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Welcome to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast and audio guided walk of 300+ untold, unsolved and often long-forgotten murders, all set within one square mile of the West End.
Episode Fifteen: The (Almost) Double Deaths of the Disgruntled Dish Washer. On Friday 12th May 1933, 31 year old disgruntled dish-washer Varnavros Antorka murdered his overbearing boss, head-chef Boleslaw Pankorski at Bellometti’s restaurant in Soho Square, and yet this brief moment of madness almost lead to him being convicted of double murder.
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Episode 15 - The (Almost) Double Deaths of the Disgruntled Dish Washer
INTRO: Thank you for downloading episode fifteen of the Murder Mile true-crime podcast.
Well, it’s going to be an exciting year on the Murder Mile true-crime podcast, as I’ve been spending a ridiculous amount of time at the National Archives, diving into the original police investigation files of many of the West End’s most infamous murders, so whether they’re new or old, solved or unsolved, famous or forgotten, you can expect a some truly strange, shocking, weird and baffling cases over the coming year, all of which are mad, bad, sad, big, bold and bonkers.
And if after a lovely Christmas and a Happy New Year, you’re already hating being back at work, and are despising your job and (especially) your boss, then this episode is just for you, as it’s about a disgruntled employee who murders his boss. Happy days.
Don’t forget, that on my website Murder Mile tours.com / podcast, there’s a detailed murder map which shows you how close each murder is and contains links to each episode’s blog, featuring photos and videos to aid your enjoyment of the series.
Once again, thank you for listening, and I hope you enjoy the episode.
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within one square mile of the West End.
Today’s episode features the callous murder of Boleslaw Pankorski, a polish chef in an upmarket restaurant on Soho Square by his beleaguered underling Varnavros Antorka for quite possibly the pettiest motive ever… and yet, this single action almost lead to him being tried for double murder.
Murder Mile contains upsetting descriptions which may offend sensitive listeners, as well as realistic sounds, so that no matter where you listen to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 15: The (Almost) Double Deaths of the Disgrunted Dish Washer
Today, I’m in Soho Square. Originally called King’s Square, having been erected in the reign of Charles II, Soho Square is an elegant 17th century tree-lined square nestling in the north-east corner of Soho between Oxford Street and Old Compton Street; which is ringed by one-way traffic, lined with parked cars and surrounded by a slew of posh premises for 20th Century Fox, the British Board of Film Classification, St Patrick’s church, The House of St Barnabus and the former home of FIFA (football’s governing body which oddly as a non-profit organisation has cash reserves of over $1.4 billion dollars).
And in the centre of the square sits a Tudor-style black and white timber potting shed where a slew of diligent groundsmen keep the lawns neat, the flowers perky and the paths leaf-free in this light and airy garden which is open to everyone, whether a tweed-suited city-trader talking a little too loudly on his phone, a stupidly bearded media twat playing ping-pong over a soya latte, six Soho hobos collapsed in a catatonic puddle of piddle, or a rancid wealth of classic London pigeons, all covered in shit, hobbling on a stump and feverishly pecking at a pub-goers puke. Ah London.
And yet, little do these sandwich nibbling lunchers and sun-loving loungers know that just a few feet from where they’re sitting, an over-emotional employee brutally gunned down his back-stabbing boss. (INTERSTITIAL)
Situated on the south side of Soho Square on the north-west corner of Greek street sits 27 Soho Square; an-eight storey red-stone building known as Nascreno House, part of which currently occupies the Soho branch of Barclays Bank. Before its demolition in 1938, 27 Soho Square was originally a grand four storey townhouse built in 1803, whose previous inhabitants included such luminaries as Viscount de Longueville, the Second Earl of Plymouth, the First Earl of Tankerville, the Fourth Earl of Dundonald, Lord Fitzwilliam, Sir Francis Knollys and a whole host of upper-class twits and Oxbridge knobs who practically no-one has ever heard of, all of whom had butlers, maid and servants.
But by 1933, five years before its demolition, 27 Soho Square was once a very upmarket West End restaurant called Bellometti’s; with the first floor reserved for its posh patrons whose five-course meal was served on immaculate white linen table-clothes, fine bone china and crystal wine glasses by silver service waiters in starched shirts and dicky-bows; the ground floor hosted an ornate guest reception up front, a drab and dreary staff entrance out back, a scullery for the servers, a laundry for the maids and a winery for the head waiter; and in the basement was the kitchen, whose head chef called Boleslaw Pankorski was a hot-tempered perfectionist who looked down on his mild-mannered but effortlessly lazy dish-washer - Varnavros Antorka. (INTERSTITIAL)
Like most up-market eateries in the West End, although it was housed in a single building, Bellometti’s comprised of two very different worlds; an upstairs and a downstairs, which divided the diners from the staff, the rich from the poor, with the customers only seeing an elegant façade of wealth, style and tranquillity, as just two floors below, stuck in a cramped kitchen buried in the bowels of the basement, it was anything but.
