Caught in the Act
“It’s Daddy! Open up!”
Trajce Konev stood knocking at the locked door of his home in the London suburb of Hammersmith. His 12-year-old daughter, Katerina, was home alone. He couldn’t understand why she didn’t answer.
It was May 22, 1997, two years after Konev, a Macedonian, had arrived in England with his family as refugees from the ethnic war in the Balkans.
They were all learning English together—wife Zaklina; son Christian, 6, and daughter Katerina, a lovely and lively adolescent with long, sable-colored hair, a bright smile and eyes the color of mahogany.
Konev was studying at a local college and had been delayed by an exam.
“I raced home fast on my bicycle, because it was the first time my daughter was alone in the house after school,” he would later explain. “I expected everything to be all right.”
But it was not all right. She wasn’t answering.
“At first I thought, ‘Katerina may be changing her clothes,’ and waited a few seconds,” he said.
Konev peered through the keyhole and saw Katerina’s school bag on the floor. He then dropped to his knees and looked under the door.
“I saw two men’s black shoes,” he said. “I was shocked. I knew she was there … I knew something was wrong.”
Konev banged his shoulder into the door to no effect, so he ran around the house — just in time to find a strange man climbing out a window.
“We came face to face,” Konev said. “I noticed one small drop of blood on the left side of his face…He was staring at me. I asked him, ‘What are you doing in my house?’ He was just so calm. He didn’t say anything. He just looked at me and ran away. I went after him.”
Konev chased the intruder for a few blocks, but the man managed to turn the tables by hollering for help just as Konev had him in his clutches.
Two workmen interceded and ordered Konev to back off.
The attacker ran on and jumped in front of a Fiat. The driver, Christina Kearney, said he hollered, “Help me, help me, call the police!”
He suddenly brandished a knife, ordered Kearney out of the car and sped off.
Meanwhile, instead of trying to explain the situation to the workmen with his limited English, Konev ran back home, pausing to ring a police alarm.
He broke through a chair barricading the door and found young Katerina unconscious on the floor.
She had been choked with a piece of cord cut from a Virgin Atlantic flight bag that Katerina used to tote her books.
The garrote was so taut that Konev could not release it with his hands. He got a knife and cut the cord from his daughter’s throat.
“I started to cry and shout her name — ‘Katerina! Katerina!’” Konev said.
A policeman arrived and tried to revive the girl. It was futile. She was beyond saving.
Case Goes Cold
In a cruel twist, Trajce Konev became the initial suspect in the murder.
Police doubted his story about chasing off an attacker, and he was ordered confined while detectives investigated. Zaklina Konev arrived at the police station to find Trajce behind bars wearing a prisoner’s overalls.
She jumped to conclusions — perhaps understandably.
“What have you done to our little girl?” Zaklina demanded.
“I remember just banging my head from wall to wall in my cell,” Trajce Konev later said. “I couldn’t believe what was happening. They must have thought I was a madman. They thought I had killed my Katerina.”
He was quickly cleared on evidence that included the eyewitness accounts, a security camera videotape that showed him chasing the suspect, and fingerprints found on the window the attacker had climbed through.
Police found another clue that would prove crucial: A single strange hair on Katerina’s sweater.
The investigation revealed that the same man who killed Katerina had earlier stalked three other adolescents in Hammersmith. Each girl had long, dark hair, like Katerina.
Detectives surmised he followed the girl home, made sure she was alone, then knocked. Katerina opened the door, probably assuming it was her father.
It seemed a simple crime to solve, with both forensic and eyewitness evidence. But the investigation went nowhere.
The killer seemed to have disappeared amid the 7 million people of London.
But he was hiding in plain sight and, in fact, had been in and out of police custody within a month of the murder.
Forensic evidence alone cannot bring criminals to justice. Competent investigators use the evidence as to solve crimes.
Unfortunately for Katerina Konev’s loved ones, competence went lacking in this case, despite the sterling reputation of London’s Metropolitan Police.
But the murderer was accustomed to law enforcement incompetence. He had benefited from bungling bureaucrats from one end of Europe to the other.
The killer would prove to be a native of Poland named Andrezej Kunowski, whose career as a rapist would span 30 years.
Andrezej Kunowski at 17
Kunowski was born Andrezej Klembert in Warsaw in 1956, just after the signing of the Warsaw Pact enshrouded Poland behind the Iron Curtain.
