Detectives in New Jersey were surprised to get a telegraph from Detroit police. A man named Peter Kudzinowski, 26, had drunkenly confessed to kidnapping a young boy and slashing his throat with a pocket knife.
It was November 17, 1928. Joey Storelli was from a very poor Italian American family with seven children, ranging from ages 6 to 28. The father had travelled to Italy for work, so Joey’s mother worked to provide food and shelter. One evening when she got home from work, she found Joey and his sister Magdelena, watching an aquarium in a neighbour’s window. Joey loved fish and refused to come inside for dinner. His family never saw him again.
Seven-year-old Joseph “Joey” Storelli had gone missing, and they were desperate to find him.
The man in the brown coat saw Storelli. He offered the boy 5 cents worth of candy and a trip to the picture show. They watched a comedy before they headed onto the subway then took a train. He eventually took Joey into the high marsh grass and went on to commit “unprintable” crimes.
Peter Kudzinowski was variously described as a fiend, a thrill slayer with a “sex-sundered mind” and a “human wolf with a lust for the bodies of children”. He was all that, and more.
Kudzinowski was an alcoholic who drank raw alcohol. He was arrested as a “golden-rule drunk,” someone who needed to be locked up for 4 days to allow them to sober up.
Just before his release, he confessed to doing terrible things that, if the police only knew about, would prevent his release. It was the police he confessed to.
Kudzinowski confessed to killing Joey, and led police to where he left the boy.
On the cold evening of December 6, 1928, detectives began searching for the child’s body. It was already dark.
Police found Joey’s body, lying face down in the tall grass. His clothing was disarranged and bloodstained. His arms were stretched over his head, as if in prayer. His frozen body was bruised and battered. His right arm was almost torn from the socket. It was clear he had struggled to escape his attacker.
Kudzinowski also confessed to killing Harry Quinn. Quinn was a 28-year-old who, Kudzinowski said, was murdered on March 8, 1924, in Dickson Park in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Scranton police were notified, and confirmed a man named Quinn had been missing for about 4 years.
Kudzinowski once lived in Quinn’s home town of Minooka where they met. They travelled to the mountains near Rocky Glen. After a fight over a whiskey bottle, Kudzinowski murdered Quinn by bashing him over the head with a rock, and buried him in a mine cave, under leaves.
A squad of 50 cops, plus at least that many members of the public, began looking for Quinn’s body. Sgt. Reese Alexander said he faintly recalled finding a badly decomposed body in the area, but it was buried without being identified.
Quinn’s family search for 4 years before hearing the news of his death, but without the body, they could not rest. It was generally agreed that foxes or other animals would have scattered his remains. Even though Kudzinowski drew a map for searchers, Quinn was never found.
In preparation for Kudzinowski’s trial, special precautions had to be taken. His life was being threatened. He was smuggled into Jersey City to prevent mob vengeance, and would be returned to Detroit for his trial. Included in the threat-makes was the father of four-year-old Billy Gaffney, who disappeared from Brooklyn in 1927. Yetta Abramowitz, Irving Pickelny, Harry Weidenfeld and Julia Mlodzianowaka were all children who had disappeared. He denied any knowledge of the missing children.
Two days later, Kudzinowski was leading detectives to where he disposed of the body of six-year-old Julia Mlodzianowaka. She was one of the children he had denied knowing. He had admitted to practicing “weird rites” over her body after choking her to death on August 25, 1928.
Kudzinowski had kidnapped Julia during a family Sunday picnic, when she had stepped away from the others. He promised her a boat ride. He took Julia to Nolan’s Point, near Hopatcong, and beat her to death. She had tried to “holler” for help. Kudzinowski had begun burying the body but stopped when he spotted a parked freight train nearby. Kudzinowski dug up Julia and threw her into an empty boxcar before scrambling in and waiting for the train to move. He said he “enjoyed the ride” with the girl’s dead body.
In the boxcar, he hacked her body into pieces and “practiced his revolting rites over it.”
Julia was decapitated and wrapped in newspaper. Kudzinowski hurled them off a railway bridge as the rail car passed a river. He said he weighted the body.
Only a bit of bloody cloth and a single shoe was ever found where Kudzinowski said he disposed of Julia.
Kudzinowski was described in the press as a fiend and monster, with piggish eyes, quivering lips and a weak chin. Before trial, his mother said “He is dead to us now. We never want to hear of him again.” Ironic since he had confessed to his mother before his arrest and she did not turn him into police. Kudzinowski’s father would die before him, having taken ill after he heard of his son’s deeds.
Before the start of Kudzinowski’s trial, Joey would be buried by mourning family and relatives. While his body was being lowered into the ground, Kudzinowski was asked, “Now that you are on your way to the chair, do you believe that the murder was worth it?”.
“It was worth it many times over,” Kudzinowski responded. Kudzinowski admitted he was a “disciple” of kidnapper and 2-time murderer, Eddie Hickman. Hickman had committed murders in California in 1926-1927.
Kudzinowski says he was awkward around women. “I was too bashful,” he said (he wasn’t bashful, he was a pedophile!) He said, “…if I was let alone I knew I would have to kill more children.” Before finding Joey, Kudzinowski had taken first a boy and then a girl by the hand to walk them away from their homes. Both had fled from him after a few moments.
“Alienists” (psychologists) were called to testify to Kudzinowski’s sanity. “I propose to show that the defendant is insane and very much a beast,” his lawyer said. The assistant county physician had just described the brutal mutilation of Storelli. At trial, it was determined he knew right from wrong.
At the age of 9, Kudzinowski had a head injury in a swimming accident. During the trial, the alienists used x-rays of Kudzinowski’s head to explain his recurring “brainstorms”. During his confessions and trial, some details of his crimes changed.
The jury deliberated less than 90 minutes before convicting Kudzinowski of first degree murder. The only sentence was death.
Kudzinowski was sentenced to die in the electric chair. He spoke with his spiritual advisor, and the Reverend heard his confessions. Kudzinowski received holy communion. He also received a plate of ice cream, as a last meal request.
He walked from his jailhouse cell to the death house without uttering a word. However, others in the death house had much to say, with “blasphemous shouts” filling the hallway. Guards had to be sent in to quiet the men down.
Kudzinowski was executed on December 20, 1929.