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Casebook: Jack the Ripper - Message Boards » Suspects » Szemeredy, Alios » The Buenos Aires murder « Previous Next »

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Sorry, this is a rush translation.

Szemeredy’s story begins in summer 1876 in the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires. On 22. July 1876 Alois Szemeredy, approximately about 36 years old, moved from the hotel “Provence” to the hotel “Roma”. To the manager of the hotel “Roma” he claimed that valuables, some rings, cash and other things of him were stolen in the hotel “Provence” and that was the reason why he left this hotel. Szemeredy said that he had studied medicine and used to be physician in the austro-hungarian army. From his appearance he too made the impression of a man of military background, since he had the habit to button up his jacket right to the top so one wasn’t able to see his waistcoat – a detail which was laid importance to in the later investigations. The new guest in the “Roma” had a regular way of life, he usually stayed in the hotel, didn’t meet any persons, but usually left the building in the evening and return in the night. On 25. July he had breakfast and then left for the city. At about 6 p.m. he had returned and ate his dinner with good appetite. About 8 p.m. he left the hotel again and must have gone to the red light district of the argentine capital. There he should meet the german prostitute Karoline Metz.
Karoline Metz was about 20 years old, she was said to be pretty and had blonde hair. She was from Strassburg (the city is in Elsatia-Lorraine and belonged since 1871 to the “Deutsche Reich”) and came from a middle-class family. As a teenager she had a relationship with a student, but her parents disapproved this relationship and planned to marry her to an older man. Karoline didn’t like that prospect at all and fled to Geneva, Switzerland, where she started to work as a prostitute in a brothel. The pimp Augusto Jamet paid for her release and travelled with the steamer “La France” from Marseille to Buenos Aires, where they arrived on 13. October 1874. There she again started to work as a prostitute in a brothel in the “Calle Corrientes”. On the ship-journey she had learned a certain Baptiste Castagnet, who worked as a waiter on the ship. He left the ship together with Metz in Buenos Aires and persuaded her after a short time to leave the brothel and work for him. Castagnet and Metz used to live in the “Calle Corrientes” Nr. 36.

Calle Corrientes in 1937

The “Calle Corrientes” had a quite questionable reputation in those days, since brothels were lined up in that street. House Nr. 36 was a small, one-storey house. On the evening of the 25. July 1876 Karoline Metz was sitting in one window, smiling to men passing, and trying to invite them by beckoning them. A tall man, broad-shouldered with a broad mustache was strolling through the “Calle Corrientes”, stopped at the window of Karoline Metz and was talking to the girl for a while. Police Constabler Fransciso Wright happened to pass them, they attracted attention to him since they were talking not spanish but german.
At about 10 p.m. Baptiste Castagnet bursted into the “Calle Corrientes” shouting “Murder” and “Help”. When the police and a doctor short time later arrived they noticed that the door to the bedroom was open and Karoline Metz, just dressed in a nightdress, was lying dead on the ground. Her right side of the throat was severely slashed, her carotid artery and the windpipe were cut. The woman must have died quite shorty after the infliction of the wound due to heavy loss of blood or she choked from blood in her lungs. The investigation of the room showed that the bed was untidy, a bloody knife was found on it. A black felthat was lying on the ground, on a chair - on the clothes of the prostitute - a grey men’s jacket and a waistcoat of the same colour, a golden chain and a golden fob watch attached, were found. In the corner of the room an umbrella was standing.
Questioned by the the police Castagnet said:
“I had a love affair with Karoline Metz, I knew that she was a prostitute and I approved that she earned her living out of this. On 25. July at about 9 p.m. a tall man came to visit her. He went into her room, which was then locked from the inside. I stayed in a dark and small room next to it, where I always use hide on this kind of meetings of the girl. I heared that they were talking german, which I don’t understand. About one hour later Karoline was screaming loudly, I heard sounds of hits or kicks, I lit a match and went to the yard to see what has happened in the room. I kicked in the door, which connected the room with the anteroom and at this moment a man rushed away, nearly running me down. I was now even more startled. As I entered the room I found Karoline on the ground, heavily bleeding from a wound in her neck. She just was dying. I was appaling and didn’t know what to do and ran on the street shouting ‘Murder, Help’.”
Castagnet was the only person had took notice of the deed, neither the landlord of the room, frenchman Jules Fiot (who wasn’t in the house at the time of the murder), nor neighbour Maria Verona were able to make any testimonies on the murder. However, the police didn’t believe in Castagnet’s version of the story and took him in remand.
Between 10.30 and 11 p.m. Szemeredy returned to his hotel – without hat, jacket and waistcoat and very upset. To the employers of the hotel he said that he was robbed on the streets by some unkown men, who took his clothes. He wanted to report the robbery to the police immediately, but first wanted to take some things out of his hotel room, which he couldn’t open any more since the key was in the allegedly stolen jacket. The manager unlocked the door, Szemeredy took a poncho, a hat and an item which he tried to hide. According to one staff-member of the hotel it was a photo-album. Some minutes later he left the hotel again to go to the police. Louis Roget, who was suspicious about the behaviour of Szemeredy, told his nephew Francisco Roget to follow Szemeredy, but after a short time he lost him in the busy streets of Buenos Aires. Hence he ran directly to the police station, but Szemeredy was not yet here, nor would he appear later, nor would he turn up in the hotel “Roma” any more: Szemeredy has fled from the city.
The next day newspapers were full of articles about the murder of Karoline Metz and the mysterious disappearance of Alois Szemeredy. The public soon came to the conclusion that the hungarian physician must have been the murderer. The clothes which were found in Karoline Metz’ room were shown to the staff of the hotel “de Roma”, but noone was able to recognize them as the belongings of their former guest. The manager of the “Provence” claimed that the waistcoat was from Szemeredy, but his statement was untrustworthy since he was biased against Szemeredy. He was of the opinion that Szemeredy just had pretended to have fallen victim of theft in his hotel to avoid paying the hotel-bill. However, it turned out that the watch and the golden chain, which were found in the waistcoat, were the belongings of the “de Roma” guest Major José Domingo Jerez and were stolen the day before. If the waistcoat could have been identified as Szemeredy’s garment, the reproach of theft would also have been raised against him, but noone was able to recognise the waistcoast, also because Szemeredy used to button up his jacket up to the top.

