Axman of New Orleans. Hate Crimes Against Italians

In the year 1918 to 1919 there was a killer roaming the dark streets of New Orleans, Louisiana. This killer had a thing for jazz and an apparent thing against Italians. He was described as a tall, dark, and able-bodied, and went by the name of the Axman. Throughout the year of his killings the Axman killed half a dozen people and left 12 injured. Now some may wonder, why was he killing? It is believed that the individual was specifically preying on Italians. Based off of victims descriptions and testimonies the Axman must for one, be able to swing an axe, fit through small spaces such as windows (which were a common entrance and exit point for the Axman), be “tall” so above the 5 foot 6 inch average height of the years 1918/1919, and able to walk long distances such as three miles or more (Karst).

Some motives the killer may have is hatred of Italians due to Mobs, Grocer competition, he could have possibly been a hitman for mob related issues, and had an enjoyment of jazz. The opportunity for the Axman to kill would be late at night, suspected to be about midnight to one in the morning. He enters through windows and is said to walk the streets so it is likely he is located in the center of the crimes or in a tight radius. The three people suspected of being the Axman are, the Jordanos, Andrew Maggio, and Joseph Momfre.

The first people suspected to be the Axman are the Jordanos. The Jordanos consisted of 69 year old Iorlando and his 17 year old son, Frank . The Jordanos were local grocers who happens to be next door neighbors to the victim known as Charlie Cortimilia. Charlie and his wife Rosie had a two year old daughter and were also local grocers. Although their daughter had been murdered (it was believed that the daughter was an accident seems how the Axman never attacked children), Charlie and Rosie survived but with injury. This crime scene looked like it could be a hate crime due to the Jordanos recently taking the Cortimilias to “court over a business dispute” (Davis).

The police believed that it was possible for the Jordanos to do it because the Cortimilias were local competition. After Rosie had been attacked, the police tried to get an accusation out of her. The frightened widow had implicated her next door neighbors. “The only evidence against them(The Jordanos) was Rosie’s identification, an identification that even her own physician thought unreliable” (Davis). The likelihood of the Jordanos actually committing these crimes is very small. According to Rosies doctor at Charity Hospital, “Rosie always said that she didn’t know who had attacked her” (Davis). There was also no evidence to show that it was the Jordanos who had commited the crimes.

The only reason the Jordanos were convicted was due to Rosies accusation, but that accusation was to benefit herself so she would be able to get out of the Gretna jail. They later on, after it was said that Iorlando would serve life in prison and Frank was to hang, Rosie retracted her statement because she didn’t actually see her attacker and “had been pressured into identifying”(Davis). Besides the false accusation, Iorlando was “ in too poor of health to have committed the crimes and Frank Jordano was too big to have fit through the panel in the back door” (Times-Picayune). On top of there being no evidence, Rosie was also very unsettled with her accusation, she even took back the accusation and stated that it was a lie which makes her a hard person to trust and believe. The Jordanos were released to walk free in December 1920 because Rosie was unreliable and morally couldn’t stick to her original story because she knew it was wrong.

The second person accused of being the Axman is Andrew Maggio. Andrew Maggio is related to the first set of Axman victims, Joseph and Catherine Maggio. Joseph and Catherine were also local grocers in New Orleans. As they were asleep, “ the killer cut the couple’s throats with a straight razor before bashing in their heads with an axe” (Times-Picayune). Because the killer left money and valuables, robbery was ruled out. So based off of that information, he does fit the criteria. However there seemed to be no reason. Why would someone kill their own family with box cutters? It would be wrong to say that this murder was because of competition seems how Andrew was a barber (Karst). Although he had been seen bringing home a box cutter and had a stained shirt in his closet, the case quickly turned around.

Within two days of the killing Andrew had gone from the top suspect to a grieving brother. During Andrews interrogations he broke down and sobbed while telling police that his brother raised him ever since his father had passed. During those two days the police took Andrew off of the suspect list for three reasons. Andrew already lived with his brother and sister in-law so it made no sense to have a forced entry with a screwdriver, the box cutters weren’t actually the same, and the stained shirt was stained from wine the year before, not blood (Karst). Although many signs led straight to Andrew, there were some that just didn’t add up, which sent police on another chase.

The person found most likely to have committed these crimes is Joseph Momfre, a possible hitman linked to the Mafia. Many people believe that it is most likely to be gang affiliated due to the repetitiveness of preying on Italians and Grocers. A motive the French could have against the Italian could be territorial. “By the early 20th century, Italians were taking over the corner grocery business. They owned only 7 percent of grocery stores in New Orleans in 1880. By 1900, 19 percent were Italian-owned, and by 1920 they ran fully half of all groceries in the city” (Davis). In the past, years 1890-1891 the New Orleans Chief of Police, David Hennessy was mudered. During that time frame there was a large fear of immigration crime. Hennessey had stated that the “The dagos got me” (Davis), confirming that the murder was gang related. Later on in 1918-1919 there became more crimes with gang related backstories. Many people, including myself believe even the Axman was gang related. One story that really helps accuse Momfre is the story of the Pepitones.

