|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 63, January 2006. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.|
The Spanish version of this article was published under the title Jack el Destripador: una pista en la Argentina in the magazine Historias de la Ciudad, Año 4, Nº 31, Buenos Aires, Argentina, June 2005. Translated from the Spanish by Eduardo Zinna
He came from Europe to fight in the War of the Triple Alliance.(1) He was a soldier, a tanner and a butcher by trade, a barber by vocation. He was a doctor, a landowner and a political refugee. This is the story of a clever confidence trickster, small-time thief and slippery character who for many years held the attention of the press and the authorities. A murder suspect, he committed the same type of crimes in Buenos Aires and in London and, as he died bearing a tarnished title of Count, became another Ripper suspect.
It was more than a year since Alois Szemeredy had last walked in the streets of Buenos Aires. Since that winter night when he was seen fleeing his hotel, in little clothing and a great hurry, his luggage left behind, he had been impossible to find. The police sent detectives throughout the city and, since they couldn't spot him in gin palaces, eateries, underground hangouts, train stations or the docks, they went looking for him in dozens of towns and villages in the Argentine Provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Entre Ríos and Cuyo and over twenty locations in the neighbouring Eastern Republic of Uruguay. Every move of the authorities seemed like an iron circle closing down on the fugitive, but he, shrewd and elusive, always found a gap to slip through.
The circumstances of the brutal crime of which he was suspected were still vivid in the memory when a telegram from the Bahian police confirmed that he had been arrested in Brazil. It was mid-morning on 8 August 1877 when the ship that was bringing him back approached the Catalinas dock. Like a metaphor for a remote remembrance or an uncertain future, the mist and the distance from the coast blurred the outline of the city that once more awaited him. On the docks, an impatient crowd had gathered to catch a glimpse of the vicious killer.
During the journey Szemeredy had tried to commit suicide on two occasions. Sgt. Antonio Augusto Almeida Navarro, who was bringing him from Río de Janeiro, thought that the prisoner was completely insane and was eager to hand him over to the local authorities. Perhaps by chance, perhaps because of a macabre pleasantry of the driver, the carriage taking him to prison went by the house in Corrientes Street where he had allegedly committed murder. The newspapers reported that when they pointed out the house to him and reminded him of the woman who had lived there, he said that 'she was his mistress but he was absent when the murder was committed.' (2)
The Buenos Aires newspaper La Nación reported on 27 July 1876:
Last night at 10, a young woman who shared lodgings with another woman at 35 Corrientes Street, between Reconquista and 25 de mayo Streets, was horribly murdered. Her name was Carolina Metz and she was not yet 20 years old… Carolina lived with a man who was not her husband. Last night, at the above-mentioned time, Carolina's woman friend ran into the street crying for help… several police officers answered her calls, closely followed by higher-rank policemen. They found Carolina lying in her bed, half-naked, her throat cut from ear to ear.
There, next to the bed, stood the young woman's lover. He was immediately arrested. His statement was as follows: That a few moments earlier, while he was in another room of the house, a man whom both he and Carolina knew had asked for his permission to enter the room where she was. That, after a few moments, he heard cries for help and ran into the young woman's room, where he found her with her throat cut. There were no traces of the man who had gone in a few minutes before. On Carolina's bed was found, covered with blood, the weapon with which her throat had been cut… a sheathknife nearly 10 inches long… which looked brand-new.
On a chair was an overcoat in one of whose pockets they found two portraits. One was of Carolina and the other… precisely of the man who had come in a few minutes earlier… The suspect has not yet been captured by our police, as it usually happens nowadays.
The newspaper does not say it in so many words and only hints at it, but for a whole decade a well known brothel had operated at 35 Corrientes Street. This, and the fact that Carolina had worked there, must have led it to publish the wrong address, since the rest of the newspapers and the police themselves gave the address of the murder house correctly as 36 Corrientes Street.(3)
The man euphemistically described as Carolina's lover was in fact her procurer, Baptiste Castagnet, who had met her in the ship that brought her from Marseilles in 1874. He had met Szemeredy at a card game during one of his frequent trips to Montevideo. When Szemeredy arrived in Buenos Aires Castagnet offered him his mercenary friendship and the services of his ward.
