The Trial and Execution
of Felix Radzius
“A Shocking Murder at Shenandoah”
Mount Carmel Item (December 17, 1907)
A most brutal murder was committed in Shenandoah yesterday morning when Felix Katelenas or “Rogers” cut the throat of Mrs. Stiney Chekoskis, his boarding mistress and her four-year old son.
The Chokoskis family lived at 127 North Plum street, and consisted of father and mother and two children – Eva, aged 8, and John, aged 4 years. Katelenas was a boarder. He had been drinking heavily of late, and got behind with his board bill. On Saturday Mrs. Checkoskis informed him after he had drawn his pay, he must either pay up or get out.
This angered the man, and yesterday morning he did not go to work. About 8 o’clock he sent Eva, the little girl, up town, for some tobacco. It is thought that while she was absent Mrs. Chekoskis went to the cellar for coal, the little boy standing at the head of the stairway with a light. During the absence of the little girl the man cut the throats of both the woman and little boy, their bodies being found later lying on the cellar floor, close together, in a great pool of blood.
When the little girl returned home she could not get in the house, all the doors being locked. She went to neighbors and later a neighbor woman returned home with the girl. The back door was then opened. As they entered and found no one, a hurried search soon revealed the murder. The alarm was sounded and the police notified. The latter found upon inquiry that the murderer had purchased a ticket for New York and let on the eleven o’clock L. V. train.
Rogers, the murderer, was captured in Jersey City last night by the police of that city, and the Chief of Police of Shenandoah went there this morning to take him in charge.
“Many Cried Lynch Him!”
The Charlotte News (December 21, 1907)
By Associated Press
POTTSVILLE, PA., Dec. 21 – After a narrow escape from violence at the hands of enraged foreigners, Felix Radzius, of [Shenandoah], arrested in Jersey City Monday, charged with the killing of Mrs. Stiney Chekoskis and her four year old son, today confessed he had committed the murders.
Hundreds of foreigners gathered about the [Borough jail] and many threats were made.
The situation looked serious and the chief of police summoned the entire force of [Shenandoah] to protect the prisoner.
There were cries of “lynch him” and threats were made as a crowd of several hundred men followed the squad of policemen with the prisoner in the center to the hearing.
“Denied Knowing Closest Friends”
Harrisburg Daily Independent (December 21, 1907)
By Associated Press
POTTSVILLE, PA., Dec. 21 – Brought back to Shenandoah to face a crowd of enraged citizens, Felix Radzius, of Shenandoah, who on Monday killed his boarding mistress, Mrs. Chekoskis, and her 4-year-old son, denied that he had ever been in Shenandoah and refused to recognize his most intimate friends, who were gathered in the office of Justice of the Peace Ronant, where the hearing was held. This, in the face of the fact that the overcoat he wore was the one stolen from the husband of the murdered woman.
Throughout the hearing he denied everything, but after he narrowly escaped lynching at the hands of an enraged mob while he was being taken from the office of the justice to the borough jail, he became thoroughly cowed and made a full confession of his most cold-blooded murder.
In his cell after the hearing he confessed to Justice of the Peace Ronant that he was the man who was wanted. He said he had been drinking heavily and as the boarding mistress had refused to leave him in the house the night before, he determined to have revenge. He then described how he had taken the razor of the woman’s husband and had gone down into the cellar to hide.
In a short time Mrs. Chekoskis came down into the cellar to get sour kraut and he cut her throat from ear to ear after a hard fight. The four-year-old son then came down in the cellar and he killed him in the same manner. The entire police force was called out to protect the man and they marched to the jail with the prisoner in the center. There were cries of “hang him” along the entire route to the jail, but no attempt was made to interfere with the officers. When the husband was taken before the fellow to identify him he was thoroughly searched and watched in order that he should not kill his wife’s slayer, which he had sworn to do.
