Vampire of Kraków
Vampire of Kraków
"I could slay the whole of Krakow"
The residents of Kraków lived in fear during the 1960’s of a Vampire that stalked the ancient Polish city in search of victims to satiate his bloodlust. But Karol Kot was not the same type of creature of the night often associated with the Vampyric tales from folklore, or the haunting figure from F. W. Murnau’s silent movie Nosferatu, this Vampire of Kraków was a knife-wielding maniac who preyed on the elderly and young alike.
So fearful were citizens, that they dared not whisper the nickname given to the killer by the press, who became known as the Vampire of Kraków, a name that struck terror into people of all ages. After leaving two women wounded and a third dead, the Vampire vanished for a seventeen month period, before resurfacing to hunt younger victims. Arrested in June 1966, Kot was charged with two murders and executed for his crimes.
The story of Karol Kot is not simply one of an impressionable and awkward teenager, confused at an ever-changing point in an young man’s life, but that of an aberrant psychopath acting out his twisted fantasies of violence and murder. It is possible that Kot went on to become the inspiration for the serial killer Lucian Staniak, known as the Red Spider, who was most likely the literary creation an overzealous crime writer.
The 1964 Crimes of the Vampire of Kraków
The nightmare began on September 21, 1964, when on that day, a fledgling killer attempted to claim his first victim, albeit unsuccessfully. The target of his rage was attending church that day, and as he would later describe himself in court, he planned to wait in the house of God for an elderly parishioner, a knife concealed in his coat. “How annoying,” he later exclaimed, “No one showed up!” It was only as he was leaving, frustrated at his missed opportunity, that he chanced upon an ideal victim.
As 48-year-old Helene Velgen entered the church, she noticed a young man deep in prayer. When she knelt to pray, the young man pulled out a bayonet concealed in his jacker and drove a knife deep into her back. By aiming for her heart, he intending for the attack to be fatal. The maniac had stabbed the woman several times in the back, and seriously injured, she slumped to the floor in severe shock.
Her attacker hurried out of the church, under the belief that the woman was dead, but as luck would have it, she survived. When he was a safe distance away, and by his own admission, he licked the blade clean of blood. Despite her injuries, the victim was able to recall that her attacker had a red shield stitched onto his jacket, indicating to the police that he was a high school student.
Detectives were perplexed by the incident, wondering who would want to harm a church going member of the community. The second attempt happened shortly afterwards, just two days later on September 23rd. This potential victim, 78-year-old Franciszka Lewendowska, was spotted leaving a tram, then followed and stabbed in the back on the stairs leading up to the front door of her apartment. This caused her to stumble and fall down the stairs.
The attacker thought his victim was dead as he quickly fled the scene, however this attack also proved unsuccessful, the elderly woman survived, but never regained her full health, having broke her spine and her legs were left paralysed. As with the previous incident, the victim reported to police that it was a young man who had attacked her. Both victims gave similar descriptions of the man, and police knew they were looking for a cowardly suspect who approached his victims from behind, catching them off guard.
Six days later, on September 29th, the same young man struck again, only this time he would experience his first kill. 86-year-old Maria Plichta was at her local church when she was approached from behind as she walked to Jana Street and stabbed. This time the killer caused significant wounds, and before she lost consciousness, the victim managed to whisper to a nun that her attacker was a young man.
Out of sight, the attacker licked the blood from the blade of his knife. Maria Plichta died the next day. While the doctors were trying to save her life, a young man visited the hospital to enquire about the victim. This curious visitor was 17-year-old Karol Kot, who would earn the nickname the Vampire of Kraków.
Kot was born in Kraków on December 18, 1946, and would spend all his life in the city. Kraków had suffered greatly under the Nazi occupation of Poland, and served as a significant location for the establishment of Jewish Ghettos, from where Jews of all ages were deported to the gas chambers of the death camps. Unlike many other Polish cities, Kraków remained relatively undamaged during the war, and was spared the destruction of the city’s historical and architectural legacy.
At the end of World War II, with the Nazi invaders driven out, the residents of Kraków went from one occupying force to another when the Soviet Red Army entered the city in January 18, 1945. With the new government of the Polish People’s Republic, the city was under complete political control, and the Stalinist occupiers began the conversion of Kraków from a cultured city of learning, to an industrial complex. It was from this changing landscape that Karol Kot came into the world.
His father was an engineer for the Polish army and his mother a housewife. Both of his parents came from well educated families and provided their children with a good upbringing. He was brought up along with his sister, eight years younger, by their unemployed mother, who was an activist for the League of Women. Kot was apparently a good student, and had an uneventful early upbringing, until that is when he experienced what could be called a life changing moment.
