Friday, July 20, 2012

Maria Tarnowska, Ukranian Femme Fatale – 1907

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): A few weeks since we reported a sensational murder in Venice, in which a young Russian of good birth, named Naumofi, was arrested for the murder of Count Kamarovsky, and a notorious Russian beauty of good birth but ill repute, Countess Tarnowsky, and a lawyer named Prilukoff were also arrested as accessories to a most diabolical murder plot.

The “New York World” gives a most sensational history of the countess and of this particular crime. It says: – The fatal woman, with her usual train of infatuated men, has reappeared. As in all such cases, she is beautiful, selfish, ruthless, and cruel.

At least six men have ruined themselves for her. Two of these met tragic deaths on her account; two are in prison; and four of them deserted wives and children. She is now in prison, awaiting trial on a charge of murder, and has confessed, recklessly, even nonchalantly.

All the characters in this tragedy are Russian, except one Pole, who appears upon the stage for a moment, just long enough to be kissed once – and shot.

The woman in the case – the real vampire, she cannot he called a “heroine,” except in the sense in which that much abused word is applied to the chief female role in a tragedy – the woman is the Countess Maria Nicolalevna Tarnowsky, beautiful, slender, blonde, perfumed. Her adventures began early in life. She was born at Poltava, of a noble family called Oruk, which, it is said, was founded by an Irishman named O’Rourke. She was educated at Kieff, in a college for noble girls which has turned out more than one female bomb-thrower. In her goings and comings from to and from school, Miss Oruk was seen by Count Tarnowsky, who fell desperately in love with her. At the age of seventeen he kidnapped her from the college, which was exactly what she most desired. The Count, however, made amends by marrying her. They had two sons.

One evening in their home at Kieff, the Countess Tarnowsky, in the presence of the Count, threw her arms around the neck of a handsome young Pole who had been paying assiduous court to her, and kissed him passionately upon the lips. Count Tarnowsky did what every Russian nobleman is expected to do under such circumstances – drew a. revolver from his pocket and blew out the young man’s brains. He was tried for homicide and, of course, acquitted, he obtained a divorce; and the court gave him custody of the children. Here, Count Tarnowsky disappears from the stage.

The divorced Countess plunged at once into the vortex of unrestrained passion. She left Kieff for a time, but reappeared there with a banker as protector, and immediately became the queen of a little salon, in which rich men risked their money over the green baize tables, when they were not risking their hearts. What a fascinating woman the Countess Tarnowsky is may be gathered from the way she led Prilukoff, a Moscow lawyer, astray. Prilukoff had a splendid practice, a loving wife, and a son 13 years old; he was making from $12,000 to $15,000 a year, and was looked upon as a highly respectable and happy member of society. One day the Countess Tarnowsky appeared in his office, and engaged him as counsel. From that day, wife, son, home, clients, were forgotten, swallowed up in the ardent passion of is Russian blood, now ablaze for the first time. He became madly in love with his new client, and sacrificed everything in the world for her. The inevitable divorce followed. Prilukoff’s practice was neglected and he sank deeper and deeper into the whirlpool of debt. His personal fortune exhausted, he appropriated the funds of his client. In despair he decided to kill himself. At that time he was 60,000 roubles short in his accounts.

The doctors saved the ruined attorney, and he left the hospital to begin a life of wandering about the world with the Countess. Berlin, Vienna, Monaco, Paris, Budapest, and Venice knew the precious pair of adventurers. Prilukoff travelled under different names, now calling himself Zelser, now Jean de Roussie, now Derugie, then Seilak, and again Neirson. But under whatever name he was travelling Prilukoff was ready to do anything for the woman who had ruined him. And at her feet fell almost all the men who met her.

During their wanderings, the fugitive lawyer and his Countess ran across a youth named Naumoff, a son of the ex Governor of Permile was good looking, of a noble family, and married; but he fell in love with the implacable Countess. He, too, had his divorce, and became Madame Tarnowsky’s willing slave. Whether she played him and Prilukoff against each other, or whether she and Prilukoff conspired together to use him as their tool is uncertain, but the latter supposition is the more probable, and is substantiated by the confessions of the woman and of Prilukoff. to the Viennese police. Naumoff, at any rate, believed the Countess loved him, and he fully expected to marry her. She wrote to him and telegraphed to him whenever he was awn sending him many assurances of her ardent devotion.

