Throughout history the city of Venice inspired a number of writers: from William Shakespeare and his Othello and the Merchant of Venice to Thomas Mann with Death in Venice, going to the lyrical prose by the Italian Gabriele D’Annunzio, just to mention a few ones. A magical mysterious city with its districts, canals and the “calli”, place which was theatre of many criminal stories, solved and non.

Amongst those there is a special spot for the enigma about the homicide of the Count Pavel Kamarovski occurred in 1907 in Maurogonato Palace.

The well known case of  Tarnowska

Maria Tarnowska, born Maria Nikolaevna Orurk, was born in Poltava, today Ukraine, in 1877. She was a splendid woman: she had pearl skin, a lean and well made physique, red hair and blue eyes, all elements which attracted since a very early age many men.

As a child she endured the violence of a cruel father and this led to a growing hate towards the male gender, as well as an early romantic life: at the age of 14  she had a flirt with her teacher which costed her the removal from her college. Another important detail about Maria was her character: the young was cold and charming, she loved to surround herself with men, attract them towards herself and then, with the same simplicity and coldness she liked to get rid of them.

The first important relationship was with a young nobleman, Andreij Wyrubov. The encounters ended after a some time due to the arrival of the count Vasilij Tarnowski. He was beautiful, rich and charming, and he was mad for Maria. The two got married when Maria, who became countess Maria Tarnowska, was 17 years old. The couple was amongst the most envied in Kiev: beautiful, young and rich.

The fairy tale does not last long though. The count Tarnowski is constantly travelling for business and he did not dislike the company of other gracious young girls; the countess, after a first moment of discouragement, gave up to the attentions of her admirers, not diminished in number after the recent marriage.

Maria Tarnowski became pregnant (claiming that the pregnancy had occurred within the marriage), and during the awaiting there was the husband’s brother Piotr and the baron Vladimir Shtal looking after her.

Both the men were in love with the girl

A child was born and the young couple left him to the care of his grandparents while they decided to head to Italy, for a pleasure trip. Could the holiday warm up the hearts of the two? But the hope vanished soon enough, when the count Vasilij carried along with him the lover of the time, Olga Kralberg. In that period a tragedy touched the count: his brother Piotr had hanged himself; it seemed that the impossible love with his sister in law was the cause.

Maria and Vasilij, in the meantime, celebrated a second birth: in March 1896 Tatiana was born too. The arrival of the baby girl and the trip though did not reconciled the couple and the countess decided to look for a lover herself. She picked up the count Aleksej Bozewski. Everyone was aware of the shady relationship between the two so that one evening, at the end of the dinner with the wife’s lover at their table, the count Tarnowski shot him, injuring him seriously. After a few months of agony, the count Bozewski died; some rumours said due to suicide through ingestion of morphine, tired of the continuous pain.

Vasilij Tarnowski was not arrested because, according to the judges, he was victim of the constant betrayals of his wife

The couple touched its bottom, Maria left her husband and came back to Kiev. She did not have any other place where to be, she stayed in a hotel and started made use of morphine to soothe the pain. Her fascination for men did not change though so she became closer to the mysterious lawyer Donat Prilukov. The two became lovers and accessories of the lies that the man, married, had to tell to support Maria.

At the time the news of the death of the baron Shtal arrived: he had poisoned himself due to the love he had for Tarnowska. Or maybe not. Vladimir Shtal, was beside a nobleman also a doctor and it was him who would provide the morphine for the woman, for which she was addicted.

could that be that he had already given the morphine to the count Bozewski and now the guilt was too heavy to handle?

In 1904 the countess met the count Pavel Kamarovski, rich widower and she started thinking about an escape from Kiev with him. At that point though the lover, the lawyer Prilukov, told her about the fact that he had finished all his money and that he had been forbidden to work any longer  for the scams he had put in place. The idea to abandon him was strong, but in her mind an interesting idea came up, something that only an unscrupulous lawyer could help her with

A scam at the expenses of the count Kamarovski

Maria, aware if the feelings that the count had for her, told him to have many debts gathered during her dark times with a family friend. Pavel Kamarovski, saddened by the tale, extinguished all her debts with a cheque which was divided between her and Prilukov.

But the countess was tired of that life of schemes, so she decided to marry Kamarovski and mentioned the decision to the lawyer who, without money, job and wife, tired of his repeated betrayals with the countess, had no intention to give up on her.

