Mark James Robert Essex
Born: 1949, Emporia, Kansas, United States
Died: January 7, 1973. New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Cause of death: Shot by police
Notable because: Politicized Black Panther member decided to go kill honky cops, and killed 9 and wounded 13 in a killing spree in New Orleans, 1973.
Mark Essex killed 9 people, including police, and wounded 13 others in New Orleans on January 7, 1973.
Mark James Robert Essex was born in Emporia, Kansas. Essex then joined the United States Navy as a dental technician, where he claimed he was subjected to two years of ceaseless racial abuse. 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 Ruger .44 Magnum carbine to kill Cadet Alfred Harrell, 19. 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 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 K-9 unit with Officers Edwin Hosli Sr. and Kenneth Blappert responded to the call, not realizing the connection of the break-in to the attack on central lockup. When Officer Holsi 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 bloody 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.
The New Orleans Holliday Inn Hotel as it appears today. In 1973, it was New Orleans "Howard Johnson's" where Essex took part in a gun-battle with police
(Pic) Inside Essex's room.
"Every kill and hate slogan imaginable was painted on the pale brown walls in thick, crude strokes. All references to whites -- and those predominated -- were in red paint. The others were painted black.
"....No inch of wall space was spared; lifting their heads, detectives saw in bold red letters, "Only a pig would read shit on the ceiling."
7 January 1973
It was 10:15 a.m., 7 January 1973, when Essex shot grocer Joe Perniciaro with his .44 Magnum carbine. Essex was making his way to the Downtown Howard Johnson's Hotel. 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 Pan-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. Collins died in the hospital three weeks later 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. 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 sent up. 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 northwest 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 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.
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.''
After the smoke had cleared, a tally revealed that Essex had shot 19 people, including 10 police officers.
Essex is mentioned at length in Gil Scott Heron's version of Inner City Blues
Japanese doom metal band Church of Misery recorded a song about Mark Essex called Soul Discharge on their album The Second Coming.
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