Top Five Fictional Stories Inspired by Real-Life Axeman of New Orleans
Think about being hacked up in your sleep, at your most helpless. That horror might explain the fascination with the Axeman of New Orleans, a WWI-era serial killer who attacked in the dead of night using his victims’ own axe. He seemed to have had a particular grudge against Italian grocers. And perhaps also a taste for jazz. On March 16, 1919, the New Orleans Times-Picayune published a letter purporting to be from the Axeman in which he threatened to kill anyone not listening to jazz the next Tuesday night. It’s no wonder that fiction writers have drawn inspiration from the idea of a jazz-loving serial killer.
The Axeman makes an appearance in the third season of this FX television series set in New Orleans. In 1919, the Axeman writes a letter to the newspaper saying that all who play jazz during the night will be safe from him. Anyone who doesn’t will be murdered. That night, the Axeman—a jazz musician who plays the saxophone—walks with satisfaction through the city listening to the sounds of jazz everywhere. When he hears opera emanating from one house, he enters it to keep his promise. But the old mansion houses a coven of witches who’ve set a trap. They stab the Axeman to death, trapping his spirit so that his ghost haunts the house. In the present (set in 2013), he makes a deal with a witch living in the house, and his spirit is freed. But the Axeman hasn’t lost his talent for evil.
- Julie Smith, The Axeman’s Jazz
Julie Smith sets her mystery in the late twentieth-century New Orleans but the killer, who’s knocking off people in 12-step recovery programs, is imitating the Axeman of 1919. After killing two people and leaving a large A written on a wall, the murderer writes to the city’s newspapers warning that anyone not playing jazz on a night he specifies will be his next victim. But Detective Skip Langdon infiltrates self-help groups to find the modern-day Axeman.
- Ray Celestin, The Axeman: A New Orleans Thriller Based on a True Story (published in the UK as The Axeman’s Jazz)
This debut novel from a British writer won the John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association in 2014. In 1919, an anonymous correspondent writes to the Times-Picayune newspaper taking credit for a recent spate of axe murders. Declaring himself a great lover of jazz, the killer claims he’ll spare anyone listening to a jazz band when he next visits the city. Three very different investigators are determined to solve the murders. Michael Talbot is the official investigator, a police detective with a secret he must protect. Luca d’Andrea, a former police officer who’s just done a stint in the penitentiary, is being blackmailed by a Mafia don; because the Mafioso worries that his inability to protect those paying protection money makes him look weak, he needs Luca to find the killer. Ida Davis is a young African-American who passes for white and aspires to be a detective. She hopes that by solving this case she’ll prove herself at the Pinkerton agency where she’s a secretary. The three investigations reveal a city beset by racial tensions and corruption, in thrall to jazz, voodoo, and gangsters.
- Chuck Hustmyre, The Axman of New Orleans
Hustmyre’s crime thriller is told through the eyes of New Orleans police detective Colin Fitzgerald. Since 1911, a mysterious killer has been assaulting Italian grocers in the dead of night, usually with an axe. By 1919, there have been 13 attacks and 11 fatalities. Fitzgerald connects the murder of the latest Axeman victim with the shooting of a Black Hand extortionist but soon realizes that police officials know more about the murders than they’re willing to admit. Fitzgerald finds his own life in danger as he untangles a criminal conspiracy involving Italian gangsters, the police department, the political machine that runs New Orleans, and the looming threat of Prohibition.
- Suzanne Johnson, Elysian Fields
A wizard who polices the border between modern New Orleans and the supernatural Beyond, DJ (Drusilla) Jaco has problems. Not only does she have to deal with the political machinations of the Elven Synod and the wizards’ Council of Elders, but because she’s been nipped by a loup-garou—a werewolf—DJ is worried about her imminent shift into wolf form. At the same time, New Orleans is plagued by a series of bloody axe murders, apparently in imitation of the long-ago Axeman of New Orleans. But because DJ can sense the aura of the historical undead, she realizes this is no mere copycat but the real Axeman, an immortal serial killer sent by a necromancer to kill DJ. Jazzman Louis Armstrong and pirate Jean Lafitte make appearances in this paranormal urban fantasy.
Author’s Bio: Miriam C. Davis is the author of The Axeman of New Orleans: The True Story. Find out more at axemanofneworleans.com. Top Five Fictional Stories Inspired by Real-Life Axeman of New Orleans