Head chef at Bellometti was 37 year old Boleslar Pankorski, known as “Paul”, who had only worked at the restaurant for 18 months but had greatly impressed Mister Morgan, the Chairman, with his culinary skills, his creative flair, his impeccable timing and his ruthless efficiency.
Born in Lotz (Poland) on 23rd March 1897, Paul came from a family of highly respected Polish chefs, who was part-way through an apprenticeship when the First World War broke out. Aged just 17, Paul was one of many Polish youths who both bravely and thanklessly enlisted in the British Army to fight off the German invasion, and served as a private in the Middlesex Regiment’s 4th battalion stationed in Boulogne-sue-Mer and Le Harve on the Western Front, and later in India and Egypt.
Although he was a cook, not a soldier, the sights Paul witnessed on the muddy battlefields in France - the bombs, the bodies and the blood – had not only mentally scarred him turning a timid boy into a serious man, but seeing the soldiers return to their waterlogged trenches; tired, wet and traumatised, never knowing which day would be their last, he knew their lives relied on one certainty – food. As a good solid meal served on-time can go a long way to making his comrades feel human again.
At Bellometti’s restaurant, Paul ran his kitchen like a well-oiled machine using the military precision he’d honed in the war, and even though this cramped basement was a cacophony of noise, smoke and steam, every surface was spotless, every jar was labelled, every waste-bin was empty, and every meal was served on time, lightly seasoned and cooked to perfection. With the kitchen as his battleground, Paul would bark orders like a General going to war, surrounded by his loyal troops (ranking from his soux-chef right down to the lowly dish-washer), all of whom he hoped had a mind-set like his own and saw the preparation of meals as their mission. But sadly, that wasn’t always the case.
31 year old Varnavros Loizi Antorka, also known as “Varna” had been in service at Bellometti’s for 18 months, having been hired at the same time as his head chef but hadn’t been hired by Paul himself. Although gifted the fancy title of “silver washer”, Varna was a humble dish-washer, the second lowest ranking staff member, who’d spend his days scrubbing plates, pots and pans, for long hours, little pay and rarely a please or a thank you. And although Paul and Varna worked side-by-side for many months, both men were very different.
Born in Nicosia (Cyprus) in 1902, Varna grew-up in the shadow of the First World War, and although he was too young to enlist, as a Greek–Cypriot it was his home that was the war-zone. With Cyprus under British military occupation effectively from 1878 to 1960, the capital city of Nicosia like the rest of the country itself was ethnically divided in its struggle for independence from the United Kingdom, with the Christians aligning with Greece and the Muslims with Turkey. So dangerous and deadly had Nicosia become that one of the city’s main thoroughfares was given a nickname that we still use today to describe a road of synonymous with death, as Ledra Street truly was the first place to ever be dubbed as the “Murder Mile”.
But by 1925, with rioting, looting and bombing ravaging a city in chaos, and having been burdened by heavy taxation, widespread poverty and rampant disease, Varna – with his parent’s blessing – took what little money, food and possessions he had, boarded a ship and set sail for America.
Having escaped the horrors of his homeland, Varna and his younger brother were quick to embrace the fun and frolics of the free-world, soaking up the bright lights of Boston and the non-stop bustle of New York, and even though they lived simply, surviving on a meagre income as bus-boys and bottle-washers, they always had fun, ate well, drank hard and never forgot to send regular letters to their beloved mother, telling her tales, wishing her well and always enclosing a few dollars.
After five years in America, and eager to explore the rest of the world, Varna and his brother moved to London, rented a flat on Arthur Street, fell in love with the West End and funded their nightlife and cash-filled letters home by working menial jobs for just £1 and 15 shillings a week. Described as “quiet, polite and inoffensive” and “a man of good character who got on well with his colleagues”, Varna was fun-loving, diligent and honest. But as a lowly dish-washer who wanted to see the world and yet spent the bulk of his days staring at a kitchen wall with his hands in soapy dish-water, he’d often day-dream, and be berated by Paul for his slow-speed and tardiness.
