On Saturday 5th February 1898, the East End of London was thrown into turmoil by news that a double fatal shooting had occurred in Brick Lane, the long thoroughfare, now predominantly lined by Indian restaurants, that stretches from almost Whitechapel Road to Bethnal Green Road, and which dissects the two halves of Hanbury Street, which had been the scene of the Jack the Ripper murder of Annie Chapman in September 1888.
The story of this particular double murder was reported extensively in the newspapers and those reports provide us with an insight into the problems of communication that beset the police of H-division in taking down witness statements, whenever they were confronted with crimes that had taken place in what was a largely immigrant district of the Victorian metropolis.
It is also of interest because we get an idea of the problems facing reporters who, in the immediate aftermath of the crimes, attempted to note down the names of those involved, and often misspelled them. You will see this in the following article in connection with the man who rented the whole building where the murder occurred, whose surname is given as either Smolemski or Slowenski. I have left the name as it appeared in the various articles quoted.
The following detailed report appeared in The Illustrated Police News on Saturday 12th February 1898:-
SHOCKING TRAGEDY AT WHITECHAPEL
“A shocking tragedy took place between eight and nine o’clock on Saturday night at a Jewish restaurant in Brick Lane, Whitechapel, a man and a woman being shot dead by another man, and a second woman seriously injured.
The restaurant itself is kept by a Russian Pole named Smolenski, and two rooms on the top floor of the house – a newly-erected three-storied building – were rented by a young woman named Olga Wisorski, who is of the same nationality.
A WEDDING RING FOUND
Wisorski’s apartments, which consisted of two bed-sitting rooms, were shared by three men and another young woman named Ada Korinski.
She was, it was stated, a married woman living apart from her husband, but of this the police have at present no evidence beyond the fact that after the tragedy – for she was one of the unfortunate victims – a wedding ring was found in the pocket of her dress.
AN ENVIABLE NOTORIETY
At one time the premises enjoyed anything but an enviable notoriety.
Gambling has taken place there in the past, and it is supposed that this practice so largely indulged in by the class of people using the house may have led in some way or other to Saturday night’s awful murder.
SHORTLY AFTER EIGHT O’CLOCK
As already stated, it was shortly after eight o’clock when a great commotion was heard in the upper rooms, accompanied by a discharge of firearms.
A crowd collected with the celerity characteristic of the denizens of the East-end, and soon afterwards a number of police officers were on the scene.
An entry to the premises was effected, and then an appalling sight presented itself to the representatives of the law.
On the floor lay a woman weltering in blood, and not far distant from her was a man whose life was evidently ebbing quickly away.
Confusion reigned supreme, chairs and tables lying upset, while blood was bepattered around.
These were not the only occupants of the chamber.
Another woman was lying in an exhausted condition with a bullet wound through her arm.
The author of the mischief appeared to be a tall, respectably-dressed man, who held a revolver in his hand.
There were others present, one of whom was bleeding profusely from a lacerated scalp, while he had other injuries.
THE POLICE TACKLE THE PERPETRATOR
The first step taken by the police was to secure the armed man.
This was not, an eaiy task, for the fellow was in an excited condition, and it was not known whether or not all the chambers of his revolver had been discharged.
He was tackled, however, by the officers, but it was no easy matter to secure him.
He fought desperately, and attempted to use the firearm.
The struggle was an unequal one, however, and he was soon overpowered.
Three other men present were secured without much trouble, and then all four were conveyed to the Commercial Street Police Station.
THE DEAD AND WOUNDED
It was no use removing the man and the woman, as on examination they were both discovered to be dead.
The other woman, however, was breathing, and she was at once conveyed to the London Hospital, Whitechapel.
No details as to the origin of the whole affair could be ascertained as everybody present seemed to be talking Yiddish, and even those who were in a position to explain matters could throw no light on the crime.
It is, however, believed that gambling and jealousy operated in some measure towards bringing about the crime.
At the hospital, an examination of the injured woman showed that she had been shot through the arm.
The murdered man and woman were also shot, the former through the head, and the latter in the left arm and through the heart.
