The 13th Floor

Does This 1919 Photograph Reveal an Infamous New Orleans Serial Killer?

Today’s creepypasta needs a little backstory for those unfamiliar with one of New Orleans’ most terrifying unsolved crimes — the bloody and horrific killing spree of “The Axeman,” a brutal (and still unidentified) psychopath allegedly responsible for the deaths of half a dozen people between May 1918 and October 1919.

Image Credit: Times-Picayune
Image Credit: The Times-Picayune

During the Axeman’s reign of terror, police struggled in vain to piece together a profile of the killer, whose M.O. involved breaking into the victims’ homes and using their own tools and weapons against them. His preferred implement — which obviously earned him his nefarious nickname — was an axe, but in one of his earliest known murders, a straight razor was used to slash two victims’ throats.

Most of the victims were Italian-American, which sparked rumors that the crimes were committed by a Mafia hitman, while criminologists on the case suspected the killer was targeting women, and only killing male victims when females were not home.

Image Credit: iStock/Seth Anderson
Image Credit: iStock/Seth Anderson

But the truth might have been a lot more bizarre than that — especially after the police received a strange letter on March 13, 1919 from a man claiming to be the Axeman, in which he comes across as the world’s most psychotic jazz fan:

I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.

The newspapers published the letter, sparking an apparent wave of nocturnal jazz sessions arranged by people who believed they could keep the killer at bay. It even inspired a creepy novelty tune, entitled “The Mysterious Axman’s Jazz.”

Image Credit: Joseph John Devilla/World's Music Publishing
Image Credit: Joseph John Devilla/World’s Music Publishing

After murdering Mike Pepitone on the night of October 27, 1919, the Axeman promptly disappeared without a further trace… or so it would seem.

This is where today’s creepypasta first comes into the picture (no pun intended), with a photograph posted to Reddit’s paranormal-themed /x/ board.


The image above is claimed to be the work of Édouard Martel, a French photographer who traveled across the USA in the early 20th century while testing his new invention: a camera with automatic exposure settings and a shutter mechanism attached to an adjustable timer. This photo was one of many shot by Martel’s new camera, which he often hid from public view to capture the most candid shots possible, as his subjects were usually unaware they were being photographed.

Sadly, Martel’s invention did not bring him success — and neither, it would seem, did his photos. He reportedly died penniless in 1955, and his large collection was left to his daughter Jeanne.

Jeanne was sorting through that very collection when she allegedly came across a photo dated October 28, 1919, which depicts a row of homes along an empty New Orleans street, possibly in the early morning hours. Her father had rejected the image on account of the motion blur which obscures the features of a man who can be seen entering one of the houses.


The story claims that the home into which the mysterious man is entering was determined to be the residence of Mike Pepitone — the Axeman’s final victim.

Ever since the image hit the web, rumors and theories began to buzz about its authenticity, which to date has not been confirmed or denied. While there does exist a famous figure named Édouard-Alfred Martel, he was not a failed inventor or photographer, but a renowned pioneer in cave exploration. Then again, the Martel of this story died mostly unknown — so if he exists, no formal documentation has been found on him to date.

Image Credit: FX Networks
Image Credit: FX Networks

The murders themselves have become the stuff of local legend, and the Axeman has achieved the status of a mythical boogeyman; his cultural prominence led to his depiction by Danny Houston in the New Orleans-set third season of AMERICAN HORROR STORY.