Mark Essex left the U.S. Navy because he thought the
white man did not care about his problems. He moved to New Orleans where
he brooded over racism a little too long.
On a Sunday morning in January,
1973, Mark stormed into a Howard Johnson's Motel with his rifle in his
hand and a private race war on his mind. A black maid spotted him but he
reassured her, "Don't worry. We're not killing blacks today, just
whites. The revolution is here." With that, he torched the drapes
of his room and started shooting at the white folk.
He spent the rest of the day on the roof of the hotel
shooting people. He killed two hotel workers, three cops, a newlywed
couple, and wounded twenty-six others. Eventually he was shot down by
Marine sharpshooters who were called in to take him out.
5 guests, employee and 4
policemen reported dead
The New York Times
January 8, 1973
NEW ORLEANS, Monday,
Jan. 8 - After a day of terror in which 10 persons were killed and 13
wounded by snipers, New Orleans policemen, in a borrowed Marine
helicopter, last night killed a sniper with red tracer bullets. Other
policemen prepared to storm a concrete lair atop a 17-storey hotel where
they said another gunman or gunmen were hiding.
The helicopter swooped out of rain
and darkness to provide a mobile platform for police sharpshooters to
hunt down snipers on the roof of the Downtown Howard Johnson's Motor
Lodge. The dead sniper, who was dressed in green, was reported to have
been riddled by tracer bullets.
Four policemen were among the 10
persons killed yesterday. Five other policemen were among the 13 wounded
during the daylong firing that began at 10:15 A.M.
Gunship and 600 police
attack city snipers
The New Zealand
January 9, 1973
Six hundred policemen
and a helicopter gunship were used to attack three snipers - one of whom
was killed - when they went on a rampage of arson and murder in New
Orleans yesterday. The gunmen started fires throughout an hotel and
their indiscriminate shooting at policemen, firemen and bystanders left
at least six people dead and many injured.
Marksmen in the marine Corps
helicopter and from neighboring buildings riddled on of the three
snipers with a hail of bullets when he dashed from a concrete block-house
on top of the Howard Johnson Hotel. The helicopter later flew two more
sorties over the hotel firing into the snipers lair, and both times the
gunfire was returned.
New Orleans police
hunt in vain for second sniper
The New York Times
January 9, 1973
NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 8 -
The police stormed a sniper strong-hold on the roof of the Downtown
Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge today. But they found only the body of a
sniper who was shot to death last night and not the second gunman they
had said they thought was holed up there.
"The search has been completed,"
said Ben Bourgols, a deputy information officer for the police
department, shortly before midnight after an intensive room-by-room six-hour
However, Superintendent of Police
Clarence Giarusso refused to retreat from an earlier assertion that
there was a second sniper. "He is very much alive and capable of
shooting," Mr. Giarusso said following the assault of the roof, which
was televised nationally.
Weary policemen, chilled by near-freezing
temperatures and a 20-mile-an-hour wind, began tearing open the hotel's
air-conditioning ducts searching for the elusive gunman, who with his
partner had killed six persons - including three policemen - and wounded
15 others, according to a police report.
Earlier, the police had reported 10
persons dead, but this morning they discovered they had been counting
several bodies twice.
Police storm roof - Find
The New Zealand
January 10, 1973
After New Orleans
police stormed the hotel rooftop sniper fortress yesterday, they found
no trace of the other gunmen they thought had taken part in the
indiscriminate shooting which killed six people. Only the bullet riddled
corpse of one black sniper, who was slain 17 hours before police stormed
the roof, was recovered.
Police said the dead sniper was
known but they wanted to wait for official FBI verification from
fingerprints before making any other announcements.
New Orleans sniper
Rifle linked to
killing of rrokie
The New York Times
January 10, 1973
NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 9 -
The police said today that the rifle used to shoot hotel guests and
policemen during a 12-hour sniping rampage on Sunday was the same weapon
that killed a police cadet and wounded a patrolman here on New Year's
Eve. At the same time the police identified the slain sniper as Mark
Essex, 23 years old, of Emporia, Kan. reportedly a Federal employee in
Louisiana who was a former Navy man.