ALARMED BY THE NOISE
It is stated that the wife of the restaurant keeper, who was recently confined, was much alarmed by the noise and disturbance in the house, and it was feared that the shock would affect her seriously.
However, she was much better on Sunday, being assured that nothing had happened to her own family.
THOUSANDS VISIT THE SCENE
The scene of the tragedy was visited on Sunday by thousands of people living in the district, and special police precautions had to be taken to prevent crowds assembling outside the house.
Brick Lane is one of those thoroughfares in Whitechapel which on Sunday becomes a market-place, thronged with the people of all races; and on Sunday the scene was an extraordinary one.
The Russians and Jews living in the neighbourhood stood about in little knots and discussed the somewhat disconnected chain of incidents of the tragedy, but inquiries of those other than their own countrymen were strongly resented.
THE NAMES NOT KNOWN
The police under these circumstances have experienced the greatest difficulty in gathering the scanty threads of information from those who were either witnesses of the affray or acquaintances of those who participated in it.
One of the police officers in charge of the case stated on Sunday night that no other motive than that of jealousy could yet be ascribed for the act.
He had found it impossible in some cases to obtain the names of those concerned, and, indeed, the communication to the coroner contained no names for that very reason.
A SERIOUS CONDITION
On inquiry at the London Hospital on Sunday evening it was ascertained that Ada Korinski was lying in a serious, though not an imminently dangerous, condition.
MR. SMOLENSKI’S STATEMENT
Slomenski [sic], the proprietor of the restaurant, has made the following statement:-
“I was very busy in the shop about half-past nine when I heard several, I cannot say exactly how many, shots fired in quick succession. The sound came from the room over the back of my shop, which is tenanted by Madame Wisorski, a Russian Catholic, whose husband is supposed to be in Brazil.
There was no need for me to give the alarm to the police, for as I got to my shop door I saw a constable already there. The whole affair was over in a minute, and four men were marched off to the station, including the young man who had been paying attention to Madame Wisorski.
I cannot understand what can have given rise to this sad affair.
The unfortunate woman paid me her rent regularly and gave me no trouble whatever.
During the past three months, since her husband was supposed to have gone abroad, she has let her front room to three young men, but as far as I can tell they took no part in the affray, which was confined to visitors to Madame Wisoraki and Ada Korinski, her companion, in the back room.
I have seen Madame Wisorski’s young lover several times, but have never spoken to him. He came to the house two or three times a week during the last two months, but he never entered my shop or exchanged words with me or any of my family.”
THREE MEN RELEASED
The four people who were taken from Brick Lane to the Commercial Street Police-station were detained during the night for inquiries.
As a result of investigations made by the police, three of them were liberated on Sunday morning, and only the man who fired the fatal shots has been detained.”
EVIDENCE AT THE INQUEST
In the same issue (12th of February 1898) The Illustrated Police News, gave further details about the victims in a report on the inquest into their deaths:-
“The inquest proceedings in connection with the double tragedy in Brick Lane, Whitechapel, was held on Monday, though owing to the fact that the evidence was chiefly of a preliminary character, as well as, no doubt, to the circumstance that the witnesses could speak English only imperfectly, but little light was thrown on the reason for the accused man Frederick Karaczewski’s strange conduct.
Previous to the coroner’s inquiry the bodies of the deceased man and woman were identified as those of Marta (otherwise known as Olga), aged twenty-seven, and Clement Kuezunerowick, aged twenty-two.
THEODORE CZERESZEWSKI’S EVIDENCE
Theodore Czereszewski, a bamboo worker, living at 115, Brick Lane, where the tragedy occurred, stated in evidence through an interpreter that he occupied a room on the top floor at that address with Izidore Radzilon, and paid the deceased woman 2s a week.
The latter came over here ten months ago with her husband, who went to America about four months since. His address was supposed to be Davison Street, Chicago.
Latterly the woman had lived in the front room, which was occupied by two men and another woman, but she did not appear to be living with either of the men.
About 7 p.m. on Saturday Czereszewski arrived home and went to his room with Radzilon.
Shortly after Marta and Adele, the other woman, entered the room in order to collect the week’s rent before going to market.
