Mark James Robert Essex and the Second Battle of New Orleans

In January of 1973, a modest war was fought in downtown New Orleans, Louisiana.
The darkness welling up in the hearts of people like Stephen Paddock is difficult to comprehend by normal folk.

What possesses a guy to kill senselessly and en masse? The dark nihilist emptiness of Stephen Paddock’s pathetic life led him to open fire on a music festival in Las Vegas in 2017, killing 58 and wounding another 422. His twisted motivations remain a mystery. In the case of Mark James Robert Essex, however, we find a hate-driven man bullied and abused who showed just how much carnage a single determined shooter with a rifle can wreak.

Mark James Robert Essex was an otherwise promising young man who gave himself over utterly to the dark side.

Jimmy Essex was the second of five children of a church-going African-American meat packer from Emporia, Kansas. He enlisted in the Navy in 1969 to avoid being drafted for combat in Vietnam. The Navy trained him as a dental technician.

Essex became consumed with hatred. He painted racist diatribes on the walls and ceilings of his New Orleans apartment. All references to the police were painted in red.

Essex purportedly endured two years of racial abuse at the hands of his peers and superiors in the Navy. This was a different time, and our society then tolerated such stuff. This experience transformed Essex from a bright young church member into the seething embodiment of hate.   

The Black Panthers was a racist paramilitary terrorist group that attracted angry young men like Jimmy Essex.

After receiving a General Discharge from the Navy for unspecified character and behavioral disorders, Essex sought out radical black activists and joined the New York Black Panthers. In 1972 he moved to New Orleans to learn vending machine repair. There had been some unfortunate police-involved shootings of young black men thereabouts, so he also resolved to murder white police officers. Armed with a Ruger Model 44 carbine purchased from Montgomery Ward along with a Colt .38 revolver, Essex began his hunt on New Year’s Eve.

Killing from Ambush

The first Law Enforcement victim of Jimmy Essex’s hate-fueled rampage was actually an African-American police cadet.

Essex waited hidden in a parking lot across the street from the crowded NOPD central lockup. Police cadet Alfred Harrell, a married 19-year-old black father, was the first to appear. Despite claiming that he would target “just honkies,” Essex shot and killed the young man from a range of 280 feet with his .44 Magnum rifle. He wounded LT Horace Perez as well before escaping across Interstate 10, deploying firecrackers as he ran as a diversion.

Certain derelict neighborhoods in New Orleans were and are profoundly hostile to Law Enforcement. This gleaming memorial to the mass murderer Jimmy Essex stands in the 7th Ward.

Entering Gert Town, a dreary bit of New Orleans known for its astronomical crime rate and hostility toward Law Enforcement, Essex broke into the Burkart Building, a combination warehouse and manufacturing facility. The building’s alarm system automatically alerted police, and two officers responded with a K9. Essex shot responding Officer Edwin Hosli in the back. Backup arrived in short order, but Essex escaped in the confusion. Officer Hosli died of his wounds the following month.

The Main Event

The New Orleans Howard Johnson’s Hotel became the scene of a ferocious battle.

Jimmy Essex took the following week off from his cop-killing mayhem, but on January 7th he returned with a vengeance. First, he shot a random white grocer named Joe Perniciaro and carjacked a black man’s 1968 Chevelle, driving the stolen vehicle to the local Howard Johnson’s high-rise hotel. Abandoning the car he ran up the stairs, shaking locked fire doors as he went.

It actually took a fair amount of effort for Essex to gain entry into the hotel. He shook doors all the way up to the top floor before he found one ajar.

When finally he arrived at the top floor he found an open door and encountered three black members of the hotel staff. He reassured them, explaining that he was only there to kill white people. They fled and immediately notified the authorities.

Essex set several fires both to serve as distractions and to draw Law Enforcement Officers into his kill zone.

Essex encountered 27-year-old Dr. Robert Steagall and his wife Betty in the hallway. The Steagalls were visiting from Virginia on their honeymoon. After a brief scuffle Essex shot and killed them both. He then made his way into their hotel room and set the drapes alight. Abandoning a Pan-African flag near the Steagall’s bodies, he headed downstairs.

Essex’s vantage from atop the New Orleans Howard Johnson’s gave him a dominating view of the surrounding cityscape.