The prisoner was brought to the county prison in Pottsville this morning by four officers, and they were followed by a large crowd through the streets of Shenandoah. At the hearing Radzius maintained a stolid demeanor, but after his experience with the crowd he became a nervous wreck. A death watch will be placed on him night and day.
“Man Who Killed Woman and Baby Will Have to Hang”
Harrisburg Daily Independent (January 8, 1908)
By Associated Press
POTTSVILLE, PA., Jan. 8 – Felix Radzius, who on the morning of December 16 killed Mrs. Mary Cherkoskis and her 4-year-old son by cutting their throats with a razor in the cellar of their home at Shenandoah, was this morning found guilty of murder in the first degree, after the jury had been out during the entire night.
Two stood for second degree murder during the deliberations of the jury but turned in with the majority this morning. Radzius’ crime was a cold-blooded one and after being brought back from Jersey City, where he was captured, made a full confession.
“Murder in the First Degree”
Mount Carmel Item (January 9, 1908)
“Guilty of murder in the first degree,” was the verdict rendered by a jury in the Schuylkill county courts yesterday morning in the case of Felix Radzius, the inhuman wretch who so brutally slew Mrs. Checkoskie and her young son at Shenandoah on December 16 because the woman, who was his boarding mistress, demanded that he pay his full board or seek another lodging house.
The trial and conviction of the murderer were the swiftest in the history of the county, and the verdict meets with general approval. The brute will pay the penalty with his life as soon as the legal formalities have been complied with.
The jury went out at 4:50 Tuesday afternoon and at 8:00 reached a verdict. It was not handed to the court until yesterday morning, however.
Readers of The Item will remember that on the date mentioned Radzius waited in his cellar for his victims to appear. As she entered a door, accompanied by her little boy, he grabbed her and with a razor cut her throat from ear to ear. Catching the child before he could escape, the cold blooded wretch severed his jugular vein and left him to die. The murderer boarded a train for Jersey City, where he was arrested and brought back for trial.
“Murderer Wanted Speedy Sentence”
Danville Morning News (January 10, 1908)
POTTSVILLE, PA., Jan. 9 – The remarkable spectacle of a man hastening his own death sentence took place in court yesterday.
When Felix Radzius, of Shenandoah, was convicted of murder in the first degree his counsel made a motion in arrest of judgment, which would have halted the case for some time.
At the request of Radzius this evening, the dilatory motion was withdrawn, and Judge Marr sentenced the prisoner to be hanged.
“I did it, and I want to die quick,” said Radzius.
This was the quite unusual case in which the jury hung fire for a time, and it was feared at one time last night there might be a mistrial. In that event, or in the remote possibility of an acquittal of killing the woman, Radzius would have been tried again for the first degree murder in the killing of the little boy. This might have brought the paradoxical result of acquittal on one page of practically one and the same crime and conviction of the other phase of its – that is, both liberated and hanged for one crime, since it embraced two murders, a minute or two apart.
“Frets Over Death’s Delay”
Uniontown Morning Herald (March 31, 1908)
Murderer Nearly Insane Because Governor Won’t Set Day
POTTSVILLE, PA., March 30 – Wearied with vainly waiting for Governor Stuart to fix the date for his execution, Felix Radzius, who murdered Mrs. Shemon and her son at Shenandoah last December, is fast losing his mind.
When convicted last January Radzius acknowledged his guilt and asked to be hanged as soon as possible, as he feared the effect of a long ordeal on his mind.
[“Glad His End Was So Near”]
Reading Times (April 17, 1908)
Felix Radzius, who murdered Mrs. Eva Cherkoskis and her four-year-old son John, at Shenandoah on December 16, last, has been notified in his cell in the Schuylkill county prison at Pottsville that Governor Stuart had fixed his execution for May 26 next. Radzius, who is but 19 years of age, said he was glad his end was so near.
“Murderer Ready to Die”
Harrisburg Daily Independent (April 24, 1908)
POTTSVILLE, PA., April 24 – “I have made my peace with God and am ready to die,” said Felix Radzius, yesterday, the murderer confined in the Schuylkill county prison for the cutting of the throat of his boarding mistress and her little son, at Shenandoah.
