Gawenda & Gallus

Date of Alleged Crime:  1881

Johann Gawenda was convicted of the murder of his 16-year-old stepdaughter, Katharina Sroka, also known as Katie. Katie's mother died in 1867, leaving her two-year-old daughter an estate consisting of three acres of fields and a cottage. Katie's father, Ignatz Sroka, managed the estate following the death of his wife. He subsequently married Marie Gallus. This marriage did not last long, as Ignatz was convicted of murder and died in prison in 1875. His widow Marie then married Johann Gawenda, who took over the administration of the estate for the still underage Katie and at the same time pledged to provide for her maintenance and upbringing. Gawenda neglected these obligations in a most unscrupulous manner, as he monopolized the land and treated its owner so badly that she had to work as a maid and also to depend on charity.

In 1881 Katie disappeared without a trace and no one in the local village of Radgoszcz had any information about her whereabouts. This disappearance raised suspicion that Gawenda killed Katie in order to keep her property for himself. Eventually a rumor spread that Agnes Sroka, Katie's half-sister, had confided to another girl, Hedwig Baran, that she had witnessed Katie's murder. After a policeman, Martin Prus, became aware of Katie's disappearance and the rumors circulating about it, he investigated the disappearance and determined that Gawenda and his stepfather Franz Gallus had murdered Katie.

Policeman Prus obtained a statement from Hedwig that Agnes said she had witnessed the murder. He also said Agnes had told him the following story: One night Gawenda told Katie, as well as herself, and their younger brother to go to bed early. He then sent his wife Marie to drink in the pub. Gawenda left for a short time but came back with Franz Gallus who brought a hoe with him.

Gawenda approached Katie's bed and struck her on the forehead with the blunt side of the hoe, then with Gallus, he dragged Katie to the floor and struck her there again. It was not until he convinced himself that Katie was dead that he and Gallus covered her with a sheet after removing her clothes. The two then carried her out of the room.

Agnes denied this testimony in court. Even if she had affirmed it, the law prevented her from testifying at trial against her stepfather. Nevertheless, the prosecution used Hedwig and policeman Prus to testify as to what Agnes allegedly said. In addition, Prus and another witness, W. Fracz, claimed that Gawenda had voluntarily confessed to the murder. According to these witnesses, Gawenda also told them the location under a willow tree where he had buried Katie's body. Gawenda admitted giving a confession, but said he had only given it out of fear and because of abuse inflicted on him by policeman Prus. No body could be found to corroborate the confession. A bailiff also claimed that Gawenda had confessed the crime to him in prison.

Prior to her disappearance, Katie had worked for a woman named Setermus in Radgoszcz who made her a dress. After her disappearance, Setermus met Agnes and was surprised to see her wearing the same dress. When she questioned Agnes about it, Agnes said she had bought the dress from a Johann Bogacz. Setermus told her this was a lie because she recognized the dress as her own fabric and her own sewing. Agnes became embarrassed and failed to give an answer. The prosecution argued that Katie, being poor, could not have had a large wardrobe, and the fact that she failed to take the dress with her leads to the presumption that she was killed.

Gawenda was sentenced to death, but his sentence was later reduced to 20 years imprisonment. Gallus was convicted as an accessory to murder and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. About a year after the defendants' convictions, another man from Radgoszcz had a missing stepdaughter and he began searching for her, as he was suspected of her murder. In his search for his stepdaughter, he learned that an unknown girl was living in the village of Szarwark. When he went there, he met the very same Katie Sroka, who he knew very well as he was a relative of Setermus. He then alerted the authorities that she was found, and after the authorities confirmed her identity, Gawenda and Gallus were retried and acquitted after spending 15 months in prison.

The village in which Katie was found is only seven miles from Radgoszcz. According to Katie, she was working for an employer there and had made no attempt to hide as she had told others of her ancestry and her family. She had heard about a missing girl from Radgoszcz and talked with her employer about it many times. However, neither she nor her employer suspected the missing girl was herself, because the girl was said to have been murdered and buried.  [6/10]


References:  The Criminal Case of Johann Gawenda and Franz Gallus for MurderErich's Criminal Archive

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Cases in Other Countries, Murder Victims Found Alive, Son/Daughter Murder Cases