Written by Suzanne Johnson
In his book Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans, author Winston Groom says of my adopted hometown: “New Orleans is so romantic you leave it either crying or drunk.” (And, I might add, frequently both.) He also points out that, in 1814, it had the nation’s highest murder rate. Sadly, it’s a distinction the city has maintained throughout its history.
Which meant that when I went in search of the perfect New Orleans killer to resurrect via necromancy in Elysian Fields, I had ample choices.
There was Delphine Lalaurie, who in the 1830s tortured out-of-favor members of her house staff in her attic. Let’s just say sex changes and transplanted body parts were involved. Delphine creeped me out, so I decided to avoid her. Besides, the LaLaurie Mansion on Royal Street is said to be the most haunted spot in New Orleans. I don’t want her ghost hunting me down.
Next, I looked at a guy who met his true love in the French Quarter. They were blissfully happy…until the point where he chopped her up, boiled parts of her on the stove, roasted others in the oven…and maybe had a snack before leaping off a building. I know New Orleans is known for its fine dining, but one has to draw the line somewhere. Mine, apparently, gets drawn at the border of body-part roasting. Plus, like our friend Delphine, he wasn’t democratic enough in his choice of victims.
Then there were multiple sets of vampire murders, most notably in 1933 and again in 1994, when nine victims were found in the vicinity of the French Quarter with slashed throats and yet a noticeable absence of blood. In the 1933 case, witnesses even reported a tall figure leaning over one of the bodies and then leaping effortlessly over a 12-foot wall. And, of course, he was wearing a black cape.
Finally, I settled on the Axeman of New Orleans. In 1918-19, a series of murders-by-ax were committed throughout New Orleans. The police were clueless, people were panicked, and the Axeman taunted them all from the pages of the Times-Picayune. In a letter dated “Hell, March 13, 1919,” the murderer claimed to be “a fell demon from the hottest hell.” He taunted the police, who had been “so utterly stupid as to amuse not only me but His Satanic Majesty.” (Glad to know His Satanic Majesty has a good sense of humor since I’m resurrecting his axe-wielding minion.)
Axeman also announced that the following Tuesday “at 12:15 earthly time,” he planned to visit New Orleans again, but would spare every home where jazz music was playing. The jazz spewing from homes all over the city was said to be deafening.
In the end, the Axeman of New Orleans provided the perfect villain to resurrect for a fantasy novel. He was never identified; odd enough to be interesting; megalomanical enough to be excited about returning to the scene of his crimes a century later; and narcissistic enough to test the control of even the strongest necromancer. Because if you can’t have an out-of-control undead serial killer, what’s the point?
From the Tor/Forge August 19th newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
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