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Truly Chilling

Truly Chilling: Here at the Crime Museum we have a particular interest in bizarre crimes, especially in October, when we’re working to bring you Fright at the Museum. Working with Kalila Smith, an expert on New Orleans history and the paranormal, we bring you a series of discussions of history’s creepiest crimes, from the perspectives of paranormal experts and forensic scientists alike.

Chefs and Cannibals: “Over The Edge” from Tales From The French Quarter by Kalila Smith

Revenge is sweet and not fattening.
-Alfred Hitchcock

Zachary Bowen was a war hero. While serving as a military policeman in Kosovo and Iraq, he earned numerous awards for his bravery. Bowen had moved to New Orleans in the mid-ninties, leaving only to go to Iraq and returning after completing his tour of duty. During the turbulent winds of Hurricane Katrina he met and fell in love with Addie Hall. Hall offered Bowen shelter in her apartment on Gov. Nicholls Street. While the two knew each other before Katrina, the exact details of their relationship are vague.

After Katrina, the two became inseparable. They gained local notoriety for refusing to leave the Quarter after the storm, choosing instead to stand by New Orleans.

Aside from his military honors, no one knew much about Bowen’s past. He had indicated to some that he had been married at one time and had two children. He worked in a local grocery store doing deliveries and bartending part-time.

Hall and Bowen’s relationship was anything but blissful. They fought endlessly, breaking up and reconciling often. They lived troubled, chaotic lives. In the year following Katrina, Bowen was arrested for possession of marijuana and Hall for aggravated assault after pulling a weapon on a man walking in the French Quarter. A friend of Bowen’s reported that he had talked of “getting rid of her.” Many who knew Bowen claim that he often talked negatively about her, yet mysteriously remained in the relationship.

As the city recovered, Bowen and Hall’s relationship began to disintegrate further. By the end of September 2006, the two had been evicted from the Gov. Nicholls apartment and had moved to another at 826 N. Rampart Street, above the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple. At first, things appeared normal to the landlord, but by October 5, Hall had visited him requesting to have Bowen thrown out. Hall had discovered that he had been cheating on her and she had decided to end the relationship. The landlord discussed the situation with Bowen and suggested the couple try to work things out and get back to him with their decision. When the landlord didn’t hear from them again, he assumed that they made up.

On the evening of October 16, 2006, Bowen had been out drinking with a friend. He appeared to those who encountered him to be in good spirits and talked about a much needed vacation. His friend even made a comment to him about “being in paradise” the following night. But the night of October 17 turned out to be anything but a trip to paradise for Bowen.

Around 8:30 PM on October 17th, a guest at the Omni Royal Orleans, sitting in an upper level lounge, noticed the body of a man atop the roof of the parking deck. Bowen had jumped to his death from a rooftop terrace with a suicide note tucked into his pocket. His badly mangled body was covered in cigarette burns. Surveillance camera footage shows Bowen walking to the ledge several times before following through with his fateful jump.

No doubt it took some time for him to summon up his courage knowing that this would be his final moment. His suicide note revealed that, riddled with grief and guilt, he realized he could not live with himself. He felt like a failure in every aspect of his life:

I didn’t contact any of my family, so that’ll explain the shock. This is not accidental. I had to take my own life to pay for the one I took…Every last one of these [aspects] I failed at, hence the 28 cigarette burns, one for each year of my existence.

The note directed police to Bowen’s apartment, where Bowen had spray-painted his wife’s telephone number on the wall for her to be notified. Another spray-painted note directed police to a couple of large pots on top of the stove. Inside one they found the head of Addie Hall, in the other her hands and feet. A basting pan inside the oven contained her arms and legs—one had even been sprinkled with seasoning. There were chopped vegetables in a container on top of the stove.

Bowen had left details for the police in Addie’s journal:

Today is Monday 16 October, 2:00 AM. I killed her at 1:00 AM, Thursday, 5 October. I very calmly strangled her. It was very quick.

His note claimed that he had repeatedly had sex with the corpse, passing out drunk on the sofa alongside Addie’s body. The following day, he moved her body to the bathroom and began to dismember her with a handsaw and a knife. Police noted that he had attempted to clean up the bathroom. It took four days for Bowen to decide how to dispose of Addie’s chopped up remains.

He put the thermostat on 60 degrees and went about his normal routine.

Halfway through the task, I stopped and thought about what I was doing. The decision to halt the first idea and move to Plan B (the crime scene you are now in) came after awhile. I scared myself not only by the action of calmly strangling the woman I’ve loved for one and a half years, but by my entire lack of remorse. I’ve known forever how horrible a person I am (ask anyone).

An autopsy performed on Bowen showed no signs of cannibalism. No one knows what he had planned to do as he prepared Addie’s body parts to be cooked. Outside of his cryptic ranting that he left scribbled in the journal, he gave no indication to anyone that he was capable of such a heinous act.