Police Superintendent Clarence B.
Giarrusso said there was "some evidence of a conspiracy" involved in
Sunday's sniping. But he said he could not say flatly that Essex was
part of a national conspiracy to kill policemen, as has been asserted by
other officials in Louisiana.
Sniper is remembered
as quiet youth who grew to hate whites in the Navy
The New York Times
January 10, 1973
EMPORIA, Kan. Jan. 9
- Mark James Robert Essex was remembered here tonight as a quiet,
average student who somehow developed a hatred for whites during a tour
of duty in the Navy. Essex joined the navy here on Jan, 13, 1969.
According to records, he enlisted in a four-year, guaranteed school
program at an advanced pay grade because he had had some college
According to Pentagon official,
Essex spent two months in boot camp in San Diego, then spent three
months at dental school there before he was transferred to the naval air
station at Imperial Beach Calif., as a dental apprentice technician.
A Naval official here said that
Essex's basic training would have included only one afternoon's
familiarization with the M-1 rifle and .45-caliber pistol.
Essex reportedly received a general
discharge for unsuitability on Feb. 10 1971, for "character and behavior
disorders." When he returned home from the Navy, according to Mrs.
Chambers, "he couldn't keep a job." She said, "he couldn't stand taking
orders from white people."
questioned by F.B.I.
and then released
The New York Times
January 11, 1973
NEW ORLEANS, Jan 10 -
Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation questioned today the
roommate of Mark Essex, the slain new Orleans sniper, but released him
without charges. The roommate, Rodney Frank, disappeared from the
suburban apartment that Essex had used as a mail drop and occasional
home base since last summer, when he moved to New Orleans from Emporia,
The New Orleans policemen said they
were told by F.B.I. agents that they were satisfied Mr. Frank was not
involved in the sniping. The police, seeking to establish whether Essex
was part of a conspiracy to murder policemen, had sought Mr. Frank since
Family says Essex was
The New York Times
January 12, 1973
EMPORIA, Kan., Jan 11
- The parents of Mark James Robert Essex, today pictured their son as a
black youth embittered by racial discrimination in the Navy and who
lashed out at society in a frustrated fury. In their first news
conference since the 23-year-old Essex died Sunday night, they said that
their son had been searching for an elusive justice in a white society.
Asked by newsmen if the six other
persons killed in New Orleans had received justice, Mrs. Essex replied,
"There was no justice in the whole situation. Jimmy was trying to tell
white America you've been sitting too long on your bottoms and you'd
better take notice of us."
Evidence in New
Orleans indicates another sniper
The New York Times
January 12, 1973
NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 11
- The New Orleans Police Department has evidence that there were at
least two snipers and possibly three in the downtown Howard Johnson
Motor Lodge last Sunday and Monday, and that the six people killed and
15 wounded by gunfire at the motel were shot from two different weapons
- a .44-caliber semiautomatic rifle and a bolt action rifle. One of the
snipers was said by a police officer tonight to have been a woman.
Police Superintendent Clarence B.
Giarrusso said the he is not as convinced now as he was Monday that
there were two or more snipers, but that he still felt strongly that
there were. One thing that the police have not been able to explain is
how a second sniper could have escaped from the motel, which was
surrounded by several hundred officers.
Essex, called a 'loving
man, bried amid militant symbols
The New York Times
January 14, 1973
EMPORIA, Kan., Jan.
13 - Mark James Robert Essex, identified as the New Orleans sniper who
shot and killed six persons, was buried today in ceremonies that mixed
appeals for nonviolence with militant symbols of black nationalism. The
last gestures before the black metal coffin was lowered in the wooded
cemetery here came from six young black pallbearers, friends and
neighbors of the 23-year-old Essex, who was shot to death by the police
in New Orleans last Sunday.
