Maria Tarnowska

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The femme fatale Maria Tarnowska
and the mysterious murder of Count Kamarowsky
Maria Tarnowska

The newspapers of the time called it “The Russian Affair”. The Russian Countess Maria Tarnowska became famous because she was involved in the murder case of her lover, Russian Count Pavel Kamarowsky. In 1907 one of the Countess’ many lovers, the young Russian Nikolaj Naumov, killed Count Kamarowsky with a gunshot in the Maurogonato palace (today Hotel Ala) in Santa Maria del Giglio, near St. Mark’s Square. During the trial that took place in Venice in 1910, the Countess was accused of instigating the murder. 

Before her arrival in Venice, the story of the Russian noblewoman Maria Tarnowska was similar to that of many other young women who, after getting married and discovering her husband’s betrayals (Wassily Tarnowsky), find themselves disappointed and bitterened by life. Now separated from her husband, Maria began to travel around Europe, exploiting the wealthy lovers she frequented. Among them, Count Kamarowsky stood out.

In August 1907 Pavel Kamarowsky and Maria Tarnowska were staying at the Lido di Venezia at the Hotel Des Bains, where they were planning to celebrate their engagement. Having experienced the bitter experience of being tied to one man, Maria was not at all attracted to the idea of getting married again and marriage would mean giving up a brilliant and free existence to which she had become accustomed. At this point, two of her lovers come into play, the lawyer Donat Prilukov, who abandoned his wife and children for her, and the young Nikolaj Naumov, also the Countess’ successor.

In a first phase of the investigation, the Venetian police thought it was a political murder, but in a drawer of Palazzo Maurogonato an insurance policy was found for Maria Tarnowska. The purpose of the murder was therefore economic. Naumov was captured at the station of Verona. The countess was instead arrested in Vienna and transferred to the Giudecca women’s penitentiary in Venice. Donat Prilukov was also detained in Vienna and arrested.

The trial began on March 14, 1910 and lasted about 2 months. The countess and her two lovers were convicted and found guilty of the murder of Kamarowsky. The Countess was recognized as hysterical and half-bright, so she was sentenced to only eight years in prison. She was transferred to Trani Penitentiary and was released in 1915. At this point, the Countess moved to Buenos Aires and she ran a shop selling silk and other luxury products with her new lover, the Frenchman Alfred de Villemer. Maria Tarnowska died on 23 January 1949 in Santa Fé.

Maria Tarnowska was a femme fatale and the key to her personality was her charm. She only exercised it when she wanted to and on whom she wanted to. There was not a man she wanted to seduce who resisted. The man she did not want to bewitch found her ordinary. Those who succumbed to her seduction said she was beautiful.

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