|This picture of Hattie ran in the Milwaukee Journal on Tuesday, November 15, 1909.|
The night of Friday, November 12, 1909 was cold and dark, and the streets of Milwaukee were nearly deserted. Especially after 8 o'clock. That's when 14 year-old Hattie Zinda made her way home, walking north along Racine Street (now Humboldt Ave.) She had only just finished helping her ailing sister, Mary Ertman, with her housework at 929 Racine St. A gusty wind blew tiny clusters of dead leaves into small eddies of confusion. Who knows what thoughts eddied inside the head of Hattie as she hurried home that night? Perhaps she was thinking of her mother, Johanna (Watzek) Zinda, who had died just a few years previously. Perhaps she was thinking of the two men who had accosted her just the Saturday before. That had occurred about the same time in the evening. She had been crossing the Racine Street bridge over the Milwaukee River on her way home when two men, each about 25 years-old had approached her. They were well-dressed and had long black over-coats and black derby hats.
“Isn't it pretty late for a pretty girl like you to be on the street?” one of them asked her.
“Yes, don't you think you should be at home?” said the other.
It was dark, and no one else was in sight. Hattie ignored the men and walked on, as quickly as she could. The men followed her, and she heard one say to the other, “We must get her.”
That did it for Hattie. She broke into a run. The men gave chase but could not catch her. She ran several blocks until she finally saw a man and a little girl near Lee Street. Using the last of her breath, she screamed for help and sprinted toward the safety of their company. Her pursuers gave up and disappeared into a side street.
|This portion of a 1901 map of Milwaukee shows the area of the tragedy.|
For several days afterward, she was scared. But her sister on the south side of the river needed help. So, Hattie resumed her nightly treks over the Racine Street bridge.
Regardless of her obvious courage, Hattie must have been concerned as she made her way home the next Friday. Crossing that bridge without incident must have brought her a sigh of relief. She was nearly to her home at 909 Weil Street now.
Hattie was not the only one on Humboldt Avenue that night. Miss Rosella Peplinski and Miss Rosa Skarowski, friends of Hattie, were also there heading in the opposite direction of Hattie. They passed each other, without speaking, just before Hattie crossed over the Racine Street bridge. Shortly before they had seen Hattie, the two girls had also seen two well-dressed men leaning against the bar of a saloon about one block north of the railroad crossing of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad on Humboldt Ave. As Hattie headed north, another resident observed her as she made her way toward safety. But then Hattie's progress, and the view of her by the bystander, were blocked by a freight train passing through. For more than five minutes, Hattie was forced to wait on the south side of the crossing, standing in the darkness, as car after car rumbled by. Finally, the caboose cleared the crossing, and as the sound of its wheels faded off to points west, Hattie's way home was now clear.
But, it was too late for Hattie Zinda.
What ensued on that bleak November night has been called “one of the most fiendish crimes ever committed in Milwaukee” and “the most sensational and gruesome murder mystery in the history of the city.” For years afterward, a mention of the “Zinda murder” in the Milwaukee papers would need no further explanation.
When Hattie failed to make it home that night, the rest of her family became frantic. It was a large family; Jozef and Johanna had had 15 children, and it now included sons-in-law such as Stanley Dudek and William Kuszewski. They spent the whole night searching for her. They enlisted the help of neighbors. The word of the disappearance spread like wildfire and soon the whole Northside was inflamed. However, the police refused to act. They told the anguished relatives that they should look for Hattie in the nickel theaters; they would undoubtedly find her among the other little girls. It was not until the Zindas went to the office of a prominent Pole, and a man from that office went to the police, that the police actually began to act.
