Vasily and Vera Cheberyak had been married something like 15 years by the time they became the focus of government attention. Vasily was an employee of the postal/telegraph office, a government department, making 45 rubles a month. They had four children: Aleksandr, who died in 1902; Zhenya, who died in 1911; Lyuda, who was 8 to 10 in 1911; and Valya, who also died in 1911.Vera was the queen of an active and violent gang of robbers. One witness at trial noted that she changed her hats frequently. Throughout history, women’s hats have been notoriously expensive. How could Vera feed three children, keep up a four-room flat, with a large carpet and a piano, on 45 rubles a month and still “change her hats frequently”?
She had help from her brother, Pyotr Singaevsky, who had been committing robberies almost since his family realized he was never going to learn anything between the covers of a book. Pyotr had two friends, Boris Rudzinsky and Ivan Latyshev, also robbers. Vera’s gang included Nikolay Mandzelevsky, “Shurka” Lisunov, Vikenty Mikhalkevich, and a man named Mosyak who died before the trial began.In December, 1911, the story that Vasily Cheberyak signed up to tell at trial was that Zhenya and Andrey had been on the factory grounds, Beilis and his two sons had chased them, Zhenya got away and nobody knew what had become of Andrey. When Vasily Fenenko took this deposition, Georgy Chaplinsky was present and Fenenko made an extra perfect job of recording Vasily’s words – including contradictions like the event happening “three or four days before the corpse was found” instead of more than a week earlier. It was not going to be a stellar performance but Chaplinsky could always whip out Kozachenko’s letter.
The story about “Beilis and his two sons” arose about the point when Vera got out of jail on 7 August, now under Chaplinsky’s protection, and went to the hospital to have Zhenya discharged. She took him home to a new apartment on Lukyanovka Alley; the Cheberyaks were evicted on 6 August from their luxury apartment on Upper Yurkovskaya Street, by a coalition of their landlord and the other residents on his property. The landlord kept the carpet as part payment of a debt. On 8 August, Zhenya was given last rites by Father Fyodor Sinkevich, a member of the Black Hundreds, who was not the parish priest for Lukyanovska Alley. Zhenya died within 24 hours of his discharge from the hospital.
In August, when Vasily signed his first deposition, he expected a promotion that would take him to a new town. In November, he was fired. The Cheberyaks became poorer and poorer. They were paid nothing in consideration of their cooperation with the government, and the robbery business had dried up. In July 1911 Rudzinsky was in jail like Vera, and Pyotr and “Red Vanka” Latyshev were out of sight.Lt. Col. Ivanov of the secret police was assigned to check out Brazul’s January 18, 1912, submission; on 14 February his superior, Col. Shredel, wrote a letter saying Vera’s gang was back in the cross-hairs. This letter disappeared; Tager knows about it only from a later letter by Shredel that refers to it. The government didn’t want Vera’s gang in the cross-hairs. That would make it impossible to try and convict a Jew, the same as the year before.
On March 7, 1912, Lt. Col. Ivanov interviewed Boris Rudzinsky. When the interview was over, Rudzinsky had signed a confession to a robbery that he had committed a year earlier. He had cased the Adamovich optical store on Kreshchatik on 9 and 10 March, 1911, planning to rob it about midnight of 11 March. He and Singaevsky went there and Latyshev met them. The job didn’t come off; a guard was posted.
They went home and told Vera, and that night, as soon as the last patron was out the door, they tried again. They took binoculars, lorgnettes, and knives, worth up to 2500 rubles according to Krasovsky. They also took the cashbox, and back at Vera’s, they broke it open. It was empty.
Vera went a couple of kilometers to her parents’ house and got money so the boys could take the 11 a.m. mail train, Sunday March 13, for Moscow where they could sell the stolen goods. They netted 300 rubles. On March 16, Latyshev changed a 100 ruble note at the bar where they were drinking. A detective saw him and they were arrested.
On March 7, 1912, Rudzinsky signed a confession to this crime, as an alibi for Andrey’s murder on the morning of March 12, 1911. In May, the case against him for the robbery was dismissed. He was then sent to 2 years 8 months hard labor in Irkutsk on a false charge of armed robbery. In December, 1912, Singaevsky signed a confession to the Adamovich robbery. The case was dismissed April, 1913 before the investigation was complete.On March 29, 1913, Ivan Latyshev was brought into the chambers of Vasily Fenenko and signed a confession to the same robbery as the other two. Fenenko testified that Latyshev came in very upset. After signing, Latyshev looked into the next room and saw Nikolay Mandzelevsky being led in. Latyshev went nuts. He grabbed the confession and tried to tear it up. The guard drew his sword part way. Latyshev ran to the window and climbed out, then fell three stories onto the cobblestones. He died at the hospital that same day.
That was the last loose end. The other two murderers were neutralized. How did the government do it? Possibly by threatening all of them using the text of Shredel’s letter, which later disappeared and was never brought into court, nor did Lt. Col. Ivanov give any of its contents, though he knew what they were. At trial, the surviving murderers were raked over the coals as to how a nighttime robbery could be an alibi for a morning murder. It couldn’t, but they had been told that the government would accept it as such if they didn’t reveal the con. Once again, the purpose was to make sure the government could try its Jew.
Was Vera grateful? You tell me. Between April, 1911 and August, 1912, she told a different set of lies every time some official questioned her about the case, and some officials questioned her more than once. When she got on the stand, she told another whole set of lies, until even the judge told her, “You’d better tell the truth.” Nobody with half a brain could believe anything she said in court.
So they put Vasily on the stand and what did he do? He told an entirely different set of lies. For one thing, he claimed that Zhenya had run home from the factory grounds and told him about what happened to Andrey as soon as it happened – about 11 a.m. Vasily was at work between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., left home at 8:30 a.m. and did not get home until 3:30 p.m. – if he did come home and not go straight to some bar, like Dobzhansky’s on the corner.
Then he said that Zhenya told him it was Beilis and two rabbis who grabbed Andrey. That is not what he said in either of his depositions. Both of the adult Cheberyaks blew the government case to smithereens on day 8 of the trial, a day I like to call Liars’ Day for a number of reasons.
Vera’s lies discredited her, but they also discredited the testimony of her daughter Lyuda, given earlier in the day, and that was the real problem. Because Lyuda was the only one who told the entire story the government was using as the basis for convicting Beilis.
The government theory
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