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Real or imagined, the best (or worst) monsters are the ones that you can’t see. Some have left traces and evidence while others live on, immortalized in Louisiana Folklore. Though folklore and mythology are steeped in some truths, they often explain our fears. But sometimes the real monsters of this world can be discovered after taking an unflinching look into our history and thus our reality.
We have compiled a list of the top five “monsters” of New Orleans as part of the culture of New Orleans, which is a city that is a celebration of both life and death. And Halloween, of course, is the perfect time of year to take a twinge of creepiness out of the dark and into the light.
5. The Rougarou (or Loup-Garou)
The Wolf Man didn’t come from Hollywood; Universal Studios simply capitalized on what we already knew and feared in Louisiana. The original term “Loup-Garou”, which meant something like “Look out! Wolf!” in French, evolved over the years from France and Haiti. The term “Rougarou” more than likely came from the broken dialect of the Haitian and Cajun people, who both came to Louisiana as refugees from French Haiti and French Canada respectively. The Rougarou is often emblazoned on local t-shirts found in shops in The French Quarter and throughout Louisiana because it is creepy-cool.
But werewolves are people, too. A Rougarou is a person, man or woman, cursed to shapeshift under the light of a full moon.
Cajun parents told little Cajun kids the stories of the Rougarou to keep them in their beds at night. Even though the tale might have caused insomnia, Cajuns told children of a cursed wolf-man who flew at night by way of a giant bat. If you were unlucky and out of bed, staying up too late, the Rougarou would let go of the bat and drop down your chimney in a fashion much like Santa Claus. Weird, right?
Historically, in 1764 in New Orleans, the Spanish arrived to take over from the French. More French arrived from Nova Scotia, Canada, while Native Americans had their own tales of “skin walkers”, shape shifting beasts. Whether it be Hellhounds, demon dogs or werewolves, the wolf became villainized. All this horror folklore would be later reinforced by the arrival of Haitian refugees following the Haitian Revolution around 1791. It seemed there was “wolf-phobia” amongst many of the peoples in Louisiana at the time. This is perhaps what led to the near extinction of the only indigenous wolf species in Louisiana, the Red Wolf.
4. The Axe-Man
An unknown figure in the world of unsolved crimes in New Orleans, The Axe-Man (or Ax-Man) now has a place in modern pop-culture thanks to the television series American Horror Story. Season three of that anthology was set and filmed in New Orleans. Season three: Coven seems to be the most popular of all the seasons, and The Axe-Man was just one of the elements that intrigued viewers.
The Axe-Man of New Orleans did exist and did hold the city in his Jack The Ripper-like grip, writing letters to the local newspapers urging people to play Jazz records in the night so that listeners might be spared the murderous wrath of The Axe-Man.
However, The Axe-Man of New Orleans was merely a copycat killer. No points for originality, The New Orleans Axe-Man brutally killed people with an axe, yes, but also took his very name from the original serial killer that terrorized Louisiana outside of New Orleans. The New Orleans Axe-Man operated from May 1918 to October of 1919, while The Ax-Man terrorized small towns from Lafayette to Lake Charles from 1911 to 1912, slaughtering whole families in their beds at night.
The original serial killer, The Ax-Man, is responsible for the largest unsolved serial killing in U.S. history with a trail of murders from Louisiana into Texas from 1911 to 1912. In fact, The Ax-Man murders, which were sensationalized in the headlines with Voodoo, murder and mayhem, were the largest followed series of headlines across the country up until the Titanic sank in April of 1912. Long before American Horror Story, It seemed that most of the United States was entranced by the stories of murderous axmen in Louisiana.
The true American horror story is that of the two axmen. While the New Orleans Axe-Man of 1919 killed 6 and injured 6, The Ax-Man of 1912 killed more than 50 victims, sometimes five in a night. Neither of the two ax-wielding fiends were ever caught, and both sets of serial killings remain unsolved to this day.
