By Adam Karlin.
It was the night of March 19, 1919 and jazz played in New Orleans.
Music poured out of private residences, where wealthy white New Orleanians hired bands to play music popularized in a mixed race Red Light District. Nightclubs and bars were packed to the point of overflow. In a city known for its lively atmosphere, this may have been one of the most gig-heavy nights in history.
Yet the musicians weren’t playing for love or money. These concerts were borne of fear, ordered by an axe-wielding maniac who claimed to come straight from Hell.
For almost a year, the city of New Orleans had been the subject of multiple attacks by a serial killer, an axe murderer who to this day has never been identified. The mysterious figure is known to history as the Axeman of New Orleans. And while it’s impossible to verify whether he’s responsible for all of the murders ascribed to him, it is a fact that from May of 1918 until October of 1919, 12 people were attacked across greater New Orleans—seven of whom died from their brutal wounds.
But the truth might have been a lot more bizarre than that — especially after the police received a strange letter on March 13, 1919 from a man claiming to be the Axeman, in which he comes across as the world’s most psychotic jazz fan:
“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.”
The newspapers published the letter, sparking an apparent wave of nocturnal jazz sessions arranged by people who believed they could keep the killer at bay. It even inspired a creepy novelty tune, entitled “The Mysterious Axman’s Jazz.”
After murdering Mike Pepitone on the night of October 27, 1919, the Axeman promptly disappeared without a further trace… or so it would seem.