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Context of 'December 31, 1972 - January 8, 1973: Navy Veteran Goes on Racially Motivated Shooting Spree in New Orleans, Kills Nine'

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A Navy photo of Mark Essex.A Navy photo of Mark Essex. [Source: US Navy / Crime Magazine]Mark James “Jimmy” Robert Essex, a 23-year-old African-American who served as a dental technician in the US Navy (and was stationed in California while many of his fellow soldiers were serving in Vietnam), launches a killing spree in New Orleans that results in nine dead and 13 wounded.
History of Racial Complaints, Membership of Extremist Group - Essex is apparently driven by racism and anger over what he considers to be personal and historical slights; while stationed in San Diego, he filed numerous complaints about being treated unfairly due to his race, and was disciplined several times for engaging in fights with white sailors. While in the Navy, Essex became interested in the Black Panthers, and befriended a fellow recruit, a Black Muslim who had a record of violent crime before entering the service. A friend of Essex’s in the Navy later recalls Essex changing drastically, “in a matter of weeks,” after meeting his new friend. Essex was court-martialed for going AWOL (absent without leave), and told the court during the proceedings, “I had begun to hate all white people.” He was discharged with a diagnosis of “character and behavior disorders,” and went to New York City for a time, where he immersed himself in a chapter of the Black Panthers and the members’ revolutionary, violent rhetoric. He rejoined his Navy friend in New Orleans in August 1972, where he has lived until now.
Spree Begins - In preparation for the spree, Essex carries a .38 revolver with the serial number removed, a Ruger .44 Magnum carbine rifle, a gas mask, firecrackers, lighter fluid, and ammunition. Essex begins his spree by hiding in a parking lot close to the New Orleans Police Department, and with the Ruger shoots two police officers, Cadet Alfred Harrell and Lieutenant Horace Perez. Harrell, an African-American, dies, while Perez survives his wounds. Essex misses his intended target, Cadet Bruce Weatherford. Harrell is the only African-American Essex shoots. It is impossible to know if Essex deliberately fires on a fellow African-American or simply does not recognize Harrell’s race. As the police respond to the shooting, Essex sets off diversionary firecrackers, jumps a chain-link fence, and flees, accidentally dropping the revolver, the gas mask, and some ammunition. He then breaks into a warehouse, setting off a silent alarm. Essex waits quietly for the police to respond to the break-in. Two officers respond. One, Edwin Hosli, receives a Ruger bullet in the back as he steps out of his car. His partner returns fire and calls for backup. The police swarm over the warehouse, but Essex has already fled. Hosli will die of his wounds two months later. Evidence shows that Essex may have been wounded by gunfire, or had cut himself on broken glass. The police discover clothing, a filter canister for a gas mask, 50 .38-caliber shells, and three unfired .44 magnum cartridges. The hunt for Essex leads into a poor, predominantly African-American area of the city known as Gert Town. Some of the officers theorize that the shooter deliberately dropped the three .44 cartridges to lead them into Gert Town, a theory bolstered by their subsequent discovery of a “trail” of cartridges. They follow the trail to the deserted Saint Mark Baptist Church. Detective Emmett Dupas later tells a writer: “It was clear that it was a trap, that we were being set up. The bullets were always in pairs and always pointed in the same direction.” [Crime Magazine, 7/11/2011; New Orleans Times-Picayune, 12/16/2011; TruTV, 2012]
Dodging the Police - While planning how best to enter the church without exposing themselves to the shooter’s fire, the officers learn that Chief of Police Clarence Giarrusso has called off the search. Throughout the night and the early morning, Giarrusso’s office has received numerous complaints from residents about the heavy police presence in Gert Town, and the sometimes-harsh search methods being used, with officers kicking in doors and searching homes without warrants. That evening the church pastor spots Essex inside the church and runs to a neighbor’s house to call the police. By the time police arrive, Essex is gone. On January 2, about 6 p.m., Essex enters a grocery store near the church, wearing a bloodied bandage on his left hand. He buys lipstick and makeup and departs; the store owner, suspicious because of the number of news reports about the escaped shooter, alerts the police. The police are unable to find Essex. During the evening of January 3, the police respond to a tip that the shooter is hiding inside another church in Gert Town. The police fail to find Essex, but they do find a bag of .38-caliber cartridges and a note, later proven to have been written by Essex, apologizing to the pastor for breaking into the church. On the morning of January 7, Essex returns to the store, shoots the owner, and flees in a stolen car.
