Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Axeman of New Orleans

He Came in the Night

New Orleans, Louisiana map (AP)
New Orleans, Louisiana map
(AP)

Andrew Maggio, a barber in the city of New Orleans, had just received his draft notice. It was May 22, 1918 and World War I was on everyone's mind. Andrew wasn't keen to go to war, so he went out drinking that night. When he returned just before two o'clock in the morning to the place he shared with his brother Jake, he noticed nothing unusual. But then, he wasn't in much of a condition to notice anything at all, and that would soon come back to haunt him. Compared to what he was about to experience, a draft notice would seem like a mosquito's bite to shark attack.

Jake and Andrew's rooms adjoined the home of their married bother, Joseph Maggio, and his wife Catherine. As Robert Tallant, a novelist and acknowledged authority on the Axeman indicates, on the morning of May 23, Jake woke up around four o'clock a.m. He realized he'd been startled awake by noises that sounded like groaning that were coming through the wall from the room where Joseph and his wife slept. Jake got up and knocked on the wall to get their attention, but failed to get a response, so he knocked louder. Again, nothing.

Now worried, Jake tried to arouse Andrew, but had difficulty, since Andrew was inebriated. Finally Jake got him up. Together they ventured into Joseph's home, and to their alarm, they found evidence of a break-in. A wooden panel had been chiseled out and removed from the kitchen door. It lay on the ground, the discarded chisel on top of it.

Joseph on the bed with the body of his wife, Catherine (Nathan MacDicken)
Joseph on the bed with the body of his
wife, Catherine (Nathan MacDicken)

They got into the house via the kitchen, skirted around the bathroom, and entered Joseph's room. He was on the bed, his legs draped over the side, and Catherine lay partially over him. When Joseph saw his brothers, he tried to rise, but fell over, half out of bed. They ran to check him and found that he was barely alive, with deep bloody gashes on his head. Catherine was already dead, lying in a pool of blood. They called the police immediately.

Corporal Arthur Hatener arrived first, just ahead of the ambulancef, but it was too late. Joseph had expired. As Hatener waited for backup, he questioned the Maggio brothers and then looked around for clues.

The Times-Picayune newspaper ran the story on its front page that morning, including a photograph of the death chamber—the bedroom in the home where the Maggios had lived behind their store. Married 15 years, they were grocers, operating a small store and barroom on the corner of Upperline and Magnolia streets. An investigation of the crime allowed the police to deduce that the brutal double homicide must have happened just before dawn.

Book cover: Gumbo Ya Ya
Book cover: Gumbo Ya Ya

Looking around the bloody scene, Officer Hatener discovered a pile of men's clothing in the middle of the bathroom floor. Inside the cast-iron bathtub, he spotted an axe leaning against one side. From all appearances, it had been hastily washed clean of blood, although some still clung to the blade and the tub. (In Gumbo Ya Ya, according to the piece on the Axeman penned by the same author, the axe was discovered under the house, while in Human Monsters Everitt says it was on the rear doorstep.)

Back in the bedroom, Hatener made another discovery: a straight razor, such as a barber might use, lying in blood on the bed. Reconstructing the crime, he believed that the killer had entered the home by chiseling out a panel in the rear door. The murderer then went directly into the bedroom. With an axe, he struck Mrs. Maggio in the head and then used a razor to slice through her throat, nearly severing her head. He also hit Joseph Maggio with the same axe. Since Joseph was sprawled half out of bed, it seemed that the killer might have struck him last, but given Catherine's position on top of him, it could have been the other way around. The events weren't clear. However, it was obvious that the killer also had used the razor on Joseph before discarding it.

The coroner arrived and gave a quick estimate of time of death being a few hours before, between two and three in the morning. The victims were removed as a crowd gathered outside to watch. A woman who lived nearby stepped forward to tell investigators that she had seen Andrew outside during the early morning hours. Jake and Andrew were taken into custody for questioning. They swore they were innocent, but were locked up anyway. Jake was released the following day, but Andrew remained in prison.

Then the police learned that the razor used to cut open the throats of Joseph and Catherine Maggio belonged to Andrew. One of his employees had seen him remove it that same day from his barbershop at 123 South Rampart Street (newspapers said Camp Street). Visibly nervous, he admitted that he'd brought it home to repair a nick in it. Things looked bad for him, with two witnesses and a significant piece of physical evidence implicating him.

On May 26, two days after his arrest, he gave an interview to the Times-Picayune newspaper to the effect that he'd suffered so much from his arrest.

"It's a terrible thing to be charged with the murder of your own brother when your heart is already broken by his death. When I'm about to go to war, too. I had been drinking heavily. I was too drunk even to have heard any noise next door."

Although he had not mentioned it before, he did say that he'd noticed a man going into his brother's house around 1:30 a.m., when he'd come home. The police did not believe him.

They had found the door to the safe in Joseph's house open and the safe empty, which indicated a robbery, but money under Joseph's pillow and found in drawers was left behind, along with Catherine's jewelry, wrapped and placed beneath the safe. A black tin box, empty, was found in one corner. The brothers said that Joseph always kept the safe locked, but there was no sign that the door had been forced open. Investigators determined that the axe had belonged to the victims and they believed the killer was familiar with the layout of the house.

The coroner carefully examined the wounds to the decedents. In Joseph's case, the axe had been the primary weapon involved in his death, breaking through his skull, while Catherine's throat had been slit open from ear to ear with the razor.

A few days after the bodies were found, Andrew was released from prison. Despite the witnesses, there was insufficient evidence against him, and soon another discovery would point to a different suspect—one who had eluded police before.

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