I WILL SHOOT THE LOT OF YOU
Then Czereszewski heard a noise on the stairs as of someone rushing up, and later he heard the shout, “All of you come out. I will shoot the lot of you!”
Directly he heard that he put his knee to the door, which was shut, as he was afraid of being shot.
Marta also put her shoulder to the door, there being no key.
She advised him to get out of the way of the accused, whose voice she had evidently recognised.
When the accused reached the top of the stairs he began firing, and two shots came through the door and Marta fell to the ground.
Afterwards Adele declared that she had been shot through the arm.
The accused man then began kicking the door.
Witness held the door, but it was quickly shattered, and Karackezowski burst in and held the revolver under witness’s chin.
Czereszewski caught hold of the accused man’s wrist, twisted his hand round, and the revolver went off, wounding the accused man on the forehead.
Witness next wrenched the weapon out of the accused’s hands and shouted for the police.
He had seen Karackezowski only twice previously, and that was in the street, and the man was then pointed out to him as a compatriot.
He had never seen “Olga” in the company of Karackezowski, and had never heard her mention his name.
DR. OLIVER’S TESTIMONY
Dr. Franklin Hewitt Oliver, the divisional police surgeon, told the court that when he arrived at the scene of the tragedy the body of the deceased man was lying at the top of the stairs with his feet towards the top front room. There was a wound in the left temple midway between the ear and the eye, and the passage was blood-bespattered.
The autopsy showed that death was due to a bullet wound in the brain.
The woman was lying full-length on the floor in the top back room, dead, with a bullet wound in the left shoulder.
From her right side the doctor removed a packet of needles, and a small package marked “Stevens, 79, High Street, Shoreditch and containing a gold wedding ring.
The post-mortem examination showed that the bullet had passed through the arm-pit and chest.
Death was due to haemorrhage.”
A STRAIGHTFORWARD CASE
At this point it seems that the case really was cut and dried, and the evidence, together with the statements of the witnesses, seemed to point overwhelmingly to the fact that Karaczewski had committed the double murder, the only thing that needed to be discovered was his motive for his crime.
HIS DAUGHTER’S TESTIMONY
During the inquest into the deaths of the two victims, Emily Karaczewski, the daughter of the accused man, explained a little about the relationship between her father and the deceased woman.
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper reported her testimony in its issue of Sunday 13th February 13th 1898:-
“Emily Karaczewski, aged 17, or Phillip-street, Kingsland-road, stated that she was the daughter of the accused man, who was a cabinet maker.
She first met Marta a fortnight ago, when one of her father’s workmen, named Julius King, brought her to his house.
Marta had asked that one of the workmen should be sent to her to show her the way.
OLGA WAS GOING TO LIVE WITH THEM
Her father had previously told her that Olga Wysocka wanted to come to live with him, and her father agreed to this, as his wife was in America.
Witness had no objection to the arrangement, and was going to stop in the house.
It was arranged that witness’s father should call for Marta on Saturday, Feb. 5, after he had paid his men, and she promised to have her own goods on a cart ready for removal, and that Marta and the accused should go and buy a ring together.
Her father left home on Saturday afternoon, soon after three o’clock, saying that he was going to sea Wysocka.
Witness heard of nothing amiss until 10 o’clock, when she was informed by a compatriot, named Antoni Purzycki, of what had occurred.
The Coroner: Do you know of any reason why your father should shoot these people – I don’t say that he did – but presuming that he did?
Witness: Wysocka evidently engaged these lodgers to beat my father. Witness added that she had heard since the tragedy, from a man named Purzycki, that Adele told him that the lodgers were to beat the accused. Last Sunday week Wysocka told the accused that she had some fear about getting out of the house on account of the lodgers.
The Coroner: Did your father have a revolver?
The Coroner: Why did he have one?
Witness: Because thieves used to break down his doors. The weapon was kept in a chest of drawers so that the children should not get at it. Witness last saw it two or three weeks ago, when it was sent to be repaired. After that her father kept the revolver in his pocket, but witness could not say why, though her father had told her that “they” might possibly want to beat him.”
ADA KOWALSKI’S TESTIMONY
By the 3rd of March 1898, Ada Kowalski, the woman who was shot by Karaczewski, was sufficiently recovered from her injuries to be able to leave hospital and testify on the last day of the inquest.
