Sonya Golden Hand

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Sonya Golden Hand

Sofia Ivanovna Blyuvshtein (also spelled as Bluvstein, Bluvsztejn; better known as Sonia the Golden Hand; 1846–1902), was a legendary female con artist who lived in the Russian Empire and was eventually convicted of theft.[1][2] She committed several carefully planned robberies, and was eventually captured and exiled to the Sakhalin penal colony. She became the basis of several books and films, in which she is romanticized as a Robin Hood figure, who never killed, and who stole only from the rich.[3][4]

In 1890, she met Anton Chekhov, who was visiting Sakhalin during his investigations into prison reform; he subsequently described the incident in his book Sakhalin Island.

A headless statue by an unmarked grave in Moscow's Vagankovo Cemetery is used as a shrine to Sonia; worshippers, who believe Sonya to be buried there, ask for her spiritual assistance in their own crimes.

Origin[edit]

Little is known of her life and origin for certain as she never provided real information about herself. She was married several times. She was born as Sheindlia-Sura Leibovna Solomoniak in 1846[5] (or perhaps in 1859) in Povozki in the Warsaw district[1]

Famous cases[edit]

The robbery of the jeweler Karl von Mel[edit]

During May 1883 a beautiful and well-dressed young lady entered the von Mel jewelry store and introduced herself as the wife of well-known psychiatrist. She had expensive tastes and selected a variety of items worth thirty thousand rubles. She asked for the jewelry to be hand-delivered by the owner to her home address where her rich husband would pay for the items. At the appointed time, the jeweler with the collection of diamonds arrived at the doctor's residence. The beautiful wife met him and took the box of jewels explaining that she wished to wear them that night. She invited him to wait in her husband's office. Later the doctor arrived and asked the jeweler what he wanted. When the jeweler made a compliment on the sophisticated taste of his gorgeous wife and persistently insisted to be paid for the items he had just delivered, medical orderlies captured him and took him away to a mental hospital. As it was later revealed, a lady had arrived just before the time assigned for the jewelry to be delivered and presented herself to the doctor as a wife of von Mel. She said that her elderly husband had gone crazy over buying diamonds, and paid for his treatment upfront. Of course, the con artist had disappeared with all the treasure and no one saw it ever again.

Son'ka the Golden Hand, according to eyewitnesses, was not a garish beauty. But garish beauty is not necessary to female seducers, in them are their special magic, their personal methods, and not only an artistic taste but also the gift of reincarnation, they by inside feel know how to make any person obedient to them. Sofia Blyuvshteyn possessed this natural gift over any measure that also made her a queen of the criminal world of St. Petersburg.

Banker Dogmarov's robbery[edit]

During October 1884 in Odessa at cafe "Fanconi" the banker Mr. Dogmarov noticed quite a beautiful lady who identified herself as Mrs. Sofia San Donato. After some pleasant conversation she asked him to change a thousand rubles bill. Soon the banker learned that she was leaving for Moscow by evening train, the same as he. The banker suggested that he accompany her. In the sleeping compartment they politely conversed, laughed, and ate chocolate candies. In the morning, after having a good sleep, the banker found neither his money nor securities for the sum of 43,000 rubles.

Sofia Blyuvshteyn did not like small or impromptu cons. She was always thoroughly prepared and tried to foresee chances. For her there existed neither high walls nor state borders. She was fluent in five languages, had mastered secular manners and after the successful con preferred to relax in Marienbad under the false documents of some baroness. Son'ka remained an "aristocrat" of the criminal world. She was very proud of her nickname "The Golden Hand" as a court title, and the most famous St. Petersburg swindlers were her lovers. Preferring to act alone, she nevertheless created her own gang, after inviting the well-known pilferer (vor v zakone, highest rank in Russian criminal world) Levit Sandanovich, and even became a member of a prestigious criminal club in Moscow, "Red Jacks".

