families in the French Quarter.

Q: What is the most likely explanation for the Axeman’s disappearance?

A: The Axeman’s sudden disappearance remains one of the biggest mysteries of the case. Several theories have been proposed, but none can be definitively proven.

  • He left New Orleans: The Axeman might have simply left the city, seeking to disappear and avoid capture.
  • He was caught and never identified: It’s possible that the Axeman was arrested or killed, but his true identity was never revealed.
  • He died in an accident: The Axeman could have died in an accident or through other means, explaining why he stopped his attacks.


The story of the Axeman of New Orleans is a chilling reminder that even in a bustling city, shadows can linger, secrets can remain buried, and the past can never be truly erased. The Axeman’s identity, his motives, and the reasons for his sudden disappearance continue to haunt the city, a lingering mystery that continues to capture the public imagination. Even a century later, the Axeman’s tale continues to be a fascinating blend of history, crime, and urban legend.