Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories recap: “The Axeman”
It’s 1919 New Orleans and a dozen people have been brutally hacked to death in their beds by an axe. With an entire city in panic, the police are desperate to find who’s responsible, but forensics is primitive, so viable evidence – like a shirt covered in the killer’s blood – is frustratingly useless. Furthermore, the clues and key witnesses haven’t been pointing investigators in the right direction. Multiple suspects were arrested and questioned over the past year and a half. None are the killer.
Of course, even with all this death, the newspapers are having a field day – scandal and unsolved serial murder mysteries are exactly the kinds of stories that sell papers. This is a fact the killer knows well and is using to prey upon the fears of a city full of people.
In the pilot episode of Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories, show hosts Carter and Wenndy make their debut with the sensational case of the notorious “Axeman of New Orleans.” Who was he? What was he? Carter and Wenndy, examine the clues to do what the police of 1919 couldn’t – catch a demon from the hottest hell.
The ‘Axeman’ himself kicks off episode one by reciting prose he’s composed for the citizens of the Crescent City. It’s an excerpt from the infamous letter he sends to the editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune on March 13th, 1919 to taunt the police, rattle a city and remind everyone of his morbid obsession with jazz. Oh, and because he’s a demon, the letter is postmarked from Hell.
After a little suspense and a helpful history lesson, the show flashes back to May 22, 1918 with victim number 1 and 2 laying asleep in bed. Joseph and Catherine Maggio have no idea the Axeman has already chiseled out a panel in their back door, so they don’t hear him as he creeps into their house, slashes their throats and repeatedly bludgeons them in the head with an axe.
Joseph’s brother Andrew becomes the prime suspect when police investigating the crime scene find his straight razor (also the murder weapon). But Andrew won’t confess and the police have insufficient evidence to keep him in custody.
A month later, the Axeman pays Mr. and Mrs. Louis Besumer a visit. While both miraculously survive getting hacked with an axe, their scandalous secret doesn’t. After falsely accusing an innocent man of perpetrating the crime, Mrs. Besumer confesses that she is really Harriet Lowe – Louis’s long-term, live-in mistress. Then she claims it was really Louis who tried to kill her. Why? She says he’s a German spy.
Louis is arrested, but two months after the attack, Harriet dies from surgery complications and the Axeman strikes a third time.
This time it’s a pregnant woman. Her husband, Edward Schneider, comes home from work to find her covered in blood on their bed but still alive. She doesn’t remember much except for a dark looming figure and the glint of an axe.
Louis Besumer is acquitted for the attack on Harriet Lowe, and the police arrest James Gleason for this third crime, only to find out they were wrong again. But with a string of three unsolved crimes in a short period of time, investigators start to put two and two together. Each victim took an axe to the face, and the perpetrator gained access to their homes via a broken panel in the back door. This could hardly be a coincidence.
At the end of the episode, Carter and Wenndy reveal the Axeman’s signature. It’s not his weapon of choice, as you might think, but that broken door panel and an unusual parting gift – a chisel. Yes, that’s right. A chisel was left behind by the Axeman at every crime scene, leaving us wonder, what does it all mean?
Stay tuned for the next episode, “Hell March 13,1919.”