Six Are Dead and One More Ill at Holyoke.

by Laurel | December 27th, 2011

On 27 December 1919 the headlines from page one of the Springfield Republican read “Wood Alcohol “Whiskey” from New York Kills 35. Chicopee 19, Holyoke 6, Hartford 10 City Loses 1.”

This was probably Prohibition related on some level, since at the time of this incident the actual beginning of the alcohol ban was about three weeks away. To many people this was the first “dry” — alcohol free — Christmas. What follows is the Holyoke part of the story.



27 December 1919

Six Are Dead and One More Ill at Holyoke.

Wood Alcohol Mixture Responsible but places Where it Was Sold Not Yet Discovered.

Autopsies Have Been Ordered

One Man Found Dead on Floor at Boarding Place — Police Working on Case — Alcohol Came From Hartford

Holyoke, December 26. — As a result of drinking wood alcohol, colored with burnt sugar to resemble whiskey and tinctured with rye extract, six Holyoke men died in Holyoke this afternoon or evening and one more is at the hospital in serious condition.

The Dead

Wadyslaus Kowacki, 35, 23 Oliver Street

Charles Kowacki, 30, 23 Oliver Street

Frank Fanfara, 56, 120 Lyman Street

John Trznadel, 46, 98 High Street

Louis Rodak, 20, 130 Lyman Street

John Farrell, 101 Hampden Street

The man who is ill is Joseph Jaskiewicz of 124 High Street.

The two Kowackis are brothers and live with their married sister Mrs. Mary Malewski at 23 Oliver Street. Wadyslaus Kowacki was married and had a wife and four children but did not live with his family. His brother Charles is unmarried.

One Found Dead on Floor

Mrs. Malewski says that the two brothers came home last night under the influence of liquor and went to bed. When she went to work at 5:30 she called the two men but they said they were sick and would not get up. Wadyslaus is employed at the Lindon paper mill. When she returned at noon they were not better and she called Dr. Lekstron. When he arrived the elder Kowacki was dead upon the floor and the other, Charles, so ill that he was ordered to the House of Providence where he died this evening.

The police were notified and an investigation was made by the department.

About 9 this evening Dr. W. P. Ryan was called to the room occupied by Louis Rodak, 20, of 180 Lyman Street in the tenement rented by his brother. He found Rodak in bad shape and ordered him removed at once to the House of Providence Hospital. Inspector Kane was detailed by Capt. Cullen of the police department on the case and with an interpreter he visited the sick man at the hospital. Rodak died at 10 o’clock and an attempt to get a statement from his was unsuccessful.

Rodak had been ill all day today though not as ill as the others, and did not begin to show serious symptoms it was said by his brother until this evening. They then became alarmed and sent for a physician. He is single and was employed at the Lyman Mills.

Late this evening Capt. Peter Cullen announced that he had a suspected liquor dealer, said by one source of information from Hartford to be one to whom the liquor was sent, on the carpet, and tat the man denied in toto all knowledge of it or that he had received any liquor whatsoever from that city.

Two More Cases Found

The sixth case of poisoning to b reported as that of Joseph Jaskiewicz of 134 High Street, who was ordered to the House of Providence by Dr. Thomas E. Cavanaugh. This case was not as serious as the others and there are hopes for his recovery.

John Farrell 101 Hampden Street, was taken to the House of Providence in very critical condition just before midnight. There appeared to be little chance of his recovery.

Autopsies Ordered

Medical examiner Frank A. Woods and District Attorney Joseph B. Ely were in communication late this evening and it was decided to hold at least two autopsies at 11 tonight. The stomachs will probably be sent to Boston for analysis. So far as the doctors were able to ascertain, death was due, in all cases, to alcoholic poisoning, probably wood alcohol.

Despite the fact that poisoned liquor is said to be in the city, no search warrants were issued tonight. Just what steps the police department will take tomorrow are not known, but that one of the inspectors will go to Hartford is probable.

Information From Hartford

Valuable information was received from the Hartford police authorities this evening when Capt. Peter Cullen of the detective department got in touch with the lieutenant in charge this evening. He told Capt. Cullen that two barkeepers and two rectifiers were under arrest for murder in connection with similar deaths. The prosecuting attorney sent up the son of one of the rectifiers to Holyoke to warn the man to whom liquor was shipped from Hartford, not to sell any more. The man sent knew the place but could not give the name of the saloon-keeper to whom it was shipped. The Holyoke police department was notified of his coming, Marshal Edward J. Gorman said tonight.

According to the Hartford police some saloon-keepers in Holyoke and Chicopee bought a large quantity of the liquor, which was composed of wood alcohol, a “rye extract,” whatever that is, and colored with burnt sugar. It was being brought in by taxi, a little at a time as needed. An independent report from Holyoke named the saloon-keeper and said that Holyoke’s part in the liquor bought was 10 barrels. The rectifier’s name was Salzberg, but the names of the bartenders were not secured by the local police.

Inspectors Gilday and Kane and Patrolman Timothy Murphy investigated the Holyoke deaths for the department and medical Examiner Woods viewed the bodies and ordered them removed to Symasko’s undertaking rooms. The symptoms of wood alcohol poisoning are somewhat indefinite and at least two of the dead men were so far gone they could say little or nothing when medical aid was summoned.

Adapted from The Springfield Republican.

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