The two letters
The two letters which Olga Hepnarová sent to the editorial staffs of Svobodné slovo and Mladý svět newspapers are naturally among the most discussed evidence whenever her case is mentioned, however, the journalists and other people who were writing on her in the past often tended to misquote it. In the book about Olga Hepnarová, for example, we can read the following: “We should also note the words which the author of the letter underlined or wrote in capital letters, whereas in the very first paragraph, we can also see the first and also the last sign of her eventual political motive, so it is only fitting for the then era that some journalists who were writing on her case deliberately skipped the abovementioned passage.” 1 In reality, though, the two letters weren’t identical, as each of them contained a number of small dissimilarities. One of them was also the aforementioned passage which “hinted” at Hepnarová’s eventual political motive, and of which there was no mention in the second letter at all – simply because Hepnarová herself didn’t even consider it worth of mentioning.
Both letters were written in the night between July 7 and July 8, 1973, with the letter for the Svobodné slovo newspaper being written as first (which is easily recognizable due to a rather untidy and stretched script, as well as the text “leaning” on one side). In the second letter addressed to Mladý svět newspaper, we can then clearly see a much tidier writing, and also note several changes which Olga made – for example the omitting of the passage about “the places where they’re dealing with political prisoners” and also the adding of a new nickname of “OUR DARLING”. In the first letter, Olga describes her cottage as “a symbol of my loneliness”, in the latter, she then calls it “a symbol of my lonely fight”. As for the boarding house “Babylon” 2 in the Plaňanská street, she firstly mentions it as “a place, where one can live purely by a strength of will”, then, in the second letter, she refers to it as “a place where one can live, though”. Also, the question mark which she firstly wrote next to the likely date of her crime, was then changed to “random” in the second letter, whilst the sentence “here’s my verdict” later read as “my verdict is as follows”.
On July 13, 1973, shortly before the conclusion of the second official interrogation, Olga Hepnarová was quoted as saying the following: “In the end, I’d like to express my utmost astonishment over the fact that the Prague Traffic Center where I originally rented the truck doesn’t mind lending its customers such old and obsolete vehicles. It’s as if you were to go to the PRAGOKAR Company, and they would lend you, say, an AERO truck.” So let’s have a look at some basic facts on the vehicle that played such instrumental role in this story:
- built in what was then a rather trying and difficult year of 1946, it was somewhat unusual to see the vehicle being considered roadworthy and subsequently getting its license plate as late as in 1953, with the first recorded drive taking place in 1956.
- all in all, the vehicle had been owned by six different subjects, mostly agricultural or procurement enterprises, but also by a private owner
- yearly, the vehicle drove cca 30 000 km, and its engine had been replaced by a new one virtually during every single overhaul (in total, the vehicle then drove approximately some 500 000 km, with its engine being replaced by a new one circa 15 times)
- the last overhaul, which also included the replacing of the whole cab, occurred in November and December of 1972. How unprofitable it was to own and operate these vehicles can be best illustrated on the bill for this last overhaul, which amounted to some Kčs 30.479,-, while the vehicle’s overall price after the overhaul equaled to no more than Kčs 35.000,-.
- since the last overhaul, the vehicle racked up another 1681 km, but still, its overall condition clearly showed a number of deficiencies, for example on the brake system. The condition of the tires was deemed as insufficient, with the ones mounted on the rear right wheel being the only ones that were deemed OK, showing a deterioration of 15 %. The left rear pair had a deterioration of 70 % and 100 % (with the latter lacking any visible pattern), whilst the front wheels had their tires deteriorated to 50 % on the left, and 60 % on the right. Of course, none of these defects played any significant role in the actual accident, as it was caused purely intentionally.
Cigarettes for jail
Over the years, Olga Hepnarová’s case has become the subject of many urban legends among the people. One of them is a rumor according to which Olga Hepnarová, in preparation for her crime, bought herself a large amount of cigarettes. One televised documentary about her even came up with a concrete number – six cartons. The same number was actually mentioned on the Czech version of her Wikipedia page by one Wikipedian, who, aside from mentioning the cigarettes, also added clothes in the mix, writing: “so that she could have both of it when in prison”. The plausibility of this theory may be supported by the fact that Olga herself was a heavy smoker, and also by her own quotes during her interrogations on July 10 and July 13, 1973, where she admitted to having a brief stop at Petřiny, where she indeed bought some cigarettes. She didn’t mention any concrete amount, though, only a general term “cigarettes”. Hence, it could’ve easily been one box or even ten cartons, maybe even the aforementioned six. So how many cigarettes did Olga actually buy?
The aforementioned stop at Petřiny occured between cca 12:45 and 13:10, i.e. almost immediately before the accident. In the following hours, Olga Hepnarová then found herself in situations which weren’t quite suitable for smoking (a brief questioning in the VB office in the Františka Křížka street, the blood takings at a drunk tank and toxicology unit, the psychiatric examination in Apolinářská street, etc.), as she was constantly on the move.
The first relief for her of some sort came at around 17:30 in the evening, when she had been moved to Konviktská street for interrogation. Later, around midnight, she finally arrived at the Ruzyně prison, where she went through the usual admission procedures. The results of these procedures were very accurately documented in three separate documents, namely Protocol on frisk search, List of personal items and civil clothing and List of the prisoner’s valuables, and its detailed nature can be best described by the fact that they listed items such as half-empty perfume bottle, old ballpoint pen, list of various keys, documents, etc.. Hence, it is fairly plausible that a half empty box of cigarettes could have been easily omitted from the list, but certainly not several cartons. That Olga didn’t bring with herself any larger bulk of cigarettes in prison is also evident from her first letter which she wrote to her boyfriend M.D., and in which she’s informing him that “she’s totally broke and doesn’t have anything left to smoke”.
Many people in the former Czechoslovakia firstly heard about this word directly in relation with Olga Hepnarová’s case. To find its true meaning is a matter of minutes nowadays, but what did this word actually mean to Olga herself and where did she firstly hear it?
Some sources say that the word was often used by her attorney JUDr. O. T.. In 1997, however, I had the chance to meet in Prague with one of the colleagues who worked with Olga’s father in the bank. As we talked, he would not only reminisce of the time he spent with Mr. Hepnar, but also of Olga, who often used to pay a visit to her father in his work. She was around 10 or 11 back then, and he recalled that she often used to complain about something during these visits. Hence, it was him who would go on to name her Prügelknabe as first, telling her that the Prügelknabes, in the past, were young boys who were frequently punished for the errors of their noble peers, i.e. they were their whipping boys, the ones that were punished unjustly.
1 in the very first paragraph of the letter for the Svobodné slovo newspaper, Olga Hepnarová added in parentheses the following: “in case I had been – mistakenly, of course – condemned to a place where they’re dealing with political prisoners”
2 in both letters, Olga Hepnarová referred to the boarding house in Plaňanská street as “Babylon”, however, the facility actually enjoyed the same nickname among her roommates and other inhabitants as well
3 colloquial name for the Praga RN truck, consisting of both the letters “R” and “N” (as they are pronounced in Czech, i.e. "er" and "en"; "RN" stands for "rychlý nákladní", i.e. "fast and freight") and the suffix "a", which means the truck is, literally, of feminine gender