Castagnet was released out of custody on 17. August 1876, Szemeredy was now the prime suspect and he was sought of with wanted circulars. Castagnet left for North America a short time after his release, Szemeredy was untraceable. Not until one year after the murder, at the end of July 1877, he was arrested in Rio de Janeiro, were he was attending a public festivity. Two policemen arrested him and brought him to the policestation, he didn’t offer resistance. After Argentina wanted the extradiction, the hungarian was brought in mid August on the english ship “Newa” to Buenos Aires, where he was put on trial.
The argentine prosecution was still based on some medieval spanish principles (the so called “Leyes de las Partidas“), but which were altered to some extent through the years. Basically the procedure of a prosecution was the following: first there was a “preliminary examination”, which was characterized by the fact that the person accused was not a part of the prosecution, but a mere object of the investigation, which also meant that he/she was not able to use the service of lawyers. In the case that enough evidence was collected in the “preliminary examination”, the charge was brought against the defendant. Now he/she was able to use the service of a lawyer. In first instance a single coroner pronounced judgement. If the sentence was “guilty” the defendant had the possibility to use the legal remedy of “Appeal”. The prosecution then was restarted again and the final sentence was pronounced by a majority decision of a court of coroners. This final sentence could not be appealed from any more.

The “preliminary examination”, during which all persons (except of Castagnet), which were already questioned by the police, were interviewed again, lasted very long – until 5. April 1879. Szemeredy remained in custody during the whole “preliminary examination” – for for 21 months. In addition to the known witnesses, these were in particular the staff-members of the hotels “de Roma” and “de Provence”, three new witnesses appeared: the sailor John Lane, the helmsman of the “Newa” William O’Conor, and the sergeant Antonio Augusto d’Almeida Navarro, to which Szemeredy allegedly had confessed the murder of Karoline Metz on the voyage from Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires. Public prosecutor Pondal handed in to coroner Hudson the indictment that Szemeredy had killed Metz willfully and also had stolen the watch and the chain from Major Jerez. The coroner agreed upon every single accussation with the public prosecutor and sentenced Szemeredy to death. Szemeredy then fell back on the possibility of “Appeal”. He was defended by the laywer Dr. Damaso Centeno.