Although slow to respond, over the next several days, the entire Milwaukee police department would search for poor Hattie Zinda. Her picture ran on the first page of the Milwaukee Journal along with the details of her disappearance. Hundreds of citizens appointed themselves as private detectives to try to solve the mystery. They flooded the police department with theories. “Not in years,” read a Journal editorial. “have the people in Milwaukee been stirred to [such] depths . . . “ Speculation as to her fate was the topic. The fact that she had vanished while a freight train passed led some to the conclusion that tramps had grabbed her and sold her into white slavery. Meanwhile, her sister Anna Zinda (later Fliss) was positive the two men who had scared Hattie on Saturday had come back to carry out their evil intentions. The police seemed to agree and they let it be know that at least two men were involved in the abduction.
It was not until November 17th that the body of Hattie was discovered in an abandoned shack near the corner of Humboldt and North Avenues. Detective John Shenar was searching nearby when he noticed a black hair ribbon fluttering on the sidewalk. Investigating further, he found the door of the shack locked, but a small window (no more than 11 inches wide) had been broken into. Inside lay poor Hattie Zinda. She had been raped and then strangled. Supposedly, tracks in the dust on the floor showed where her body had been dragged, but a broken chair and bruises all over her body indicated that Hattie had put up a fierce struggle. This was supported by the fact that an examination of Hattie's body disclosed some blond hairs still clutched in her hand. The discovery of the body brought an angry mob to the Zinda residence. They demanded justice and hinted that a lynching would be too good for the perpetrators.
Piece by piece, the police formed their idea of the culprits. They were two men, apparently because two men had chased Hattie before and the two men who had been seen in the vicinity of the abduction. They were small, because the only way into the locked shed was through the small broken window, and at least one of them was blond. But there was other conflicting evidence. Stanley Grszwaczewski and John Gansezski were on their way to O'Gorman's barber shop about the time of Hattie's abduction when they saw a six-foot tall man with an overcoat and a black derby hat, not dressed as a laborer, standing next to the shack where Hattie's body was eventually found. The boys thought, “[i]t looked as though he wanted to rob someone.” John Worzala, who lived on Dousman Street near the railroad tracks and about a block and half from the scene of the murder said that he was awakened by his dog barking at about 10 pm on the night of the murder. When he went outside, he saw two men hop a north-bound train.
Meanwhile, services were being held for Hattie. An estimated 1,200 people, mostly strangers, passed by the coffin as it lay in the Zinda residence of Weil Street. The next day, thousands more gathered outside as Fr. Joseph Zinda, a cousin, gave the body the Last Rites. Then, from the house the solemn procession with the coffin walked to St. Casimir's, where an over-flow crowd of an estimated 4,000 people attended her funeral. She was then laid to rest in what is now St. Adalbert's Cemetery.
That same day came the “big break” in the case. On Tuesday, November 23rd a bartender on Jones Island told the Milwaukee Journal that on the previous Wednesday (the 17th), two men had entered his bar at about 2:30 p.m. (after the body had been discovered, but before the evening paper came out announcing this fact.) The “two young men, both of them laboring under excitement, discussed ways and means of leaving Milwaukee....” One of the men was about 17, “short, heavy, and darkly complexioned; the other was a good sized man, about 22 or 23, light complexioned and light haired … He was about 5 feet 8 or 9 inches and about 180 pounds.” Evidently, the fact that neither of these men were likely to fit through an 11 inch-wide window, nor, given that they were working men, that they were probably not the "well-dressed" men seen near the crime, was lost in the excitement of this new evidence.
Intrepid Detective Eugene O'Gorman and Patrolman Bernard Ronowski were assigned to track these two men down, or at least track down some two men. Detective O'Gorman had learned that two men had “gone missing” a few days after the Zinda murder, and he felt this behavior was suspicious enough to arrest them for murder. (They might even have been the same two men whose conversation had been overheard in the bar on Jones Island.) O'Gorman and Ronowski spent the next three weeks hot on the trail of the “missing” men. The entire “chase” covered more than 2,000 miles throughout three states, and O'Gorman and Ronowski had to use such diverse means of transportation as trains and a mule team. If the truth be told, they was not “chasing” so much as “looking.” The detective had learned that one of the suspects had, months previous to the murder, talked of working in a lumber camp for the winter, so the detective went from lumber camp to lumber camp, looking for the men. He finally arrested them, in the same location where they had been since leaving Milwaukee: a lumber camp outside Blaney, Michigan. The men were Carol (Karol) Wojciechowski (36), and Adam Pietrzyk (25). They were both from Russian Poland. Wojciechowski could speak broken English, but Pietrzyk could speak none at all.
