Peter the Painter

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Peter the Painter, as he appeared on his wanted poster in 1911

Peter the Painter, also known as Peter Piaktow (or Piatkov, Pjatkov, Piaktoff), was the leader of a gang of Latvian criminals in the early 20th Century. After supposedly fighting in and escaping the Sidney Street Siege in 1911, he became an anti-hero in London's East End. He was never caught, and there is some question as to whether or not he actually ever existed.


In the wake of the Houndsditch Murders on 16 December 1910, one of the gang involved was found dead at a flat at which Peter Piatkow had lived with Fritz Svaars aka Fricis Svars, both of whom were believed to be members of a Latvian radical group. Svaars was the cousin of Jacob Peters, another Latvian far-leftist. The Siege of Sidney Street was triggered when the police were informed that Svaars and his comrades were hiding out at 100 Sidney Street in January 1911.

There are a number of candidates for the true identity of Peter the Painter. He was frequently identified with Yakov Peters (Jacob Peters), who was tried but acquitted for his involvement in the affair and later became a Cheka agent after the Russian Revolution. Donald Rumbelow, for example, identifies Peters with the Painter.[1]

In 1988, based on research in the KGB archives, the historian of anarchism Philip Ruff suggested Peter the Painter might in fact be Gederts Eliass,[2] a Latvian artist involved in the 1905 Revolution and living in exile during the time of the Siege, returning to Riga after the 1917 Revolution.[3] More recently, Ruff has identified Peter the Painter with Janis Zhaklis, or Zhakles, another Latvian far-leftist. Like Peters, Zhaklis was a member of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party in 1905; among his exploits was the breaking Fritz Svaars out of prison in Riga. Zhaklis associated with Eliass in exile in Finland, where they were involved together in the robbing the Russian State Bank branch. He broke with the Social Democrats and became an anarchist. It is unclear what happened to him after 1911.[4] In August 2012 Ruff's researches into the life of Janis Zhaklis were published by Dienas Gramata (in Latvian) as Pa stāvu liesmu debesīs : Nenotveramā latviešu anarhista Pētera Māldera laiks un dzīve (A towering flame : the life & times of Peter the painter)[5]

The type of gun Peter the Painter allegedly used at Sidney Street, a German Mauser C96 pistol, was also sometimes called a Peter the Painter after him, particularly in Ireland during the War of Independence and later.[6][7]

A social housing development built in 2006 by Tower Hamlets Community Housing on the corner of Sidney Street and Commercial Road has been called Peter House and Painter House, after Peter the Painter, provoking condemnation from a local councillor and the Metropolitan Police Federation.[8]

The song "Peter the Painter", by Ian Dury and the Blockheads, is unrelated, referring instead to the artist Peter Blake.

In popular culture[edit]

He was portrayed by Peter Wyngarde in the 1960 film "The Siege of Sidney Street".

Peter the Painter appears as a character in the 4th episode of the Australian murder mysteries series, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. In this episode "Death at Victoria Dock" involving the murder of a Latvian anarchist in Melbourne's docks in the mid 1920s, Peter is identified to Phryne Fisher in a club as the man involved in the Sidney Street Siege in London. He is a key character in the episode. The original book published by Kerry Greenwood includes an audiobook interview with the author who explains that in earlier original research she interviewed two wharfies actually working at the Melbourne docks in the 1920s who confirmed the rumor that Peter the Painter had exiled there.

The character Peter the Painter is portrayed by Dragoș Bucur in the 2012 ITV drama Titanic. The character is aboard the ship in an attempt to escape England for the United States. Aboard the ship he has a romantic encounter with the wife of a fellow passenger and murders another when confronted about his identity. He is also central in orchestrating an uprising amongst the 3rd class passengers when they are prevented from boarding the lifeboats.


  1. ^ Rumbelow The Siege of Sidney Street 1974 St Martins Press
  2. ^ "Eliass", Classic, LV: Culture .
  3. ^ Bankovskis & Ruff 2007, p. 6.
  4. ^ Bankovskis & Ruff 2007, pp. 6–7.
  5. ^ "Peter the Painter: the book at last". Kate Sharpley Library. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  6. ^ The Independent, 17 February 2004[dead link]
  7. ^ White, Gerry (21 November 2003). Irish Volunteer Soldier 1913–23. Osprey Publishing. p. 62. ISBN 978-1-84176-685-0. Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  8. ^ Drake, Matthew, "Honouring anarchist Fury Siege Sidney Street killer gets tower block plaque", Daily Mail (London) .


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