Essex made his way down to the eleventh floor, setting fires as he went. There he shot and killed Frank Schneider and Walter Collins, two of the hotel managers. Essex then climbed onto the roof of the building where he had a commanding view of the surrounding city.

Jimmy Essex fired upon officers closing in on the hotel, killing several. This particular image became an icon of the tumultuous era.

Two police officers attempted to enter the building via a fire truck ladder only to be fired upon by Essex from the roof. Essex promptly shot and killed Officers Paul Persigo and Phillip Coleman from his rooftop hide. He wounded Officer Ken Solis and shot Deputy Superintendent Louis Sirgo through the spine, killing him. A Tulane medical student named Lewis Townsend crossed an open field under fire to carry Sirgo to cover before returning to class. What a stud. At this point, the Law Enforcement response just went off the rails.

The Second Battle for New Orleans

The chaos that ensued led to rampant misinformation and confusion.

Essex enjoyed a breathtaking vantage, and his steady peppering of the surrounding area shut down downtown New Orleans. As is so often the case in the fog of war, a persistent rumor arose about a second gunman. This was found to be unsubstantiated.

Police used a military Sea Knight helicopter for several hours as an aerial fire support platform.

LTG Chuck Pittman, USMC, saw the event unfold on live television and offered the New Orleans cops use of a military CH46 Sea Knight helicopter. Over the next several hour’s police shooters aboard this helicopter supported by snipers on the roofs of nearby buildings took potshots at Essex as he fired from behind cover.

The resulting chaos seemed more like Mogadishu than New Orleans.

Desperate to neutralize the threat, officers raked the roof of this popular downtown hotel with automatic weapons fire. Amateur video of the exchange can be found on YouTube. It is pretty impressive.

Jimmy Essex was absolutely shot to pieces during the violent exchange of fire.

There was a concrete blockhouse of sorts on the roof of the hotel, and Essex took refuge within it as darkness fell. By this time Law Enforcement officers had begun advancing toward his position. Essex emerged from his bunker and fired at the helicopter, striking it in its transmission. At this point everybody with a gun cut loose, chewing Jimmy Essex literally to pieces. When the dust settled his 23-year-old body bore more than 200 bullet wounds.

Cops fired on Essex’s position from multiple angles, wounding several officers with stray rounds.

Hamstrung by a lack of reliable comms, officers advanced upon Essex’s position from several directions. In the final fusillade, several police officers were injured from friendly fire. Firing into the middle of a circle violates every rule of small-unit combat, but these were the days before SWAT. In 1973 only New York and Los Angeles maintained dedicated tactical teams. The New Orleans cops were simply not prepared for violence on this scale.

The Perpetrator’s Rifle

The Ruger Model 44 was designed as a lightweight sporting rifle firing the powerful .44 Magnum pistol cartridge.

The Ruger Model 44 .44 Magnum autoloading rifle is a powerful mid-range deer gun pure and simple. Bearing an esoteric similarity to the M1 Carbine, the Model 44 is a gas-operated semiautomatic carbine that feeds from an internal four-round tubular magazine. Introduced in 1961, the Model 44 was called the “Deerstalker” until a lawsuit brought by Ithaca over trademark infringement forced Ruger to remove the name. The Model 44 strongly influenced the ubiquitous 10/22 that was launched three years later.

The Ruger Model 44 loads one round at a time from the bottom in the manner of a repeating shotgun.

The Model 44 featured a rotating bolt and stained walnut stock. The front sight included a gold bead, while the rear sight was a simple folding leaf. The receiver came from the factory drilled and tapped for an optical sight. The Model 44 loaded through a gate underneath the action in the manner of a pump shotgun. The safety was a simple pushbutton located within the trigger guard. The Model 44 remained in production until 1985.

I have some personal experience with the Ruger Model 44. It is an effective close to a mid-range deer rifle.

I killed my first deer with my mom’s Ruger Model 44 when I was eight years old. This handy little rifle was indeed lightweight and maneuverable. Recoil was manageable, and the gun was plenty accurate, especially with a scope installed. Particularly when fired from a rifle barrel those heavy .44-caliber bullets were simply devastating downrange. That first big doe I shot with mom’s gun dropped like a sack of cement.

The Rest of the Story

The protracted firefight left the roof of the hotel shredded by bullets.

Between the advancing officers, the several snipers firing from nearby rooftops, and police machine gunners onboard the Sea Knight, the New Orleans cops chewed the roof of that hotel to pieces. The concrete edifice within which Essex hid was absolutely pulverized. It was a legitimate miracle they didn’t kill innocent bystanders all over the city.

