Notorious "Spartakiada killer" released after almost two decades

Jiri Straka, photo: CTK
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One of the Czech Republic's most notorious murderers, the man dubbed the "Spartakiada killer", was freed on Tuesday, when a court ruled that Jiri Straka's status be changed from inmate at a mental institution to outpatient. Mr Straka's release 19 years after his grisly crimes has reawakened memories of the panicked atmosphere in Prague ahead of the 1985 Spartakiada.

Jiri Straka, photo: CTK
The Spartakiada was a mass gymnastics display held at Prague's enormous Strahov stadium every five years. Thousands of people came to the capital from all over Czechoslovakia for the event, which - with its emphasis on mass participation, co-ordination and co-operation - was of great significance to the Communist regime.

With the 1985 Spartakiada due to start at the end of June, the Communist authorities were greatly disturbed by a series of rapes and killings of young women in the capital. As panic grew in the city, the pressure was on the police to catch public enemy number one, the person who became known as the Spartakiada killer.

A huge manhunt was launched, with the net closing in on Jiri Straka, a 16-year-old apprentice, who later admitted to raping six women and brutally killing three of them. Several newspapers this week have carried chilling photos of the killer re-enacting one of the murders for the police. Apparently, such was the public outrage at the time that during one re-enactment people demanded the police hand him over so they could lynch him.

Jiri Straka, photo: CTK
Jiri Straka was sentenced to ten years in prison (the maximum sentence for a 16-year-old) to be followed by psychiatric treatment. It is believed he would have faced the death penalty had he been two years older.

Now, nearly two decades later, the Spartakiada killer is a free man, after a court in Opava changed his status from inpatient to outpatient at a local mental hospital. He had already been allowed home for weekends. Doctors say there was no more treatment they could offer Jiri Straka, who has been castrated.

He is expected to live with his parents in the small town of Velke Losiny. His family moved there when their lives became unbearable in Prague in the aftermath of the killings.