One pallbearer raised his arm in the
black power salute into the clear sunny sky and said: "Up goes my arm,
for today we have freedom from our bonds." Several other young blacks
raised their fists. One draped a scarf that was red, green and black,
the colors of black nationalism, through the handles of the coffin,
while another took a sash of the same colors from around his chest and
put it near the coffin.
Map is said to hint
hotel sniper made plans for 4 attacks
The New York Times
January 17, 1973
NEW ORLEANS, Jan 16 -
A television station says that a marked map found in the apartment of
the slain hotel sniper, Mark Essex, indicates that he methodically
planned four attacks. A massive police investigation is under way to try
to find out if the Emporia, Kan., black was alone or was with others.
Station WVUE-TV said that the police
had found the city map, of the type provided by many service stations,
in Essex's apartment. The station said that lines drawn on the map
included what the police believe was Essex's escape route after a police
cadet, Alfred Harrell Jr., was killed New Year's Eve in a doorway near
police headquarters. Last week, the police said that the bullet that
killed Cadet Harrell had been fired from the same weapon that killed
several persons at the hotel.
From a circle drawn on the map, the
station said, dashes led to the area where patrolman Edwin Hosli was
critically wounded, 18 minutes after Cadet Harrell was shot, as he
answered a burglary-alarm. A line led from that point to a nearby
expressway, the station said. Another circle in red was around the site
of a grocery store where Joseph S. Perniciaro was shot and wounded on
Jan. 7. The longest line drawn on the map led from Essex's apartment to
the hotel, where fires and sniper shots broke out a few hours after Mr.
Perniciaro was wounded, the station said.
A city under siege
Marvin Albert, enjoying a rare
Sunday off from his warehouse job, was leaving his house on South White
Street when he noticed a man running across a nearby canal footbridge -
a man with a rifle.
At the sight of the weapon, some of Albert's
neighbors started ducking behind parked cars, but Albert - who had
gotten out of Vietnam in 1968, five years before that fateful encounter
- wasn't particularly impressed.
"It looked like a kid with a play toy," Albert
recalled recently. "I didn't pay him no mind."
What the man with the gun did next would be seared
into the mind not just of Marvin Albert but of people throughout New
Orleans and, by way of live network television broadcasts, across the
On the 7th January 1973, in a siege of about 10 hours,
Mark Essex, 23, holed up in the Howard Johnson hotel on Loyola Avenue
and killed seven people, among them three police officers, including the
No. 2 man in the New Orleans Police Department.
Horror gripped the city and emptied the streets for
blocks around the beleaguered hotel. A Marine helicopter hovered
overhead bristling with sharpshooters, and fires set by the sniper gave
the scene the feel of a Third World revolution. No one was sure if the
sniper, a black man targeting white victims, was part of a broader
militant uprising or was acting alone.
"It was a staggeringly difficult event," said state
Appeals Judge Moon Landrieu, who was mayor at the time.
Police had tangled with Essex a few days before the
Howard Johnson's siege.
He had launched a brazen New Year's Eve attack on
police headquarters at Tulane Avenue and Gravier Street. Shooting under
cover of darkness, he cut down Alfred Harrell Jr., an unarmed police
Essex escaped, later that same night shooting officer
Edwin Hosli Sr., who was investigating a burglary in the 1000 block of
South Gayoso Street.
Harrell, 19, died that night; Hosli, 30, survived
Over the next few days, police were jittery as they
searched for the cop-killer they sensed was still in their midst.
Their suspicions were confirmed Jan. 7 about 10:15
a.m. when Essex shot grocer Joe Perniciaro at his store on South Gayoso
and Erato streets. Essex was fleeing the store when Albert spotted him
running across the footbridge off Melpomene Avenue, now Martin Luther
King Jr. Boulevard.
Albert got into his car, trying to ignore Essex and
hoping he could drive away safely. It didn't work.
