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Mark James Robert Essex
August 12, 1949
Emporia, Kansas, U.S.
|Died||January 7, 1973 (aged 23)|
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
|Cause of death||Gunshot wounds|
|Motive||Racial hatred, retaliation for killing of African Americans and Black Panthers|
|Date||December 31, 1972, and January 7, 1973|
|Location(s)||New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.|
|Target(s)||New Orleans Police Department|
Mark James Robert Essex (August 12, 1949 – January 7, 1973) was known as an American serial sniper who killed a total of nine people, including five policemen, and wounded 13 others in New Orleans on December 31, 1972, and January 7, 1973. He was killed in the second armed confrontation. He was spurred on by racism he encountered while enlisted in the Navy. He was also a one-time Black Panther.
He went "unauthorized absence" or "UA" from October 19 until November 16, 1970. He was given a general discharge for unsuitability on February 10, 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.
By late 1972 he was living in New Orleans, Louisiana but did not join a local chapter of the Panthers. He trained in vending machine repair. In November 1972, he was disturbed and outraged by the harsh response of Baton Rouge, Louisiana police to student civil rights demonstrations at Southern University, a historically black university, which resulted in the deaths of two black students shot by police.
New Year's Eve, 1972
At the age of 23 and living in New Orleans, Essex began targeting white policemen for death, as he intended to retaliate for police brutality against African Americans and the discrimination he encountered in the Navy.
On New Year's Eve 1972, Essex parked his car and walked along Perdido Street, a block from the New Orleans Police Department. He hid in a parking lot across from the busy central lockup and fatally shot 19-year-old Cadet Alfred Harrell and also wounding Lt. Horace Perez in the attack. Harrell was black; before beginning his attacks, Essex had earlier claimed he was going to kill "just honkies." He used a 5-shot Ruger Model 44 .44-caliber semi-automatic carbine.
Essex evaded capture by jumping a chain link fence and running across I-10, while setting off firecrackers as a diversion. He ran into Gert Town, an area known for high crime and hostility towards police. There he broke into the Burkart building, a warehouse and manufacturing plant on the corner of Euphrosine and South Gayoso. He set off an alarm that alerted police to this break-in. A K-9 unit led by Officers Edwin Hosli Sr. and Harold Blappert responded to the call, but they did not realize it was connected to the attack on central lockup.
As Officer Hosli began to get his German shepherd out of the car's back seat, Essex shot him in the back. Essex started shooting the car, shattering the windshield. Officer Blappert reached the radio from the front seat and called for back-up. Blappert fired four shots at the spot where he saw muzzle flashes from Essex's rifle, then he pulled his partner onto the front seat and waited for back-up. When the back-up arrived, they sent two dogs into the building to search for Essex, but he had already escaped. Officer Hosli died of his injuries on March 5, 1973.
January 7, 1973
At 10:15 a.m. on January 7, 1973, Essex shot a local grocer named Joe Perniciaro with his .44 Magnum carbine. He 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 Orleans Parish Civil District Court. He parked and climbed the stairs from the garage, but found that the fire doors were locked on floor after floor.
Gaining entry from a fire stairwell on the 18th and top floor, Essex startled three African-American employees of the hotel. Essex told them he was there only to kill white people. The employees quickly notified authorities. In the hallway by room 1829, Essex encountered Dr. Robert Steagall and his wife Betty, a couple from Virginia on a honeymoon, and forced them into their room. After a struggle with Dr. Steagall, Essex fatally shot him in the chest and shot Betty in the back of the head. The Steagalls both died of their injuries. In their 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. There he also shot and killed Frank Schneider, the hotel's assistant manager, and fatally shot Walter Collins, the hotel's general manager. 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, who had returned to the 18th floor. A few minutes later, Essex shot and killed NOPD Officers Phillip Coleman and Paul Persigo on the ground. Times-Picayune photographer G.E. Arnold took an iconic photo as Coleman died of a head wound in Duncan Plaza. Arnold also captured a shot of a wounded Eighth District NOPD officer, Ken Solis, shot in the shoulder and leaning against a tree as another officer, Dave McCann, was trying to stop the bleeding, all while other police and bystanders took cover. Essex fatally shot Deputy Superintendent Louis Sirgo in the spine as he tried to rescue trapped officers. Lt. Lewis Townsend, a Tulane University medical student, walked into the open field and carried Sirgo out of the line of fire, then returned to class.
Seeing TV coverage, Lt. Colonel (later Lt. General) Charles H. Pitman, a pilot in the United States Marine Corps, without obtaining prior clearance, took off in a CH-46 military helicopter to assist the police officers. Pitman landed the helicopter near the hotel, taking on armed officers and flew over the hotel. By this time, Essex had retreated to the roof of the building, from where he and men in the helicopter exchanged many rounds over many hours. As nightfall came, Essex found cover in a concrete cubicle on the southeast side of the roof. As he stepped out in the open to fire again on the helicopter, and after hitting the helicopter's transmission, Essex was fatally shot numerous times by police sharpshooters positioned on the roofs of adjacent buildings, as well as the automatic weapons aboard the helicopter. An autopsy later revealed he had more than 200 gunshot wounds.
December 31, 1972 shootings:
- Cadet Alfred Harrell, 19
- Officer Edwin Hosli Sr., died from wounds March 5, 1973
January 7, 1973 shootings:
- Dr. Robert and Betty Steagall, hotel guests and newlyweds from Virginia
- Frank Schneider, assistant manager, Howard Johnson Hotel
- Walter Collins, general manager, Howard Johnson Hotel, died of wounds three weeks later.
- Officer Phillip Coleman
- Officer Paul Persigo
- Deputy Superintendent Louis Sirgo
- Lt. Horace Perez, shot Dec. 31, 1972
January 7, 1973 shootings:
- Joe Perniciaro, grocer
- Officer Ken Solis
- Three other policemen and three other persons
- Charles Arnold N.O.P.D.
- Tim Ursin N.O.F.D. (New Orleans fireman)
Essex was found to have shot a total of 22 people, nine of whom died. He shot 10 policemen, five of whom died.
Essex's body was returned to Emporia, Kansas.
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- 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 (Baton Rouge), 2010; ISBN 9780807135907.
- Cawthorne, Nigel & Geoff Tibballs. Killers : contract killers, spree killers, sex killers, the ruthless exponents of murder, the most evil crime of all. London: Boxtree, 1994, pp. 238-40; retrieved May 9, 2017; ISBN 0-7522-0850-0.
- "The Times-Picayune in 175 years - 1973: Mark Essex, the Howard Johnson's sniper." The Times-Picayune, December 16, 2011; retrieved March 15, 2015.
- Vargas, Ramon Antonio (8 July 2016). "Dallas police shootings revive memory of sniper Mark Essex, who killed nine New Orleanians, including five cops, in 1973". nola.com. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
- McConnaughey, Janet. "New Orleans 1973: Textbook example of how not to stop a serial sniper", Arizona Daily Sun, January 4, 2003; retrieved January 30, 2016.
- Mass Murderers. ISBN 0-7835-0004-1. 89-102.
- Peter Hernon. A Terrible Thunder: The Story of the New Orleans Sniper (2005); ISBN 1-891053-48-5
- Time-Life Books (1993). Mass Murderers. Time-Life Books. ISBN 0-7835-0004-1.