When the Angel of Death Comes, Play Jazz: The Axman of New Orleans

When the Angel of Death Comes, Play Jazz: The Axman of New Orleans October 18, 2016

New Orleans, 1919.

On the cusp of national prohibition, living in the Big Easy was, overall, classy, boisterous, and, well, easy. The largest port city in the south-central US provided ample opportunity for a mix of all different types of cultures, a tasty Creole gumbo of varied ingredients.

From the suave fellows to the dapper flappers, life was good.

Until a shadowy killer terrorized the city of New Orleans and its suburbs.

The killer’s M.O. was to break into a house in the middle of the night using a chisel on the door. Then he’d grab an axe from the backyard and murder the victims in their bedrooms. He left valuables behind. He wasn’t motivated by robbery. He was in it for the kill.

picture from murderbygaslight.com

The killer was never identified or caught. A rumor circulated that the mafia was to blame, since the victims were mostly Italian-Americans. But of the more than 14 victims, only four were single men. Some believe the Axman mostly targeted women, and only killed men who interfered. Many believed, at the time, that the mafia wouldn’t kill women.

The news that a killer was breaking into people’s homes and murdering them in their beds gave the killer a supernatural, phantom-like quality. In the heart of New Orleans, a place known for its superstition and mysticism, the killer became a legend.

It sounds unbelievable, but this story is 100% true. Good old New Orleans.


The New Orleans newspaper The Times-Picayune, published this letter to the editor in March that year:

Hell, March 13, 1919

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 Axman.

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. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse me, but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am, for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axman. I don’t think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.

Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.

Now, to be exact, 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 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. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.

Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tartarus, and it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, that it may go well with thee, I have been, am and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fancy.

The Axman


That night, every dance-hall in New Orleans had a jazz band playing, and almost every house blared recordings of jazz music. There were no victims.

The final victim died in October of 1919. After that, the Axman disappeared suddenly. Now he only lives in legend, the most notorious serial killer of new Orleans.

Better keep this on, just in case. Stay safe, sick pilgrims.

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