Dr. Centeno

Szemeredy described in the course of his trial the events of 25. July 1876 as follows:
“On one evening in summer 1876, I don’t remember the exact date, I went at about 9 p.m. to the prostitute Karoline Metz. I talked to her and had sex with her. She wanted to show me something, I don’t remember if it was a letter or a picture. She pulled a small box out of a drawer and I by chance saw one of the two rings, which were stolen from me in the hotel “de Provence”. I asked her how she got in possession of the ring and she answered that her lover Robert Rughier [obvisously Baptiste Casganet was alluded to] had given her the ring as a present. I had known this man, he introduced me some days before to Karoline Metz. I claimed that the ring was mine and wanted to take it. But the girl offered resistance, we quarreled about it and suddenly Robert Rughier entered the room. I took him to task, but he denied to have given the ring to his mistress. But I kept to my reproaches and now a fierce quarrel between the two began and Rughier even threatened to beat her. I wanted to protect her and intervened. I grapped the exited man and when he tried to break away from me I threw him on the bed. Karoline Metz tried to seperate us, I don’t know if she wanted to help me or him. Suddenly she screamed loudly and broke down heavily bleeding. I was frigthenend and ran away. I just wanted to get away and forgot to take my hat, my jacket and the umbrella.” Szemeredy kept telling this version of the events during the investigation but in later interrogations he added: “As I pressed Rughier on the bed Karoline Metz implored us not do be so noisy, because this could cause trouble with the police. In this situation I stepped back. I turned my back on them. Suddenly I heard a loud scream from Karoline Metz, I turn around and saw how she broke down.”

