Joseph Mumfre, Axeman from New Orleans

There are murders in crime history that still remain unsolved. The case of Joseph Mumfre, Axeman from New Orleans is one of them.

On May 23, 1918, an Italian grocer named Joseph Maggio and his wife were butchered while sleeping in their apartment above the Maggio grocery store. Upon investigation, the police discovered that a panel in the rear door had been chiseled out, providing a way in for the killer. The murder weapon, an axe, was found in the apartment, still coated with the Maggio’s blood. Nothing in the house had been stolen, including jewelry and money that were nearly in plain sight. The only clue that was discovered was a message that had been written in chalk near the victim’s home. It read: “Mrs. Joseph Maggio will sit up tonight. Just write Mrs. Toney”. An ax (propped up in their bath) and a straight razor were found at the scene. The razor belonged to Joseph’s brother, Andrew, who found the bodies with brother Jake. Andrew was arrested but cleared for lack of evidence. Other attacks came two weeks later. Grocer Louis Besumer survived, but his mistress Anna Lowe did not. In March the Axman performed the grisly act of killing a father and his two-year-old daughter (the mother survived). The Maggios were the first of no fewer than twelve victims of a murderer who killed until the autumn of 1919 and stopped as mysteriously as he had started. The killer who earned the sobriquet “Axman of New Orleans” was perhaps the first serial killer since Jack the Ripper who wrote tauntingly about his exploits to the press. Each victim (most were Italian and either grocers or bakers) was brutally attacked in his own residence by an assailant who gained entry by carefully chiseling a panel out of the backdoor. And on each occasion, the murder weapon was left behind for the police to find. This bloody bogeyman wrote to the New Orleans Times-Picayune to directly threaten the city. His missive postmarked “Hell, March 13, 1919” was addressed to “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 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.” Claiming a “close relationship with the Angel of Death”, he continued: “at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is: I am very fond of jazz music, and I and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people.” He went on to write that any “people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night” would “get the axe”.

The Axeman murdered a total of eight people before the killings stopped. There was no evidence to link the only suspect, Joseph Mumfre, to the crimes.

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