Saturlina Grabowski of 56-02 61st Street in Maspeth was a tough Depression-era survivor. The twice-widowed immigrant mother of 7 children saw her family’s home relief get cut off, and her application for a widowed mother’s pension get denied. She supported the family by working as a domestic servant. Her adult son Anthony worked a steady job in a canning factory in LIC to bring in additional money, but had been injured on the job, which affected his income. In 1935, the family found itself in dire financial straits.
Suffering from a severe stress-induced headache, on the afternoon of June 3, 1935 Saturlina Grabowski made a fatal mistake that surely haunted her for the rest of her life.
The incident took place at the home of Saturlina’s cousin, Benedict Petrowicz, a widower with two of his own children. His apartment was located at 60-17 Perry Ave. Saturlina had brought her youngest son Eddie with her to play with little Chester Petrowicz while Benedict tried to help her work on a plan to straighten out her finances. Benedict’s 16-year old son John Petrowicz had gone to the store to fetch a beer for his father while the two 5-year old boys played together. The exasperated mother had complained to her cousin about experiencing a painful headache.
Saturlina’s 13-year old son Chester, a student from PS72 on his lunch break, suddenly showed up at the Petrowicz apartment, refusing to return to school until his mother gave him a penny. During the heated argument, Mrs. Grabowski’s temper got the better of her and she threw a plate, several knives and a fork at Chester, all of which did little to stop his demands. Finally, she threw an iron fireplace poker at him. The projectile pierced his temple. The boy fell down the stairs, mortally injured.
Saturlina ran into the street and screamed for help. A neighbor called the police. The boy was rushed to St. John’s Hospital in Long Island City, but he could not be saved. By the time the police responded, his mother had left the scene, but they soon found her sobbing uncontrollably at her own home.
Saturlina was immediately arrested and taken to the Glendale precinct. While being held overnight, she repeatedly stated that poor Chester had been injured and was in the hospital but refused to admit that he was dead. She was in serious denial about what she had done. Saturlina was arraigned before a judge at the Ridgewood Magistrate’s court, charged with homicide and held without bail at the Women’s Detention Center in Manhattan.
Chester’s funeral was held June 6th at St. Stanislaus Church while his mother languished in jail. Saturlina’s mental state was so fragile that her family felt her attendance at the funeral would kill her. Chester’s brothers and his classmates prayed at the slain boy’s coffin. He had been scheduled to graduate from PS72 with honors and was reportedly interested in becoming an attorney. He was interred at St. John Cemetery next to his father, Walter, Saturlina’s second husband, who had died a year prior. After the funeral, his brother Eddie was remanded to the care of the Jamaica Shelter of the Children’s Aid Society.
By the time of her grand jury appearance at the Long Island City courthouse 3 weeks later, the grieving Saturlina had come to terms with what she had done, insisting to reporters that she did not mean to kill Chester, but only sought to scare him. The widowed mother struck a sympathetic chord with the panel that was to decide on whether or not she should go to trial, and on June 27th, they declined to indict her. Saturlina was released the following day and went back to her children.
Nothing more was written about her until 1945, when it was reported that her son William was wounded in battle in Italy during the waning days of WWII. Saturlina died in 1964 the age of 77 and is buried in St. John Cemetery alongside Walter and Chester.