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Mark James Robert Essex|
August 12, 1949
Emporia, Kansas, U.S.
January 7, 1973 (aged 23)|
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
|Cause of death||Gunshot wounds|
|Date||December 31, 1972, and January 7, 1973|
|Location(s)||New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.|
New Orleans Police Department|
Mark James Robert Essex (August 12, 1949 – January 7, 1973) was an American 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 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.
New Year's Eve, 1972
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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 had claimed he was going to kill "just honkies" before beginning his murderous attacks.
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. Blappert 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 died of his injuries on March 5, 1973.
January 7, 1973
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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 Orleans Parish Civil District 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 Howard Johnson's employees, all of whom were African-American. Essex told them not to worry, as he was only there to kill white people. The employees promptly notified the 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 Dr. Steagall, Essex shot him in the chest and shot Betty in the back of the head. The Steagalls both died of their injuries. 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. 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. 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 take cover. While trying to rescue trapped officers, Deputy Superintendent Louis Sirgo was fatally shot in the spine by Essex. Lt. Lewis Townsend, a Tulane medical student, walked into the open field to carry Sirgo out of the line of fire, 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.
After the smoke had cleared, a tally revealed that Essex had shot 19 people, including 10 policemen. Essex is buried in Plot 47-4-1 (with a headstone) in Maplewood Memorial Lawn Cemetery, 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.
- 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.
- Mark Essex bio, crimelibrary.com; accessed March 15, 2015.