Howard Johnson's - Essex hides in a parking garage adjacent to a Howard Johnson’s Hotel near City Hall and other government buildings, and gains access to the hotel’s 18th floor through a door that has been propped open. He frightens three black housekeepers, but tells them not to worry, that he is only hunting whites. He runs across Dr. Robert Steagall and Steagall’s wife Betty; Steagall attempts to stop Essex, but after a brief struggle for the weapon, Essex shoots Dr. Steagall in the chest and then Mrs. Steagall in the back of the head, killing them both. He uses his lighter fluid to set the Steagalls’ room on fire, and drops a black, green, and red African flag on the floor beside the two. He then breaks into the 11th floor via the stairwell, and sets fires in empty rooms all along the corridor. Essex kills assistant manager Frank Schneider on the 11th floor. As smoke billows out of the hotel window and the switchboard lights up with calls about an armed man in the hallway, Essex goes to the 10th floor, where he shoots and kills hotel general manager Walter Collins. As police and firemen respond to the reports, Essex, now on the 8th floor, shoots hotel guest Robert Beamish while Beamish is standing next to the pool far below. Beamish survives the gunshot. Essex, setting more fires on the 8th floor, spots fireman Tim Ursin climbing a ladder to the 11th floor, and shoots him in the forearm. Policeman Bill Trapagnier, climbing behind Ursin, returns fire. New Orleans police surround the hotel, many of them carrying personal weaponry. (TruTV writer Chuck Hustmyre will later explain that the New Orleans Police Department, like most urban police departments, has not yet implemented what will come to be known as SWAT teams, so the police lack high-powered weaponry and body armor.) Essex fires at the officers from his perch on the 8th floor, earning cheers from some of the onlookers when he shoots. Essex wounds Officer Ken Solis in the shoulder and Sergeant Emanuel Palmisano in the arm and back while Palmisano tries to help Solis. He kills Officer Philip Coleman with another head shot while Coleman is also attempting to help Palmisano and Solis. And, after climbing to the 16th floor, he shoots Officer Paul Persigo in the head, killing him instantly. He also wounds an ambulance driver and a fire chief.
Command Post - Giarrusso, now on site, sets up his command post in the Howard Johnson’s lobby, forcing his officers to run a “gauntlet” of police and sniper gunfire to enter and exit the post. Deputy Police Chief Louis Sirgo assembles a team of five volunteers to rescue two officers trapped in an elevator near the top of the hotel. Essex is waiting on the 16th floor for them. When they arrive, Essex kills Sirgo with a shot to the spine and flees to the hallway. He mounts the roof. Police in the command post are beside themselves, and many think they are facing a team of assailants, not a single lone gunman. Erroneous reports flood the police airwaves, some claiming that as many as three shooters are in the hotel and that they have hostages. Giarrusso orders another group of officers up the stairwells, to locate and isolate the shooter(s) and, if possible, to force him or them onto the roof. One group of officers reaches the rooftop, and smashes its way through the locked door. Essex is waiting. He shoots Officer Larry Arthur in the stomach; Arthur manages to return fire before collapsing, though his shotgun blast misses Essex. More officers rush the roof. Giarrusso wants to secure the roof before nightfall if possible, but twilight is already coming.
Helicopter - Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Pitman volunteers to fly a Coast Guard helicopter into the area. Pitman, a Vietnam veteran recuperating from a leg wound suffered in combat, takes two Marine sergeants armed with M-14 rifles with him for protection. By the time they are airborne, it is entirely dark and the hotel shrouded in fog. Giarrusso sends a group of armed volunteers with Pitman into the helicopter. By this time, Essex is somewhat pinned down by Officer Antoine Saacks, an ex-Marine who has brought an M-16 with a thousand rounds of ammunition and has trapped Essex behind the protection of a cinderblock cubicle wall. Saacks asks permission to go up with Pitman and drop onto the roof, but Giarrusso refuses to allow him to drop out of the copter. Instead, Pitman and the heavily-armed police officers, including Saacks, ascend beside the roof. Pitman uses a spotlight to search the roof, while Saacks and the other sharpshooters rake the roof with gunfire. They lay down so much fire that Saacks actually expends all one thousand rounds of ammunition, and they are forced to return for more ammunition before going up a second time and them a third time. Meanwhile, Essex is returning fire, accurately; the helicopter takes several hits. Finally Saacks determines that the sniper is using a metal water pipe to move back and forth from the protection of the cinderblock alcove to another spot on the roof where he can shoot. Saacks and the other police officers pour fire into the water pipe, causing it to split open.
