LUCIAN STANIAK: The Red Spider of Poland Crime File

He brutally raped, killed and mutilated over 20 teenaged girls as per his own confession, but was charged with and convicted of six homicides.

It was July 4, 1964, the ink was red, the handwriting spidery, and the letter chillingly announced to Marian Starzynski, the editor of Prezeglad Polityczny in Warsaw, “There is no happiness without tears, no life without death. Beware! I am going to make you cry.” The Polish citizenry was all set to celebrate their liberation from Nazi occupation in World War II on July 22, and for that occasion a great parade was to take place in Warsaw itself. Someone evil was upto something awful, but who was this person and what he intended was still unclear. July 22, 1964 arrived, and Warsaw did not witness any earthshaking event, but 120 miles to its north at Olsztyn a 17-year-old Danka Maciejowitz did not return home from a celebratory parade and her nude, disemboweled body was found the next morning at Olsztyn’s Park of Polish Heroes hidden in a shrubbery. She had been raped. Two days later, on July 24, the Warsaw newspaper Kulisy got a note written in red. “I picked a juicy flower in Olsztyn and I shall do it again somewhere else, for there is no holiday without a funeral,” the killer had communicated to the press in his unrepentant tone.

The investigators analyzed the ink, to begin with. It turned out to be paint diluted by turpentine. The lead died right there because both the red paint and turpentine were readily available all over and there was no way to trace it to a particular region, let alone to a particular individual. Whatever physical evidence was gathered from around the body amounted to nothing in absence of a suspect. So, there was little the police could do except wait for a breakthrough by chance.

On January 17, 1965, there was a student parade to take place in Warsaw and a day before on January 16, 1965, the newspaper Zycie Warsawy ran a picture of the 16-year-old Aniuta Kaliniak, who had been chosen to lead the parade. Aniuta, who lived in Praga, walked to the venue of the parade on January 17, but on her way back from the Parade she was too tired to walk and hiked a ride on a local truck, which dropped her close to her house, but she did not make it home two blocks away. She had gone missing, and when her friends and relatives were still looking for her, another letter in red arrived disclosing the location of the body. It was in the basement of a leather factory right across her own house. The killer had predated on her and pounced upon the girl. She had been strangled with a wire garrote. She was taken to the vacant factory basement after she was dead. A six-inch metal spike was found lodged in her genitals.

The All Saint’s Day on November 1, 1965 did not turn out well for Janka Popielski, a young blond hotel receptionist, in Pozna, 175 miles from Warsaw on the west. She had gone to Pozna’s freight terminal on the fateful day to hike a free ride to visit her boyfriend in a neighbouring village. She came across the red-ink man instead, who used chloroform on her to send her into sleep, dragged her behind packing crates. He ripped her clothes off from waist down, raped her and brutally stabbed her with a screwdriver. After badly butchering her lower body, he left her remain tucked in a crate to be found an hour later. The mutilations were so severe that the police chose to withhold much of the details from the press.

In the wake of Popielski’s death, the police sealed off points of exit and all trains and buses leaving Pozna were checked for a man with blood-stained clothes, but the exercise failed to produce any result. A Pozna newspaper, Courier Zachodni, received a letter in red on November 2, 1965, a day after Popielski was murdered. The writer of the letter, who was also the killer of the young girl, had quoted Stefan Zeromsky’s novel Popioli published in 1928: “Only tears of sorrow can wash out the stain of shame; only pangs of suffering can blot out the fires of lust.” The killer was clearly enjoying his game. He wasn’t making sobbing confessions; he was showcasing his gruesome deeds with pride and relish. He was nowhere close to stopping.

On May 1, 1966, Poland was celebrating the Labor Day, when 17-year-old Marysia Galazka in Zoliborz, a northern suburb of Warsaw, stepped out of her house to look for her cat, but never got back home. When she did not return, her father went looking for her, and came across the grisly sight of the dead body of his daughter in a tool shed behind the house with her abdominal area badly mutilated and her innards spilling out on her thighs. Autopsy revealed that the girl had been raped before she was butchered.

lucian-staniak(150)The case of the Red Spider — as the press was beginning to refer to it as — was handed over to Major Ciznek of the Warsaw Homicide Squad, who was now the in-charge of the investigation. He started with certain fundamental assumptions. One of them was that it was highly unlikely for the killer to have killed only on the holidays. Working from that assumption Ciznek looked for murders of similar nature, and the search revealed 14 such murders that closely resembled the killing pattern of the Red Spider. However, none of those murders had been followed by the characteristic letters in red paint.