One day on a family trip to Pcim, a village in southern Poland, he wandered into a local slaughterhouse, where the owners allowed him to assist in the killings of farm animals. Much to their surprise, they watched in bemusement as the young boy drank from a cup of warm blood from the freshly killed animals. It was the start of what was described as odd behaviour by the young Kot, who began exhibiting disturbing behaviour such as abusing the family cat.
In his spare time, the schoolboy would busy himself by killing small animals such as a frogs, chickens and crows, before turning his attention to larger prey such as calves. It served as an escape from the taunts of his peers, who called him “Lolo”, “Pyro”, and even “Sex Maniac”, due to his habit of groping his female classmates. At that stage in his life, these animals were enough to satiate his burgeoning bloodlust.
He started to develop an interest in the history, and in particular became a keen student of the darker history of Poland during the Nazi occupation. As a young boy, he visited Auschwitz, the death camp where millions of Jews were murdered. He was, in his own words, “amazed at the organization and the idea of a concentration camp,” and professed a desire to have been born during that era, so that he could have served at one. Soon enough his morbid interest in the macabre was not limited to just daydreams.
He learned karate and knife throwing, hoping these past-times would help with his aspiration of enlisting in the army. In his teenaged years, Kot tried to enrol at college, but a lack of places meant he failed to be accepted. He eventually secured a place at the Technical Energy School in Kraków where he was considered a good student by teachers.
During high school he joined a shooting club and quickly became his coach’s star pupil, at one point ranking tenth in the Polish juniors category for the sport. The coach even gave him the role of deputy for economic affairs at the club, allowing him to carry the keys to the weapons and ammunition store. “I could slay the whole of Krakow,” he confided to a journalist after being apprehended. Using an air rifle that he kept in the house, Kot used to shoot meat which his mother had bought for dinner, just to test the power of the bullet.
The coach trust Kot and even invited him to his house, instructing his young son to “be like Karol.” After his sentence was handed down in July 1967, Kot said “When I read the file of the investigation and saw a letter from the coach to the Ministry of Justice, in which he protested against my arrest, I laughed sincerely… He didn’t know that his son was on my execution list.”
It is unknown if Kot decided against murdering his coach’s son or whether he was caught before he could carry out this plan. Later, when he finally realised that his favourite pupil really was responsible for committing the crimes with which he had been charged, the coach sent Kot a letter full of indignation and regret, in which he asked him to return his sportsman badge, explaining that he was unworthy of the title of athlete.
He continued to harbor a fascination with the history of Nazi concentration camps, telling his interrogators after his arrest, “I dreamed about mass murder in gas chambers, roundups, dividing people. I wanted to murder all women”. He enjoyed collecting medical textbooks on human anatomy and toxicology, and had knowledge of forensic medicine. “Did you know,” he casually asked his police interrogator, “that the easiest way to the heart is through the back?”
At home, It was difficult for his younger sister. When their parents were away he would physically and mentally abuse her. After a disappointing day at the shooting range, he would beat her to relieve his frustration, with anything from a hand strap to a belt and even with a coat hanger. Once, he almost poked her eye out. When she cried, he would lock her in a room.
An Emerging Serial Killer
It was in September 1964, at the age of seventeen, that Kot began hunting for prey larger than small animals. After two unsuccessful attacks, he finally claimed the life of Maria Plichta. And just as quickly as his rampage had begun, it stopped. While police were searching for the Vampire of Kraków, Kot halted his murderous spree momentarily, and attempted a different way of claiming victims.
He experimented with a variety of different methods, such as using poison and fire. He acquired some arsenic and started frequenting popular bars on the weekends, such as Przy Błoniach. There where he took a bottle of vinegar from the counter, and when certain that nobody was looking, he laced it with arsenic, hoping that somebody would later use it and be poisoned. But no one did. He often left bottles of beer or soda poisoned with arsenic out in the open in these popular places, but nobody ever drank his poisonous mixtures.
He once tried a similar attempt on a young girl he fancied at school, tempting her with a poisoned bottle of beer left at her door. Kot once poured a large quantity of arsenic into a schoolmate’s drink, but the boy noticed a suspicious smell and refused to drink it. During his trial in the Summer of 1967, expert witnesses testified that the amount of arsenic used by Kot was sufficient to kill anybody who would drink the beverage.
Despite his popularity among the teaching staff at school, Kot was not so well-liked by his fellow classmates. Quiet and withdrawn, he was almost morbidly shy. The only person he really trusted, and who tried to understand him and felt comfortable in his company, was Danuta W., an older girl from his sports club and a student at the Academy of Fine Arts. Kit confided all his secrets and aspirations to her, but she initially she did not take his sadistic tendencies seriously.
During the period when his criminal activity went quiet, Kot took a trip to Tyniec in 1965 during which he attempted to murder his friend Danuta, by putting a knife to her throat. Her reaction to this attack probably saved her life. She had laughed at Kot, before calmly explaining that if he killed her, he would immediately be the main suspect. Kot also plotted four other murders, all without success, and even perpetrated several acts of arson, all of which proved unsuccessful.
