‘US ripper’ killed victims with axe and scared a whole city into playing jazz

In 1888, Jack the Ripper was slashing his way into crime history on this side of the pond.

In a few short months he murdered five women, terrorised London and sent letters taunting the police they would never catch him.

But Jack the Ripper was not the only serial killer who liked to put pen to paper and whose crimes remain unsolved.

In New Orleans, a twisted axe killer went on a similar bloody rampage. His MO was to break into the homes by removing door panels and then attack the occupants, usually with axes belonging to his victims.

Bizarrely, one night he even got the whole city playing jazz music.

His killing spree started on May 23, 1918. He broke into the flat of Joseph Maggio and his wife Catherine. He cut both the sleeping couple's throats with a straight razor, almost decapitating Catherine. He then bashed their heads in with an axe, and changed his clothes, leaving the bloody ones behind.

Just over a month later another Italian grocer, Louis Besumer, and his mistress Harriet Lowe, were asleep when Besumer was hit with an axe the attacker had found on the premises. Ms Lowe suffered series head injuries and later died on the operating table.

Pregnant Anna Schneider was the next victim. She awoke on August 5, 1918, to find a dark figure standing over her bed. She was repeatedly bashed in the face and her head sliced open. Her husband later found her in a pool of blood. She survived.

His next target was no so lucky.

Joseph Romano was an elderly man living with his two nieces. On August 10, they heard a commotion is his bedroom and went to investigate. They saw a heavy-set man, who wore a dark suit and slouched hat fleeing the premises. Mr Romano had been hit axed twice on the head and died of his wounds.

With New Orleans in uproar over the attacks, suddenly things went quiet.

Then, on March 10, 1919, the "Axeman of New Orleans" as he became known, entered the house of sleeping Charles Cortimiglia and his wife and daughter Mary, 2.

Mary was asleep in her mother's arms and was killed with an axe blow to the neck, while her parents suffered serious cuts and fractured skulls. Mrs Cortimiglia went onto claim two men she knew had carried out the attack. One was sentenced to death and the other to life in jail. She later admitted she had accused them out of spite and they were released. Her husband divorced her.

Then police received a letter from the killer. It said: "They have never caught me and they never will… for I am invisible… I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of you, for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.

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"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… 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….. Some of your people who do not jazz it out will get the axe."

Not surprisingly, that night the whole city reverberated to the sound of jazz.

All remained quiet for a few months. Then in August grocer Steve Boca' was attacked. Soon after Sarah Laumann, 19, was asleep when she was hit over the head with an axe, suffering a deep cut and losing several teeth.

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Finally, on October 27, Mike Pepitone was attacked in his room and died of his injuries.

And suddenly, the attacks stopped. Having killed six people the rover hating, jazz-loving axeman disappeared. Just like Jack Ripper, his identity remains a mystery.

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