All about The Red Spider - Lucian Staniak
He may be Poland's most prolific serial killerat least since 1922, when a still-unidentified slasher left 11 mutilated women scattered in the woods outside Warsawbut state-imposed censorship leaves much of this grim case a tantalizing mystery. We know the killer's name, his year of birth, and that he nurtured a morbid penchant for art. He stands convicted of six brutal murders and reportedly confessed to 14 more, but some sources suggest that those confessions were coerced in an attempt to clear the books of unsolved homicides. The slayer offered a motive of sorts to police, but it dealt only with the first of his crimes and failed to explain the ensuing three-year rampage. Commitment to a lunatic asylum for life has silenced his voice for the past quarter-century, perhaps for all time.
Inevitably, from the nature of his crimes and red-ink correspondence with the press, Lucian Staniak has been compared to London's Jack the Ripper. The comparison is imprecise on several points. Although both killers disemboweled their female prey, none of Staniak's identified victims were prostitutes. If Staniak's confessions are true, he claimed four times as many victims as the Ripper, operating over three years' time (compared to Jack's ten weeks). Both killers took their famous nicknames from letters written to the press, but Staniak's was thrust upon him by a journalist viewing his "spidery" scrawl and unlike the Ripper, he certainly wrote his own letters. Finally and critically the "Red Spider" was identified, arrested and incarcerated.
In July 1964 Polish citizens prepared to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Warsaw's liberation from Nazi occupation in World War II. A great parade was scheduled in Warsaw itself, on 22 July, with smaller demonstrations planned throughout the country. The first hint of trouble arrived on 4 July, in the form of a letter addressed to Marian Starzynski, the editor of Prezeglad Polityczny in Warsaw. Written with peculiar red ink in a spidery hand, the note read: "There is no happiness without tears, no life without death. Beware! I am going to make you cry."
Starzynski took the letter as a personal threat and sought police protection, but 22 July passed without untoward incident in Warsaw. Not so in Olsztyn, 120 miles to the north, where 17-year-old Danka Maciejowitz failed to return home from a parade sponsored by the local School of Choreography and Folklore. The next morning, a gardener working at Olsztyn's Park of Polish Heroes found the blond teenager's nude corpse concealed in shrubbery. She had been raped and disemboweled. On 24 July the Warsaw newspaper Kulisy received a red-letter note reading: "I picked a juicy flower in Olsztyn and I shall do it again somewhere else, for there is no holiday without a funeral."
Police analyzed the ink and found it to be artist's paint, thinned with turpentine. Both elements were common and untraceable, without a sample for comparison. The evidence recovered from Danka Maciejowitz's corpse, likewise, was useless without a suspect in hand. Detectives could do nothing more than wait and see if the killer made good on his threat of more murders to come.
Fires of Lust
On 16 January 1965 the newspaper Zycie Warsawy published a photograph of 16-year-old Aniuta Kaliniak, selected to lead a student parade through Warsaw the next day. Kaliniak lived in Praga, an eastern suburb of the capital. She walked to the celebration on 17 January, across a bridge spanning the Vistula River, but she was tired afterward and thumbed a ride back with a local truck driver. He dropped her off within two blocks of home, but Kaliniak never made it back to her house.
Family and friends were scouring Praga for Aniuta when another of the now-familiar red letters arrived, directing searchers to her final resting place. They found her body in the basement of a leather factory, directly opposite her home. The killer had apparently lain in wait for Kaliniak, ambushing her within sight of her house and strangling her with a wire garrote. When she was dead, he had removed a sidewalk grate and thus gained access to the factory basement, leaving Kaliniak with a six-inch metal spike protruding from her genitals.
On 1 November 1965All Saint's Daythe killer struck again, this time in Pozna, 175 miles west of Warsaw. Janka Popielski, a young blond hotel receptionist, visited Pozna's freight terminal that afternoon, seeking a free ride to visit her boyfriend in a nearby village. Instead, she found a madman who subdued her with chloroform, then dragged her behind a pile of packing crates, where he stripped her from the waist down, raped her, and stabbed her to death with a screwdriver. After mutilating her lower body, the killer stuffed Popielski's corpse into one of the crates, where it was found an hour later. Mutilations were so vicious that police withheld all details from the media.
After Popielski was found dead, police laid siege to any trains and buses leaving Pozna, looking for a man with bloody clothes. They found no suspects and were once again frustrated. On 2 November a Pozna newspaper, Courier Zachodni, received a red-ink letter quoting Stefan Zeromsky's 1928 novel Popioli: "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 not weeping, though, and man hunters suspected that his blood lust was not satisfied.
Poland marked a double holiday on 1 May 1966, celebrated both as Labor Day and as the Communist Party's primary day of rejoicing. That evening, 17-year-old Marysia Galazka went out looking for her cat in Zoliborz, a northern suburb of Warsaw, and never returned to the house. Marysia's father, in turn, soon went looking for his tardy daughter and found her in a tool shed behind the house, dead and grossly mutilated, entrails draped across her thighs. An autopsy determined that she had been raped before the ripper plied his blade.