Despite his lack of serious combat training, Essex was a profoundly effective shooter.

The terrifying bit is simply that Mark Essex had no formal tactical training, and he wielded an inexpensive pistol-caliber carbine that held a mere five shots in a cumbersome internal magazine. Despite this, he ultimately killed nine and injured thirteen. A serious operator armed with a more efficient weapon could have wrought so much more carnage.

The toxic combination of a readily defensible position, an elevated vantage, and a fanatical shooter was synergistically horrible.

Considering Essex apparently had not planned out the details of his final operation in advance, he demonstrated exceptional tactical acumen. He consistently employed violence as a diversion to cover his movements and effectively eluded the police on a couple of occasions. When it came time for his Alamo moment Essex seized the high ground while maximizing his use of cover and concealment.

Law Enforcement learned a great deal from the 1973 New Orleans Howard Johnson’s debacle. Today even small departments maintain tactical response teams that train to respond to active shooter scenarios.

The seething racial vitriol that drove Mark James Robert Essex to blast the holy crap out of downtown New Orleans continues to drive headlines today. Within this sordid tale, however, there resides any number of legitimate tactical lessons. Law Enforcement tactics nationwide evolved markedly as a result.

Most of the country has forgotten about Jimmy Essex and his hate-driven murder spree. However, for a few hours, the combat in an otherwise normal American city was simply epic.

The New Orleans Howard Johnson is a Holiday Inn today. I’ve stayed there. There are no obvious markers anywhere I could find to commemorate the building’s nefarious history. In the dark days of January 1973, however, this nondescript hotel played host to its own little war.

Urban America is not accustomed to military-grade combat.
Essex sent this note to a local newspaper before his attack, but it was not discovered until days after the event.

Ruger Model 44 Carbine

Caliber                           .44 Magnum

Barrel Length                 18.5 inches

Overall Length               37 inches

Weight                           6 pounds

Action                            Gas-Operated, Rotating Bolt

Feed System                   4-Round Tubular Magazine

Sights                             Gold Bead Front, Folding Leaf Rear

Buy and Sell on GunsAmerica! All Local Sales are FREE!

About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains. Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Kevin Stich November 23, 2021, 10:16 pm

    I remember that the helicopter was carrying an M2 50BMG. It chewed up the roof and Mark James Robert Essex. The news covered it.

  • Ej harbet September 5, 2021, 4:17 pm

    I like the design of the old-school 44 carbine.if you keep your wits and use a properly positioned bandolier
    You can keep one chugging for awhile before it got too hot. Fire a few load a few.

  • Ej harbet September 5, 2021, 4:09 pm

    Wow,why the hate on Mr dabbs?
    I fear the enemies of America have been busily creating racist lunatics of all colors. And some of the rest of us are really touchy about it. Folks,Mr Dobbs shows absolutely no past evidence of being woke so lighten up. Or don’t

  • Will Dabbs August 30, 2021, 11:54 pm

    Wow, guys. A couple of observations regarding context–

    From the horse’s mouth–including Paddock was not to compare and contrast white versus black psychopaths. The point was simply to include a contemporary psycho as a foundation with whom my readers might be familiar before launching into a review of one perhaps a bit more obscure.

    Apparently this dude was raised in a stable Christian home with a mom and a dad. Something subsequently radicalized him into a suicidal racist bigot nut job.

    The observation about his being bullied I picked up someplace, but that was honestly an afterthought. The story here was the same point that all the commenters are making–contrary to the narrative put forth in the popular media, racist murderers come in all hues.

    It amazes me I did such a poor job of conveying that.

    • Les Thanadequate August 31, 2021, 2:24 am

      Enjoyed the article, I was unaware of this shooting and I was an adult at the time so I don’t know how I missed it.

  • Travis Russell August 30, 2021, 7:55 pm

    I was all ready to rip this author a new one. No need he has several new ones now. I simply hope he leans to stop the hate in his heart.

  • Andrew August 30, 2021, 7:14 pm

    He was never mistreated by white people, he was just another hate filled black man, like most black men today. Black men commit the majority of crimes in this country. The narrative the whites mistreat them is just liberal BS.