This strange trio were joined by a fourth character in the summer just passed. This was Count Kamafoysky, a Russian nobleman by ancient lineage, a colonel of the National Guard, a Councillor of State, a widower with one young sons tall, slender, distinguished looking, .and most important of all a millionaire. He, like the others, fell in love with the Countess; but he was a gentleman, and thought of nothing but an honourable marriage. With truly Machiavellian coyness she temporised, until the Count’s desire was so piqued that he was ready to consent to any conditions she might impose. And she planned with diabolical skill to turn this nobleman’s infatuation into cash. At her request he made a will in her favour, leaving her everything but his estates, which were to go to his son, and insured his life in her favour, taking out a policy for 500,000 roubles. This done, she promised to marry him he took her to his aged mother, and introduced her as his affianced bride. But Countess Tarnowsky had no idea of marrying him, as the sequel will show.

The Count was living last summer in a fine apartment on the floor of the Hotel Bristol, in Vienna. He had another suite on the third floor for his little boy Edgar, the latter’s governess, and the Countess Tarnowsky. The boy’s governess acted as maid to the Countess, and in gossiping with the hotel servants told them that her master and mistress were soon to be married.

Prilukoff was also living at the hotel. His room adjoined that of the Countess, and they were in the habit of taking long automobile rides together. It was a delicate situation, but the Countess handled it skilfully, driving her little flock to the shambles with a bewitching smile, and smoking innumerable perfumed cigarettes. Kumarovsky did not know Prilukoff, and the latter avoided letting Kamarovsky or his little boy see that he knew the Countess. The elaborate care that Prilukoff took in this direction had much to do with his implication in the murder that resulted, for the hotel people noticed it with wonder, and afterwards told the police about it. The Count was careful of the lady’s reputation, never went to her room, and was never seen alone with her in short, he behaved in every respect like a gentleman.

Naumoff was living in another hotel in Vienna. He was a frequent caller upon the Countess, and she visited him on at least one occasion. He was wild with jealousy of Kamarovsky. Upon this, jealousy Prilukoff and Madame Tarnowsky played, with great skill. That they deliberately planned to use the infatuated young Naumoff to pull their chestnuts out of the fire subsequent events, seems to make certain.

Countess Tarnowsky left Vienna for Kieff on October 26, taking with her Count Katnarovsky’s little boy and the governess. The Count left for Venice the next day.

Naumoff had gone for a visit to Russia, where he was plied with love-letters and telegrams from the Countess.  There came an insulting, telegram, purporting to come from Kamarovsky, his hated rival, in which the Countess’s character was besmirched and Naumoff was sneered at contemptuously. Of course, Kamarovsky did not send this telegram, for he scarcely knew Naumoff. The despatch had been carefully framed to; influence the youth’s mind to the point of desperation. It had the desired effect; and Naumoff started post haste for Venice, which he reached on September 4. He went straight to Count Kamarovsky’s house, was shown to his room, where he found him dressing for dinner, and shot him. The rest of the story has already been told how Naumoff was followed and arrested, and how the Countess and Prilukoff were also subsequently taken into custody as accessories before the fact, and as conspirator’s for the commission of the crime.

Countess Tarnowsky took it very calmly, said it was all a terrible mistake, and that she had simply been trying to protect the man she loved from A mad-man who was in love with her. When told that the Count was dead she turned on the tears like a great actress. But the Chief of Police showed her the evidence, her telegrams and letters, and those of Prilukoff. Then she collapsed, and made a full confession. She said she did not love Kamarovsky, and had sought to get his money without having to marry him. At the same time; she said, she wanted to get rid of young Naumoff, of whom she had tired. But, she insisted, the plot to get rid of both of them with one blow .by egging Naumoff on and exciting his jealousy to such a point that he would kill his rival was Prilukoff’s and not hers, her only guilt being that she took no steps to prevent Prilukoff from accomplishing his designs.