Killed by a Hail of Gunfire - The gunfire flushes Essex onto the roof, where the searchlight spots him as he snaps off return fire at the helicopter. “I saw him come out of the dark,” Pitman later recalls. Essex fires a bullet directly at Pitman, but strikes the transmission housing instead. The helicopter hovers 10 feet off the roof and less than 50 feet from Essex as Saacks reloads for the final exchange. “I just walked the bullets right into him,” Saacks later recalls. Saacks’s gunfire is joined by fire from other officers, including a group that has reached the roof. Essex is killed by the onslaught of gunfire; over 200 bullet wounds are later counted. One sniper later recalls that the medical team had to use “a scooper” to remove Essex’s remains.
'Shrine' of Racial Hatred - Police continue to hunt into the next day for Essex’s presumed cohorts, but find nothing. Police eventually identify Essex, and break into his apartment, to find what Hustmyre later terms “a shrine dedicated to his hatred.” Racist graffiti covers his wall space, with the words “hate” and “kill” repeated over and over again. Police find Muslim and Black Panthers newsletters, a copy of the book Black Rage, and a map with the locations of the police department and the Howard Johnson’s Hotel circled. Trapagnier will be one of a number of officers still unsure that Essex operated on his own. He later tells a Times-Picayune reporter, “My gut feeling is, I shot at two different people.”
Warning Letter - The New Orleans television station WWL turns over a handwritten note Essex had sent it sometime in late December. Station personnel had not opened the letter until January 6, the day before Essex’s spree, and had not realized the note was connected with the shootings until afterwards. The police crime lab later proves the note was written by Essex. It reads in its entirety: “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 sh_t.” He signed the note “Mata’.” The 900-page police report later concludes with the following statement concerning Essex’s motive: “What he intended to achieve will probably remain in the grave with him.” The New York office of the Black Panther Party will send a note of condolence to Essex’s parents, calling Essex a “warrior and revolutionary.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune will state that Essex harbored “an insane hatred of the police.” [New Orleans Times-Picayune, 12/16/2011; TruTV, 2012]

Entity Tags: Bruce Weatherford, Robert Beamish, Bill Trapagnier, Robert Steagall, US Department of the Navy, WWL-TV, Black Panthers, Alfred Harrell, Antoine Saacks, Betty Steagall, Paul Persigo, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Walter Collins, Mark James (“Jimmy”) Robert Essex, Clarence Giarrusso, Chuck Pitman, Chuck Hustmyre, Edwin Hosli, New Orleans Police Department, Philip Coleman, Horace Perez, Emmett Dupas, Ken Solis, Emanuel Palmisano, Louis Sirgo, Larry Arthur

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Comedian Bill Cosby, one of many on Nixon’s enemies list.Comedian Bill Cosby, one of many on Nixon’s enemies list. [Source: Quixoticals]Former White House counsel John Dean, continuing his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), provides a sheaf of documents to the committee. Among those is the “Opponents List and Political Enemies Project,” informally called President Nixon’s “enemies list.” The list is actually a set of documents “several inches thick” of names and information about Nixon’s political enemies. It was compiled by a number of administration officials, including Dean, White House aides Charles Colson, Gordon Strachan, and Lyn Nofziger, beginning in 1971. One of the documents from August 16, 1971, has Dean suggesting ways in which “we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” Methods proposed included administration manipulation of “grant availability, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc.” The Dean memo was given to then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and top White House aide John Ehrlichman for approval. Though Dean testifies that he does not know if the plan was set into motion, subsequent documents submitted to the committee indicate that it was indeed implemented. A condensed list of 20 “White House enemies” was produced by Colson’s office; a larger list included ten Democratic senators, all 12 black House members, over 50 news and television reporters, prominent businessmen, labor leaders, and entertainers, and contributors to the 1972 presidential campaign of Democratic senator Edmund Muskie. The condensed list includes, in priority order:
bullet “1. Arnold M. Picker, United Artists Corp., NY. Top Muskie fund raiser. Success here could be both debilitating and very embarrassing to the Muskie machine. If effort looks promising, both Ruth and David Picker should be programmed and then a follow through with United Artists.”
bullet “2. Alexander E. Barkan, national director of AFL-CIO’s committee on Political Education, Washington D.C.: Without a doubt the most powerful political force programmed against us in 1968 ($10 million, 4.6 million votes, 115 million pamphlets, 176,000 workers—all programmed by Barkan’s COPE—so says Teddy White in The Making of the President 1968). We can expect the same effort this time.”
bullet “3. Ed Guthman, managing editor, Los Angeles Times: Guthman, former Kennedy aide, was a highly sophisticated hatchetman against us in ‘68. It is obvious he is the prime mover behind the current Key Biscayne effort. It is time to give him the message.”