He had always been fascinated with fire and developed this interest by trying to set a house alight. However, when he returned to see how much damage the fire had done, he was surprised to find that there was not even smoke. In the basement of another house he set fire to some rags and loose papers, once again without success. He later tried to set fire to a wooden toilet at the shooting range, but a caretaker noticed and managed to extinguish it.
Despite attempting these different methods, what Kot really enjoyed was using a blade, and his passion for blood soon resurfaced in February 1966. It was during the winter of 1966, that Kot confided to his friend Danuta that he found inflicting wounds pleasurable. This confession would later become very useful to the investigation, when Danuta raised her suspicions with the police.
The 1966 Crimes of the Vampire of Kraków
Kot found his next victim, 11-year-old Leszek Całek, near Kościuszko Mound, where a toboggan contest for children was being held on February 13, 1966. In an act of overkill, the young child was struck down in a frenzied assault, with experts stating at the trial that the wounds inflicted on the corpse of the small boy had far exceeded those necessary to cause death. Once again, terror returned to the city as people feared the Vampire of Kraków had returned. Some residents began sleeping with wooden boards beneath their shirts to protect against knife wounds.
In claiming his second victim, Kot was ecstatic and enjoying his criminal success. When the newspapers published a photograph of the young boy killed by the Vampire of Kraków, he was so happy that he ran to his older friend from the sports club, Danuta W., and boasted that it was his work, announcing that he would make it his bedroom wallpaper. But those closest to him never took him seriously, and his parents never suspected their son could be a killer.
Kot later said he gained a sort of perverse and secret thrill from sitting at the family dinner table, by his own admission as the unremarkable boy that he was, while his father snorted in derision and commented that, “Only a bastard could commit such heinous acts” It was Danuta whom he would confide in the most, and while later that he pitied the most, he referred to her as his girlfriend. He confessed to her his lust for blood, and once even held a knife to her throat “to see the insane fear in her eyes,” something Danuta dismissed as a tasteless joke.
But when he revealed to her that he had shards of glass in his pockets, with which he planned to cut her with and then plant on her body in order to make it look like suicide, did she become concerned. Danuta convinced him to go see a doctor, who merely sent him home with some vitamins. Yet Danuta did not go to the police and report her friend, refusing to take his sadistic tendencies seriously and believing that Kot was just a harmless but troubled young man.
But she was soon to change her mind. Two months later, on April 14, 1966, Kot was sitting on some steps outside of an apartment building on Jana III Sobieskiego Street, waiting for his next victim, when a 7-year-old girl, called ‘Małgosia’, came downstairs to collect letters from the mailbox. Kot grabbed her and dealt eight stab wounds to the stomach, chest and back, however, people passing by came to her rescue and she survived. The young girl could remember little about her attacker, except that he was wearing a white scarf.
After the attack Kot went to a police station to extend his gun license and then returned home to eat dinner. Four days later, Kot returned to the scene the crime, enquiring about the victim’s name from her mother. After several attacks, the police were now under enormous pressure to find the culprit, and detectives extended their investigation, increasing the number of police patrols in Kraków, while officers were instructed to pay specific attention to any young men behaving abnormally.
Investigators working the case discovered similarities between the attacks. Based on surviving victim testimony, it was believed that the killer always acted alone, chose victims weaker than himself, and attacked quickly, inflicting blows to the abdomen and upper back. In addition, police didn’t believe the motive for the attacks to be robbery as the perpetrator never spoke with the victims and no items were ever taken from the victims.
Despite the fact that investigators were aware that the attacker was a young man, they still could not find their suspect. A report from a taxi driver, who had accurately described Kot, was given to police, however authorities from the communist Polish People’s Republic deemed it unreliable, given that was provided by a representative of the so-called “private initiative”, who they claimed could not counted on as a credible witness.
Capture of the Vampire
As news of this latest victim spread throughout the city, Kot’s friend, Danuta W., now began to suspect that he really was the Vampire of Kraków. She hesitated for some time, believing he was innocent, however, his accounts of the attacks were so detailed that she believed it could not be the product of a sick imagination, and decided to report her suspicions to the police. Shortly after he graduated from school, Kot was arrested on June 1, 1966. Officers who arrived at Kot’s apartment were astonished when they met at the door by kind and polite young man.
Given that so much time had elapsed between the last attack and his capture, there is a theory that the police deliberately delayed the arrest until after his final exams. The fact that Kot passed his exams, it could be used in court to prove his sanity and mental capacity had not been diminished when carrying out his crimes. After intensive questioning, Kot was charged with two counts of murder, ten attempted murders and four instances of arson.
