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Today the villages and small cities that make up New York's Westchester County are considered upscale suburbs of New York City, homes for Manhattan executives who commute by train.

But most of those places were founded to house industries, particularly along the Hudson River. They and thousands of similar communities across the country represented what used to be called "small town America." These communities were miniature versions of our large cities — they had a shopping area, a movie theater or two, restaurants, factories, upscale neighborhoods, middle-class neighborhoods and crowded tenement buildings.

Hastings-on-Hudson had its share of heavy industry in the first half of the 20th century, and heavy industry always had jobs for unskilled labor and for ambitious immigrants who wanted to live the so-called "American dream."

Laborers, particularly those recently arrived from Europe, often settled in neighborhoods that offered the cheapest housing available. These neighborhoods usually were called Shantytown. People who lived in nicer neighborhoods didn't pay much attention to Shantytown.

For residents of Hastings-on-Hudson, that all changed as 1933 drew to a close, thanks to the murder of an eight-year-old girl. It was the first murder in Hastings in 19 years. What was shocking is the latest killing was done by a girl two weeks shy of her 13th birthday. The girl's confession was disturbing enough, but the stories she told about what was going on in Shantytown stunned residents into demanding action from the police department and reform from village officials.

Syracuse Journal, December 29, 1933
WHITE PLAINS (INS) — “ I did it. Josie told lies about me and my family. I lost my temper. I did it.”

With those half-defiant, half-frightened statements confronting them like gruesome fragments of a nightmare, Westchester County officials prepared to renew questioning of 13-year-old Mary Kavala, who climaxed a four-day series of testimony with the admission she had murdered Josephine Waropay, her 8-year-old playmate and neighbor in Hastings-on-Hudson.

The startling solution to one of the most brutal murders in the annals of the county came from Mary after she had inferentially laid the slaying at the foot of one man or another in the Polish settlement near where the children lived, and hinted at orgies, “dope parties” and other fantastic explanations for the crime.

Persistent questioning by District Attorney Frank H. Coyne and his assistant, William Horan, brought the break in the case which had puzzled authorities for nearly a week.

Mary, a child with the precocious worldly knowledge of a girl many years her senior, began her recital in a defiant manner. But when it ended, she was sobbing.

“I did it,” she told her questioners. “Josie told lies about me and my family. She said I went to see men in Shantytown (the laboring settlement in Hastings-on-Hudson). She said my mother was a drunkard. I took her up to the lyceum. I told her, ‘Josie, you’re a bad girl.’

“I hit her with a rock. She fell down on the ground and I hit her again. Then I shook her. She didn’t do anything and I hit her with the rock.

“I took a piece of rubber then and twisted it twice around her neck. Then I turned her over and took some string and tied her hands and wound it around her neck.”

Mary faltered, then broke out sobbing.

“Now I’m sorry,” she wept as hardened police officials looked away.”

Josephine’s body was found under the porch of St. Matthew’s lyceum in Hastings-on-Hudson last Sunday. Her face was battered and cut and her throat bruised.

Mary told police how, after felling her playmate with the rock, she found a piece of automobile tire inner tube, took a strip of it and wound it around Josephine’s throat. Then, while hunting rubbish to cover the body, she found a bottle, she related, smashed it and scratched the face of her dead playmate.

Before she fled home, the girl told Coyne, she pulled and shoved the body under the steps of the Lyceum and dragged a carpenter’s sled up to the opening, where she managed to half obstruct it.

Coyne, obviously shocked at the recital, summoned Judge George W. Smyth, who signed an order committing Mary to a children’s shelter for the night. Today she was to be brought to the district attorney’s office for further questioning.

 

District Attorney Frank H. Coyne and Judge George W. Smyth couldn't believe that Mary Kavala's confession was real. Local police, on the other hand, believed every word. Because of her age, however, there was no way she would be tried for murder, and little likelihood she would be tried for anything, though it was certain she was headed for reform school or a mental institution.

Syracuse Journal, December 30, 1933
WHITE PLAINS (INS) — Unconvinced they have yet obtained the true version of the slaying of 8-year-old Josephine Waropay a week ago, Westchester County authorities today began a painstaking recheck of the confession of Mary Kavala, 13, playmate of the murdered child, that she killed Josephine by battering her with a rock and then strangling her.

District Attorney Frank H. Coyne, to whom Mary confessed the slaying after persistent questioning had revealed many discrepancies in stories she had told the police, admitted himself at a loss how to proceed.

“There is no clear precedent for action,” he said. “No charge of murder has been made. Mary is being held as a material witness. There is absolutely no corroboration of her confession. We have no witnesses, no fingerprints, nothing but Mary’s word that she killed the child.”

Coyne also said he was not satisfied that the confession was not another statement such as she had made previously, when she told police she and several other children of Hastings-on-Hudson, where the Waropay and Kavala families live in the same tenement, had taken part in indescribable orgies in the “Shantytown” section there.

“Her first stories,” Coyne said, “were checked and proved unfounded. She made many contradictory statements. There is the possibility the confession may be another such statement.”

Coyne’s belief that a first degree murder charge against the child would not be upheld on the basis of her confession was challenged by other officials.

“This child is a thrill killer in spite of her youth,” declared Deputy Sheriff Frank Charico. “Of all criminals I’ve encountered in 20 years she is the hardest boiled and one of the shrewdest. She was frequently in trouble in school and would fight anyone, boy or girl, with or without provocation.”