bullet “4. Maxwell Dane, Doyle, Dane and Bernbach, NY: The top Democratic advertising firm—they destroyed Goldwater in ‘64. They should be hit hard starting with Dane.”
bullet “5. Charles Dyson, Dyson-Kissner Corp., NY: Dyson and [Democratic National Committee chairman] Larry O’Brien were close business associates after ‘68. Dyson has huge business holdings and is presently deeply involved in the Businessmen’s Educational Fund which bankrolls a national radio network of five-minute programs—anti-Nixon in character.”
bullet “6. Howard Stein, Dreyfus Corp., NY: Heaviest contributor to [Democratic presidential candidate Eugene] McCarthy in ‘68. If McCarthy goes, will do the same in ‘72. If not, Lindsay or McGovern will receive the funds.”
bullet “7. [US Representative] Allard Lowenstein, Long Island, NY: Guiding force behind the 18-year-old ‘Dump Nixon’ vote campaign.”
bullet “8. Morton Halperin, leading executive at Common Cause: A scandal would be most helpful here.”
bullet “9. Leonard Woodcock, UAW, Detroit, Mich.: No comments necessary.”
bullet “10. S. Sterling Munro Jr., Sen. [Henry Jackson’s aide, Silver Spring, Md: We should give him a try. Positive results would stick a pin in Jackson’s white hat.”
bullet “11. Bernard T. Feld, president, Council for a Livable World: Heavy far left funding. They will program an ‘all court press’ against us in ‘72.”
bullet “12. Sidney Davidoff, New York City, [New York City Mayor John V.] Lindsay’s top personal aide: a first class SOB, wheeler-dealer and suspected bagman. Positive results would really shake the Lindsay camp and Lindsay’s plans to capture youth vote. Davidoff in charge.”
bullet “13. John Conyers, congressman, Detroit: Coming on fast. Emerging as a leading black anti-Nixon spokesman. Has known weakness for white females.”
bullet “14. Samuel M. Lambert, president, National Education Association: Has taken us on vis-a-vis federal aid to parochial schools—a ‘72 issue.” [Facts on File, 6/2003] Committee chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC) is clearly outraged by the list, and particularly by Lambert’s inclusion. He says, “Here is a man listed among the opponents whose only offense is that he believed in the First Amendment and shared Thomas Jefferson’s conviction, as expressed in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, that to compel a man to make contributions of money for the dissemination of religious opinions he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical. Isn’t that true?” Dean replies, “I cannot disagree with the chairman at all.” [Time, 7/9/1973]
bullet “15. Stewart Rawlings Mott, Mott Associates, NY: Nothing but big money for radic-lib candidates.”
bullet “16. Ronald Dellums, congressman, Calif: Had extensive [Edward M. Kennedy] EMK-Tunney support in his election bid. Success might help in California next year.”
bullet “17. Daniel Schorr, Columbia Broadcasting System, Washington: A real media enemy.”
bullet “18. S. Harrison Dogole, Philadelphia, Pa: President of Globe Security Systems—fourth largest private detective agency in US. Heavy Humphrey [former presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey] contributor. Could program his agency against us.”
bullet “19. [Actor] Paul Newman, Calif: Radic-lib causes. Heavy McCarthy involvement ‘68. Used effectively in nation wide TV commercials. ‘72 involvement certain.”
bullet “20. Mary McGrory, Washington columnist: Daily hate Nixon articles.”
