As September had just given way to October in 1975 in Britain, a young girl by the name of Lesley Molseed volunteered herself to go fetch bread for the family. In the cool air of England in autumn, her curly brunette locks bounced about as she worked her way towards a local bakery. Before she arrived there, she was snatched up by a man and whisked away to a steep hill known as Rishworth Moor. Once there, she was tossed in the grass, where she landed on her chest and she was viciously stabbed 12 times in her upper shoulders and back. Once dead, the killer lifted up her dress, exposed her underwear and ejaculated onto her undergarments. She was just 11.
Once she was reported missing, an outcry for the discovery of her body erupted in her hometown of Rochdale. After three fruitless days, the police found her body on Rishworth Moor, decaying next to her blue linen backpack emblazoned with the symbol of Tweetie Bird. The public immediately called for the terrible, swift sword of vengeance in light of her murder. This lust for justice led authorities to man named Stefan Kiszko.
Eerily reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials in the United States, a gang of pre-pubescent girls had claimed that Kiszko had exposed himself to them – they would admit, years later, they had completely fabricated their claims. When police followed up on the girl’s claims, they thought this man perfectly fit their profile of a man who would kill and masturbate over a girl.
Stefan Kiszko was a 24 year-old tax clerk of Eastern European heritage. He was a large man, known for his kindness and social ineptitude. It would later be revealed that he suffered from hypogonadism, or in other words, his testes were severely underdeveloped and he never underwent full puberty. As such, he was literally a boy in a man’s body. Due to this, he lived with his mother and aunt in Rochdale. Just before Molseed’s murder, Kiszko’s doctor had prescribed him shots of testosterone to treat his hypogonadism. As expected, this lead Kiszko to develop sexual thoughts for the first time. When he was apprehended by police, the police found “girlie mags” and bags of candy in his car, which confirmed suspicions of him being a sexual deviant and a pedophile.
Upon his arrest, he was taken to the local police station. Over the course of three days, Kiszko was subject to intense and grueling interrogations in which the police investigators pounced on every inconsistent statement Kiszko made. At the time, suspects did not have the right to an attorney to be present during questioning; repeated pleas for the presence of his mother were ignored. Eventually, Kiszko confessed to the murder, with the erroneous belief that he would be released to his home and subsequent police inquiries would prove his innocence.
They didn’t. He was never released back to this home. Most damningly, his legal defense was woefully inadequate. His lawyers never presented evidence that he had broken his ankle the summer before the murder and, given his weight, could not have scaled the hill upon which Lesley Molseed was killed. Further, the semen samples taken from Kiszko contained no sperm while the semen recovered from Molseed’s body indeed contained sperm. Despite all this easily verifiable proof of his innocence, Kiszko’s legal team sought to reduce the charge to manslaughter on the theory he did, in fact, commit the murder, but due to his testosterone treatments, was operating under diminished capacity. His doctor, if he had even been called to testify, would not have agreed with that theory. Testosterone doesn’t cause men to act like mindless beasts.
Regardless of all this, Kiszko was convicted and sentenced to life. The judge praised the verdict, noting the excellent nature of the police and investigatory processes, the adeptness of the prosecution and the sheer bravery of the young girls to come forward with their story. In the mind of the justice system and the hearts of the people of Rochdale, justice had been served.
For his part, Kiszko was thrust into prison, his child-like behavior and reputation as a pedophile having preceded him. He was subject to multiple beatings and rapes, with prison staff having to isolate him constantly to prevent him from being killed. His naive illusion that the criminal justice system would right the wrongs against him could no longer be maintained. Kiszko descended into paranoia and schizophrenia, believing the government and those all around him were conspiring to destroy his life.
All this time, his mother toiled endlessly to prove the innocence of her son to any sympathetic ear that she could find. For years, both Kiszko and his mother existed in suspended animation, with the hope for his vindication dying with each passing year. Yet, in 1988, a man in the government named Campbell Malone listened to Kiszko’s story and looked into the case.
Over the next few years, it became readily apparent to those working on the case that Kiszko was completely innocent. Incidentally, Kiszko was up for parole in 1992, but the condition of his parole was that he admit he killed Lesley Molseed. About a year before his parole hearing, a formal judicial investigation was launched and upon hearing the evidence against upholding the conviction, Kiszko’s name was immediately cleared by the court.
Given his years of psychological torture by being falsely imprisoned and the physical beatings from the hands of fellow inmates, he needed a few months of intense psychotherapy before he was allowed to return home to stay with his mother. Upon his return, he was interested in next to nothing, was given to panic attacks very easily and had the look of a man defeated. On the short trips he would take outside his home, locals noted his feet simply shuffled one in front of the other, his shoulders slumped completely – the gentle giant was completely and utterly crushed. He spent his remaining days of his life, alone, in his room.
