Cottage in Oleško
Originally, it was a small garden hut with a size of 3x3 m, two windows facing east and south, and a door on the west, which Olga Hepnarová purchased in 1971 in a gardening area Pod Berankou in Prague 6 for some Kčs 6.000,-. After the purchase, she asked the previous owner to dismantle it and transport the respective parts to the village of Oleško in the District of Prague-West, where she bought a small parcel. Once in Oleško, she began to refurbish the whole object. Prior to putting the cottage in place, a concrete foundation with a height of almost 50 cm above the ground level was laid, and following the reassembly, an enclosed veranda covering the entire west side and half of the north side, with a width of 180 cm and two windows to the west and entrance doors on the south, was added. The veranda served as an entrance to the cottage. After the installation, both the cottage and veranda were covered by a new pitched roof which also contained a small attic. The whole object covered an area of approximately 20 m2. At the time when Olga Hepnarová sold it, the wooden walls of the cottage were already covered by insulation layer (heraklit) and prepared for external plastering. For two years, she tried to live there purely on her own, but her efforts were constantly plagued by many difficulties. The cottage only had a small oil-fired furnace, which made it very difficult to properly heat the entire interior in winter. Also, the public transport from Oleško to Prague, where she daily commuted to her work, was very limited, so in the end, she decided to sell the cottage and in 1973 returned back to Prague.
As a pure coincidence, the cottage in Oleško had been given the same house number as had the house in which Olga Hepnarová had her permanent address, i.e. in Konviktská street in Prague.
During his office as a deputy to the then ill president of the republic (which spanned from cca mid-1974 to mid-1975), the prime minister of ČSSR L. Š. declined a total of four appeals for pardon. The petitioners were one woman and three men, aged 23, 24, 28 and 43. In short, the procedures that surrounded the whole petition process could be described as follows: with each petition, the Ministry of Justice submitted the Office of the President its own statement entitled “Report from the Minister of Justice of ČSR”. In this statement, the Ministry of Justice, aside from detailedly informing the president about the given case, also offered its own recommendation as well as the reasoning regarding the eventual granting or denying of the pardon. The appointed employees of the Office of the President then elaborated and later submitted the president (or his deputy) a document entitled “Intelligence on the case”, which also contained their own views regarding the eventual granting of the pardon. The final decision on whether to offer the pardon or not was then made by the president (or his deputy).
Now the obvious question arises: did the prime minister treat Olga Hepnarová’s plea for mercy differently than the remaining pleas? Was her case unusual for him in any way?
If we compare her case with, say, the case of her contemporary Milan D., who had been sentenced to death for killing a child and executed within less than a week after Olga Hepnarová, we could notice at least three obvious differences. Firstly, his appeal was declined within 14 days (which was the usual amount of time), whereas in the case of Olga Hepnarová, it took the prime minister as many as 97 days to finally decline it. Further, the prime minister asked the minister of justice to follow up his report with additional statement. And lastly, which was very unusual for this type of procedures, he declined the appeal by writing his own short statement. Normally, it was customary for the president or his deputy to simply initial the document that contained the final decision on granting or denying of the pardon.
News on the execution
In 1975, the City Court in Prague received a letter in which its sender asked the authorities for confirmation on whether the execution of Olga Hepnarová did indeed take place, claiming he couldn’t find any news on it in the press. One may ask then: what was the unwritten rule – if there was any at all – for publishing this type of news in the former Communist Czechoslovakia? The monopoly right to conduct all major press activities, of course, belonged to Rudé Právo – the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Even years after the communist takeover in 1948, however, the newspapers were still serving more as a propaganda tool instead of having the usual informative purpose, so it’s not surprising that the news about criminality and the subsequent punishments didn’t fit in this concept very well. Because of this, up until the 1960s, Rudé Právo practically didn’t mention this type of news at all. One notable exception was the case of Václav Mrázek. Back then, the newspaper informed about his arrest, and later on the beginning of his trial and the final verdict of the senate. His execution took place on Sunday, December 29, 1957, and on the following day, a short message about it appeared in the newspaper (most sources incorrectly mention the date of Mrázek’s execution as December 30, 1957, however, he was indeed executed on the day before).
Since 1966, Rudé Právo then began publishing on its page 2 (either in the column “Black chronicle” or in a separate article) news on the recent crimes fairly regularly. There’s no obvious indication of any censorship that might’ve been applied on this news, however, it seldom appeared when the newspaper also published news that was considered politically important (for example the articles on the ongoing party congresses, various important anniversaries, birthdays or deaths of prominent communist politicians, etc.). Another reason why the newspaper didn’t publish the news on Olga Hepnarová’s execution may be that the editorial staff of Rudé Právo, for some reason, forgot to mention it, or simply didn’t have any knowledge of it at all. For example, in 1966 the newspapers informed the public on cases that had a major political and social impact: i.e. the executions of two military deserters A.P. and V.C. and the execution of female murderer I.Č., but on the contrary, they didn’t mention a word on P.M. from Ostrava – the last executed man in 1966, whose case, compared to the ones above, wasn’t in any way extraordinary. In 1974, the state carried out just one execution, but the public again weren’t informed on it at all. In 1975, the newspapers published the news on the execution of P.R., which was again a case that had a major political subplot, as well as the news on the executions of two murderers of children M.D. and V.B., but regarding the very first execution of that year – which was coincidentally the execution of Olga Hepnarová – they again didn’t publish anything. Whether it was because of the rather unusual motive of the crime or because of the convict being a young woman is, however, subject to debate.
In similar fashion, the Rudé Právo newspaper then continued to inform the public on the recent executions till the very last execution in 1989. The only noticeable change in these articles was the form in which the editorial staff had been publishing the names of the convicts. Since the beginning of the 1980s, the newspapers were featuring only their initials (the last convict that had his full name published was R.B., one of the main figures involved in the politically sensitive affair of the Bareš cousins, also known as the Pomezí case; his execution in 1979 had been documented in the press). The same trend then continued till the last three executions, where the editorial staff once again reverted to publishing the full names of the convicts. Nevertheless, even in the 1980s, the public weren’t informed on each and every execution that took place. In 1985, for example, Rudé Právo published the news on only 2 out of 4 executions, whereas in the following year (which saw a total of 3 executions), the public had been informed solely on the execution of serial killer L.H.. Six months before his execution, another execution involving a serial killer M.S. took place. Interestingly, the press once again didn’t mention anything on it, but his arrest in 1983 had been well documented by the then Czechoslovak Television in a programme called Aktuality (appearing in it as a guest was then one of the investigators that were in charge of this case), so it didn’t seem as if the authorities were in any way intending to prevent the media from informing the public on the ongoing events.
Hence, it’s fairly safe to say that the true reason why the newspapers omitted to publish the news on Olga Hepnarová’s execution didn’t lie in the authorities’ intention to keep it secret. It simply was one of those executions that weren’t made public in the press.
ČSR – Česká socialistická republika; The Czech Socialist Republic