Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Axeman of New Orleans

Copycat or Mistaken Identification?

It started again on Monday, March 10, 1919, but this time it was across the river in Gretna, an immigrant suburb. According to Tallant, from the house on the corner of Jefferson and Second streets, screams emerged. A neighbor, Iorlando Jordano (or Jourdano), ran to help and found a terrible scene. (Newspapers reported that it was customers of the grocery store—a couple of kids--who found the victims and that there had been no screams.)

Mrs. Rosie Cortimiglia holds her dead
child in her arms (Nathan MacDicken)

Mrs. Rosie Cortimiglia, badly wounded, was holding a dead two-year-old child, her daughter Mary. Her husband Charles, a grocer, lay in the pool of blood on the floor. Rosie said they had been attacked while they slept. Her dead baby had been sleeping in her arms and was killed by a single blow to the back of the head. Although Charles had grappled with the attacker, neighbors said they had heard nothing.

The police combed the house and immediate area, but once again found no evidence. As usual, a panel had been chiseled out of the kitchen door, and it appeared that the attacker had piled timbers by the fence to effect his escape. Later, police looked for fingerprints and found none, but they did locate a bloodstained axe beneath a kitchen doorstep. Money that was right there in the bedroom was not taken, so robbery did not appear to be the motive. The coroner said that the deed was the act of a maniac.

When Rosie Cortimiglia recovered from her numerous wounds, which included five cuts to the head, she was ready with an accusation. Frank and Iorlando Jordano, a father and son who were next-door business rivals of Charles, were arrested. Iorlando was the person who had come to help (says Tallant), and now he was one of the accused. Unfortunately, he'd told the coroner's jury a few days earlier that he'd had a premonition that something bad was about to befall his neighbor. Charles had said that a white man had attacked him and did name Frank Jordano, according to newspaper accounts at the time, although several writers insist that he disputed his wife's accusation and even left her over it. Other accounts say that he died in the hospital.

At any rate, Rosie's testimony against the two men at their trial was so persuasive that they were both convicted—despite the fact that Frank's 330-pound frame could never have fit through the hole in the kitchen door, and that Charles (if he was in fact still alive) could not identify him in court as the perpetrator. One witness even said that Rosie had stated directly after the attack that her own husband had done it (but it was clear that he could not have inflicted the wounds found on his own head). In the end, Frank received the death sentence and his father got life in prison.

Even while the investigation was still in its early stages, another incident occurred that may or may not be linked to the series of attacks. Three days after Cortimiglia attack, the editor of the Times-Picayune received a letter that would link the Axeman in some people's minds to an equally notorious set of unsolved slayings.

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