“Do with me what you will,” she said, “but let me have a Russian priest. I must make my peace with God. And let me have my child’s photograph.”

She closed by demanding that, her meals be sent in from Sacher’s, and that her mail and her clothes be sent to her Prilukoff took his arrest quietly, and asked only that cold beer be supplied to him in prison. The refusal of this favour seemed to worry him more than anything else. And so the vampire and her willing victims will pass from the stage probably into life imprisonment, for there is no death penalty in Italy.

[“A Terrible Woman Countess Tarnowtky’s Amazing Career.” Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW, Australia), Dec. 28, 1907, p. 8]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): Early in 1910 the Assize Court at Venice was the centre of interest for the entire newspaper-reading world, for the trial was proceeding there of the ravishingly beautiful Countess Tarnowski, “the woman whom it was death to love.”

Others were on trial there with her, her lovers and accomplices, but it was the wonderful, strange personality of the siren Countess herself that held everybody in thrall. Her mere physical beauty was such that the judge ordered her at one point to lower her veil, as he noticed her marvellously seductive glances were being used to try to favourably influence certain of the jurymen, and he evidently feared that she might succeed in her design.

The crime for which she and the others were being tried was murder, the murder of her betrothed husband, who had, at her instigation, insured his life in her favour for £20,000. And as the evidence proceeded, a story of love and passion was unfolded of so romantic and extraordinary a character as surely never before was heard in a court of justice.

The Countess Tarnowski was thirty at the time of her trial, and the opening scenes of the drama began some fourteen years previously, when she was sixteen. Beautiful as a dream even then, she was scarcely out of the schoolroom ere she attracted the attention of Count Tarnowski, a Russian official.

He married her, but her married life was a far from happy one. Her husband turned out to be a dissolute brute, who ill-treated her, arid also introduced her into some very doubtful society.

This was the beginning of her downfall. Seeing her unhappy, other men made love to her. She resisted their overtures, she alleged, until one of them, a certain M. Borgewski, in order to prove his devotion to her, allowed her to fire a loaded rifle at his right hand at close range, shattering it horribly. “Then,” said the Countess, “I knew that he really loved me, and I gave myself to him.”

News of the affair, however, came to the ears of her husband, who shot Borgewski, wounding him mortally. This was not done in a duel, but openly in a public place.

Borgewski was actually in the company of the Countess at the time, and the bullet, after piercing his body, passed through the brim of the hat she was wearing. Borgowski died in the arms of his mistress, protesting his love to the last. Count Tarnowski divorced his, wife, and thence onwards. her descent was rapid. Lover after lover basked for more or less brief periods in the sunshine of her affections, giving up all for her, and ruin and death was their reward.

One of her victims was her own brother in-law, a mere boy of sixteen, who, for love of her, and because she betrayed him, blew, out his brains. Another was a gallant young officer, Lieutenant Vladimir Stahl, who fought with distinction throughout the Russo-Japanese war. Re turning when peace was proclaimed, he met the enchantress. She persuaded him to leave his young and pretty wife, who adored him, and follow her.

Death also claimed him. He shot himself on finding out that his mistress was a wanton. Yet even in death he forgave her. The letter he wrote to her a few minutes before he committed suicide concluded as follows: “All is finished, I kiss you and die.”

Ghosts ought to have haunted her by this time, but apparently they did not. She pursued unchecked her reckless career, flitting from one gay capital to another, Paris, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Berlin. Lover succeeded lover, for her extravagance knew no bounds, and not even the wealthiest could stand her for long, Prince Trubetzoki lavished £80,000 upon her, and was dismissed with a wave of the hand when financial ruin stared him in the face. The same thing happened as regards Paul Tolstoi, a relation of the novelist.

Two of her wealthy admirers were named Zolatareff and Zodo. Alluding to the initial letter of their names, she said when dismissing them.

“I have come to the end of the alphabet, I must begin over again.” And sure enough the next to become enmeshed in her net was a certain Count Azeff.

