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|Born||August 12, 1949
Emporia, Kansas, United States
|Died||January 7, 1973 (aged 23)
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Cause of death
|Shot by police|
|Date||December 31, 1972 and January 7, 1973|
|Location(s)||New Orleans, Louisiana, United States|
|Target(s)||New Orleans Police Department
Howard Johnson's Hotel
Mark James Robert Essex (August 12, 1949 – January 7, 1973) was an American spree killer who killed nine people, including five policemen, and wounded 13 others in New Orleans on December 31, 1972 and January 7, 1973.
Mark James Robert Essex was born in Emporia, Kansas. After graduating from Emporia Senior High School in 1967, Essex attended Emporia State University, where he dropped out after only one semester. He joined the United States Navy as a dental technician in 1969, stationed in San Diego, California, where he claimed he was subjected to two years of ceaseless racial abuse. He went absent without leave (AWOL) from October 19 until November 16, 1970. 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 policemen. 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 5-shot Ruger Model 44 .44-caliber semi-automatic carbine to kill Cadet Alfred Harrell, 19. Lt. Horace Perez was also wounded in the attack. Harrell was black, although Essex said he was going to kill "just honkies" before beginning his murderous attacks. Essex also carried a Colt .38-caliber revolver (which had its serial number scratched off) on his person.
Essex evaded being taken into custody by jumping a chain link fence and running across I-10, while setting off firecrackers as a diversion. Essex then ran into Gert Town, an area renowned for high crime and hostility towards police. In Gert Town, Essex broke into the Burkart building, a warehouse and manufacturing plant on the corner of Euphrosine and South Gayoso. Upon entering the building, an alarm alerted police to a break-in at the business. A dog unit with Officers Edwin Hosli Sr. and Harold Blappert responded to the call, not realizing the connection of the break-in to the attack on central lockup. When Officer Hosli went to get his German Shepherd out of the back seat of the car, Essex shot him in the back. Essex then started shooting the car, shattering the windshield. Officer Blappert then crawled across the front seat to the radio and called for back-up. Officer Blappert then fired four shots at the spot where he saw muzzle flashes from Essex's rifle, then he pulled his partner's body onto the front seat of the car and waited for back-up. When the back-up arrived, they sent two dogs into the building to search for Essex, but Essex had escaped again. Officer Hosli would later die from his wounds on March 5, 1973.
January 7, 1973
At 10:15 a.m. on January 7, 1973, Essex shot grocer Joe Perniciaro with his .44 Magnum carbine and next carjacked Marvin Albert as he sat in his 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle outside his house on South White Street. Essex drove Albert's stolen vehicle to the Downtown Howard Johnson's Hotel at 330 Loyola Avenue in New Orleans' Central Business District, across the street from City Hall and the Louisiana Supreme Court. After almost hitting a startled motorist in the hotel's parking garage, Essex began to climb the stairs, only to find the fire doors locked on floor after floor.
Gaining entry from a fire stairwell on the 18th floor, the top floor of the building, Essex startled three black Howard Johnson's employees. Essex told them not to worry, as he was only there to kill white people, and ignored them as they escaped and notified authorities. In the hallway in front of room 1829, Essex found 27-year-old vacationing Dr. Robert Steagall and his wife Betty, a couple from Virginia enjoying a belated honeymoon. After a struggle with Steagall, Essex shot him in the chest and shot Betty 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 Pan-African flag onto the floor beside the bodies of the couple as he left. On the 11th floor, Essex shot his way into several rooms and set more fires. On the 11th floor, he shot and killed Frank Schneider, the hotel's assistant manager, and shot Walter Collins, the hotel's general manager. Mr Collins died in the hospital three weeks later as a result of his 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. A few minutes later, Essex shot and killed NOPD Officers Phillip Coleman and Paul Persigo from his perch on the 18th floor.
Attempting to rescue trapped officers, Deputy Chief Louis Sirgo was fatally shot in the spine by Essex. Lt. Lewis Townsend, a Tulane medical student, walked into the open field to carry the wounded officer to safety, then returned to class.
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 dispatched to the hotel. By this time, Essex had retreated up to the roof of the building where he and the helicopter exchanged many rounds over many hours. As nightfall came, Essex managed to hole himself up in a concrete cubicle that would protect him in the Southeast side of the roof. As he stepped out once again in the open to fire again on the helicopter, and after hitting the helicopter's transmission, Essex was barraged with fatal gunfire from police sharpshooters on the roofs of adjacent buildings as well as the automatic weapons aboard the helicopter. 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 December 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' 
After the smoke had cleared, a tally revealed that Essex had shot 19 people, including 10 policemen. New Orleans police later entered the residence of Essex at 26191⁄2 Dryades Street and found the apartment completely covered from floor to ceiling with anti-white graffiti. Essex is buried in Plot 47-4-1 (with a headstone) in Maplewood Memorial Lawn Cemetery in Emporia, Kansas.
Loudon Wainwright III includes a few lines about Mark Essex's shooting spree in his song "Clockwork Chartreuse" on the album Attempted Mustache released in 1973. "I know a roof top, don't you say nope. Let's try out that rifle, one with the scope. Howard Johnson's!''
A news report of the shootings was seen in the movie The Assassination of Richard Nixon.
- Moore, Leonard Nathaniel: Black rage in New Orleans - Police brutality and African American activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina; Louisiana State University Press, 2010. ISBN 9780807135907
- Cawthorne, Nigel & Tibballs, Geoff (1994). Killers. Boxtree. pp. 238–240. ISBN 0-7522-0850-0.