I happened to mention to a friend that I planned to include this story in my book and he told me that he had seen the actual crime scene photos. He described a photo in which portions of her disemboweled torso lay out on the kitchen table. He said she definitely had not been charred as the media suggested, but literally cooked! He also mentioned that despite the report disclaiming any cannibalism, her legs in the pan looked as if they had been eaten partially. He made an analogy to that of a ham that had been “picked over,” revealing underlying bone.

Many people who knew Zachary Bowen said that he had suffered severe trauma during his time served in the Army. He mentioned some horrific event happening to a child that he could not erase from his memory. Clearly another instance where a once normal person simply snapped in the French Quarter. One could attribute his descent into madness to compounded post-traumatic stress disorder…or maybe a dark and evil entity had entered and resided inside of him.

Agression Cannabalism
by Jaci Seelagy

Cannibalism may be the ultimate taboo, but it occurs far more often than most people realize, and for many different reasons. A number of serial killers have practiced cannibalism (see Albert Fish or Jeffrey Dahmer); for them, an urge to consume their victims is just a step away from murder in fulfilling their desire to exercise power over life and death, to possess their victims entirely. Some believe consuming another person allows them to take on certain powers, or take on the life force of that person (see clinical vampirism, or “Renfield’s Syndrome”). But why would someone like Zachary Bowen, who killed out of anger, take the time and effort to cook his victim, even after the immediate rage has faded?

One possible answer, of course, is that cooking and eating a victim is simply a bizarre attempt to dispose of the body. This may be its purpose in the case of the Sweeney Todd-style murder by a Russian chef a few weeks ago—he killed his father-in-law during an argument, then cooked the remains into meat pies to sell to unsuspecting customers. In cases like that of Omaima Aree Nelson, however, this doesn’t seem to add up. She killed her husband—supposedly in response to systematic spousal abuse—and then cooked and ate parts of his body. She then began trying to dispose of the rest of it by taking it to various ex-boyfriends for help. Did frying his hands or dipping his ribs in barbecue sauce make it significantly easier to get rid of the evidence? Probably not.

In cases of argument-related murder that end with cooking and/or eating of the body, the motive is more likely the same as the motive for the murder itself—anger. If someone’s rage is so extreme that mere murder doesn’t satisfy it, they may try to continue expressing control and revenge by consuming their victim. It may even simply be a way to draw out the murder over time, continuing it even after the victim’s death.

Of course, Zachary Bowen committed suicide after killing his girlfriend, not exactly a sign of someone wanting to draw out his aggression as long as possible, and the autopsy was said to show no signs of actual consumption of her remains. Cooking, however, shows a clear plan to eat, so it seems he simply changed his mind. This may just be a sign of his rage running out—that it lasted several days before he stopped what he was doing and killed himself instead.

Since most crimes of passion don’t end with a barbecue, something about these killers must separate them from the killers whose anger ends just after death. Omaima Aree Nelson, like Zachary Bowen, was said to have post traumatic stress disorder—could this hinder their ability to stop at murder alone? Or is some other, more sinister influence at work?

“The Boogie Man” from Tales From The French Quarter by Kalila Smith

It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality.
-Virginia Woolf

In May of 1918, a year and half long reign of terror struck the French Quarter leaving a trail of blood and a mystery that remains unsolved today. Many residents of the city believed the killer to be some sort of supernatural creature, others merely a psychotic serial killer with a taste for blood. The nature of the massacres indicated that the killer used an ax, giving rise to the media calling him the Axeman.

In 1911 and 1912, similar murders left forty-nine people slaughtered in their sleep across portions of Louisiana and Texas. The trail of carnage began in Rayne, Louisiana where a young woman and her three children were found slaughtered in their family home. A month later, a family of three had been found in the same manner in Crowley, Louisiana, then shortly afterwards, another four found dead in Lafayette. All of the victims were asleep when decapitated and dismembered with what appeared to be an ax.

Entire families were slaughtered mercilessly over the next year in various areas between Lafayette, Louisiana and San Antonio, Texas. The killer left a note for police at one home that read, “When He maketh the inquisition for blood, He forgetteth not the cry of the humble, human five.”

Baffled police speculated whether the killer was a man or woman and even suggested that he might be a midget. The chiseled panels in the door, which afforded entry, were not large enough for a full-grown man to fit. Some police began to blame supernatural forces. The elusive killer evaded police and continued the bloodbath accessing homes through small openings in doors hardly large enough for a child to fit into. Those lucky enough to survive described images of a shadowy or phantom-like figure seen fleeing the scenes of the crimes; one witness described a phantom that disappeared quickly, as if he had wings.