She stated that she was a native of Poland, and had been in England three years.
The Illustrated Police News reported what she told the inquest in its edition of Saturday March 5th 1898:-
“Six months ago she wade the acquaintance of Olga Wysocka, the deceased woman, and just before Christmas went to live with her at 115, Brick Lane.
Witness occupied a share of the front room, while Wysocka and others occupied the back room.
A man named Theodor slept in the back room, but whether there was anything between him and Wysocka witness could not say.
She first made the acquaintance of the prisoner on the Thursday before the tragedy, when she met him at the house on her return home from business. He and Wysocka were both together in the back room, and the latter told witness that he, the prisoner, was her young man.
Witness did not see him again until the night of the tragedy, but on the previous evening Wysocka had told her that the prisoner was visiting her, and had given her many presents.
Witness said the deceased asked her to go out with her and fetch “the boys” home.
THROW HIM DOWN THE STAIRS
Afterwards she said, “Let us go and fetch Clemens, Isidor, and Theodor, and then when Karaczewski comes back they can throw him downstairs.”
Continuing, witness said Wysocka locked Michael Devanius [one of Wysocka’s lodgers] in the front room, and told him not to answer if Karaczewski knocked.
They met the three men in the public-house at the corner Brick Lane and Hare Street, and deceased said to them, “Come along home.”
They all left at once and returned to the house, going upstairs to the back room.
A FIGHT THEN SHOTS
After talking for a short time the men left the room, and on the stairs met the prisoner, who said “Good morning” to them.
Witness then heard fighting on the stairs, and deceased and witness ran on the landing, but seeing the men struggling they ran back again.
About five minutes after the fight commenced she heard a revolver shot, and she saw Clemens Kuczmierowich lying on the floor in the middle of the passage.
There was a rush, and two men ran into the room and pushed the door to; then all of them held it.
Witness heard someone beating on the the door and calling out “Mrs. Wysocka, Mrs. Wysocka,” and she recognised the voice as the prisoner’s.
OLGA WYSOCKA IS SHOT
Almost directly afterwards a shot was fired through the door, and witness found she was injured.
She ran from the door to the back of the room just as a second shot cracked through the door, and Wysocka fell to the ground with blood pouring from her side.
The door was burst open, and Karaczewski rushed into the room holding a revolver in his hands.
Theodor caught hold of him and pulled him down on to the bed, and witness called out, “Take the pistol from him, or he will shoot us.”
Theodor then wrenched the pistol out of his hand, and by that time the police arrived in the room and seized hold of both men.
By the Coroner: Before the struggle on the stairs she heard Wysocka say, “Push him down the stairs. Why does he come here: What does a silly old man like him want coming here when he knows I am a married woman?””
THE JURY’S VERDICT
According to The Illustrated Police News:-
“The jury after a consultation lasting ten minutes returned a verdict in the case of the man Clemens Kuczmierowich of manslaughter against Karaczewski, and in the case of the woman Olga Wysocka a verdict of accidental death.”
HIS OLD BAILEY TRIAL
At the end of March 1898 Frederick Karaczewski, appeared at the Central Criminal Court.
Apparently, there was a great deal of sympathy for him, with newspapers making it plain that he had been attacked on the night in question and had, therefore, acted in the heat of the moment.
However, the crime was a serious one, and he duly took his place in the dock at the Old Bailey.
The Bath Chronicle reported on the proceedings in its issue of the 31st of March 1898:-
“The trial commenced at Old Bailey to-day of Frederick Karaczewski for the Brick-lane tragedy.
When a man and woman were killed in a desperate affray early last month the Public Prosecutor stated that the accused, who was on intimate terms with the deceased woman, had evidently been subjected to great violence in the affray, and it seemed as though the woman and men with her had meditated attacking him.
SENTENCE IS PASSED
After the case had proceeded for some time, prisoner pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and this plea was accepted by his lordship, who, in passing sentence, said that he believed the act was done in passion and heat of blood, which reduced the crime from murder to manslaughter.
Still, the act was of a most serious character and prisoner must go to penal servitude for ten years.”