At first Son'ka was hardly ever cornered on robberies, and even in those rare cases she succeeded in escaping without being caught. When Son'ka the Golden Hand for the first time proved to be on the bench of defendants, all Russian newspapers reported about this event on the first page. For several days, remaining in Smolensk prison, Sonya charmed overseers - she read them verses in different languages, told them stories about life in the distant countries... In whole, one gendarme fell in love with her, had arranged the escape and ran away together with her. The gendarme was caught soon, judged and punished, but Sonya continued "to hit" rich fools. Once she cleaned even her own attorney but being charmed by her he protected her anyway.

The robbery of Khlebnikov jewelry store in Petrovka Street[edit]

During August 1885 the manager of a jewelry store T. recommended a collection of adornments for 22,300 rubles to a Courland baroness- Sofia Buxhoeveden. When the treasures were picked and nicely packed, the honorable lady recalled that she forgot all her money at home. She took the jewelry and left in a hurry after the requested amount, leaving as the guarantee accompanying her relatives – gray haired father and a little baby girl on governess' hands. She promised she would return very shortly and pay for the jewelry. When two hours later the owner of the store reported the robbery to the police station they found out that these "relatives" were hired on Khitrovka market by an advertisement published in a newspaper.

The public was excited over Son'ka's tricks. The popularity of Golden Hand among the people was so great that in the epoch of the absence of television news she was recognized on the street. At first this even helped her - the excited crowd could push aside the police. But soon her reputation began to seriously interfere with Son'ka's shady business. Moreover, with the years Sofia Blyuvshteyn became sentimental. She returned 5,000 rubles to a widow robbed by her, who had two daughters. To the actor of a small theater in the impulse of feelings she sent to the scene a gold watch just stolen from someone in the theater's lobby. After seeing in the hotel room a sleeping young man near whom laid the gun and the letter to the mother with the acknowledgement about spending of 300 rubles given out to the treatment of his sister, Son'ka took out of her purse 500 ruble bill, put it in young man's hand and slipped out from the room. Furthermore, she spent the enormous amount of money on her two daughters' education, who, inheriting the artistic talent of the mother, came out subsequently on the musical-comedy scene, but thoroughly hid their origin.

Son'ka's special methods[edit]

Son'ka the Golden Hand had her own "special methods". Under specially grown long fingernails she hid precious stones, for the thefts in the stores she had a dress-bag, in which entire roll of fabric could hidden. She used a small monkey to help her in her shady "business" - while the mistress negotiated over some jewelry, the little beast swallowed the precious stones, and at the house they were freed from her stomach with the aid of an enema.

"Guten Morgen!" is another good example. It is possible that Son'ka invented this famous method of hotel thefts. The method was simple and insolent - beautifully dressed, elegant Son'ka gets into the hotel room of her potential victim early in the morning and begins to steal his valuables. If the lodger all of a sudden awakes, she would pretend that she mistook the door, she was confused, but rarely departed empty-handed. For the benefit of the matter she could even spend a night with the rich cavalier, and then already quietly would clean his pockets. She had lots of other "professional" tricks that she used throughout her crime life, some of which are still used by thieves around the world today, more than 100 years later.

First time very young Szejndla got married to some Rosenbad, gave birth to Sura-Riva, stole all his money and had disappeared for him forever. The second time she got married to the old rich man Sheloma Shkol'nik (whom she also left without money), and the third - to the railroad thief Michel Blyuvshteyn (Bluwstein, Bluwsztejn). Under his surname she figures in all judicial matters. During this marriage she bore a daughter Tabba, but their marriage rapidly ended after her husband flew into a rage, when he heard that Sonya committed her crimes with the aid of her sexual charms. Story has it that one day while committing one of his robberies Michel under the rage had killed an old rich widow, was caught and sentenced to lifetime catorga (penal servitude) on Sakhalin Island, where he died short after.