3. Zack Bowen
Of the “Zack and Addie” fame, Zack is the alleged murderer of Addie Hall, his live-in girlfriend and victim of a heinous crime during the dark days post-Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in The French Quarter. It’s a tale that persists in the French Quarter to this day. Even though some tour guides, who know family and friends of Zack and Addie, refuse to tell the sordid details out of respect, the story doesn’t seem to want to die.
It’s a tale of drug-fueled insanity, compounded by the lack of electricity in New Orleans as the city reeled from Hurricane Katrina, that resulted in the dismembered body of a young girl in her apartment on Rampart Street. Rumors of a Satanic cult, a drug gang, cannibalism, Black Magick affiliations, and human trafficking abounds in this story on the streets. However, the truth (or the closest we get to the truth) came in the form of a documentary film by Rob Florence in 2014.
Zack supposedly felt remorse for the murder of Addie and was compelled to jump from the rooftop of the Omni Royal Hotel to meet his death on the parking garage below. Allegedly, a note was found on his body detailing the address where Addie Hall’s body might be found in the Rampart Street apartment.
Many persist that the body of Addie was beheaded, dismembered, and disemboweled in such a way that Zack could not have acted alone. Or perhaps Zack was in such a monstrous rage that he did the Devil’s work of four men. File this one under “murder-suicide.”
2. Madame Marie Delphine Lalaurie
All she ever wanted was to be an influential member of New Orleans high society. In the end, she became remembered as just another American serial killer, of which we are in no short supply. American Horror Story introduced most of the world to New Orleans’ dastardly little secret at 1140 Royal Street. Actress Kathy Bates, to many, will always be immortalized as Lalaurie in the first on-screen portrayal of the historical villainess.
It is said that vile atrocities were committed upon her slaves at her household from 1830 to 1834. Historically, there were 12 dead slaves reported at 1140 Royal Street during this time. Was Delphine Lalaurie responsible? Could her husband, Dr. Lalaurie, have had something to do with the gruesome alleged murders as they seemed to be medical in nature?
Regardless, the home at 1140 Royal Street in The French Quarter has been dubbed “The Haunted Mansion” since 1888. It is considered the most haunted private residence in the city. Some believe that since Walt Disney loved New Orleans, Disney was entranced with the ghostly yarns heard of this New Orleans mansion and its haunted history. Perhaps the Lalaurie Mansion was an inspiration for The Haunted Mansion attraction at the Disney parks.
1. Unknown Arsonist
Fear of the unknown goes together with a fear of the dark, and that which is unknown resides in darkness until being brought to light. Like a lit match in the dark of a stairwell, the New Orleans community was shocked to discover that the UpStairs Lounge, a popular gay bar, was intentionally set ablaze by an unknown firebug, killing 32 innocent victims and injuring 15 in a senseless act of arson on the night of Sunday, June 24, 1973. The three-story building at the corner of 604 Iberville in the French Quarter saw what has been dubbed “one of the worst fires in New Orleans history” above the Jimani bar. Some of the victims were so badly burned that bodies of the dead could not even be identified.
The killer got away. Though there were a couple of suspects, no one was ever charged with the arson attack. It’s very possible that arsonist remains at large today, though 48 years older than he was the night he rang the downstairs buzzer, filled the stairwell with sprayed lighter fluid and lit a match. After the fire started, the perpetrator simply closed the door and skulked away down a sidewalk in The French Quarter, off into the night. When someone upstairs opened the stairwell door, the fire in the stairwell launched a blaze of heat and fiery death into the UpStairs Lounge.
Few escaped to the rooftop. Some of the injured survivors had to painfully squeeze their bodies in between burglar bars on the second-floor windows to make it out to the fire escape. While they frantically escaped a fiery fate, 28 human beings burned to death in minutes, unable to escape. Other fatalities were those who died on the way or at the hospital, bringing the 16-minute fire’s death total to 32.
Any tour guide worth his salt will point out the placards of the names of the dead and the nameless dead that also perished. The upstairs above the Jimani bar is a haunted (and haunting), unsolved crime scene to this day.