"He told me, `Hi, brother. Get out,' " pointed his
weapon, a .44-caliber Magnum carbine, and ordered Albert out of the car.
Essex told Albert, who is black, that he didn't want
to kill any black people that day, "just honkies," and took off in the
Chevelle. By then, police were at the grocery store, and quickly were on
the scene of the car theft.
Albert jumped in a police car for what he calls "the
ride of my life"
and, with officer Phil Dominick, tracked the Chevelle
to the parking garage of the Downtown Howard Johnson Hotel, 330 Loyola
Ave., with Detective Bill Trepagnier, an officer in the 6th District at
the time, and his partner, Jack Uhle, fast on their heels.
"That's when hell cut loose," said retired officer
Gus Krinke, a detective at the time. "That's when the fires started, the
"We weren't prepared for anything like that,"
Trepagnier said. "We held out with shotguns and pistols until the
detective bureau and the Tac Squad bailed us out."
The first victims
One of the sniper's first targets was firefighter Tim
Ursin, shot in the arm as he scaled a ladder, and it fell to Trepagnier
and Uhle to try to bring Ursin down before the sniper killed him.
"We drove him back in with the shotgun," Trepagnier
said. "We'd take two or three steps down and he'd come back out and
Slowly, police manpower built up around the hotel.
Officer Dave McCann was on routine patrol with fellow 8th District
officer Kenny Solis when they heard a call for traffic control at what
they believed was a fire at the Howard Johnson.
"We were only five minutes away, so we went over
there," McCann said. He and Solis were walking across Duncan Plaza, the
broad, tree-lined area in front of City Hall, when Solis clutched his
shoulder and said he'd been shot.
McCann thought his partner was joking. "Yeah, you
right," McCann said.
But when he saw the blood, McCann went to work, using
skills gained as a Marine Corps medic in Vietnam. First, he carried
Solis to shelter behind a tree, used a T-shirt to apply pressure to the
bleeding wound, and waited for help to arrive. First District officers
Leo Newman and Phil Coleman pulled their car onto the plaza.
"I remember telling Phil when he got out the car,
because he opened his door toward the Howard Johnson's - I said, `Keep
down, don't get up,' " McCann said. "And as soon as he stood up, he got
Eventually, an emergency unit arrived and took the
wounded officers away.
Solis survived; Coleman did not.
Another officer, Paul Persigo of the Motorcycle
Division, was killed outside the hotel, his white police helmet
providing an easy target for the sniper.
Landrieu and some of his top aides were at a planning
retreat at St. Joseph's Abbey near Covington when they got word of the
crisis Sunday morning and sped back to the city.
Landrieu said he went first to his office to get a
situation report, then carefully made his way to the hotel lobby, where
Police Chief Clarence Giarrusso had set up a command post.
"I managed to get into the building by kind of
hugging the wall and running through the side door on Gravier Street,"
Landrieu recalled. "We at that time did not know how many people were
involved, who was involved or what the reasons were."
There were lots of possibilities. New Orleans police
already had endured two stand-offs with members of the Black Panther
Party in the Desire public housing complex. And other left-wing groups
were still around from the heyday of radical protests in the 1960s,
including many committed to violence as an avenue to social change.
Essex's turn to radical action stemmed from his time
in the Navy, where he faced white racism more virulent than anything he
had seen in the quiet Kansas town of Emporia where he grew up.
His friends remembered Essex as a quiet, happy person,
who had talked in his youth of entering the ministry. But the Navy had
changed him from a dependable worker to a disenchanted sailor who went
AWOL once and eventually got an involuntary special discharge.
During his Navy stint he had become involved with
some black radical groups in San Diego and, once out of the military,
had connected for a time with a wing of the Black Panthers in New York.
After the Howard Johnson incident, black militant
leader Stokely Carmichael praised Essex for "carrying our struggle to
the next quantitative level, the level of science."
Bravery and survival
If Essex acted alone in the hotel - there are some
who still maintain he had accomplices - then he did so with a studied,
if not scientific, precision. Moving quickly through the building, he
started fires by lighting phone books and placing them under the drapes.
