A black and white photo of a man playing the clarinet while seated

What was the connection between the Axeman, jazz, and the city of New Orleans? How did jazz save lives?

According to a public letter from the serial killer the Axeman, jazz music could keep residents of New Orleans safe when he went on his killing sprees. The Axeman may have loved jazz music, but he may have also been simply demonstrating power and control.

Here is what we know about the Axeman and jazz, with content from an episode of Morbid: A True Crime Podcast.

Jazz as a Lifeline: The Letter That Shook a City

In early 20th century New Orleans, the community was grappling with the aftermath of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic, even while enjoying a vibrant cultural scene. It was during this period that the Axeman, jazz-loving serial killer of New Orleans, emerged. Operating between May 1918 and October 1919, the Axeman targeted Italian immigrants and Italian-Americans in brutal attacks using axes or straight razors.

One well-known aspect of the Axeman’s story is a letter he sent, threatening to strike only homes that didn’t play jazz music. Fearing the Axeman’s threats, residents of New Orleans played jazz to protect themselves. Jazz music was deeply woven into the city’s cultural fabric, and the citizens saw it as a unifying force against the shared terror. Composer Joseph De Villa even crafted a tune specifically in response to the Axeman’s demand.

The result was a lively nightlife with packed venues resonating with jazz—a symbol of resilience. Speculation arose that the Axeman had a musical background or ties to the industry due to his letters and love for jazz. Yet, the letters were also interpreted as a means for the Axeman to taunt law enforcement and the community while asserting dominance over them.

The Axeman: Jazz and Its Role in Protecting New Orleans

Becca King

Becca’s love for reading began with mysteries and historical fiction, and it grew into a love for nonfiction history and more. Becca studied journalism as a graduate student at Ohio University while getting their feet wet writing at local newspapers, and now enjoys blogging about all things nonfiction, from science to history to practical advice for daily living.

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