Radzius will be hanged on May 26, and has stopped his attorney’s efforts to procure a respite, on the ground that he deserves death on the gallows.
“Spends All His Time in Prayer”
Mount Carmel Item (May 1, 1908)
Since the reading of the death warrant to Felix Radzius on Monday, the condemned man has spent most of his time on his knees in prayer. He refuses to be interviewed by the prison officials, or seen by visitors, and takes little or no nourishment. He says he will spend his remaining hours on earth in this manner and will say nothing about the crime, having explained all at the trial during which he was convicted. Radzius is to be executed in the prison yard May 26th, for the murder of Mrs. Mary Cherkoskis.
[“Prays for 80 Hours”]
Warren Times Mirror (May 8, 1908)
Felix Radzius, who is to be hung May 26th for the murder of Mrs Mary Cherkoski and her four-year-old son, of Shenandoah, has been praying for the past 80 hours and cannot be persuaded to stop even to take nourishment.
[“Confesses to Second Murder”]
Pittstown Gazette (May 12, 1908)
Felix Radzius, the Shenandoah murderer, who is to be hanged in two weeks for the murder of his boarding mistress and her son, has confessed to another murder in Austria and that he came to this country to escape punishment for the crime.
[“Tries to Commit Suicide”]
Reading Times (May 12, 1908)
Felix Radzius, who will be hanged at Pottsville two weeks from today for the double murder of his boarding mistress and her son at Shenandoah last January, confessed on Sunday that he is guilty of another murder, which he committed in Austria one year ago. After making the confession, Radzius tried to suffocate himself in his cell by starting a fire, but owing to the close death watch kept over him he did not succeed.
“Public Execution Planned as Lesson”
Mount Carmel Daily News (May 25, 1908)
POTTSVILLE, Pa., May 25 – In order, he asserts, to teach the foreign population of the coal regions a lesson, Sheriff Clay W. Evans, of Schuylkill county, has decided to make the execution of Felix Radzius, the condemned Black Hand assassin, on Tuesday, public, so far as the leading representatives of the Poles, Huns, Slavs, and Lithuanians, Russians and Italians are concerned. Tickets of admission have been given to these men to see Radzius die. Sheriff Evans believes that their recital of the event to their countrymen will do much to stay the hands of foreign murderers in the future.
[“Felix Radzius’ Death Certificate”]
May 26, 1908
“Making an Object Lesson of Punishment”
The Frederick News (May 26, 1908)
Issuing “tickets of admission” to hangings is a practice which, when it means making a spectacle of the punishment of a murderer for as many curious persons as can be crowded into the place of execution, is generally and rightly reprehended, but the sheriff of Schuylkill county, Pa., has conceived a method of making use of these “tickets of admission” for which there is a serious reason. “To teach the foreign population of the coal regions a lesson,” says a dispatch from Pottsville, Pa., dated yesterday, “Sheriff Clay Evans has decided to make public the execution of Felix Radzius tomorrow so far as the leading representatives of the Poles, Hungarians, Slavs, Lithuanians, Russians and Italians are concerned. Tickets of admission have been given to these men. Sheriff Evans believes that their descriptions of the event to their countrymen will do much to prevent murders in this section of the coal regions.”
There has been a great deal of agitation in recent years in favor of having legal executions in secret, and suppressing all news concerning them. Sentiment in favor of such secrecy has grown out of the shameful spectacles at many such executions, when the hanging of criminals was made a sort of public show, with the criminal as the central figure, or hero, of the occasion. Among persons of proper instincts, this making of a public show of a solemn and awful occasion naturally has been strongly condemned whenever it has been done, but it is a question whether, in going to the other extreme,and making executions absolutely private and secret, some of the effect of this punishment as a deterrent of crime may not be lost. The Schuylkill county sheriff’s plan of having representatives of the many classes of foreigners employed in his county witness the hanging, so that they may tell to their companions how murderers are dealt with, is well conceived. By this method the execution of the murderer hanged today may be made to serve as a lesson and a warning.
