Axeman of New Orleans – 1918-1919

By | February 14, 2017

The Axeman attacked the sleeping couple with an axe before slitting their throats with a razor


In 1919 Joseph John Davilla wrote the song “The Mysterious Axman’s Jazz (Don’t Scare Me Papa)”. Published by New Orleans based World’s Music Publishing Company, the cover depicted a family playing music with frightened looks on their faces


During a 16-month period the residents of New Orleans lived in fear of attack from a maniac with an axe. On the night of 23 May 1918 someone broke into the grocery store home of Joseph and Catherine Maggio on the corner of Upperline Street and Magnolia Street and attacked the sleeping couple with an axe before slitting their throats with a razor. Joseph Maggio’s brother Andrew was arrested but released a few days later. In 1911 three Italian grocers had been murdered with an axe and the police believed that the same fiend was at work again.

On 28 June grocer Louis Besumer and his girlfriend, Anna Harriet Lowe, were attacked with an axe at their shop on Dorgenois Street. They both survived the attack but Lowe died on 5 August. Before she died she said that it was in fact Besumer who had attacked her. He was arrested the same day. The night of his arrest the pregnant wife of Edward Scheider was attacked with an axe. Fortunately, she survived the onslaught and a week later gave birth to a baby girl. On 10 August the Axeman murdered barber Joseph Romano. In all cases the attacker gained access to homes by removing a panel in the back door with a chisel.

On 10 March 1919 Charles Cortimiglia was attacked in his bedroom. The Axeman was disturbed by the screams of Rose Cortimiglia and he turned his attentions to her, striking her once and killing her two-year-old daughter, Mary. For some reason, Rose accused members of the Jordano family who lived across the street of the attack and Frank Jordano and his father, Iorlando, were arrested. Despite little evidence the Jordanos went on trial on 21 May and were convicted five days later. Frank was sentenced to death and Iorlando to life imprisonment. In April Louis Besumer had been acquitted of the murder of his girlfriend.

On 10 August the Axeman attacked Steve Boca and on 2 September pharmacist William Carlson saw a chisel being put through the door to his home and fired at the door, scaring off the Axeman. The next night Sarah Laumann, 19, was attacked as she slept but she survived. The last attack came on 27 October when Mike Pepitone was struck 18 times in the head and died the following day.


New Orleans, Louisiana, USA


Thursday 23 May 1918-Monday 27 October 1919


On 7 December 1920 Rose Cortimiglia, by now suffering from smallpox and deserted by her husband, withdrew her allegation, saving Frank Jordano from the gallows. On 2 December 1920 Joseph Mumfre was shot dead in Los Angeles by the widow of Mike Pepitone, the last victim. She said that Mumfre was the Axeman. She served three years of a ten-year sentence. The Axeman was never identified.


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