Finally Son'ka actually madly fell in love, and this late passion ruined her. The young dandy pilferer Volodya Kochubchik (to the world Wolf Bromberg, which began to live by stealing at the age of 8) became her true passion. He was spending all the money Son'ka "earned" by playing cards. She was increasingly forced to do riskier thefts with every day, became very nervous, was making lots of errors during her "work", and finally Fortune turned her back on her. After an improbably loud court trial, Sofia Blyuvshteyn was sent to catorga (penal servitude) on Sakhalin. All of Odessa came out on the streets and cheered her as a hero while she was transferred from the prison to the ship which she had to board in order to get to the remote island. But her young lover, after finishing six months of "working house", became a well-off landowner in the south of Russia.

Son'ka attempted to escape from Sakhalin three times. The first time the guards simply returned her; after the second, they chained her in shackles (she was the first chained woman in the history of penal servitude); and on the third attempt, performed alone or with her then-lover, the murderer Bogdanov, Sofia was broken. According to one source, she soon died, but according to another source she became the owner of a kvass pub (kvass is a popular Russian rural drink made out of bread or grains) and entertained the local Sakhalin residents.

Meeting with Anton Chekhov[edit]

When Anton Chekhov met Sonya in 1890, she was being held in solitary confinement, clamped in leg irons, in Alexandrovsk. Chekhov wrote: "Looking at her, it is impossible to believe that not long ago she was beautiful to such a degree that she charmed her prison guards, as she did in Smolensk, for example, where the overseer helped her to escape and himself ran away with her."

By the time of this meeting, Blyuvshtein—perhaps in her mid-40s—was a "small, skinny, already graying woman with a crumpled, old-womanish face," Chekhov wrote. She had lived freely in exile on Sakhalin but was moved to solitary confinement after escaping from the island dressed as a soldier. She managed to carry out several crimes before being recaptured.

There is a movie based on this legend which some people believe is true whereas others believe it is all just a tale. However, there are two movies that are based on this story which are called Sonya Golden Hand and Sonya and the Legend Continued, which is about her younger daughter committing theft together.

Adaptations[edit]

  • 1915 Six-episode silent melodrama, jointly directed by Iurii Iurevskii and Vladimir Kasianov, produced by Alexander Drankov[6][7]
  • 2001 The first episode of the 2001 Sonka Golden Hand miniseries, which was broadcast by Rossiya the same day that Boris Yeltsin died, was watched by 29% of Russian viewers.
  • 2006 Viktor Merezhko's novel, Son'ka—Zolotaia ruchka, published by Amfora
  • 2007 Viktor Merezhko's TV movie series Son'ka Golden-Hands (Son'ka—Zolotaia ruchka)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Giovanni Fiandaca (2007). Women and the Mafia: Female Roles in Organized Crime Structures. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-387-36542-8.
  2. ^ Dina Siegel, Henk van de Bunt (2012). Traditional Organized Crime in the Modern World: Responses to Socioeconomic Change. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-461-43212-8.
  3. ^ James Von Geldern, Louise McReynolds (1998). Entertaining Tsarist Russia: Tales, Songs, Plays, Movies, Jokes, Ads, and Images from Russian Urban Life, 1779-1917. Indiana University Press. p. 267. ISBN 978-0-253-21195-8.
  4. ^ Vlas Doroshevich (2011). Russia's Penal Colony in the Far East: A Translation of Vlas Doroshevich's "Sakhalin". Anthem Press. p. 311. ISBN 978-0-857-28872-1.
  5. ^ . Who is Sonka Zolotaya Ruchka? (Кто такая Сонька Золотая Ручка?). Vokrug sveta. 18 December 2006
  6. ^ Denise Jeanne Youngblood (1999). The Magic Mirror: Moviemaking in Russia, 1908-1918. Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-299-16234-4.
  7. ^ Ken Wlaschin (2009). Silent Mystery and Detective Movies: A Comprehensive Filmography. McFarland. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-786-44350-5.