A Brief History
On Wednesday, November 20, 2013, the cable network, FX, aired the second episode of American Horror Story: Coven to feature Danny Huston as The Axeman of New Orleans, the nickname given to a never identified serial killer responsible for at least eight unsolved murders!
As already covered in an earlier article on our site, an previous incarnation of American Horror Story featured two characters based on mysterious historical figures. One later episode introduced yet another: the Axeman of New Orleans.
The Axeman of New Orleans has never been identified or as far as we know even photographed (unless if you believe this Creepypasta…). Nevertheless, his crimes and taunts to the press at the time are reminiscent of those of the similarly never identified Jack the Ripper. Both the Ripper and the Axeman purportedly sent cryptic letters to the press and American Horror Story even featured one such letter in an accurate voice-over narration of the past episode. As with Jack the Ripper’s infamous “From Hell letter” that inspired a graphic novel and film, the Axeman of New Orleans’s most famous letter also claims to have been sent from “Hell”. It reads as follows:
Hell, March 13, 1919
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 Axeman.
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 Axeman. 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 letter was dated just three days after the seventh of eleven attacks attributed to the Axeman of New Orleans. Out of those eleven attacks, all of which occurred between 1918 and 1919, eight people died. None occurred on the night that the letter warned about as indeed many a resident of New Orleans played jazz music per the mysterious murderer’s request. Who the murderer was and why the murders stopped in 1919 remains a mystery (unless if you believe American Horror Story: Coven‘s version that a coven of young witches lured him into a trap where they ganged up on him and murdered him…and no, that is not a spoiler, as the episode depicting those events aired a week ago!).
Question for students (and subscribers): What unidentified murderer’s identity do you most want to see revealed? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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In addition to his popular culture appearances, numerous books provide sound summaries of the Axeman’s criminal career and speculations upon his possible identity, including…
Edwards, Wallace. The Axeman: The Brutal History of the Axeman of New Orleans. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.
Geary, Rick. The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans (Treasury of XXth Century Murder). NBM Publishing, 2010.
Hoffmann Books. The Axeman of New Orleans (True Crime Collection Book 3). Hoffmann Books, 2013.
The featured image in this article, the cover of sheet music for “The Mysterious Axeman’s Jazz (Don’t Scare Me, Papa)” (1919) by Joseph John Davilla, is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1924, and if not then due to lack of notice or renewal. See this page for further explanation.