The investigation in the Mendel Beilis case fell into three basic sections. All three were driven by government influences for government purposes, not by a search for the truth of who committed the murder. Quite the contrary.The first stage in the investigation opened in Kiev with operatives of the Kiev authorities. These were Evgeny Mishchuk, chief of detectives; Vasily Fenenko, forensic investigator; and Pavel Ivanov, Lt. Col. of the Gendarmes (who performed secret investigations). The initial theory in the case was that Andrey’s relatives believed that Andrey was heir to 300 rubles in the form of a bill of indebtedness, and the relatives murdered him to become next in line to inherit.
Because there were no checks and balances in the Russian form of government, what the police did had no redress. Even if no orders came down for committing abuse, no theory of government said there was a way to get the government to pay damages for ruined property.Another issue is that Tsarist Russia operated by the principle “guilty until proven innocent”. One official involved in the case explicitly told a journalist, “once there is suspicion, there is no such thing as an illegal arrest.” And the transcripts show that “suspicion” might rest on rumor or the spleen of a friendship or love affair gone bad.
Between March 21 when they knew who the boy was, and March 27, the day of his funeral, the police swarmed into the homes of Andrey’s relatives – his mother, his aunt, and his uncle Fyodor – and literally tore the places apart looking for evidence of the murder. They put Andrey’s mother in jail. It was common in Russia to put people in jail while checking out their papers, to see if they really lived at the claimed address. In this case, the government wanted Alexandra where they could find her while they checked into the rumors about the inheritance. These turned out to be false. Andrey, who was illegitimate, could not automatically inherit under Russian law from his biological father. Second, the father had explicitly willed the money to his own brother. Third, the father had gotten the sum paid out to him in dribs and drabs over time, and then stopped writing to the debtor when the whole debt had been paid. There was nothing to inherit.Nevertheless, a detective relied on claims of a man about seeing one of the possible murderers on the street on the morning of March 12, 1911. The detective arrested Andrey’s stepfather, had him shaved and his hair dyed to match the description, and showed this man to the witness, who denied a resemblance. Then the stepfather was left to wash up the best he could in cold water with no soap. When he cried under this abuse, he got verbal abuse including threats of sending him to Siberia. Nobody in the police force was disciplined for this farce. At trial in 1913, testimony showed that two of the actual murderers matched the description, but when they fell under suspicion in 1911, they were not presented to the witness for identification.
I already said that as soon as Andrey’s body was identified, anti-Semites in the government began talking about ritual murder. The only possible murderer, therefore, had to be one of the 5,000 Jews of Kiev, a city of over 500,000. At Andrey’s funeral, flyers were distributed which directly blamed his murder on the Jews. A man was held in this case, but released for insufficient evidence.At trial there were arguments about who this man was and whether he was part of the anti-Semitic Black Hundreds organization. The parties also discussed official police information suggesting that Vera Cheberyak helped distribute the flyers. There are hints in Tager’s work, based on Tsarist archives, that Vera herself was a member in good standing of the Black Hundreds. But although his name and address were supplied in court, the man suspected of distributing the flyers was not the prime mover in bringing Beilis to trial.
From March 22 on, the Black Hundreds exerted more and more energy to bring a Jew to trial. The investigation at one point was put into the hands of a St. Petersburg detective named Kuntsevich, who had solved crimes in Russia and abroad. The Black Hundreds were not happy with his work. It went in all directions, a phrase that occurs more than once in the transcript. It didn’t concentrate on the Jews.Finally, the Minister of Justice, Shcheglovitov, decided he needed somebody in place to make sure things went the right way. He sent Georgy Chaplinsky to Kiev to take over the case from prosecutor Nikolay Brandorf, who was allowing Mishchuk to fritter away his time on the relatives and other unsatisfactory suspects. Chaplinsky arrived and went to work on April 18, 1911. Lt. Col. Ivanov had under arrest a man named Ivan Latyshev. Chaplinsky made Ivanov release him. Remember the name Latyshev.
Chaplinsky went to the prosectors who had performed the second autopsy on Andrey’s body. Yes, there were two autopsies. The results of the first one were unsatisfactory to the government because they were unsatisfactory to the Black Hundreds. Andrey’s body had been prepared for his funeral, but on March 26, the day before, two new prosectors were assigned to a do-over on the autopsy. The report on this second autopsy suggested a murder out of revenge; still not good enough. When Chaplinsky arrived, he brought the satisfactory text of the autopsy report, and by April 25 he had the prosectors’ signatures on it. This report did not directly say “ritual murder,” but it emphasized features of the injuries which could be so interpreted by the right person.The Black Hundreds published the medical report Chaplinsky brought with him, in an edition of the newspaper Zemshchina that hit the newsstands April 9. Look back at Chaplinsky’s arrival date. There is no mistake. The dates are documented in the Tsarist archives. The government wrote the medical report and its details were leaked to the press before the prosectors even signed it.
Now Chaplinsky selected a representative from among the Kiev Black Hundreds members, who could be counted on to know what Jew to offer up for a victim. The man: Golubev, a student. In his autobiography, Beilis says that Golubev was an embarrassment to his father, a well-respected university professor, who told Beilis personally that he didn’t know why his son had taken such a wrong turn. Mishchuk and Kuntsevich wouldn’t listen to anything Golubev said. They called him “unreliable.” They had good reason. At trial, Golubev testified to impossible things and contradicted himself more than once.But Golubev had contacts with Georgy Zamyslovsky, a powerful rightist Duma member, who was in solid with the Black Hundreds. When Chaplinsky got to Kiev, he found Golubev agitating for pogroms. That would involve the national police department. Chaplinsky had his mentor, Shcheglovitov, send in the vice-director of the police department, a man named Lyadov. Lyadov stroked Golubev’s ego by sharing with him information that not everybody had yet: the Tsar was planning a trip to Kiev at the end of August. A pogrom would embarrass the city and the Tsar, even if it took place months before the trip. Golubev was flattered and impressed and promised to stop agitating.
Before Lyadov went back to St. Petersburg, Golubev had dropped in his ear the fatal name: there was a Jew, Mendel, who lived on the grounds of the Zaitsev factory, close to where Andrey’s body was found. Golubev himself, as he said on the witness stand, had surveyed the location and found places in the fence around the Zaitsev factory grounds where new boards had been put in, suggesting that a body could have been dragged from the factory to the place where Andrey’s body was found. Golubev gave this same information to Chaplinsky, who put it into his next report. Shcheglovitov read the report to the Tsar; it was in the archives docketed with a note about the reading.Rumor was the way Beilis’ name first came up as the suspect in Andrey’s murder.
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