Then he'd move to other floors to do the same thing.
Meanwhile, he was taking shots with his booming .44-caliber
Magnum carbine from various spots in the hotel and tossing around
firecrackers he had brought as a diversion, creating the impression that
snipers and arsonists lurked on several floors.
Four hotel guests were killed, including a couple
from Virginia married just seven months. Robert Steagall Jr., 28, was
shot first. His wife, Elizabeth, 25, was shot in the head as she cradled
her husband in her arms.
The hotel's general manager, W. Sherwood Collins, 46,
and assistant manager, Frank Schneider, 62, also were killed.
The most devastating loss for the Police Department
was Deputy Superintendent Louis Sirgo.
"As far as I'm concerned he was a heroic figure,"
Landrieu said of the man he had picked as the department's second in
Sirgo, 48, led a heavily armed team of men up one of
the hotel's two exterior stairwells. "As they were going up the stairs,
he looked down and - boom! - shot Sirgo," Krinke said.
The ordeal at the hotel served up enough stories of
bravery and survival to fill a feature-length disaster movie:
Like the story of the two New Orleans policemen
trapped in a hotel elevator, who decided to rappel down the shaft with
the greasy elevator cables rather than risk death by smoke inhalation.
Or hotel guest Robert Beamish, who played dead in the
hotel pool for hours after he was shot, fearing a sniper's bullet if he
Or the sorties by a Marine helicopter loaded with
police snipers shooting at a rooftop cubicle in which Essex had holed
It was there that Essex met his end.
A sniper's death
Officers on the stairwells below him could hear Essex
moving about, shouting epithets at the police deployed on nearby
buildings. Intermittently, he would run out from the bunker, fire off a
round, and run back inside, somehow shielding himself from return fire,
even that from the helicopter.
Essex apparently stood on a fire standpipe inside the
rooftop cubicle as the helicopter passed by.
"He was up above, where you couldn't see him, wedged
in there," Krinke said. So when the helicopter snipers shot at him, they
were shooting downward - and missing.
Eventually, the gunfire broke the pipe - pressurized
from a link to a fire truck on the ground - and spewed water everywhere,
dousing the officers waiting below Essex on the stairwell.
"It damn near washed them out from all the pressure,"
Finally, under a burst of intense fire, with
ricochets and flying concrete chips forcing him from his bunker, Essex
ran across the roof as the helicopter passed, raised his fist and was
Police kept shooting into Essex's body, wanting to be
certain their tormentor was dead. They shot his rifle apart so that
accomplices, if there were any, wouldn't be able to use it against them.
Though Essex was killed shortly after 9 p.m., the
ordeal didn't end then. Throughout the night, police reported sightings
of other snipers and gunflashes in the hotel. Many have attributed those
sightings to the frayed nerves of men who had been working in the cold
"It's typical of rumors, of people panicking," Krinke
said. He compared it to the reported sightings of Japanese saboteurs on
the West Coast after the United States entered World War II.
On Monday afternoon, a police team stormed a large
maintenance building on the roof, thinking an accomplice was inside.
Several officers were injured by the ricochet of police bullets off the
Though Krinke thinks the reported sightings of other
snipers were erroneous, he doesn't buy the one-sniper theory.
"I believe there was more than one, and that one of
them got out in the chaos of removing the guests from the building,"
Krinke said. "He slipped in with that and made his way out."
Trepagnier agrees: "My gut feeling is, I shot at two
The official investigation said otherwise.
"They proved that all of the metal casings came out
of the same gun," McCann said. "They didn't find casings that matched
any other gun than the one the sniper had."
The weeks after the incident were days full of "shock,
dismay, sadness, and, I think, a great deal of suspicion," Landrieu said.
"It took a long time to unravel. There was much criticism from various
sources at the time: Why didn't you do this? Why didn't you do that?"