Major Ciznek of the Warsaw Homicide Squad was placed in charge of the Red Spider case, operating from certain basic assumptions. First, he deemed it unlikely that a serial killer would confine his crimes entirely to high-profile holidays. A nationwide search for similar crimes turned up 14 more murders that seemed to fit the Red Spider's modus operandi, though none were accompanied by the trademark letters. Dating from April 1964, five of the murders had occurred around Pozna, two at Bydgoszcz, and one each at Bialystok, Kielce, Lodz, Lomza, Lublin and Radom. Plotting the murders on a map, Ciznek noted that most of the crime scenes lay south and west of Warsaw, in towns connected by direct rail lines to Katowice and Krakow. So far, neither of those cities had suffered attacks, supporting Ciznek's theory that the killer would not strike too close to home.
Still, that theory hardly solved the case. Katowice is larger than Warsaw, with well over 3 million inhabitants, while Krakow boasts more than 800,000. Guessing the killer's base of operation accomplished nothing, unless police found a clue that would lead them to his door.
On Christmas Eve 1966 three soldiers boarded a train bound from Krakow to Warsaw. Preferring not to ride third-class, they opened a reserved compartment and were shocked to find a woman's mutilated body on the floor. They summoned a conductor, who in turn alerted the engineer. Warsaw police took the radio call, ordering the train to proceed without further stops to the capital. Each passenger was scrutinized upon departure, but again detectives saw no bloody hands or clothes. Inside the train's mail car, apparently dropped through the slot before it left Krakow, police found another message from the Red Spider: "I have done it again."
The victim was identified as 17-year-old Janina Kozielska, of Krakow. Her leather miniskirt was shredded by the killer's knife, as were her lower abdomen and thighs. Again, unlike most lust killers, the Red Spider had carefully avoided contact with his victim's face and breasts. Major Ciznek's detectives learned that the compartment had been booked by telephone, the male caller identifying himself as Stanislav Kosielski. His "wife" had picked up the tickets and paid for them in cash, 1,422 zlotych (about $85). A conductor showed her to the compartment, where she said her husband would arrive shortly. The same conductor checked the "husband's" ticket but could not recall his face.
Police now realized that Janina Kozielska had known her killer well enough to travel with him, posing as his wife, although she was not married. They further surmised that she had been killed and mutilated within ten minutes of arrival on the train, before it pulled out of Krakow, while her slayer left on foot, dropping his letter in the mail slot as he fled.
A background check revealed that Kozielska's 14-year old sister, Aniela, had been slaughtered in Warsaw two years earlier. It was too much for coincidence. Major Ciznek was convinced that the sisters' murders would solve the case. He interviewed their parents, and while the Kozielskas could suggest no suspects, they reported that both girls had worked as artist's models, at the Krakow School of Plastic Arts and the Art Lovers Club.
Beginning with the club, Ciznek determined that it had 118 members, most of them respected professional men, including doctors and dentists, journalists and public officials. Still operating on the theory that his quarry would not kill at home, Ciznek scanned the membership list for residents of Katowice. He found one: Lucian Staniak, a 26-year-old translator employed with Poland's government printing house. Staniak was said to travel frequently and widely as part of his job, using an ulgowy billeta special ticket good for unlimited railroad travel anywhere in Poland.
Ciznek asked the art club's manager to open Staniak's locker. Inside, he found a variety of knives used for daubing paint on canvas, plus several of Staniak's recent works. The artist favored red paint for the most part, and a painting he titled "The Circle of Life" made Ciznek confident that he'd found the Red Spider. It portrayed a cow eating a flower, the cow devoured by a wolf, the wolf shot by a hunter, the hunter run down by a female motorist, and the woman lying in a field with her abdomen slashed open, flowers sprouting from the wound.
Ciznek alerted Katowice detectives on 31 January 1967, dispatching them to Staniak's address at 117 Aleje Wyzwolenia. Police tried the door, but their suspect was out.
Unknown to the authorities, he had already found another victim for his knife.
Staniak had ridden the train to Lodz that morning, trolling for prey. He selected Bozhena Raczkiewicz, an 18-year-old student at the Lodz Institute of Cinematographic Arts, and walked her to the city's railroad station around 6:00 p.m. There, inside a shelter built for travelers stranded in foul weather, he stunned Raczkiewicz with a vodka bottle, cut off her skirt and panties, then hacked her to death in familiar fashion. In his haste, Staniak left a clear fingerprint on the broken bottle's neck.
He spent the night drinking in Lodz, then caught a late train back to Katowice. Detectives nabbed him at the depot and took him in for questioning. Staniak readily confessed, allegedly to 20 homicides, although the final charges filed against him listed only six. He told police that his first murder, in 1964, had been triggered by a family tragedy. His parents and sister were crossing an icy street when they were struck and killed by a speeding car. The driver, a Polish Air Force pilot's young blond wife, had been acquitted on a charge of reckless driving. Staniak had craved revenge but feared to kill the target of his rage, knowing that he would be the prime suspect. Instead, he had chosen a look-alike victim, picking his surrogate from a newspaper photo, and found that he enjoyed the act so much he kept it up for sport.
Convicted of six murders in 1967, Staniak was sentenced to die, that sentence later commuted after he was ruled insane. He is reportedly alive and well today in the asylum, a 60-year-old predator still fond of painting when he has the opportunity. The other 14 victims of his murder spree have not been publicly identified. The details of those crimes remain obscure and speculation continues that Staniak may be innocent in some or all of those cases. Whatever the truth of the matter, the Red Spider is unavailable for comment.