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Mark James Robert ESSEX

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Racist - Sniper
Number of victims: 9
Date of murders: January 1/7, 1973
Date of birth: 1949
Victims profile: Two cops / Two hotel workers, three cops, a newlywed couple
Method of murder: Shooting (Ruger carbine .44 Magnum)
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Status: He was shot down by Marine sharpshooters January 7, 1973
 
 
 
 
 
 

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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 Herald

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 search.

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 only corpse

The New Zealand Herald

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 identified

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 training.

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."

 
 

Sniper's roommate 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, Kan.

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 yesterday morning.

 
 

Family says Essex was seeking justice

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 nation.

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.

Earlier attacks

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 cadet.

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 until March.

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 shootings."

"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 shoot again."

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 shot."

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.

Unknown enemy

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 command.

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 moved.

Or the sorties by a Marine helicopter loaded with police snipers shooting at a rooftop cubicle in which Essex had holed up.

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," Krinke said.

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 cut down.

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 and dark.

"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 metal door.

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 different people."

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.

Background

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.

New 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.

7 January 1973

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 he left.

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 read:

'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 others.

P.S. Tell pig Giarrusso the felony action squad ain't shit.

Mata'

Aftermath

After the smoke had cleared, a tally revealed that Essex had shot 19 people, including 10 police officers.

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 inspired Muhammad's.

Bibliography

  • A Terrible Thunder: The Story of the New Orleans Sniper by Peter Hernon (2005) ISBN 1-891053-48-5

Wikipedia.org

 

 

 
 
 
 
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