We find more information in police reports. The officer in charge of the investigation stated:
In the aftermath of this brutal murder, particularly when the suspect returned in 1877, the newspapers published numerous items about him and continued to do so until a few years after the end of his trial in 1881.
At about 10:30 in the evening of the 25th inst. I was informed that a woman had been murdered at 36 Corrientes Street. I went there at once and found in the front room of the above-mentioned house the body of the woman Carolina Metz, as Bautista Castañet [sic] told me she was called… I inspected said room, noticing a large amount of blood on the bed, the bedclothes in disarray and a black-handled sheathknife covered with blood lying on them. On an armchair were Carolina's clothes and on top of them lay a grey overcoat, a waistcoat of the same colour and a watch and chain apparently of gold and, attached to this chain, two rings, one with a white stone and the other with a green stone, an umbrella with a steel handle and a black beaver hat… in the inside pocket of the overcoat I found the sheath of the knife that lay on the bed, two portraits, a bloodstained white handkerchief embroidered with the initials AS and a key.
The perpetrator of this murder is Alejo Szemeredy, a Hungarian or Austrian, 35 years of age, tall, corpulent, olive-skinned, straight black hair, wears a thick moustache and goatee joined together, speaks good Spanish and claims to be a medical doctor… This man is known in this police station because on the 16th Inst. he came to complain that he had been robbed at the "Hotel de Provence" of valuables worth approximately ten thousand pesos - among which were the two rings now found attached to the watch-chain he left behind when fleeing Carolina's room.
…It became known yesterday that Szemeredy was staying at the Hotel de Roma, room 72, and the manager Luis Soler stated that on the evening of Carolina's murder he arrived some time after 10:30 and said to him: They just stole my hat and the clothes I was wearing I'm moving out another one to report to the police but I need to force the door because the key was left in my overcoat. Believing this statement to be true, he made him enter through a door communicating with his room, where he picked up a poncho and a soft black hat, put them on and left again in a hurry.
It is now known that the watch and chain that Szemeredy left behind in his escape belong to Lt. Col. Domingo Jerez, who resides at the Hotel de Roma, and from whom these items were stolen a few days ago together with some cash.
Until now it is not known what was Szemeredy's motive for this murder… Carolina was buried by her beloved Castañet. Carolina Metz was Alsatian, 20-years old, single. She arrived in Buenos Aires on 13 October 1874 and worked first at the brothel at 35 Corrientes Street, from where she moved to No. 509 in the same street, which she left to live with Bautista Castañet with whom she had had relations since her journey from Marseilles. This woman's family lives in Strasbourg and she had a brother in Digon. (4)
But let's see who was Alois Szemeredy - for that was his real name - what were the reasons for his journey and what were his adventures since his arrival in Argentina.
Szemeredy was born in Pest - one of the two cities on either side of the Danube which were later merged into Budapest, capital of Hungary - on 7 July 1840. At an early age he enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army. He served with the Auxiliary Hungarian Legion in Ancona, a city situated north-east of Rome on the Adriatic coast. His conduct was irreproachable and he earned a promotion to corporal and given a good behaviour certificate which showed his trade as tanner. He later obtained another good behaviour certificate where he was said to be a butcher and a third one in Turin. On 29 June 1863, however, he deserted. Not for the last time, he vanished from sight.
Two years later, in October 1865, Szemeredy presented himself at the Argentine Consulate in Genoa where he signed up for a four-year term to fight in the War of the Triple Alliance. On 17 March 1866 he was inducted into the Argentine Army and assigned to the Artillery Regiment. In May of the same year he was declared insane and interned in the Hospicio de las Mercedes - an asylum. On 17 September he escaped.