Friday 12th May 1933 was no exception, as lacking Paul’s military precision and punctuality, once again after a heavy night of booze and boogying, Varna slowly ambled into work a full twenty minutes late, which in most cases is no great crime, but with the guests getting seated, the lunch orders looming and the head chef’s meticulous system already in chaos owing to a backlog of spotty pots and dirty dishes, Varna’s lateness was the last straw for Paul and he was sacked on the spot.
Varna’s dismissal by Paul at roughly 12:45pm wasn’t witnessed by any of the staff and therefore what was said between the two men at that moment is lost to the mists of time, but given Paul’s demanding and domineering manner mixed with Varna’s mild-mannered and softly spoken way, this sacking didn’t go as simply as Paul had suspected it would, as something had lit a fire under Varna’s backside.
He was angry, furious and seething at the loss of an unskilled dead-end job that he didn’t much care for and could easily acquire anywhere else, so those missing few minutes of heated debate between the two men are vital to understand Varna’s misguided mind-set. Maybe he was broke and struggling to fund his family overseas in an increasingly volatile and hostile country? Maybe he hated being berated by this bully-boy head-chef who had always wanted him out? Or maybe, deep down, he truly loved the life and the money of a day-dreaming dish-washer? Either way, this we shall never know.
Coming from a good family with a good education, no police record and no criminal convictions, by 1pm Varna had dashed back to his lodgings at 19 Arthur Street (now known as Earnshaw Street at the back of Denmark Place) and hastily raced up the wooden stairs to his top floor flat, where he was heard rummaging in his drawers by Louisa Mutty - his landlady – who said that on that day he was uncharacteristically impatient, rude and flustered.
At 13:05pm, as Varna dashed the five minutes back to Soho Square with his right hand hidden inside his jacket, Paul was upstairs in the supper room of Bellometti’s receiving his weekly wage from Arthur Cecil Morgan, chairman of the restaurant, and informing him of Varna’s dismissal, which Mr Morgan didn’t need to know nor did he care about, and as briskly as it had begun, their conversation was over.
At 13:08pm, witnessed by the wine-butler James Sydney Bryce who was standing in the ground-floor passageway, a drab and drafty staff entrance which led to Soho Square, Varna burst in. Breathlessly standing on the hall’s bare floorboards, his sweaty face was etched with anger as deep shadows were cast by the bare single light bulb above. At that moment, accompanied by William Summers, a waiter, Paul strolled across the first floor landing, his feet thudding down the wooden stairs and as he neared the bottom, he was met by Varna’s furious eyes.
With his unusually angry voice echoing off the hall’s bare walls, Varna barked “You sacked me you bastard…” and grabbing the chef’s white serviette which hung around Paul’s neck, he spat “…take me back or I shoot”. Unsure what he meant, Paul looked down and saw that in his right hand, Varna held .32 Smith & Wesson five shot revolver, which was aimed squarely at his chest.
Instinctively, as both Paul and William Summers grabbed his right arm and wrist to wrestle the loaded gun away, Varna clutched at Paul’s throat with his free left hand and started to strangle him. But being unable to catch his breath, the more Paul lost consciousness, the more he lessened his grip on Varna’s arm, and with the constant toing-and-froing of the firearm, before anyone knew what had happened – with the muzzle within inches of the chef’s chest – Varna had fired.
As an ominous silence gripped the hall, Paul fell to his knees like a sack of spuds, and slumped against the wooden wine boxes; his face ghostly white, as blood poured from the left of his chest, soaking his chef’s whites with a vivid red which pooled around his heart. Varna took a step back, his breathing deep and erratic, not quite believing what he’d done... but his shock was short-lived… as feeling his rage rise again, Varna venomously spat the words “bloody bastard” towards his kneeling and bleeding boss and fired once more, with a shot which ripped right through his stomach.
Having heard the shots from the restaurant, head-waiters Guiseppe Negrari and Mitchel Kikilarou dashed downstairs to put a stop to this unseemly fracases, as two waiters and now two head waiters tried to wrestle the gun free as – once again - Varna took aim at his dying foe. But as Mitchel, an innocent bystander (who’d had no beef with the angry dish-washer) darted upstairs to inform Mr Morgan if the incident, Varna fired; and although he had aimed downwards towards the fearful head of the slumped chef, the third bullet missed its target, nicked the defensively splayed fingers of Paul’s right hand and miraculously missing his head entirely, the .32 projectile ricocheted off the hardwood floor, and at a practically improbable 70 degree angle, it hit Mitchel, one floor above.