  • D.J. August 30, 2021, 2:57 pm

    There is a concept known as ” Divide & Rule ” , attributed
    to Phillip of Macedon , in the earliest days of history .
    It requires the systematic dividing of a government’s subjects
    into classes , and pitting them against each other , in the effort
    to deflect attention from oppression by the sovereign.

    It has worked in nearly all cultures of the world since its
    inception . We are no exception .

    Native born vs. Immigrant . White vs. Red . Black vs. White .
    White vs. Asian . Male vs. Female , & etc , etc , etc, on & on …….
    As the Romans controlled their subjects , our illustrious
    government controls US .

    When will WE wake up ?
    What will it take ?

    I don’t advocate revolution !
    I advocate ” yanking a ” knot-hole ” , in the asses of our
    oppressors . Throw the bastardized S.O.B ‘s out of office .
    Reclaim OUR Government . Return to the form of Representative
    Republic as we were established to be

    They laugh at US . Mock US . Routinely show US contemptible
    arrogance . Display complete impertinence to US .

    The ” sad-sack ” , AWOL , subject of this story is a classic example
    of this ” Divide & Rule ” concept . He fell for it . Everyday more here
    fall for it .

    When will our attention be directed toward our oppressors at the
    state & federal levels ? Again , what’s it going to take to unite all of
    the Nation’s CITIZENS into action ?

    Are we CITIZENS , or subjects ?

    • Ej harbet September 5, 2021, 4:12 pm

      You get it sir.

  • D. Flowers. August 30, 2021, 2:40 pm

    I don’t remember this event. Might have been when I was between duty stations on leave and had no access to TV. It is an interesting story and BLM/Antifa or some wacko far right extremist could learn a lesson from this guy in 1973 or Dorner 40 years later. (Both Navy guys). I am going to say “BS” about the racial bullying he was supposedly subjected to as a Navy spit-sucker (Dental Technician). No racial component in that. DT’s were some of the REMFiest of the REMF’s and held in scant regard. That guy served around 1969 to 1971 which is odd because the article says he joined the Navy to avoid the Army draft so that would have meant he’d signed up for a 4 year contract. Probably got bounced out early for some attitudinal, mental or work performance insufficiency. The article doesn’t say. That era was a crappy one for the Navy. I was aboard an ancient Aircraft Carrier in that time frame. My 2+ years on that rust-bucket almost made me quit the Navy to go flip burgers but a lucky promotion to E-7 and a transfer 3000 miles away from the nearest Aircraft Carrier to a Frigate (where I belonged) saved me. If ever there was racial bullying in that era it is a safe bet that it was the polar opposite of what the article implies. Those flux lines flowed mostly B to W. That group got catered to, got extra promotion points, a relaxation in grooming standards owing to shaving difficulties (“da bumps”…they got a no-shave chits), a pass for surliness because of past crimes against them and a low expectation that traditional military motivational techniques to get people in line and pumped up to be a productive team member would work or indeed be even tolerated by higher ups in the chain of command. “Racial bullying”? I don’t think so. I never saw it during my time (1965-1991). If bullying happened it was mostly to lean on a dirtbag or by some a-hole who got his hash settled PDQ. Being hollered at or goofed on wasn’t bullying. But then, a weak sister or d-bag might disagree. These things are always a matter of perspective.

  • Kane August 30, 2021, 11:06 am

    Let’s not overlook the Black privalege that allows a college in Chicago and staues in NY of Malcom X to stand even though he was racist who bragged about selling women into sexual slavery when he was known as “Detroit Red.” Lets not overlook the free pass BLM hets with the murder of 5 DPD PO and the wounding of 7 by the racist Micah Xavier Johnson. Lets not overlook the free pass that the Black CP who killed the White Vet Ashley Babbit while the George Floyd the violent ex-con on death’s door step as a drug abuser was being exhalted.

  • Mike in a Truck August 30, 2021, 10:30 am

    Fickle. FICKLE I say. Thats what we gun enthusiasts are. Bring back the Ruger 44 carbine! we cried. They did. It didnt sell enough to keep it in production. My original Deerstalker is one of my prized possessions and has taken deer and black bear. My circa ’99-00 44 carbine has the nice Ruger detachable magazine. To date neither one has whispered to me nor has a neighbors dog compelled me to deploy to a rooftop.

  • Rick August 30, 2021, 10:17 am

    Wag the dog. The 14% commits 54% of ALL violent crime. This major league chimp out has been going on for a long time. We now pay a far larger price for the legacy of slavery that what was paid from 1860 – 70.