He was the only child of parents of questionable character; they stole anything they could get their hands on. As a result, Kunowski had a troubled boyhood, according to Dan Newling of London’s Daily Mail newspaper.
Logo: London Daily Mail
At age 2, he was sent off to an orphanage because his mother, father and maternal grandmother were all in prison. To boot, his grandfather was locked up in a state psychiatric hospital for unspecified sexual offenses.
When Elzbieta Klembert was released, she reclaimed her son, divorced her husband, and married a cement mason, Stephan Kunowski.
The family settled in Mlawa, a gritty city of 30,000 in the Polish lowlands 80 miles north of Warsaw that was known for producing shoes, milk and meat.
Mlawa had a troubling history.
Map of Poland with Mlawa and Warsaw indicators
During World War II, as many as 7,000 Jews from Mlawa were exterminated. When a handful of Jewish survivors limped home in 1946, they were aghast to find that Mlawa’s Poles had excavated graves in the Jewish cemetery and removed gold teeth, jewelry and other valuables from the corpses, which were then left to rot in piles.
The hatred of Jews was so intense there that a memorial to Holocaust victims in Mlawa was destroyed by Poles again and again after the war. And ethnic hostility persists. In 1991, Mlawa’s men launched a pogrom against Gypsies in the city.
Growing up in Mlawa in the 1960s, young Andrezej was viewed as a mama’s boy. And when other children teased him, Kunowski reacted with a ferocity that seemed out of proportion to the insult.
He was a small child with mighty fists. During fights, Andrezej would throttle his foes with a bear-claw grip until they cried uncle.
He also developed a habit of ogling pretty girls with a frightening glint in his eye, as though in a trance. Elzbieta expressed concerned that her son seemed unable to recall these episodes of fighting or inappropriate staring.
Andrezej also began to steal as his teen years arrived. Perhaps it was genetic. In any case, at age 13 he was packed away to a facility for delinquent juveniles, where his various problems were allowed to fester.
The Little Doctor
Andrezej Kunowski began attacking girls and women soon after he was released from juvenile detention.
From the outset, he seemed to be the most frightening type of sexual predator. His attacks did not stem from an occasional random impulse. They were compulsive, coming in clusters.
Most of his victims were in their teens and early 20s. The oldest victim was 41, although most of his more mature targets seemed younger than their actual age. He assaulted at least three 11-year-olds.
His standard MO was to stalk a pretty adolescent girl after school. If she was a latchkey child without after-school supervision, he would break in and attack her.
In other cases, victims were dragged off into bushes or remote fields.
Kunowski’s attacks were based on sheer strength. He was a brute, not a suave seducer, in the manner of, say, American serial killer Ted Bundy.
He certainly did not have Bundy’s good looks. Kunowski was balding, round and just 5-foot-4. He often wore a toupee and elevator heels to try to disguise his shortcomings.
The Daily Mail’s Newley reported that Kunowski dressed himself fastidiously, with shirts carefully tucked in and shoes shined to a high gloss. He doused himself in cologne.
Kunowski had an oddly formal, Old World demeanor, bowing and clicking his heels when making a new acquaintance. His nickname was “maly doktor”—the Little Doctor.
Kunowski wasn’t a clever criminal. But he didn’t need to be smart, as his rap sheet and prison record display.
His first reported rape came in June 1973, when he accosted a neighbor girl in Mlawa. He dragged her into the bushes and forced himself on her. The victim was acquainted with Kunowski and readily identified him as her attacker.
Two other teenagers stepped forward to accuse him in similar attacks, but he was prosecuted for just the one case and sent to prison for three years.
On July 16, 1977, a month after his parole, he struck again, attacking a girlish-looking 24-year-old. He choked the woman until she lost consciousness and likely would have killed her had witnesses not intervened.
He spent less than nine months in jail after that attack, then went on a violent tear, traveling back and forth between Mlawa and Warsaw to find victims.
On April 12, 1978, he attempted to rape a 22-year-old woman who fought him off. Later the same day, he succeeded in raping a 27-year-old.
On June 23, he robbed and raped a 22-year-old woman, dragging her into bushes. Eight days later he raped a 16-year-old, followed by the rape of a 12-year-old on July 21.
Kunowski’s violent urges seem to ramp after those attacks. Most of his rapes after July 1978 involved choking. He often left his victims unconsciousness, although none died.