With Bryce having disarmed Varna and cast aside the smoking hot steel of the revolver into a discarded pile of wine boxes, as Varna was subdued, Bryce ran to get a passing policeman - PC Walter Middleton – who quickly placed the angry Cypriot dish-washer under arrest.
Drifting in and out of consciousness and badly losing blood, Paul was laid on the floor, his tie loosened, as the staff awaited the arrival of the ambulance men, who during 1930’s London, in the days before paramedics, were little more than glorified van-drivers and were less than useless.
Head-waiter Mitchel Kikilarou was driven with Paul to the Middlesex Hospital having been shot in the calf of his left leg, but with the bullet fragment having missed his bones and all veins and vital arteries, Mitchel’s flesh wound was dressed and – being the type of conscientious ex-military man who Paul admired – he returned to work that very same day, apologising profusely for the hole in his trousers.
Sadly, although Paul received the best medical treatment of the day, he remained in critical condition at Middlesex Hospital for two days, but on Sunday 14th May at 11:35am, 37 year old Boleslar “Paul” Pankorski, head-chef at Bellometti’s, died of his injuries. He left behind a wife and three children.
His autopsy was conducted that evening by the Home Office’s chief pathologist Sir Barnard Spilsbury, who concluded that although the first bullet had entered Paul’s chest without breaking any ribs, had passed right through his left lung, his heart and had embedded itself in his right lung, it was the second bullet which killed him. As having been shot in the stomach, the bullet had pierced his abdominal wall and small intestine resulting in acute peritonitis; a simple bacterial infection which can cause multiple organ failure if left untreated, and is easily cured by the kind of broad spectrum antibiotics commonly available from your doctor today, which in 1933 was yet to be discovered.
Varna was taken to the Great Marlborough Street police-station, just north of Carnaby Street, where he was cautioned, arrested, read his rights and interviewed by Detective Inspector Clarence Campion where he made the statement “I tell you the truth, he grumble at me minutes before, I go home and get gun and come back to restaurant and say to him you have five minutes to live, he say you are finished, I say do not say I am finished, he say yes, I shoot him. I do not know what happened after I lose my temper”, later ironically adding “I did not mean to hurt him”.
Varna was tried at the Old Bailey before the brutally obstinate Mr Justice Humphries on the 30th June 1933, barely six weeks later, where he pleaded “not guilty” to the charge of murder. In his defence, he pleaded that he had no intention to kill Boleslaw “Paul” Pankorski, instead his ill-thought out and badly executed plan was to threaten the chef with the loaded revolver, with the hope that he would become so frightened that Paul would instantly give Varna his job back.
The jury deliberated for just forty-five minutes. Not because the evidence against him was so overwhelming but because the judge, Mr Justice Humphries, had refused to give the jurors an option to find Varna either guilt or not guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, only murder.
Therefore, on the charge that Varna had “feloniously, wilfully and of his malice aforethought did kill and murder Boleslar Pankorski”, and that he did “feloniously, wilfully and of his malice aforethought did wound (the head waiter) Mitchell Kikillarou by shooting him with a revolver with intent to do him grievous bodily harm”, even though the Police had confirmed he was wounded by the entirely accidental ricochet of the bullet, Varna was found guilty of both counts. And although the foreman of the jury recommended a plea of mercy as all twelve jurymen felt that the murder of Boleslar Pankorski was not premeditated (a crime which warrants a life sentence or less), Mr Justice Humphries made no comment towards their plea, and donning his black cap, he sentenced 31 year old Varnavros Loizi Antorka to death.
The final days of Varna, the Greek-Cypriot dish-washer who had escaped his war-torn country with the hope of bettering himself, funding his impoverished family and seeing the world, was spent in solitary confinement on A Wing, in the first floor of London’s Pentonville Prison, staring at the cold stone walls of his lonely cell.
Being basic, the condemned man’s cell consisted of a bed, a table, three chairs and (at the far end of the room) a large wooden wardrobe, as well as a bathroom and a separate room for the prisoner to receive guests. Sadly, although he would continue to write many a loving letter home, the only guest Varna received was his younger brother, as being too poor, his worried parents could never visit.
It was here that he sat, slept, ate, prayed and waited, always under a guard’s personal supervision and never once knowing that he was just fifteen feet from the gallows which would ultimately kill him.