Years would go by until a man by the name of Ronald Castree was arrested by police. He was apprehended for an unrelated sex crime in 2005, but when his semen was ran through the DNA database, a direct hit was found – the semen left on Lesley Molseed’s undergarments. He was promptly arrested and tried for the crime. Castree, then aged 53, was sentenced to no less than 30 years in prison for his crime against Molseed. Vindication had come full circle; it wasn’t just that Kiszko was innocent, but the guilty man had been finally put behind bars. Surely that brought some cold comfort to Kiszko?
It was a cold, wintry day in Rochdale, with snow dusting the roofs of homes and skirting about aimlessly in the slight breeze, just two days before Christmas and a mere 10 before 1993. Kiszko was at home, when he suddenly collapsed to the floor, his body and mind having fully given up on life. His death was officially chalked up to a heart attack – I suppose they would be right. His health had been poor for so many years and given his weight, he was simply was a prime candidate for a heart attack – but that isn’t the story to be told here, right?
The main problem with stories just like Kiszko’s is the man wronged often gets swallowed whole in narratives such as the arc of justice in the modern world or the woefully inadequate reparations that are afforded those so wronged. The desperate and vengeful retribution sought for the depraved murder of Lesley Molseed was needlessly wrathful. The angry casting about for a man on which to pin this evil has the fetid stench of pure revenge. Rochdale had been ravaged by economic troubles in the years before Molseed’s murder and this situation was simply an outlet for all the pent-up frustration in the community.
In their iniquitous witch-hunt, they found a vulnerable and defenseless man. They looked aside while the police subjected a man to the third-degree of police interrogation; they didn’t demand to hear the evidence against him. His defense lawyers were clearly incompetent and Kizsko’s repeated assertions of his innocence while simultaneously believing in the intrinsic goodess of the system – when all signs point to the opposite – should have made a reasonable man pause for more than a few moments.
To quote the movie Boondock Saints, the preacher at the opening of the movie observes:
Now, we must all fear evil men. But, there is another kind of evil which we must fear most…and that is the indifference of good men!
The greatest injustices don’t occur when evil men hurt those around them, it is when men stand idly, refusing or unwilling to act. Where were the men calling for a rational and fact-based approach to Kiszko’s arrest and trial? Where were the reporters commenting on the glaring deficiencies of the defense team? Did the police involved feel any guilt when they subjected a mentally-handicapped man to the third-degree, when they let the media railroad him? What of the men at large in the community – did not one of them have the balls to keep their heads screwed on straight? Hell, they said Kiszko had the shrunken testicles. At least he had them, unlike the men of Rochdale.
Who we should fear are the men that refuse to try to do right. The men who never take strong stands in their personal life on what they believe, much less men who don’t believe in anything all. The men who mindlessly believe whatever drivel is spoon-fed to them by MSNBC or Fox News. The men who never criticize and men who do nothing but criticize. The men who seek first to judge before understanding, the men who seek first to burn off their rage before understanding the situation before them.
Men like Kiszko suffer because of the failure of good men to act. Good men don’t stand idly by while the weak among them is carted off in a ridiculous witch-hunt. They don’t give into the fickle, teeming emotions of the populace at large. Good men know doing right can often mean they must work at odds with majority. So many Western works highlight this, such as Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and The Twilight Zone‘s episode “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.” While most men will never be confronted with these sorts of situations, some are – like the men in Rochdale.
However, the men in Rochdale stood down. They caved into their baser emotions and ignored any higher callings about rationality and morality. They stood by while Kiszko was railroaded into his eventual death.
In the end, good men certainly don’t refuse to admit when they did wrong. The community of Rochdale was strangely silent when Castree was arrested and convicted. I would chalk it up to moral weakness; the more generous would consider it social cynicism or emotional exhaustion. I strenuously doubt the latter.
With all that said, when all the political, philosophical and moral chatter dies off into muted silence, the legacy of a man remains.
Ivan Stephan Kiszko, born on the 24th of March in 1952 and died on the 23rd of December of 1992, wasn’t just a good man, but a man whose life was completely marred by the ugliest shades of human nature. With his legal and personal innocence destroyed, he collapsed under the absolutely savage treatment from his fellow man.
Was it the frozen tears of angels that touched Rochdale with snow that day? Maybe not, but on that sad, blustery day a man passed from this earth, a victim of one of the most tragic miscarriages of justice of the modern world.
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