The woman was committed to start a new life regular and pure with Kamarovski so she moved with him to Orël, on the Oka river. But old habits die hard and Maria met a friend of her new partner, the young and ambitious Nikolaj Naumov. The passion between the two ignited and the meetings became more and more frequent, especially when the count Kamarovski was in Venice in Italy, where he was closing a deal about the purchase of a building where he would like to go and live in, the Maurogonato Palace.

Maria and Pavel moved to the Italian city but the distance stopped neither the new lover Nikolaj Naumov, nor the old one Donat Prilukov; both of them were often visiting the countess.

Maria Tarnowska, increasingly more confused in her feelings and addicted to morphine and cocaine, started thinking through a new plan. The noblewoman discovered that the count Kamarovski, despite the purchase of the property, he was not so wealthy as she thought. On the advice of the lover, the lawyer Prilukov, Maria thought about eliminating him.

It was necessary someone willing to do the dirty work instead of her. Who was better than a young man completely in love with her?

The trap was set: Prilukov wrote a letter signed Kamarovski in which the count was supposedly offended his partner and Naumov. Maria showed the fake letter to her lover, Nikolaj Naumov and, as planned, he went furious about it and decided to take revenge for the heavy words written by his old friend.

It was the morning of the 4th of September 1907, at Maurogonato Palace, not too far from St. Mark’s Square, someone knocked on the door. A maid opened up to find a young man who kindly asked to go and wake up the count Kamarovski for something he had to tell him. As soon as the landlord arrived to the door, the guest pulled out a gun and shot him to the stomach. The count fell immediately and screamed towards his killer

“you had no other way to take revenge”

The aggressor looked at him writhing to the ground and broke down into tears. He called the maid asking to call for help then he aimed the gun towards himself, but the weapon got stuck, so he run away.

The count Kamarovski was still alive and got taken to the hospital. He just had the time to say that who shot him was Nikolaj Naumov due to his incestuous relationship with his wife Maria Tarnowska

The nobleman though, died on the following day

His killerwas arrested at the train station while he was trying to escape and confess everything. Maria Tarnowska, that at the time of the killing was in Kiev, got taken to the police station as soon as she came back to Italy to see her dying partner. Donat Prilukov, the diabolical lawyer, was taken in Vienna: some witnesses had seen him wandering about the calli of Venice with 2 other dodgy men.

In her deposition, Maria Tarnowska declaired to know the killer  and admitted to have asked for the help of the lawyer Prilukov as she felt her life was in danger. The woman got arrested and transferred to the House of Imprisonment for Women Giudecca, in Venice.

The trial to the woman of Naumov and Prilukov started on the 4th of March 1910; the countess Maria was harshly attacked by the public opinion, who labelled her as Circe, an astute calculating woman . Her lawyers tried to enlighten the harsh life she had to endure, from the tyrannic father to the many betrayals she had to face from her partners, as a sort of justification for her actions.

After a long discussion, in 1912 the judge reached a sentence which saw Mrs Tarnowska as an accessory and condemned to 8 years and 4 months of imprisonment. Nikolaj Naumov, the perpetrator of the killing got 3 years and a month of prison because recognised as hysterical. As for Donat Prilukov, found accomplice too, obtained 10 years of detention. A sentence which appeared controversial.

Below: the newspaper “La domenica del Corriere”, on the 13th- 20th of March 1910 with the case on the front page.

Mrs Tarnowska was kept in the Giudecca prison before being transferred to the penitentiary of Trani, in Puglia, where she remained until 1915, year of her release. The noblewoman, after a first moment in Rome, got on the ship heading to South America,, where she married the French man Alfred de Villemer.

Maria Tarnowska died on the 23rd of January 1949 in Santa Fe, Argentina. The body of the countess rests in the family chapel in Ukraine.

On the events, Luchino Visconti and Michelangelo Antonioni wanted to realise a film named “The Trial of Maria Tarkowska” but the project never saw the light. Who succeeded in the venture was instead Giuseppe Fina in 1977 with his “Il processo di Maria Tarnowska”, Italian for trial to Maria Tarnowska. Furthermore there is also a book on the topic called “Circe”. The novel was written in 1912 by the Italian author Annie Vivanti.

On the ground floor of Maurogonato Palace, where the homicide of count Kamarovski took place, today rises the Hotel Ala, within which there is a bar-museum called “Tarnowska’s American Bar”.

Rachele Goracci


Vanilla Magazine - History, Culture, Mistery and Legends