On the bright crisp morning of Thursday 10th August 1933, having struggled to eat his last meal of tea and toast and having been read his last rites by a Catholic priest, Varna sat in his cell, the two other chairs occupied by his guards who sat on either side of him in a hushed silence. There was no sounds, no words and no clocks, only the deep rasp of his petrified breath and the erratic beat of his heart.
With the nod of the Governor’s head, as the hour struck, there was a quick clank of keys, the steel cell door opened, and with the swiftness of a younger man in rushed a mid-fifties gentleman in a simple black suit, who looked out of place and said nothing. He was the infamous hangman Robert Baxter, a protégé of the legendary executioner Albert Pierrepoint, who was flanked by his assistant Alfred Allen.
Like Pierrepoint, Baxter and Allen were great believers that as barbaric as capital punishment was, that an execution needn’t be a sadistic spectacle where the prisoner’s agony is prolonged. Instead, each prisoner was despatched in a way which was the epitome of swift, professional and painless.
Pulling Varna to his feet, as the guards moved the chairs to one side, Baxter secured the prisoner’s wrists behind his back with suede-lined shackles (with the velvety soft material added to stop any pinching of the skin and causing the condemned to flinch during this critical moment). Once secured, the large wooden wardrobe (which was deliberately placed behind the prisoner and out of view) was slide to the left, so that – only at the very last second – would Varna see that hidden behind it was a secret door, leading to the execution chamber.
It was a cold stone room with the walls painted a subtle pale green; in the dead centre of the floor was a trap-door comprising of two leaves, each eight and a half feet long by two and a half feet wide, with a large metal lever to the left, and dangling from a beam above, at head height, was the noose.
As Varna was quickly ushered the ten short paces into the execution chamber, his feet never once tripping or scuffing on the deliberately smooth floor, he was positioned onto to a white chalk mark in the middle of the trap-doors, and as Alfred Allen secured his feet, the last sight Varna saw (was not Paris as he had planned, Rome as he had wanted, or even the smiling face of his beloved mother back in his hometown of Nicosia, as he had dreamed), but instead it was the emotionless face of hangman Robert Baxter pulling a white cotton sack over his head.
And having secured the leather lined noose; with a yank of the lever, the swing of the trap-doors, the drop of his body and a swift snap to the right of his neck, with two vertebrae broken, Varna was dead.
His body was buried in an unmarked grave on the grounds of Pentonville Prison, where he remains to this day. Having been executed by master hangman Robert Baxter, the time from when the cell door opened to the moment that Varna was dangling at the end of a rope dead just fifteen seconds. He would have felt no pain, he might have shed no tears, and he may not have uttered any last words, as it all happened so fast, he may not have known what was happening until the deadly deed was done.
And yet, as cruel as capital punishment may be, one question still baffles my brain; and it’s this. Given how slick, quick and truly professional this hanging was; would Boleslaw “Paul” Pankorski, the head-chef at Bellometti’s restaurant at 27 Soho Square, who survived the horrors of the First World War and ran his kitchen with military precision, would he have been truly appalled at the senseless death of a lowly dishwasher, or would he have admired (and maybe even smiled) at its ruthless efficiency?
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening to Murder Mile.
If you’re thinking, “hmm, surely there’s some really interesting cases based in Soho which I think Michael hasn’t done a podcast episode about?”, you’re absolutely right. Although I have literally hundreds of amazing murders to still tell you about on this podcast, many of my favourites are reserved solely for my infamous Murder Mile Walk, which takes in the West End, every Sunday. So if you’re in London soon, why not book a ticket and see the murder locations in the flesh.
Don’t forget to check out my blog for more photos, videos and maps surrounding this case and all other episodes, by going to my website – murdermiletours.com / blog, or check out the Murder Mile podcast on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Murder Mile was researched, written & performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name.
Next week’s episode is… The Baffling Case of the Seamen, the Semen and the Porn Peddler.
Thank you and sleep well.
DOWNLOAD Episode #15 - The (Almost) Double Deaths of the Disgruntled Dish-Washer
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Credits: The Murder Mile true-crime podcast was researched, written and recorded by Michael J Buchanan-Dunne, with the sounds recorded on location (where possible), and the music written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Additional music was written and performed by Kai Engel, Sergey Cherimisinov, Turku: Nomads the the Silk Road and Daniel Vessey, as used under the Creative Common Agreement 4.0. A list of tracks used and the links are listed on the relevant transcript blog here.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London” and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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