  • Milsurpgun August 30, 2021, 9:20 am

    Career Army, former LEO, old retired now. Degree in Law Enforcement yet never heard of the Essex sniper affair till now. My oh my how our corrupt government and media have skewed the truth in this country. Black crime is THE problem in this country and until we stop excusing them based on skin tone it will only worsen. Maybe a few of the corrupt elites become victims of their violence then things will change. BTW, I am white with a black son, 4 black G-kids & 2 black Great grand kids so give me a break all you race baiters out there.

  • John August 30, 2021, 9:08 am

    I agree with RickCheetah All the “Hands up don’t shoot” BS ! The crap that Ferguson Missouri went through and the lies that were told to create the narrative that portrayed the cop as the bad guy, when he was the one attacked. Michael Brown was portrayed as the nicest young man you would ever want to meet, I think it was said he taught Sunday school twice on each Sunday. The truth was far different. Once again the poor black man that was a victim of the White Cop

  • john Glass August 30, 2021, 9:02 am

    First off I’m not one to leave a comment on this type of article, but, and I don’t know when you were in and in which branch you served (makes a difference), I was Army during the era mentioned. combat arms within a very multi-racial company. Now admitting I know very little about the Navy (always seemed a tad different to me, although I was friends with a river boat gunner, kind of a maniac, but who wouldn’t be, RIP), back to the point. I tire of the woke story line of the oppressed black man in the military, as I remember it the Bro’s were pretty much accepted as one of the troops (except by one fella from Alabama who would get drunk and rail about having to exist in the same world as all these n*****s) and it’s a fact blacks were getting rank at the same rate or better (per capita) as their white counterparts, If anything any racisms practiced was almost always from the blacks. Self segregation, rejection of any attempt at friendship (especially in group settings) and generally shoving themselves to the front of the line in all but the most dangerous situations (anyone remember the DAP) and these traits were only amplified back in the World. So as it is today the excuse that violence against the police and general populace is warranted because (I am so oppressed) is bull and should at all costs be avoided by journalists and commentators so as not to reinforce the whine. This applies to everyone, black, white or whoever.

    • Les Thanadequate August 31, 2021, 2:18 am

      Army 68-76. You’re spot on. My experience parallels your.

  • Nicholas August 30, 2021, 8:29 am

    America is in a very bad position. We are being attacked both internally and externally. We will continue to see violence erupting throughout the country. It is by design, no matter how many refuse to believe that there are conspiracies. That, in and of itself, is patently ridiculous considering that there has been so much written by social engineers, over the last 100+ years, about the deliberate destruction of America.
    Ultimately, the so-called pro-2nd community will have to receive a large portion of the blame. Not for its stance on the RKBA, but rather on its stance to blatantly refuse to understand that the duty to keep and bear arms is a function of the original Constitution, and the right is only held by that duty.
    Essex joined the Navy to avoid being drafted into the Army. The entire pro-2nd community clings to the “individual right duty” in order to avoid mandatory service in the constitutional Militia. A duty that would protect all our rights without depending on politically motivated politicians and judges.

  • RickCheetah August 30, 2021, 6:30 am

    Typical. The black murderer Essex was such a nice young man, a churchgoer, a paragon of virtue, who had such a promising future. Yet the poor black man was “bullied and abused” by White people until he was pushed to join the “black panthers” and go on a murder spree. The tender flower just had no other choice. He wasn’t evil. He wasn’t filled with hatred. He was the real victim here.

    That White guy, Paddock? Well, the “twisted motivations” of his “pathetic life” were embodied in a “dark nihilist emptiness” and he was just a great big pile of evil. No excuses for him.

    Actually, I’ve never heard of this serial killer Essex before. We just can’t publicize black on white crime.

    Or, if we do talk about it, we must excuse the black person, who could never be at fault for the violence. We must somehow blame White people. Always.

    • Thoughtful August 30, 2021, 8:03 am

      Yes, yes, let’s give the black guy a pass because he was “bullied”. Bullshit, evil comes in all color, shapes, and sizes. Call it for what it is. Essex was a cowardly racist, evil minded, murderer. Who knows what dark forces compelled him to murder people. Murder by blacks is not only just as evil, it is more prevalent percentage wise in relation to population percentage. Don’t excuse evil in any form.

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