“500 See Man Hanged”
Mount Carmel Daily News (May 27, 1908)
POTTSVILLE, Pa., May 27 – In order that they may go among their countrymen and impress upon them the enormity of the crime of murder and the punishment that the law of this country calls for, a large number of Slavs, Hungarians, Poles, Italians, Russians, Lithuanians and other foreigners were invited to attend the execution here of Felix Radzius, a young Pole, convicted of the murder of a woman and her child at Shenandoah six months ago.
The hanging took place in the yard of the Schuylkill county prison. The execution was not a public one in the sense that every one who went to the jail was admitted, but the sheriff was quite liberal in the distribution of tickets, and the foreigners, who were all eager to see the hanging, took all they could get, and long before the time set for the opening of the jail gates, they swarmed about the place.
The idea of having present representatives of the various foreign elements in this section of the coal region originated with Sheriff Clay Evans, who thought the story of the execution as told from the lips of the foreigners would have a salutary effect in curbing the murderous tendency of some of the lawless element.
Just before the march to the scaffold Radzius made a complete confession of the Shenandoah murders and confirmed the information the police had that he had been guilty of committing a murder in Russian Poland. Radzius said he killed a man in his old home three years ago, and that he fled to this country to avoid arrest. He appeared to be greatly relieved after admitting his crimes, and walked with a firm step between two priests to his death.
As the prisoner stepped into the yard there was a stir and a buzz of talk that made him start slightly and he glanced hurriedly over the big throng that hemmed him in. He gave no sign of recognition to any, however, as he walked through walls of humanity to the gallows.
Radzius scanned the crowd as he took his stand on the trap, but his attention was soon occupied by the ministrations of the clergyman and the sheriff, as the latter arranged the details of the execution.
In the meantime the big crowd intently watched every move of the prisoner and officials, and as the black cap was pulled over the face of the condemned there was a low murmur which was soon hushed by warning signals from the guards.
When the gallows drop was sprung and the prisoner swung in the death throes there was a perceptible movement, but this, too, quickly subsided, and as the doctors hastened to the side of the condemned and pronounced the man dead absolute silence prevailed.
The execution had certainly awed those who witnessed it, no matter what other effect it might have produced.
The hanging was in every way what is usually termed “a success.” As the big prison gates were thrown open and the 500 “invited” filed out few had anything to say, but ten minutes later the streets in the vicinity were like a babel while the men of the several nationalities went their way in groups, discussing the day’s gruesome event.
“When They Hanged Felix Radzius”
Detroit Free Press (May 28, 1908)
They hanged Felix Radzius down in Pottsville, Pa., the other day. Because Radzius was a Slav, and because Pottsville has a number of inhabitants of the same nationality and because it was deemed advisable for the proper instruction of the Slavs in the meaning of the death penalty, they hanged him in public.
The customary invitation list for such affairs was much enlarged. No reserved seats were provided for the select few, but the doors were thrown open to some 600 people and a cordial request was extended to the fellow citizens of the victim to attend his taking-off.
It was a course of training in American citizenship, but the visitors failed to profit by it as expected. Instead of being duly impressed with the solemnity of the occasion and going home to assimilate its warnings, the Slav spectators broke into a mob-like rush for the rope on which Radzius was depending and cut it into little pieces for themselves, being possessed of the superstition that such a rope is a cure for rheumatism.
This hanging evidently failed in its object of impressing the populace and serving as a deterrent in the future. Did any other executions ever do more?
The legal extinction of life can be defended on only two grounds. It must be regarded either as a punishment for the crime or prevention of a repetition. The execution that takes place in the seclusion of a prison yard surely has slight influence on the vast mass of people who cannot see it, and there has never been any reliable evidence that the possibility of such a fate has intervened in the thoughts of a murderer to prevent his projected crime. If the execution fails as deterrent, it has surely not made good as a punishment either. What more dreadful retribution could justice ask than life imprisonment?
