11 February 2015

Murder on the Mountain, 1925

More than a thousand mourners, and the otherwise curious, gathered April 26, 1925 at St. Bernard's Cemetery in Bridgewater for the burial of eleven-year-old stabbing victim Josephine Krysowaty. Most had just attended the funeral service at a packed St. Joseph's Church in Raritan, and were waiting patiently under cool, cloudy afternoon skies.


Before long, the crowd parted as a dark sedan made it's way to the grave-site.  Emerging from the car was the matron of the Somerset County Jail, the sheriff, and their inconsolable prisoner, Mrs. Ann Krysowaty.
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The Krysowatys - mother, Ann, father, Theodore, their two teenage sons, William and Joseph, and little Josephine - operated a sawmill and farm on the Sourland Mountain near Neshanic.  On March 10, for reasons that are still unclear ninety years later, Mrs. Krysowaty abruptly abandoned her family - leaving the many household chores, as well as the care and feeding of the sawmill hands and farm laborers, to her young daughter.


The village of Neshanic looking north towards the Sourland Mountains, circa 1900.

Thirty-year-old John Dorchuk was a Russian immigrant from New York who by 1925 had been working as a laborer on the Krysowaty farm for about two years.  Although he walked with a pronounced limp, and was described as "demented", for most of that time he was a reliable hand. Then something changed.  By March he had begun to behave oddly, culminating in his refusal to work during inclement weather - something that could not be tolerated.  After a couple of weeks of this, Mr. Krysowaty had seen enough, and ordered Dorchuk off the property.

At first it was assumed that Dorchuk had either gone back to New York, or had taken up residence with another family on the mountain.  But when the Krysowatys began to notice that fruit trees had been mutilated and farm equipment was vandalized, they knew the resentful Russian was still in the area, possibly seeking his revenge.



Newspaper headlines from April 1925

By the fourth week of her mother's absence, Josephine had settled into a routine.  Up early to prepare breakfast for the family and hands, various chores around the house, then to school down in Neshanic.  After school there were more chores, then dinner for all, and finally homework and bed.  

After school on April 9th, with her dad and most of the men out at the sawmill, her older brother William at work building a bridge down by the road, and fourteen-year-old brother Joseph busy driving a flock of ducks and geese back to their pens, Josephine went out to the barn to gather eggs. She was accosted by Dorchuk, who brandished a knife and dragged her by her hair into the woods. 


A view of the rugged Sourland Mountains circa 1905
Some newspapers later speculated that Dorchuk was enraged because the child refused his advances. In any case, defensive wounds on her arms were evidence that she put up quite a fight.  Slashes to her eyelids and about her body showed the extent to which she was tortured by the murderous fiend - but it was a stab in her side penetrating Josephine's lung that would prove to be the mortal wound.

Joseph, returning from his chores, was the first to miss his sister.  He began a search, and was alerted by her groans.  He ran to get his older brother, who gathered her up and sped to the hospital in Somerville.  On the way, a barely conscious Josephine named Dorchuk as her attacker.

Posses made up of Hillsborough locals and Somerset County police were already out scouring the mountain before nightfall.  They were joined after dark by 45 state troopers, who used flares to light up the rugged hillsides.  By the next day, New Jersey's top police dogs, Rollo and Bender were on the trail, but by nightfall, heavy rain hampered their search.  Three days after the attack, with hundreds of volunteers fanned out across the whole of the eastern end of the mountain, police, admitting that Dorchuk had likely escaped the area, expanded the search to New York City.




Newspaper headlines April - June 1925


Amazingly, reports began to come in from Hillsborough residents claiming that in the weeks leading up to the attack they had seen Dorchuk in New York - with Mrs. Krysowaty!  Even the Krysowatys older married daughter, Mary Wifzezuk, had to admit that her mother was the one who had initially hired Durchuk, was partial to him, and took his side in any dispute.

Detectives finally caught up with Mrs. Krysowaty in New York on April 22nd, the day before Josephine succumbed to her wounds.  She was arrested as a material witness in the hope that she would lead them to Dorchuk.





In the end, it was a circular sent out by Somerset County detective George Totten with a description of the assailant and the offer of a $500 reward that led to Dorchuk's capture.  New York detectives Cronin and Cowley of the Fifth Street Station kept careful watch of the employment agencies on the lower east side for six weeks, looking for someone who matched Durchuk's description.

Josephine Krysowaty's hospital bed interview with detectives was admitted into evidence at the trial in December, where John Dorchuk received a life sentence for one of the most brutal murders in Hillsborough and Somerset County history.






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