|Karol Wojciechowski (left) and Adam Pietrzyk (right)|
The two men were held captive for three days. (Remember, this is way before an accused was given the right to an appointed attorney or were told that they had the right to remain silent.) Then, on the third day, Adam Pietrzyk “confessed.” Speaking through interpreter, attorney Michael Blenski, he stated that he had seen Wojciechowski accost Zinda and drag her into the railroad yards. He had heard the girl scream and heard the sounds of a struggle. That was all he confessed to, but it was evidently sufficient.
The next night, under the ominous threat both of a lynch-mob and a blinding snowstorm, the two men were taken to court for an unheard-of late-evening session. Within an hour, both had been convicted of first degree murder. Wojciechowski was apparently convicted on the strength of Pietrzyk's statement. Pietrzyk was apparently convicted because he had blond hair and Wojciechowski did not. Since Hattie Zinda was found to be clutching blond hair in her fist, Pietrzyk had to be involved in the murder. (It is unclear, but Wojciechowski may have also given a statement implicating Pietrzyk in the crime.) Before the clock struck midnight, both men had been sentenced to life imprisonment and put on a train to Waupun.
Throughout the rest of their lives, neither man would admit to any involvement in the murder. Pietrzyk would die of tuberculosis in the early 1920's while still in prison. Wojciechowski was finally paroled in 1940. Two years later, Governor Heil granted Wojciechowski, then 70 years-old, a full pardon. The pardon was made on the recommendation of the state pardon board which cited the fact that the evidence which convicted Wojciechowski was “partly circumstantial.”
In retrospect, it seems like there was more than one tragedy resulting from the death of Hattie Zinda.
“All Night Hunt for Young Girl,” Milwaukee Journal, November 15, 1909, p.1.
“Boys Give Police Clew [sic] in Zinda Murder Case,” Milwaukee Journal, November 19, 1909, p. 1
“Deer Hunter is Guilty of Crime,” Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 19, 1909, p. 12
“Find Body of Missing Girl,” Mansfield (Ohio) Daily Shield, November 17, 1909, p. 1
“Find Hair in Grip of Murdered Girl,” Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 20, 1909, p. 10
“Find No Trace of Girl”s Slayer,” Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 18, 1909, p. 5
“Girl Murder Mystery Recalled,” Milwaukee Sentinel, December 11, 1934, p. 1.
“New Theory in Zinda Case,” Milwaukee Journal, November 23, 1909, p. 1
“Offer $1,000 Reward for Hattie Zinda's Murders,” Milwaukee Journal, November 18, 1909,
“Pardon is Granted in Murder Case,” Milwaukee Journal, September 26, 1942, p. 15
“Pardon Given to Old Murderer,” Milwaukee Journal, September 27, 1942, p.2
“Police Silent on Zinda Case,” Milwaukee Journal, December 8, 1909, p. 1.
“Says Dead Girl is True Martyr,” Milwaukee Journal, November 20, 1909. p. 1
“Sentinel Will Re-Enact Zinda Slaying Over WISN,” Milwaukee Sentinel, May 8, 1934, p. 17.
“Seventeen Years for Murder?” Milwaukee Journal, April 19, 1926, p. 6.
“Slayers of Girl are Given Terms,” Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, December 12, 1909, p, 21
“Zinda Case Solved,” Milwaukee Journal, December 9, 1909, p. 1.
“Zinda Girl Murdered, Signs of Awful Struggle,” Milwaukee Journal, November 17, 1909, p. 1