It is a serious moral problem whether man has the right to vengeance by slaying. In point of expediency, the question is whether such a mode of punishment is efficacious.
“A Bad Example”
The Salt Lake Herald (June 8, 1908)
At Pottsville, Pa., a few days ago Felix Radzius, a murderer, was hanged. The sheriff thought it would be a good idea to make the execution a public one, for the purpose of impressing Radzius’ fellow Hungarians with the theory that justice swiftly overtakes doers of evil in this country. So he issued invitations to something like 500 friends of Radzius. Practically all of them came. Radzius went to his death calmly. The execution seemed to have no terror for him. His fellow countrymen were impressed, but they were not terrified. It is much to be doubted if they drew any valuable lesson from the scene.
Public executions were long done away with in this country. It was decided that it was not wise to permit a multitude of people to witness a hanging or to see, by any other method, the life of a condemned man snuffed out. Our own opinion is that the step was the proper one to take. It is not right to make a holiday out of the taking of human life, however much the owner of that life deserves to lose it. Besides, the lesson is of much more than doubtful value. Nine out of ten murderers go to the scaffold bravely.
They have been buoyed up by the consolation of religion or their natural bravado carries them to an unflinching finish. Seen by a crowd gathered indiscriminately the public execution is much more apt to make the condemned a hero in the minds of many of the onlookers than to impress them with the necessity for obeying the law. The executions of criminals should never be carried out in public.
There is a strong and, perhaps, a growing sentiment against the infliction of the death penalty. Some states have, we believe, abolished it. Some have abolished it and have later returned it to their statute books, Colorado affording an instance of this character. The Herald believes that death should be visited upon men found guilty of some crimes. This for the protection of society from those individuals, rather than for the example to others who contemplate similar crimes. Legal executions for murder do not prevent other murders any more than lynching for rape prevents crimes of that character.
But where there is no death penalty there is always the possibility of the imprisoned convict making his escape and committing other crimes. As long as the deliberate murderer lives, though he may be in a prison cell, he is a menace to society. The oldest of laws runs that whoso sheddeth man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed. It is a just law, but there is no excuse for executing any criminal in the presence of a large audience.
“Chapman’s Fate Recalls Some Co. Hangings”
Mahanoy City Record American (April 6, 1926)
COURT HOUSE, April 6. – The fate of Gerald Chapman, the master bandit, was the topic of conversation upon the hill today between some of the old-timers who still remember when the noose was the legal method of execution in this State back in the days before 1911 when the electric chair supplanted the ancient but efficient method.
Of the 25 men hung in this county during the 105 years in which hanging was the fate of murderers, the last three executions are still fresh in the memory of some of the older officials and clerks who were serving the county at the time. Commencing with Charley Warzel, of Shenandoah, who fainted upon the scaffold and had to be pulled up with an extra rope, and ending with Joseph Christock, whose execution was the crowning moment of a career of crime and banditry unexcelled in the county, and considering the the execution of Felix Radzius, of Shenandoah, who paid the death penalty between Warzel and Christock, the county ridded its confines of three characters, any of whose acquittal was practically impossible. All were tried during a wave of public sentiment which overshadowed all other news of the times and metropolitan papers made feature stories of each of the three executions. […]
Felix Radzius, overcome by passion, killed his landlady in her cellar at Shenandoah and hurriedly left the house and town, hoping to escape on the New York express over the Lehigh Valley. A description was telegraphed along the line and a police officer from the Newark station accosted him with the greeting, “Hello Felix!” Radzius replied, “Hello!” and turned around. He was immediately arrested, identified by the trademark of a Shenandoah hatter in his hat, and returned here. He was speedily convicted, making practically no defense and in due course of time was executed. He showed and never whimpered as he went to his death. […]
This Was My Pottsville: Life and Crimes During the Gilded Age
J. Robert Zane
(Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2005)