On March 14, 1919, the editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune received a letter from the killer. It read:

Hell, March 13, 1919

Esteemed Mortal:

They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.

When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know who they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.

If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse me, but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am; for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axeman. I don‘t think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.

Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.

Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people.

Here it is:

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.

Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tartarus, and it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, that it may go well with thee, I have been, am and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fancy.

The Axeman

The city followed the instructions of this maniacal killer filling homes, restaurants and the streets of the French Quarter with music. One local songwriter, Joseph Davilla, created a song called “The Mysterious Axeman’s Jazz,” which became very popular. No murders occurred that night.

The brutal killings resumed again on August 3, 1919, again maiming and killing victims ending in October that same year with the murder of grocer Mike Pepitone. The grocer’s wife and six children lay asleep in the room next door as the Axeman wielded fatal blows to his sleeping victim.

A little over a year later, the person who many believed may have been the Axeman had been shot in California. A man named Joseph Mumfre had been shot and killed by a woman, Esther Albano, AKA, Mrs. Mike Pepitone. Mumfre led a ring of blackmailers in New Orleans’ Mafia and had served time in jail beginning in 1911 at the end of the first set of murders, then released in 1918 shortly before the next. The case remains a mystery as no actual evidence ever surfaced proving that Mumfre was the Axeman. The phantom never returned to New Orleans after his murder. No one will ever know.

MO and Signature Analysis
by Tara Wright

In serial killing investigations, it is important to identify the killer’s modus operandi (MO) and signature to identify all possible crime scenes. An offender’s MO is the specific actions taken during the perpetration of a crime in order to complete that crime. Their signature is a little different. Often referred to as their ‘calling card,’ it is a specific set of indicators that point to an individual offender’s personality. These are not always necessary when identifying offenders, but can be useful when attempting to link multiple cases together.

In the early 1900s, New Orleans experienced a chain of horrific axe murders. The authorities linked the Axeman murders through several similarities in each of the cases. In all of the murders, a wooden panel was chiseled out of a back door. Also, an axe was the weapon of choice in these murders. It is hard to determine if these similarities were signatures or MO.

Many have speculated that this removal of the panel from the door was the Axeman’s way of entry into the homes. If this is the case, then the chiseling of the door is a part of his MO. But is it possible that it is his signature? Questions have arisen concerning the likelihood that a grown man could fit through small panels in order to enter the home. If chiseling the door panel wasn’t how he entered the houses, then what exactly was it? In every case, the murderer left the chisel on top of the removed panel, meaning the Axeman had to get another chisel every time he broke into someone’s home.

Serial killers’ signatures often leave the investigators confused as to their motivations. While the chisel could have been the Axeman’s modus operandi, I find it more believable that this was his signature. As an MO, it would require a lot of extra effort. In general, you would expect an offender’s MO to evolve into something that would lower the risk of apprehension and would be easier overall. I’m sure an offender would be able to think of much easier ways to break into someone’s home besides chiseling out a panel.

Weapons of choice are also possibly illuminating. While it’s difficult to know exactly why the killer selected a certain weapon, speculations can be made. What made the Axeman pick up the axe? Interestingly, he never brought the axe with him and instead found an axe, or hatchet, at the victim’s home. In his search for the axe, he probably walked past several potential weapons, like kitchen knives or shaving razors. Why not use any of these other potential weapons?

Does this automatically mean the use of an axe is his signature? Not necessarily, he could have been used to using an axe. He knew he could handle the axe well, and it would get the “job” done effectively. In this case, logical reasoning was employed to commit the murders; therefore, the use of the axe was his MO.

What if logic had nothing to do with it? Is it possible that emotional satisfaction plays a more important role in the offender’s choice of weapon? In his fantasies, the Axeman could use the axe to commit the murders. If he goes against these fantasies, it will not produce the same thrill and joy as following them exactly as he imagined. This could explain why he had to find the axe in each victim’s home. Maybe just using an axe wasn’t good enough. He even used their own axe to kill them–using their own weapon against them might add extra pleasure. If pleasure and emotional satisfaction were the factors in choosing the axe as his weapon, then the axe was more of a signature than the MO.

In the Axeman murders, it is impossible to be sure exactly what his MO and signatures were. No suspects were ever convicted so none of these questions could be answered. All that can be made are speculations based upon the several similarities in each of the murders.


However you see the Axeman—as a phantom with unknown powers, able to enter a home through the smallest of openings, or as a brutal but human madman with a creatively undetectable means of entry—the case is certainly bizarre. The Jack the Ripper-style letter submitting music requests, the strangely consistent use of an axe and a chisel at each scene… We’ll never know for certain what they mean or who the Axeman was. All we can do is speculate, and hope that history never repeats itself, carrying an axe into our homes. Keep checking the “Truly Chilling” page of the blog for more mysterious and spooky tales.
–Jaci Seelagy

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