The begging of the end came when she prevailed upon M. Prilukoff to run away with her. He was a lawyer practising in Moscow, middle-aged, with a wife and family, and not too rich. But he held money on trust for clients. Tarnowski knew of this. She used her wiles upon him. And he fled with her to Berlin, his pockets bulging with stolen gold.

One lover at a time, However, was not enough now. She must have others. She extended her favours to Nicola Naumoff, a youth of twenty, and to Colonel Count Paul Kamarowski, a wealthy Russian. The latter she appears to have regarded in reality with feelings akin to loathing, but she tolerated his caresses because of his money.

“When Kamarowski fondles me,” she once remarked to Prilukoff, “I feel as if toads were crawling over my body.”

The man and the woman looked into one another’s eyes. “If that is so,” said Prilukoff gravely, after a pause, ‘he must be suppressed.’

The Countess clapped her hands glee fully. “Yes, yes,” she cried, “of course and I will prevail upon Naumoff to do the deed.”

So lightly and unconcernedly was the murder planned.

There was only one drawback to the arrangement. If the Countess caused Kamaowski to be assassinated, she would lose the money he was allowing her. So she told him that if he would consent to insure his life for £20,000 she would marry him. The poor, lovesick fool readily consented, thereby signing his own death warrant. Just at first, though j there was a hitch. Naumoff was altogether under his mistress’s influence in ordinary matters, yet he shrank from committing murder at her bidding.

A plot within a plot was, therefore, concocted, with a view to induce Naumoff to kill Kamarowski. A forged telegram, dictated by the Countess, was sent as if from Kamarowski to herself. It contained gross insults levelled jointly against the Countess and Naumoff, and the latter, completely hoodwinked, and mad with jealous rage, journeyed post-haste to Venice, where Kamarowski was then residing, and shot him dead.

Before the murderer set out on his dreadful errand, the Countess handed him a packet of chloroformed cigarettes, where with to lull Kamarowski into insensibility.

She also gave him a poisoned dagger, and a revolver. This latter weapon she charged with expanding bullets, and she gave Naumoff a practical illustration how, after drugging Kamarowski, he was to hold the barrel upwards inside his mouth so that face and forehead might in the explosion be shattered beyond identification, as had happened in the case of her former lover, Stahl.

The trial lasted over two months, but much of the evidence was unprintable, and had to be suppressed. Amongst the published facts, that which most impressed people was the extraordinary hold the siren Countess obtained upon her victims.

Not only were they constrained to commit the most horrible crimes at her bid ding, but they did not even shrink from actual physical torture, inflicted upon their own bodies, provided it was her hand that caused the agony.

Thus, both Naumoff and Prilukoff told in the witness-box how she used to cut them with knives, burn the backs of their hands with lighted cigarettes, and tattoo various parts of their bodies, with her long hat pins, afterwards spraying the wounds with eau-de-Cologne. The sight of the blood, combined with the infliction of pain, seemed to afford her delight.

“love you more the more I see you suffer,” he would exclaim, rapturously as she threw herself panting into the arms or the victim of the ordeal.

In the end Prilukoff was sentenced to ten years’ solitary confinement, the Countess got eight years, while Naumoff, the actual assassin, escaped with only three.

[“The Countess Who Tortured Her Lovers.” Albury Banner and Wodonga Express (NSW, Australia), Dec. 1, 1911, p. 48]










For more cases like this one, see: Vamps – Femmes Fatales – Predatory Women



  1. There is a mistake, according to our sources, she was born in Kyiv and studied in Poltava) Nice article.

  2. There is a mistake, according to our sources, she was born in Kyiv and studied in Poltava) Nice article.

    1. Looking for anything about kamarowski family: i have so many questions. Especially about Nathalie von son gravin kamarowski.

    2. Vasily Kamarowsky - Maria's former husband left Russia after the Revolution and was a singer in Berlin. Maria and his daughter - Tatiana - was a silent film actress in the early 1920s in Russia

  3. I'm interested in the O Rourke ancestry if anyone can expand on this so called nobility.

  4. I am interested in the o Rourke ancestry if anyone can expand this.