While hysteria remained at a fever pitch in New Orleans after the murder of Mike Pepitone on October 21, 1919, it would be months before people realized that the Axeman's reign of terror was over. Though the case remained open, New Orleans police had no clues and, as memories began to fade, any chance of a witness suddenly coming forward with new evidence seemed increasingly remote. Even the letter that was published in the Times-Picayune, the only solid clue to the Axeman's identity, proved to be a dead end (assuming it had been written by the Axeman at all). Aside from creep legacies such as "the Mysterious Axeman's Jazz" and the addition of the Axeman to local legends, things returned to normal in the Big Easy.
But there would be one more wrinkle in the Axeman case...
On December 2, 1921, a man named Joseph Mumfre was shot and killed while he was walking down a busy Los Angeles street. The shooter, who was described as a woman "in black and heavily veiled" had stepped from the doorway of a building and fired repeatedly at her target. After making certain he was dead, the woman simply stood there, gun in hand, and made no attempt to escape.
When taken to a nearby police station, the suspect identified herself as Mrs. Esther Albano but initially refused to say why she had committed the murder. Just days later, she reconsidered and provided police with an incredible story: not only was she the widow of Mike Pepitone, the last victim of the New Orleans Axeman, but the man she killed was the Axeman himself. Esther had reportedly married her second husband, Angelo Albano, soon after her first husband's death and moved with him to Los Angeles. Angelo had gone missing two months earlier and she believed that Mumfre, who had been threatening them both, was responsible. She also insisted that she had recognized him as Mike Pepitone's killer from the brief glimpse she had of him back in 1919.
While newspapers jumped on the idea that Joseph Mumfre had been the Axeman and that Esther Albano was a heroine for killing him, police were not so certain. Though Mumfre was a notorious"black hander" (an extortionist who preyed on Italian-Americans) and heavily involved in Italian criminal organizations, including a prior conviction for dynamiting a store in Arkansas, it still seemed a stretch that he was a serial killer as well.
Given the prospect of finally solving the Axeman murders, the New Orleans police department launched their own investigation and turned up some interesting coincidences. Joseph Mumfre had actually been living in New Orleans back in 1911 when the first axe murders occurred. In that same year, he was sent to prison on an extortion charge and the murders stopped immediately afterward. It was only after he was paroled in 1918 that the Axeman murders began again and, right after Mike Pepitone's death, Mumfre left New Orleans and moved to California.
Unfortunately, this was the only evidence linking Mumfre to the Axeman murders and even the newspapers admitted that the dates could have been a coincidence. While he certainly could have been Mike Pepitone's killer, there was no real motive for him to have committed the other killings. Also, thanks to Esther Albano, Mumfre was no longer available to question. With no other evidence to go on, New Orleans police reluctantly concluded that the Axeman murders were still unsolved.
As for Esther Albano, she pleaded guilty to killing Mumfre when her case came to trial in April, 1922. Though her lawyer tried to argue that it was justifiable homicide, the judge threw out this defense and Esther was sentenced to ten years in prison. She was eventually paroled after serving three years in prison and vanished into obscurity. No word remains on Angelo Albano`s ultimate fate.
So, was Joseph Mumfre the Axeman? And what reason could have have had for terrorizing New Orleans' Italian community?
While these questions will likely always remain unsolved, there is no denying that the legend of the Axeman has become part of New Orleans' colourful history. Along with the inevitable addition of many of the Axeman's murder sites to New Orleans assorted ghost and mystery tours, the story of the Axeman continues to resurface in books (fictional and non-fictional), music, and even in television shows such as American Horror Story: Coven.
Much like Jack the Ripper and other serial killers who managed not to be caught, the Axeman has become a larger-than-life figure whose grisly deeds have earned him a bizarre form of immortality.
Such is life (and death).