Shortly after the murder two anonymous letters were receive by the Police Commissioner of Buenos Aires, Don Manuel Rocha. Both were written in bad spanish. The first said:
“Buenos Aires, 27. July 1876
Dear Commissioner,
I feel guilty for the murder of Karoline Metz, who was killed by me on 25. of this month shortly after 10 p.m. I will never deny my inexusable deed, nor will I accuse someone else. The newspapers report that an Hungarian was the murderer but that’s not true. I know this country like I know Italy, France, England and different other countries, which I travelled around, but I will not reveal my identity unless I am caught. But I admit that I killed the woman because she did harm to me, but I will not say anything bad about her, now as it is too late and I am regretting my deed.
Please excuse my bad handwriting, but I am trembling and crying about my lost peace of mind, a deed like this is not pardonable. I am asking for your’s and the world’s forgiveness and I am indebted to you.”
The second letter was dated from the 26. of December and was from Rio de Janeiro. It again was written anonymously, but interestingly enough the author obviously responded to rumours about Szemeredy’s past published in argentine newspapers. Hence, the author must have been Szemeredy, which is also indicated by the place Rio de Janeiro, where he later was arrested. In this quite long letter Szemeredy also refered to his personal background, which - in comparison to his verifiable details of his life - seems to be plausible. The letter says among other things:
“Since my early childhood I am suffering from a cerebral disease. Last year, when I was in my homecountry to visit my relatives, I was suffering from this disease, which can be proven by the physicians who treated me. It also can be proven that at the age of 15 I was suffering from a comparable disease and I was treated as a lunatic in the hospital “San Buenaventura” in Buenos Aires.
Dear Sir, I swear by the holy cross that I don’t know why I took the life of this unfortunate woman in the Calle Corriente, I just remember that she teared a photo of my beloved sister, which she gave me on parting as a sign of devotion. I three times swear by the holy cross that it is a heinous lie, which is spread by a newspaper, that I already killed people in Italy, France, Brasil and other places.”
Both letters were compared by the two experts in handwriting Clodomiro Gallardo and Manuel Langenheim to letters which were left by Szemeredy in his hotel room. Both came to the conclusion that Szemeredy was the author.
In the final speech the public prosectuor explained to the coroner:
“According to the statements of the staff of the hotel “de Roma” the defendant rented a room on the 22. July 1876. He claimed to be a physician and had come from Mercedes. On 25. July he left the hotel at about 8 p.m., he wore a light grey Jacket, a grey trouwser, boots and a black felthat. At about 10.30 p.m. he came back, in shirtsleeves and without hat. He said that he was robbed. He took a poncho and a hat and immediately left the hotel again, allegely to go to the police. The staff noticed that when standing near to a lamp he tried to hide his arms and hands. In the course of the trial he admitted that his arms were covered with blood and explained it with the fact that he was standing right next to Karoline Metz when she was murdered and he must have been smeared by the squirting blood. Thus, it is likely that he crossed his arms on his back, so that the staff should not see the blood.
The bed of the girl was very untidy, on the pillow and under the bed huge amounts of blood were found. The deceased was wearing a nightdress and was lying on the ground. Szemeredy’s jacket and hat were found on a chair nxt to the bed. That proves that Szemeredy was lying with Metz in the bed and he stabbed her when she was lying in the bed. In the throes of death she probably stood up and finally fell on the ground. Szemeredy admitted his presence at the time of the murder, that he was alone with the girl and that he had sex with her. Robert Rughier, who allegedly committed the crime, is a fictitious person. He cannot be identical with Baptiste Castagnet, because the description of his appearance does not fit to Castagnet. The statement of Castagnet incriminates Szemeredy directly. He said that the defendant was alone with Karoline Metz and that he immediately after the murder left the room with blood-smeared hands. The assumption that Baptiste Castagnet is the murderer is impossible. He approved that she was a prostitute, he even brought customer to her. During the voyage from Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires Szemeredy admitted the murder of Karoline Metz to sergeant Navarro and the scottish sailor John Lane. Hence, the defendant has to be found guilty, be sentenced to death and be hanged.
Szemeredy is also guilty of having stolen the chain and the watch of major Jerez, with whom he was living at the same time in the hotel “de Roma”. The waistcoat, in which chain and watch were found, belonged to him. The crime of theft increases the guilt of the defendant.”
On court there was the principle of “Quod non in actis non est in mundo“. Remarkably enough the public prosecutor claimed at the end of his final speech – without relying on the files – that Szemeredy was a fraud and wasn’t a physician but among other things a hairdresser and wig-maker and joined Lopez Jordan on his revolt. According to the public prosecutor he further was found guilty for theft in 1868 and was imprisoned in Buenos Aires for six months.
The lawyer of Alois Szemeredy, 27-year old Dr. Damaso Centeno, succeeded with a splendid organized and eloquent defence in refuting the without doubt Szemeredy strongly incriminating charges. He pointed to gross errors during the investigations and claimed that his client was the victim of the inflammatory speeches of the argentine press. Among other things Dr. Centeno explained that Castagent had changed his statements concerning the evening of the murder for three times. Castagnet first explained that Szemeredy and Metz were talking german and that he was hiding in the next room. When the murder was committed he left his hiding place and Szemeredy rushed away that quickly that Castagnet couln’t disribe him later. However, questioned later Castagnet claimed that they were talking spanish and that he was able to see Szemeredy through the glass-door connecting his hiding place and Metz’ room. In fact there was no glass-door. Ask why he had blood on his hands and arms, he said that he put a pillow under the head of Metz’ and on this occasion he must have been smeared with blood. When searching the crime scene no pillow under Metz’ head was found.
According to Dr. Centeno Baptiste Castagnet was the murderer, who was rashly release by the authorities after the argentine newspapers had condemned Szemeredy in advance. In addition to the sloppy investigations the lawyer harshly critizised the press. “The business with misfortune outrages me. Before the court I protest against the misuse of the freedom of press. The press condemns without scrutinizing, it convicts without being authorized. It makes profit with the sorrow of it’s fellows, it exploits the misfortune of the defendant to make money with it. It is no freedom of press any more, it is a blot of modern society.” Centeno even succeeded in casting doubts on the alleged confession made by Szemeredy in presence of the sailors. Finally the court formed a judgement on 12. September 1881:
“According to the majority decision of the court, against the petition of the public prosecutor and revising the sentence of the first instance against which a duly appeal was objected, the following judgement was formed:
Alois Szemeredy is aquitted of the charge of having murdered Karoline Metz, but is found guilty of having stolen the chain and the watch of major José Domingo Jerez. He is sentenced to two and a half years of prison and paying the costs of his trial. The prison sentence is regarded as being cancelled due to the fact that the defendant was on remand, so he only has to pay for the costs of his trial, to which an exact bill has to be made.”
Szemeredy was due to the splendid defence of his lawyer a free man again. As a result of the trial Centeno and Szemeredy became famous inhabitants of Buenos Aires and Szemeredy worked for a short period of time as secretary for his lawyer. But the Hungarian did not stay in South-America for long, shorty afterwards he returned to Europe...

...more about the “crimes, detection and death” of Alois Szemeredy in Ripper Notes.

esm, Germany

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