Case of prostitute murdered and dismembered 90 years ago solved “with 80 percent certainty”

Otýlie Vranská

In 1933, Czechoslovakia was rocked by a gruesome murder. Two suitcases were found on 2 September, independently of each other, in the Slovak cities of Bratislava and Košice. The suitcase that was found in Košice contained a woman’s torso, and in Bratislava, a woman’s severed head and legs. The perpetrator was never found, but 90 years later, researchers think they may have an answer.

Otýlie Vranská | Photo: Museum of the Police of the Czech Republic

It didn’t take long for the police at the time to figure out that the dismembered body parts belonged to the same victim, or that the murder had taken place in Prague, from where the suitcases had been sent by train. On 6 September, the victim was identified as Otýlie Vranská, a 22-year-old Slovak prostitute living in Prague.

Radek Galaš, director of the Czech Police Museum, which re-examined the case and presented its findings at a lecture on the 90th anniversary of the murder, says that this gruesome method of disposing of a body wasn’t entirely unheard of at the time – a year prior to this incident, for example, a similar murder had taken place in Bratislava. What made it such a media sensation, he says, was that the murderer was never identified.

“The case became a sensation very quickly only because the perpetrator was never found. The media in particular made a total sensation out of it. In the first month alone, two daily newspapers published over 50 articles about the case. By the end of the year, hundreds of pages of print had been devoted to the topic, and some of them were completely sensationalised. Of course, this aroused people’s curiosity. A lot of rumours and fabrications started circulating – including from journalists, who made up the most flagrant rubbish sometimes – and that has continued until today.”

Radek Galaš | Photo: Luboš Vedral,  Czech Radio

In 1943, the police investigation was closed, and after that, no further investigations were done, according to Galaš, either by historians or by the police. But 80 years after the murder, historians at the Czech Police Museum, former police officers themselves, decided to re-examine the historical evidence and ten years later came up with the likely culprit.

The person that they say they can identify with 80 percent certainty as the murderer is Josef Pěkný – a Czechoslovak army soldier at the Kasarna barracks in Prague’s Karlin district. He held the military rank of sergeant major and had a certain degree of social status, although he was divorced and had a child. He also often used the services of prostitutes – and so he came into contact with Otýlie Vranská.

The two knew each other and had an ongoing sexual relationship – Galaš says there are several witnesses who said they saw the two of them together and that Vranská herself made no secret of it. Indeed, Vranská claimed that Pěkný promised her several times that he would marry her. And the evening before her death, Galaš says it is proven that Vranská met with Pěkný.

The Vranská body was packed in a bed sheet and a newspaper. | Photo: David Votruba,  Museum of the Police of the Czech Republic

In fact, Pěkný was questioned by the police after the murder, but since he had an alibi, he was dropped as a potential suspect. Galaš says this was the first mistake the police at the time made, because his and his alibi’s testimonies contradicted each other in several crucial respects. The second mistake was the ongoing presumption that the person who committed the murder was someone who had a deep knowledge of anatomy, for example a doctor or a medical student.

“Professor Hájek came up with this idea on the day of the autopsy, 5 September 1933, when he said – and I quote – that the legs were removed with one powerful incision, and it’s clear that it was done by a person who has knowledge of anatomy. The head was cut off with two powerful incisions. But when you read the actual autopsy protocol, you find out that the head wasn’t cut off with two incisions – it was at least four. The person who did it didn’t know anything about anatomy. But nevertheless, this theory persisted for decades – although the autopsy protocol, which was signed by professor Hájek, by the way – completely contradicts this idea.”

The original suitcase in which the body of Otýlie Vranská was found | Photo: Museum of the Police of the Czech Republic

The part the researchers are less certain about is the role of another prostitute, Antonie Koklesová. Galaš says there is evidence that she was present at the scene of the crime, but it’s unclear whether she was just a bystander, or if she was forced into participating, or indeed if she was a gleeful and willing accomplice. Galaš says there is probably no way of finding out now, but he does not exclude the possibility that further evidence may come to light.

Authors: Anna Fodor , Olga Vasinkevič
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