Experts recognize choking and strangulation as a singular form of criminal pathology. It is considered the most intimate variety of assault or murder — more personal and hands-on than the use of a gun or a knife. And it gives the assailant an unparalleled sense of domination and control.
On Aug. 4, Kunowski choked and raped a 19-year-old, then pulled identical crimes against a 22-year-old a week later; a 20-year-old on Sept. 6; a 17-year-old just two days later, and another 17-year-old on Sept. 20.
In October 1978, he raped, robbed and choked at least four women in one week—ages 17, 20, 28 and 30. He accosted four more women and girls in November, ages 19, 21, 15 and 11—the latter his youngest victim yet.
He raped and choked a 16-year-old on Dec. 14, then victimized another 11-year-old three days before Christmas.
On Jan. 25, 1979, Kunowski stole a car that he used for a rampage of sexual violence the next day.
One Jan. 26, he robbed and attempted to strangle a 41-year-old woman; robbed and groped a 36-year-old woman, then raped, robbed and choked a 20-year-old woman.
Brief Jail Stay
At long last, Polish police caught up with him and returned him to jail. But his sexual assaults continued even there.
On Feb. 24, he forced a male cellmate to perform oral sex, then raped another cellmate on March 1.
It seemed remarkable enough that Polish authorities had failed to suspect and arrest Kunowski, a twice-convicted rapist, during his string of assaults. But the country’s criminal justice incompetence was merely beginning.
Kunowski somehow escaped from Polish prison on April 25, 1979. Six weeks later, he raped a 13-year-old girl he followed home from school.
He was arrested the next day and returned to prison but escaped yet again that August. He committed more attacks before he was rearrested.
Finally, he faced justice for his long list of crimes, which included 17 sexual assaults and eight attempted rapes.
The prosecutor, Waldemar Smarzewski, sought a long sentence, recognizing that Kunowski had little chance of reform.
“There were about 70 charges, made up of rapes, attempted rapes, lechery with children, endangering a child’s life and attempted murder,” Smarzewski told the Daily Mail. “This was a very important and dangerous case because of the number of victims and what he did to them. I wanted to put him away for longer because he was very dangerous. I was sure that if he left prison, he would go back to rape and maybe even kill.”
Kunowski was sentenced to a total of 30 years. Finally, it seemed that Polish women and children would be saved from him.
But revolution interceded.
When the Communist regime was routed in Poland in 1989, the opening of prison doors became fashionable.
Andrezej Kunowski was one of those who benefited. He was freed for good behavior in 1991, after serving less than six years for attacking 23 women and girls and two men.
After his release, Kunowski married and fathered a daughter. He found work as a cosmetics salesman, and he seemed to reform for most of a year.
But as always, his compulsion got the best of him.
He Walks Again
On Aug. 12, 1992, he raped another 11-year-old girl in Mlawa, then moved to Warsaw, where he raped two more adolescents. He was arrested in 1993, but escaped prison yet again and was on the lam for two years.
In March 1995, the Little Doctor is believed to have abducted Agnieszka Grzybicka, 14, who disappeared while walking home from school in Mlawa.
Two months later, he was arrested in Warsaw in connection with two attacks that occurred on consecutive days — both against adolescent girls who, like young Agnieszka, were followed home from school.
As he awaited trial, Kunowski began filing medical complaints about persistent pain in his left hip. X-rays showed no problem, but doctors finally acquiesced in his insistence that he be scheduled for hip-replacement surgery.
Perhaps no one was more stunned than Kunowski when, in June 1996, Polish authorities announced that he would be freed on a medical furlough to await the operation.
It turned out Kunowski’s hip was not bad enough to deter him from running from justice.
The Strait of Dover
He sold his apartment and used the profits to buy a fake Polish passport. He then boarded a bus in Warsaw and was waved through border security checks across northern Europe, through Germany and Belgium and into Calais, France, where he boarded a ferry that crossed the Strait of Dover to England.
On Oct. 15, 1996, he arrived by bus at London’s Victoria Coach Station on Buckingham Palace Road.
No one would have noticed him.
Each day, more than 300,000 people pass through Victoria, a bustling amalgam of bus, train and Underground stations.
Then as now, Polish nationals poured into London each day on tourist visas to look for work. Kunowski blended right in.
