NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

December 13, 2012

The Ship St. murder and the assailant’s escape

(Continued)

On Feb. 5, 1918, Szczepanek was committed to Danvers State Hospital for observation and then on June 12 he was ruled not insane and fit for trial.

The Superior Court jury trial started Dec. 16, 1918, at the courthouse on Bartlet Mall in Newburyport with Judge Webster Thayer presiding. District Attorney Henry Wells prosecuted for the state and attorney Herlihy based the defense on insanity of the defendant. There were no locals on the jury.

Following several days of testimony, the jury, on Dec. 23, found Antonio Szczepanek guilty of murder in the first degree after three hours of deliberations. At this time attorney Herlihy requested Judge Thayer to delay sentencing so he could study some legal facts. Judge Thayer approved the request and sent Szczepanek back to Salem Jail.

Then on March 26, 1919, Judge Waite of Salem ordered Szczepanek back to Danvers for further observation as a result of his destructive behavior while at the Salem Jail.

On the morning of April 16, 1919, the shocking news was released that Antonio Szczepanek was missing from Danvers State Hospital. He apparently picked the lock on the door of his room during the night and slipped out of the building unseen by anyone. A huge manhunt throughout Essex County and beyond failed to find any trace of the convicted killer and he was never again apprehended.

Authorities theorized that his escape was assisted by friends who shielded him and arranged for him to be smuggled out of the country and back to his native Poland. There was never any indication given that any locals were involved in this scheme.

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Joe Callahan is a former fire chief of Salisbury who is interested in historical accounts of the area.

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