Initially, Kot denied everything, but when confronted with his suspected victims, he confessed to everything and began proudly talking about his achievements. When in the presence of one of his surviving victims who recognized him, Kot said, “Your memory is good, come here so I can finish you off”. He re-enacted some of the crimes before investigators, showing them how he held his knife and the way in which he approached his victims, all the while grinning for the camera as he held a knife to a young woman assisting with the investigation.
In custody, he underwent a variety of psychological tests in order to better understand his state of mind, and numerous expert witnesses were appointed to discover the cause of Kot’s psychopathic behaviour. They learned that Kot had shown strange inclinations since his early childhood, along with a morbid interest in death. After a series of psychological observations and examinations the doctors were unanimous in their diagnosis that he was completely sane and could stand trial and face the full consequences of his actions.
When asked in an interview whether he was aware of the notion of murder being a crime and an evil deed, Kot explained his moral standards. Evil men, he said, were drunkards and those who consorted with prostitutes. According to Kot, what determines moral appropriateness of human actions is the fact that they bring an individual satisfaction and a sense of fulfilled duty. In his eyes, he was “only a murderer,” and not inherently evil.
As he explained, “suffering is beauty, and inflicting pain and suffering on someone is a work of art,” adding “Not everyone can do it.” He even went so far as to suggest that he might he set free, in order to remove “undesirable people” as a service to society. During his time in custody, as he pondered his fate, Kot said “the pleasure I felt when the knife was cleaving the meant… it’s impossible to describe the feeling. The experience is worth the gallows”
The Trial of Karol Kot
Arraigned before the court on May 3, 1967, Kot gave a very detailed testimony of his crimes before the court, along with his plans that he had not yet managed to carry out. These plans that he revealed were so extreme that the court had them withheld. Throughout the proceedings, Kot did not display any sign of contrition or remorse. On the contrary, he was relaxed and seemed unaware of the possible sentence he could receive. The trial aroused great interest amongst the public, who demanded he receive the death penalty.
The most contentious issue presented at the trial was the assessment of his mental state at the time of the murders. Two teams of experts were consulted on the matter, whose opinions of Kot’s sanity differed. Forensic experts from Kraków found Kot to be the classic example of a psychopath, with a ‘deviation from the norms of temperament, drive and character, coupled with a lack of higher emotionality’.
They presented to the court that Kot was a limited sanity murderer who could not adapt to social norms. Meanwhile, psychiatrists believed that Kot was aware of the harmful effects of his actions, and was, to some degree, even able to control them. The fact he was able to refrain from attacking under certain circumstances, further supported their theory of Kot’s overall sanity. During visits to the crime scenes, and during the court hearings, Kot smiled, and looked like good-natured boy. When weapons or detailed descriptions of his crimes were presented to the court, he visibly smiled and appeared happy.
Consequently, the court upheld the opinion of the psychiatric experts, and on July 14, 1967, they found Kot guilty of murder, condemning him to death. Because of this verdict, he lost his citizen rights. As Kot was only sentenced for the murder of 11-year-old Leszek Całek, his lawyers filed an appeal to the Supreme Court on November 22, 1967, based on diminished responsibility. The court took into consideration the testimony of the forensic experts along with Kot’s young age and overturned the death penalty ruling and instead sentenced Kot to life imprisonment.
The General Prosecutor of the Polish People’s Republic, however, had the right to revise the sentence and on March 11, 1968, reconvened the Supreme Court. Once again Kot was sentenced to death by hanging. The judgment of the Supreme Court was based on the callous murder of the 11-year-old boy and Kot’s attempt to kill the 7-year-old girl, stating, “Taking in to account, the defenseless beings, his cynicism and lack of remorse, the only right punishment is the death penalty”
The sentence was carried out on May 16, 1968, and Karol Kot, the Vampire of Kraków, was executed by hanging. Some sources describe how after the execution, an autopsy of Karol Kot showed that he had been suffering from a previously undiagnosed large brain tumour. However, author Przemysław Semczuk disputes this fact in his book. According to the author, autopsies were not carried out on convicts sentenced to death. Moreover, no official documents are known to exist that confirm an autopsy was carried out on Karol Kot.
The legend of the Vampire of Kraków endures, and today he exists as a minor celebrity in Poland, and although the elder residents once lived in fear of a “Vampyric” creature of the night, it is the younger generation who have become enthralled with fascination by his misdeeds. For customers over the age of 18, one can enjoyed the “Macabre Kraków”, a free walking tour of the crime scenes associated with Kot.
Those with a thirst for more than just True Crime can enjoy an arsenic-free beer for 5zl on the Rynek at the Kotkarola pub, where the mascot in a grinning cat perched next to an effigy of Edgar Allen Poe. Despite this renewed interest for Kot, the pain and suffering he caused can never be forgotten, and much like the Nazis he so admired, Karol Kot should be remembered as a warning from history.