Victoria Coach Station, London
When Polish authorities realized that Kunowski had left, they issued an international warrant through Interpol. His photograph and fingerprints were made available via Interpol’s crime database to its 125 member countries — the United Kingdom among them.
But Kunowski was not fingerprinted when he arrived in the United Kingdom, so British authorities had no way of knowing that a notorious sex fiend had arrived there.
He had a clean slate to find new victims in a fresh country.
The attack on Katerina Konev, 219 days after Kunowski arrived in England, had not gone as he planned.
First, Kunowski had been interrupted by the arrival of the child’s father. The Little Doctor had to abort the assault before reaching the sick sexual gratification he got from throttling children.
And the close contact with witnesses — including Trajce Konev, the two workmen, and Christina Kearney, owner of the hijacked car — placed him at peril of being identified.
He lived in Acton, just a few miles from the scene of the crime in Hammersmith. He assumed — incorrectly — that these clues might soon lead Scotland Yard’s finest to the door of his flat.
Patch: New Scotland Yard
He decided to get out of town.
The day after the murder, Kunowski gave up his room in Acton and fled to the countryside, taking a job at a strawberry farm in Ledbury, west of London.
But stealing, his genetic Achilles heel, cost him the job after just a month.
The Birmingham Sunday Mercury said he was accused of filching cash from the office at Siddington Farms.
“He was a bit of a strange one — a loner, I suppose,” said farm manager Glyn Lewis. “We had hundreds of different workers on the farm, but he always stuck out in my mind.”
He was arrested for theft, but Britain dropped that charge and focused on deportation when it learned that he was in the country illegally. After first claiming Portuguese citizenship, Kunowski admitted he was a Pole.
He had one last gambit: Kunowski applied for asylum under an economic hardship. While his application was being considered, he was allowed to walk free, once again.
His petition was denied in the fall of 1997. But by then, Kunowski had gotten lost in London.
He hadn’t even been fingerprinted after his arrest, let alone subjected to a DNA swabbing.
In 1998, British immigration authorities received a letter from Kunowski saying that he had returned to Poland. It was postmarked from Poland, but likely had been sent by Kunowski’s mother.
Immigration officials continued to list Kunowski as “missing,” although there was no active attempt to find him.
It couldn’t have been too difficult. The Little Doctor likely never left London.
The evidence was at hand in automobile and apartment rental records. He owned a Renault automobile that he kept registered and insured. And his mother traveled from Poland to visit him in his Acton apartment at least three times in the late 1990s.
In 2001, British taxpayers treated the wanted illegal immigrant to heart bypass at Hammersmith Hospital, located a block from the apartment where he strangled Katerina Konev.
In July 2002, Kunowski was arrested for collecting welfare benefits under the name Jose Marco da Dias. But again he was released before anyone made a connection to the Konev killing or his history as a sexual predator in Poland.
Conviction & Sentence
Another crime finally brought him down.
On Sept. 22, 2002, Kunowski was loitering in the London Underground station at Ealing Broadway, probably looking for potential victims.
He spotted a young woman, a recent arrival from Korea who looked younger than her 21 years.
Kunowski moved close enough to see that she was looking at advertisements of rooms for rent.
He struck up a conversation with the woman, whose English was even more halting than his.
Kunowski explained that he could help her find a cheap room at his boarding house in Acton, and she agreed to accompany him there.
Once inside his room, Kunowski attacked. He tied the woman up and subjected her to a brutal three-hour rape.
She said he choked her until she nearly passed out. She talked her way to freedom by promising to phone Kunowski the next day to schedule another visit.
As noted, he wasn’t a clever criminal.
Instead, the victim went to police, and Kunowski was arrested and charged with rape.
At trial in May 2003 at London’s Old Bailey, Kunowski claimed the sex was consensual — a “thank you” because he helped her find a place to stay.
London’s Old Bailey
The judge dismissed his alibi as absurd, and Kunowski was convicted and sentenced to nine years.
But even then, the British had no reason to believe that Kunowski was a serial rapist and murderer.
Only after the conviction did the extent of his predation — and the government bungling that allowed him to attack again and again — become clear.
DNA Finally Shared
After he was sent to prison, Kunowski’s identity and DNA profile were shared with other countries via the Interpol database.
Through that data, Polish authorities realized that the British convict was the serial rapist who had absconded while on medical furlough.
Scotland Yard compared its DNA sample from Kunowski with DNA from swab evidence taken after the 1995 rape of one of the adolescent girls in Warsaw. It matched.