 

On January 5, the re-investigation into the crime concluded. The girl had repudiated her confession and blamed a 46-year-old laborer, claiming the man was having sex with young girls. She said she had been in a relationship with the man for three years, and that he told her if she kept her mouth shut about the murder, he would marry her.

But this laborer had an alibi for the day of the murder. And police found three boys who said they saw Mary attack the girl.

Those who interviewed Mary Kavala at the Grasslands Psychiatric Clinic described her in such terms as “blunted moral sense,” “vicious temperament” and “instinctively cruel."

Here is an excerpt from a story by one of the reporters who covered the case:

Dobbs Ferry Register, January 5, 1934
The writer of this article knows Mary Kavala as a girl who sold a weekly newspaper in Hastings. She was one of 30 children who sell the paper when it comes out and was always a stubborn, self-assertive child. She wanted her papers first, and would push and sometimes strike children who aroused her fury.

With it all, she displayed a “smartness” that was really impudence. Her language was rough and when she was reprimanded she would slam the door, stick out her tongue — as she did to photographers this week — and shout her defiance. She was always in a hurry and liked to talk impudently to adults.

Her family, as might be imagined, is distraught over the whole affair. Her sisters and half-brothers are all hard-working folk and shrink pitiably from the limelight that has been cast on them since Mary confessed her connection with the murder.

Hastings’ Board of Trustees met Tuesday night to discuss the possibility of a slum clean-up in that section. Most of the homes in the Ridge Street-Washington Avenue-Railroad Avenue sector were built before the 1924 zoning laws of the village went into effect, and it would be difficult to effect housing reform where these pre-zoning ordinance tenements exist.

However, some of them may be checked to see if they are in accordance with state fire-hazard regulations.

Living conditions in this area are poor indeed, and the village officials will accept the assistance of William Bennett, Children’s Court official and an Irvington resident, in remedying them.

 

It was decided not to prosecute the girl. Which doesn't mean she was not punished.

Dobbs Ferry Register, January 19, 1934
Mary Kavala, 13, the Hastings girl who is believed by Sheriff Thomas F. Reynolds and others to have single-handedly murdered her playmate, Josephine Waropay, 8, of Washington Avenue, Hastings, on December 24, was committed to Hudson State Training School for Girls by Children’s Court Judge George W. Smyth Wednesday.

In a guarded, 500-word opinion, he indicated that he doubted that Mary was implicated. His disposal of the case leaves it officially unsolved, for he ordered Mary sent to the institution not for being guilty of murder but for being “a bad girl.”

Mary first denied slaying Josephine, then confessed that she did kill her friend and finally repudiated that confession. Sebastian Martinez, a Hastings laborer, who furnished an alibi after she had implicated him, is still being held on a charge of contributing to the child’s delinquency.

Meanwhile, the Hastings committee appointed by Mayor Henry D. Cochrane and the Board of Trustees is working with a trained investigator to ferret out conditions in the section where the Waropay girl lived. A petition asking for police department improvements and another said to ask the removal of a certain officer, have not as yet been presented to the village board. Last week Mayor Cochrane expressed his faith in the Hastings police.

I don't know for sure what happened to Mary Kavala after that. Chances are she remained at the Hudson State Training School for Girls for several years.

Her parents, William and Anna, both natives of Czechoslovakia, perhaps reverted to a more correct spelling of their last name, Kavulya, and moved a few miles south to Yonkers. That's where they were living when the 1940 census was taken. Living with them was their son, Thomas, who would distinguish himself as a lieutenant and bombardier in World War 2 and later as a Yonkers fireman. Except for the census, his last name always appeared as Kavala.

There were at least two other children in the family — Mary's older sister, Anna, who apparently married a man named Wallace Turner, eventually settling in Long Beach, California, and Mary's half-brother, John Risko, a child by her mother's first marriage in Czechoslovakia. Risko married and also settled in Yonkers.

William Kavala (Kavulya), Mary's father, died in 1951. He had been a watchman at the Zinsser Company in Hastings on Hudson for more than 30 years. Survivors listed in his obituary were stepson John Risko, son Thomas, and two daughters, Anna Turner of Long Beach and Constance Parliaman of Brooklyn. I'd never before seen a mention of a daughter named Constance, and wondered if that might have been Mary's middle name.

In December 1953 Mary Kavala's mother died. The obituary in the Yonkers Herald Statesman (Dec. 14, 1953) said Mrs. Anna Kavulya also was known as Mrs. Kavala. She was a reeler in the rug mills of Alexander Smith, Inc., for many years. She was 62. Her first husband, John Risko, had died in 1911.

Survivors were the same as those listed for her husband two years earlier, only this time the second daughter was identified as Mrs. Constance Kavulya Parliaman of Brooklyn. Again, since no daughter named Constance was listed in the 1930 census, it's possible, I suppose, that this is a reference to Mary.

Then, in 1975, Thomas Kavala, a retired captain in the Yonkers Fire Department, passed away. He was only 55. Kavala completed 30 bombing missions over Germany during World War 2 and held the European Theater of Operations Ribbon with three bronze stars, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He had two sons, Thomas J. and Daniel W. Kavala, who were both good athletes, as was their father.

And finally, listed among his survivors, besides his half-brother, John Risko, of Yonkers, was one sister, Mrs. Mary Thompson of Yonkers.

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