The Pepitones, just like the Cortimilias and the Maggios, operated a corner store. On October 27th, 1919 wife of Mike Pepitone, Esther woke up to her husband whose face had been beaten in with what was described as a “ large bolt with a heavy nut attached to it and a stake used to secure a tent at the circus” (Karst). Mr. Pepitone was rushed to the hospital but was pronounced dead 2 hours later. Mike Pepitones death was said to be the last of the Axmans. Similar to the other cases, it was not a robbery because the “ police found $100 in cash in the kitchen, a considerable sum at the time” (Karst). This case was specifically odd due to the fact that Esther (Mike’s wife) had slept through his beating and near death. Esther simply stated that she was a heavy sleeper and due to the lack of evidence, witnesses, and no suspects, there was nothing the police could really do.

The Pepitones case for me really gives a strong support to this being Mafia related. Nine years before Mike was killed, he and his father, Peter were “central figures in a killing described at the time as the culmination of one such vendetta” (Karst). In 1910, a man was shot in front of a building that Peter Pepitone had owned, it just so happened to be that the man who was shot had leased Peters property once for a grocery. Peter Pepitone later confessed that he has shot the man known as Di Christina and that the individual had attacked him multiple times when he tried to collect debt. It was also said that “Christina was really Paolo Marchese, a man convicted of murder in Italy who was the leader of a ‘gang of bomb throwers, blackmailers and Black Hand’ (Kurst). After Peter’s son, Mike, was brutally murdered, Peter was a free man from Louisiana State Penitentiary after serving 5 years. Di Christina had commented about their past issues after the death of Mike, saying, “was not an “old-country feud’ but the result of a simple business rivalry” (Kurst). Which is believed to be untrue by many.

For Esther Pepitone, she had started all over. She moved and gotten married to a man known as Angelo Albano whom she had known from New Orleans. Before she got married, her new husband, Angelo broke off a business partnership with someone known as Doc Mumfre, who was also known as Joseph, Leone, and Frank with the last names Manfre Momfre, and Mumphrey. So for better understanding, Esther had married Mike who was murdered by the Axman and had a past with rivirally due to his father, now she is marrying someone who has relations with the Mafia and Joseph Momfre.

Oddly suspicious. It is said that Momfre lived a double life, “ a pharmacist by day, but he led a double life: he was convicted in 1908 of tossing a bomb at a grocery store at the corner of Palmyra Street and Claiborne Avenue the previous December after trying to extort money from the owner, among numerous other scrapes with the law” (Kurst). After Angelo broke ties with Joseph, the newly wed couple lived a happy life, that is until the two year anniversary of Esther’s first husband, Mike, death. On October 27th of 1921, her new husband Angelo Albano happily left the home to get groceries, and after a withdrawal from the bank, he was never seen again.

Based off of Esthers knowledge of past ties, a week or two after Angelo went missing she confronted Momfre and asked if he had known anything about the disappearance. Momfre acted as if he hadn’t known about the coupes marriage and stated that “Yes. Albano has a big house and plenty money. He is being held for some of that money. His wife will be asked for it after things quiet down” (Karst). This seemed to be a threat and/or from Momfre that they will be coming for her to pay the debt next. Then, on December 5th of 1921 Esther heard a knock on the door. After opening the door she recognized it to be Joseph Momfre. He had his hand on his hip and demanded $500 worth of Mrs. Albanos jewelry. Esther told police that, “He stated that if I did not give him the home he would kill me the same way he had killed my husband” (Karst).

Esther believed that he was referring to Angelo but in present time after analyzing the murder mystery with all the acquired data it is possibly that Momfre was referring to Mike and Angelo. After the threat had been made, Esther had gone to her bedroom and grabbed her revolver instead of her jewelry and fired towards Momfre. She initially missed but as he struggled to retreat his own gun she fired at him until he had died. With that story, it can help settle that The whole Axman issue was gang related. Joseph Momfre fit all the needed criteria and had all the background. It will forever be unknown to whom committed the crimes but with all the research we have now, it is easy to speculate.

However, at this time due to the lack of evidence no one can accuse any specific person or group for these killings. However the current evidence supports that—like many people like to believe—the killings were mob related due to their background information, motives, and specific race killings, but there simply isn’t enough evidence to fully accuse them of the numerous amounts of horrendous murders.

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