Two weeks ago, American Horror Story: Coven introduced a new villain into a season filled with villains (or, at best, anti-heroes). The Axeman. Like Delphine Lalaurie and Marie Laveau, the Axeman is based on a real serial killer that haunted New Orleans early in the century. The Axeman was never caught, nor was he ever identified.
The killing spree began in May of 1918 with the murder of Joseph Maggio and his wife Catherine. Both had their throats slit (Catherine’s so deep she was nearly beheaded) and their heads were bashed in with an axe. Joseph’s brothers discovered the bodies and one of them, Andrew, was considered the prime suspect in the case, but there was not enough evidence to hold him. Ten more victims would follow over the next year, but curiously, murder did not seem to be the goal of the Axeman. Of those ten victims, only three died; the rest survived their injuries.
Motive seemed to be completely lacking. At each crime scene, not a single thing was stolen, so it wasn’t money. The attacks spanned age and gender, and the Axeman didn’t always kill everyone in the house, as in the case of Joseph Romano, whose two nieces lived with him at the time of the attack. They were not injured. Some hypothesized that the Axeman was seeking out Italian immigrants because many - but not all - were Italian. Local papers at the time even suggested a mafia connection.
No, it seems the Axeman was just a sick individual - with a penchant for jazz. Episode 306 of American Horror Story: Coven, in which we are introduced to the Axeman, opens with a voice over of a letter the Axeman wrote to the local newspaper. That letter was real, published in local papers on March 13, 1919, and though some of the language was rewritten for the series, the meaning remained in tact. In the letter, the Axeman brags of never being caught, writes from “Hell” and addresses it to “Mortals.” Throughout the letter, the Axeman references supernatural creatures like “His Satanic Majesty” and being in “close relationship with the Angel of Death.”
The most famous passage of that letter - the one that makes up the basis of the episode “The Axeman Cometh" - is where he gives the city of New Orleans a chance to protect themselves:
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.
That night, every jazz hall in New Orleans was filled to capacity; every jazz musician had a gig. And no one was murdered.
It was several months after the publication of that letter before the Axeman struck again, and he attacked three people in a three-month span. Then, as suddenly as it began, it stopped, and there were no further attacks that could be credited to the Axeman of New Orleans.