The match prompted British police to begin looking at unsolved attacks on adolescent girls there.
Within days, both DNA and fingerprint evidence linked Andrezej Kunowski, at long last, to the murder of Katerina Konev.
He was charged in that case on July 29, 2003.
Kunowski claimed it was a case of mistaken identity.
But the damning physical evidence was coupled with eyewitness testimony from Trajce Konev, the victim of the auto theft and others.
A jury of eight men and four women took less than three hours to render a guilty verdict — even though jurors were denied access to information about Kunowski’s long history of attacks.
The British press, too, learned only at trial’s end the extent of his history of rape and the government bungles.
As Detective Chief Inspector David Little put it, “He is probably the most dangerous sex offender I have ever come across and certainly the most prolific.”
The press gave the Little Doctor a new nickname: the Beast of Poland.
Judge Peter Beaumont handed down the maximum sentence of life in prison.
Judge Peter Beaumont
“I would be failing in my duty, in the light of the evidence about your behavior both in Poland and this country,” Beaumont said, “if I did not ensure you spend the rest of your life in prison. …You took the life of a child who was just beginning to enjoy what this country had to offer her and her family as refugees from hardship abroad. It was a life of great promise. You ended it in circumstances of great violence and terror.”
“Matter of Concern”
The British Home Office admitted it was a “matter of concern” that Kunowski had not been unmasked as a wanted man years before.
Asylum-seekers are now fingerprinted and scrutinized through Interpol, although British law still does not mandate DNA testing of illegal immigrants.
But Inspector Little defended the British criminal justice system.
He said Kunowski managed to slip through the cracks because he was, as an illegal alien, invisible to the British criminal justice system.
“If the person doesn’t exist,” he said, “you can’t bring him to justice.’
Little said Kunowski has now been scrutinized in connection with numerous other unsolved rapes and murders of women.
And although he has not been definitively linked to any additional cases, Little said Kunowski’s criminal history leaves not doubt that he was likely responsible for many other sex crimes during his time in Britain.
“When he wasn’t incarcerated, he was committing offenses,” Little said.
Reaction from Poland
The Polish government has said that it would like to prosecute Kunowski should he ever be freed in Britain.
But it is unlikely the U.K. would turn him over to the country that bungled his incarceration and prosecution so many times.
“I knew he would strike again,” said Waldemar Smarzewski, the Polish prosecutor. “He should remain behind bars for the rest of his life. I am sorry this psychopath ever came to Britain.”
His mother, Elzbieta Kunowski, defended her son in an interview with the Daily Mail.
“He is ill, not evil,” she said. “He needs proper medical and psychological care. … He is my son and I love him.”
She said they talk often by phone, and her son always praises the British penal system’s good food and good medical care.
If his left hip is getting achy, he hadn’t mentioned it.
The murder of Katerina Konev left her family devastated and embittered.
In a statement at Kunowski’s sentencing, Zaklina Konev said, “I find it impossible to understand how he was allowed into the UK to commit this crime. … I hope that this evil murderer burns in hell. Knowing he is in prison is not enough for me. I hope he suffers every minute of the rest of his life.”
The child’s parents split up in 2000, four years after the murder.
Trajce Konev said they could not overcome the barrier created when his wife, seeing him in jail, accused him of murdering their daughter.
“I had lost my little girl, but my wife was attacking me, and my 6-year-old son was looking up at me with hate in his eyes,” he told reporters.
“Things were never the same. The anger and hate afterwards was unbearable,” he said. “I would argue all the time with my wife. It was small things that would set us off — anything which reminded us of the pain of losing Katerina. I frequently told my wife I hated her. It was awful. I felt like I had gone mad with grief … Finally we could take no more of each other and we split up.”
Konev, a Web site designer, said he attempted suicide but has resolved to live for the sake of his son, now a teenager.
Zaklina Konev says grief hangs like a dark cloud over their lives.
She said she buys gifts for her daughter at Christmastime, and she carries on imaginary conversations with the dead child.
“I talk to her every day,” she said. “We say goodnight to our children, don’t we? So I always say goodnight to my daughter.”
The child’s father, meanwhile, said he drew solace from Kunowski’s conviction.
“I had finally beaten the devil,” said Trajce Konev. “I knew this man could never again do to anyone else what he had done to my angel.”