Another “master list” of political enemies prepared by Colson’s office includes Democratic senators Birch Bayh, J. W. Fulbright, Fred R. Harris, Harold Hughes, Edward M. Kennedy, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Edmund Muskie, Gaylord Nelson, and William Proxmire; House representatives Bella Abzug, William R. Anderson, John Brademas, Father Robert F. Drinan, Robert Kastenmeier, Wright Patman; African-American representatives Shirley Chisholm, William Clay, George Collins, John Conyers, Ronald Dellums, Charles Diggs, Augustus Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Robert N.C. Nix, Parren Mitchell, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes; and several other politicians, including Lindsay, McCarthy, and George Wallace, the governor of Alabama (see May 15, 1972). The list also includes an array of liberal, civil rights and antiwar organizations, including the Black Panthers, the Brookings Institution, Common Cause, the Farmers Union, the National Economic Council, the National Education Association, the National Welfare Rights Organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Convention; a variety of labor organizations; many reporters, columnists, and other news figures; a short list of celebrities including Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory, Steve McQueen, Joe Namath, Gregory Peck, Tony Randall, and Barbra Streisand; and a huge list of businessmen and academics. The documents provide suggestions for avenues of attack against individual listees, including using “income tax discrepancies,” allegations of Communist connections, and other information. [Facts on File, 6/2003] In 1999, Schorr will joke that being on Nixon’s enemies list “changed my life a great deal. It increased my lecture fee, got me invited to lots of very nice dinners. It was so wonderful that one of my colleagues that I will not mention, but a very important man at CBS, said, ‘Why you, Schorr? Why couldn’t it have been me on the enemies list?’” [CNN, 3/27/1999] Schorr does not mention that he was the subject of an FBI investigation because of his listing. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]

Entity Tags: Paul Newman, National Welfare Rights Organization, Ralph Metcalfe, Parren Mitchell, Robert F Drinan, National Economic Council, Richard M. Nixon, Morton H. Halperin, Louis Stokes, Mary McGrory, John V. Lindsay, Lawrence O’Brien, Maxwell Dane, Leonard Woodcock, Robert Kastenmeier, Lyn Nofziger, Los Angeles Times, Robert N.C. Nix, Sam Ervin, S. Harrison Dogole, United Auto Workers, Walter Mondale, Tony Randall, William Clay, William R. Anderson, Wright Patman, William Proxmire, Ron Dellums, Stewart Rawlings Mott, Southern Christian Leadership Convention, S. Sterling Munro Jr, John Ehrlichman, Steve McQueen, Samuel M Lambert, Shirley Chisholm, Sidney Davidoff, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Dean, National Education Association, John Brademas, CBS News, Charles Colson, Charles Diggs, Charles Dyson, Charles Rangel, Brookings Institution, Council for a Livable World, Common Cause, Black Panthers, Birch Bayh, Bill Cosby, Allard Lowenstein, Alexander E. Barkan, AFL-CIO, Daniel Schorr, Arnold M. Picker, John Conyers, Augustus Hawkins, Bernard T. Feld, Bella Abzug, Dick Gregory, Barbra Streisand, Edmund Muskie, H.R. Haldeman, Harold Hughes, Gregory Peck, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Jane Fonda, J. William Fulbright, Howard Stein, Gordon Strachan, George S. McGovern, Joe Namath, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, Fred R Harris, Gaylord Nelson, George C. Wallace, Hubert H. Humphrey, George Collins, Ed Guthman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Congress approves legislation which repeals the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, greatly reducing regulation of Wall Street and clearing the way for the cross-ownership of banks, securities firms and insurers. The measure is approved in the Senate by a vote of 90 to 8 and in the House by 362 to 57. President Bill Clinton will sign the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act into law on November 12th, 1999. [Library of Congress, 3/27/2009] The New York Times reports that passage of the bill elicits optimism that the measure will enhance American competitiveness and ensure American dominance in the global financial marketplace, as well as concerns that deregulation will lead to a future financial meltdown. The Times further notes that experts predict the new law will result in a wave of large financial mergers.
Optimism over Passage of the Measure - Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers praises the legislation, declaring that the law “will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy.” Among others praising passage of the measure:
bullet Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), sponsor of the bill, says: “We have a new century coming, and we have an opportunity to dominate that century the same way we dominated this century. Glass-Steagall, in the midst of the Great Depression, came at a time when the thinking was that the government was the answer. In this era of economic prosperity, we have decided that freedom is the answer.”
bullet Rep Jim Leach (R-IA) remarks: “This is a historic day. The landscape for delivery of financial services will now surely shift.”
bullet Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) says, “There are many reasons for this bill, but first and foremost is to ensure that US financial firms remain competitive.”
bullet Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE) says, “The concerns that we will have a meltdown like 1929 are dramatically overblown.”
Warnings over Implications of the Measure - The measure provokes warnings from a handful of dissenters that “the deregulation of Wall Street would someday wreak havoc on the nation’s financial system,” according to the Times. Among the dissenters are:
bullet Senator Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND), who says: “I think we will look back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930’s is true in 2010;”
bullet Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), who remarks that the bill is “mean-spirited in the way it had tried to undermine the Community Reinvestment Act;”
bullet Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), who says: “Glass-Steagall was intended to protect our financial system by insulating commercial banking from other forms of risk. It was one of several stabilizers designed to keep a similar tragedy from recurring. Now Congress is about to repeal that economic stabilizer without putting any comparable safeguard in its place.” [New York Times, 11/5/1999]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Byron L. Dorgan, Barney Frank, Bob Kerrey, Charles Schumer, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Congress, Jim Leach, Phil Gramm, Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Larry Summers, Paul Wellstone, Maxine Waters, Glass-Steagall Act

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

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