But Landrieu has nothing but praise for the city
employees who put their lives on the line that day.
"I thought it was an outstanding performance," he
said. "But if you ask me `Was it pretty?' It was not pretty. I didn't
know any way to make it pretty, nor did they. We didn't know what we
were dealing with."
Mark James Robert Essex (1949
– January 7, 1973) was a murderer who killed 9 people
and wounded 13 others in New Orleans, Louisiana, United
States, on January 7, 1973.
Mark James Robert Essex was born in
Emporia, Kansas. His friends remembered him as a quiet,
happy person, who had talked about becoming a minister.
Essex joined the United States Navy, where he was
allegedly subjected to racism from white people. He was
given a general discharge for unsuitability on 10
February 1971, for "character and behavior disorders."
After his discharge, he became involved with black
radicals in San Francisco, California and later joined
the New York Black Panthers.
Year's Eve, 1972
At the age of 23 and living in New
Orleans, Essex began targeting police officers. On New
Year's Eve 1972 Essex parked his car and went down
Perdido Street, a block from the New Orleans Police
Department. He hid in a parking lot across from the busy
central lockup and used a .44 Magnum to kill Cadet
Alfred Harrell. Lt. Horace Perez was also wounded in the
attack. Interestingly, Harrell was black, although Essex
said he was going to kill "just honkies" before
beginning his murderous attacks. Essex evaded being
taken into custody, and later returned, killing Officer
Edwin Hosli Sr.
It was 10:15am, 7 January 1973, when
Essex shot grocer Joe Perniciaro with his Ruger .44
Magnum carbine. Essex was making his way to The Downtown
Howard Johnson's Hotel on 330 Loyola Ave.
Gaining entry from a fire stairwell
on the 18th floor, Essex told three startled black hotel
employees not to worry, as he was only there to kill
white people. In the hallway in front of room 1829 Essex
found a 27-year-old vacationing Dr. Robert Steagall and
his wife Betty. After a struggle with Steagall, Essex
shot him in the chest. He then shot the wife of the
doctor in the back of the head.
In the room, he soaked telephone
books with lighter fluid and set them ablaze under the
curtains. Essex dropped a red, green, and black African
flag onto the floor beside the bodies of the couple as
Down on the 11th floor, Essex shot
his way into rooms and set more fires. On the 11th floor,
he shot and killed Frank Schneider, the hotel assistant
manager, and shot Walter Collins, the hotel general
manager. Three weeks later, Collins died in the hospital
as a result of the gunshot wounds.
The police and fire department
quickly arrived. Two officers tried to use a fire
truck's ladder to enter the building, but were shot at
by Essex. As more police arrived, a crowd started to
gather. As the police exchanged fire with Essex, the
crowd would cheer after Essex's shots. Attempting to
rescue trapped officers, Deputy Chief Sirgo was shot in
the spine by Essex, and died.
Seeing the story on TV, Lt. General
Chuck Pitman of the United States Marine Corps offered
the use of a CH-46 military helicopter to assist the
police officers. The helicopter was loaded with armed
men and sent up. Essex and the helicopter exchanged many
rounds over many hours. Essex managed to hole himself up
in a concrete cubicle that would protect him. Right as
he hit the helicopter's transmission, Essex was barraged
with fatal gunfire. An autopsy later revealed more than
200 gunshot wounds.
Before the attack, the television
station WWL received a handwritten note from Essex. It
'Africa greets you. On Dec. 31,
1972, aprx. 11 p.m., the downtown New Orleans Police
Department will be attacked. Reason — many, but the
death of two innocent brothers will be avenged. And many
P.S. Tell pig Giarrusso the felony
action squad ain't shit.
After the smoke had cleared, a tally
revealed that Essex had shot 19 people, including 10
John Allen Muhammad, the Washington,
DC sniper, grew up in nearby Baton Rouge, Louisiana and
was 12 years old at the time Essex's shooting spree was
shown live on television. Essex's crimes may have