From April 1964 onwards, there had been five such murders around Pozna, two at Bydgoszcz, and one each at Bialystok, Kielce, Lodz, Lomza, Lublin and Radom. Mapping the location of murders led Ciznek noted that the crime scenes were mostly on the south and the west of Warsaw and the towns where the murders were committed were connected by direct rail lines to Katowice and Krakow, but neither of the towns had been a crime scene itself, which backed Ciznek’s hypothesis that the killer came from one of the two towns, for he would not want to kill too close to his own location because that improved the chances of his being nabbed manifold. It might sound encouraging, but it did not help the investigators get any closer to solving the case because Katowice was larger than Warsaw and housed well over 3 million people and Krakow, on the other hand, had over 8,00,000 inhabitants. So, there was no way for the police to identify the culprit in such a huge mass of people unless the killer somehow led the police to his doorsteps.

While the law enforcement agencies were struggling with the past murders, the killer struck again on the Christmas Eve of 1966. The body was discovered by three soldiers who had boarded a train bound for Warsaw from Krakow, and had decided against travelling third-class. They opened the door of a reserved compartment and received the shock of their lives when they found themselves looking at a woman’s mutilated body on the floor of the compartment. They called the conductor, who reported the matter to the engineer. The murder was immediately reported to the Warsaw police, and the police ordered the train to proceed to Warsaw without further stops to the capital. Every single person on the train was carefully examined, but there were no clues to be found anywhere. However, the train’s mail car did have a letter in red from the Red Spider. The killer had dropped the little slip through the slot. The message was brief: “I have done it again.”

The girl killed was a 17-year-old Janina Kozielska of Krakow. She was wearing a leather mini-skirt that had been slashed to shred by a knife and apparently the same knife had also been used by the killer to mutilate her lower abdomen and thighs. However, the Red Spider had not touched her face and breasts, which was unusual for a lust killer. Further investigation revealed that it was a male who booked the compartment by phone and had given his name as Stanislav Kosielski, and his “wife” had taken the tickets paying 1,422 zlotych (around $85) in cash. The conductor had shown her into the compartment, and she had told that her “husband” was to arrive soon after, which did not prove wrong. The “husband” did arrive and the same conductor also checked his ticket, but could not recollect the face of the man. So, the victim not only knew the killer well enough to travel alone with him, but was also romantically involved with him, apparently.

The investigators made an educated guess that she had been killed within ten minutes after the arrival of her so-called “husband”, who left the crime scene immediately and dropped a little note for them on his way out. The police were now hopeful. There was somebody who knew the killer even if she was dead. They had a live lead to explore.

A quick background check on the victim led to the shocking discovery that her 14-year old sister, Aniela, had also been slaughtered in Warsaw two years earlier. There was every possibility that both the sisters had seen their ends at the hands of the same man. The parents of the girls could not suggest a possible suspect. The two had to have something more in common apart from all things that all sisters have in common. They had both worked as artist’s models, at the Krakow School of Plastic Arts and the Art Lovers Club. And red letters were written in paint. The investigators were certainly inching closer. The club had 118 members with most of them being respected professional men like doctors, journalists and public officials. But Ciznek still held fast to his theory that the killer would not kill too close to his own home. So, he ruled out Warsaw, and looked for the residents of Katowice on the list. Lucian Staniak was one. He was a 26-year-old translator employed at the government printing house. It was also found that Staniak travelled frequently for work and used an ulgowy billeta special ticket, which was ideal for unlimited railroad travel across Poland.

Ciznek acted promptly and had Staniak’s locker opened by the art club’s manager. The contents of the locker were rather revealing. There were a number of different kinds of knives used for daubing paint on canvas and also some of Staniak’s recent paintings, one of which was particularly interesting to Ciznek: “The Circle of Life”. The painting depicted a cow eating a flower; the cow being consumed by a wolf; the wolf killed by a hunter; the hunter run over by a female motorist; and the woman lying in a field, her abdomen ripped open with flowers sprouting from her mutilated abdomen. Staniak’s imagination seemed pretty close to the reality he had been building around himself.

Ciznek did the next logical thing, and on January 31 1967, detectives were sent to Staniak’s address at Aleje Wyzwolenia, but their man was not home. And what they did not know was that he had found another victim: Bozhena Raczkiewicz, an 18-year-old student studying at a film institute in Lodz. Staniak had taken a train to Lodz the same morning and found Bozhena. He stalked her for a while and at 6:00 p.m., he found the opportunity he was looking for inside a shelter building meant for travellers stranded due to bad weather. He hit her with a vodka bottle, tore of her skirt and panties and slashed her to death the way he had killed his earlier victims. He did not want to be spotted, and in hurry he left back a clear fingerprint on the neck of the vodka bottle.

He stayed back in Lodz for the night, drinking, and took a late train back to Katowice, where the detectives were waiting for him. He was taken in immediately for questioning, and he confessed to killing 20 women. However, he was charged with six homicides and was found guilty of all. He was sentenced to death in 1967, but the sentence was later commuted to life in asylum when he was pronounced insane.

Originally written for and published in LAWYERS UPDATE as part of Crime File series in September 2013.


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