Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Axeman of New Orleans

The Dark Figure

Two months after the Besumer incident, on August 5 (the same day that Anna Lowe died), a businessman named Edward Schneider had worked after hours at his office. He returned home that evening, expecting his pregnant wife to meet him at the door. They were expecting a baby shortly and he wanted to be there to support her. However, when he opened the door, the place was quiet. Too quiet. He called for his wife but received no response.

Looking around with growing apprehension, he came into the bedroom. There on the bed lay his wife. Covered in blood, she had a gaping head wound and some of her teeth were knocked out. Edward ran to her and discovered that she was still alive, so he summoned the police and an ambulance.

Mrs. Schneider lay in the hospital for a few days in critical condition, but eventually returned to consciousness. When pressed, however, she could not recall many details of the attack. She had been taking a nap, she explained, and had awoken to see a dark figure looming over her. Then the axe came down and that was all she remembered.

Fortunately, the attack did not affect her pregnancy. She remained in the hospital, and a week later gave birth to a healthy daughter.

When the newspapers ran the story, they spread fear in the populace by asking in bold headlines, IS AN AXEMAN AT LARGE IN NEW ORLEANS? Axes and chisels were found outside several people's homes, and a few claimed they had frightened a potential intruder away.

Pauline and Mary Bruno (Nathan MacDicken)
Pauline and Mary Bruno (Nathan
MacDicken)

Five days after the Schneider attack, on August 10, another woman was confronted by a dark figure in her home. Pauline and Mary Bruno were awakened early that morning by the sound of loud thumps that seemed to be coming from their Uncle Joseph's room. Pauline sat up and saw the tall, dark figure right there in her room, standing over her bed (or went out into the hall and saw him there), so she screamed. Whoever the tall man was, he turned and ran from the house. The girl later said that it seemed as if he had wings. "He was awfully light on his feet," she told a reporter.

In response to her scream, Joseph Romano came to her room (or she went to his), but he was in no condition to offer assistance. His nightshirt was covered in blood from gashes to his face. "I don't know who did it," he told Pauline. Instructing her to call Charity Hospital with his last breath, he collapsed to the floor, dying two days later (or half an hour).

Upon investigation, says Brian Lane and Wilfred Gregg, the door panel had been chiseled out and an axe was left in the yard. Yet Romano, while Italian, was not a grocer but a barber, and his room appeared to have been ransacked.

Now the people of New Orleans were terrified. Clearly a killer was at large who managed to break into people's homes while they were sleeping. The citizens were on the lookout for mysterious figures, and reports flooded the offices of the police. There were supposed sightings all over the city. One man, a grocer, found a wood chisel on the ground outside his door. Another told of a panel gouged out of his door and an axe lying in the yard. Another, upon hearing sounds, shot through the door, and when police came, they found signs of someone chipping at the back door.

However, given the penchant among New Orleanians for story telling, it was difficult for investigators to determine who was telling the truth and who was just looking for attention. They even heard about "the Axeman," as he was now commonly called, wandering around dressed as a woman.

From what they could determine, this intruder left no fingerprints (it's not clear from accounts whether they actually used a forensic method or looked for prints with the naked eye), and there was no clear pattern among the victims. They seemed to have been picked at random. Most, but not all, were grocers. Police wondered if this was all the work of a single "degenerate" or several different people. One policeman had a theory.

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