A political murder that shocked Finland in February 1905
Helsingin Sanomat 100 Years Ago
A political murder dominated the news in Helsingin Sanomat in early February 100 years ago. Much space in the paper was devoted to the murder, which took place on Monday, February 6th. The victim was Procurator Eliel Johnsson, also known by his nobleman's surname Soisalon-Soininen.
"Procurator shot" declared a news item covering two columns in the newspaper on Tuesday, February 7th.
At half past ten on Monday, "a large young man wearing an officer's uniform" had entered Johnsson's apartment in Helsinki on the top floor of the building at Bulevardikatu 12.
The man gave the maid a French calling card, which bore - as was later ascertained - a false name, and asked to speak with the procurator.
He was taken to the study, were the procurator came through a door on the opposite side of the room.
"In the blink of an eye, he took out a revolver and fired several shots at the procurator, of which two, hitting the chest and abdomen, were fatal, according to statements later given by doctors."
"The procurator fell immediately to the floor, and at the same time one of the two bodyguards in the procurator's suite came in and fired several shots at the stranger, two of which struck the murderer in one of his legs."
"The shots were heard in an adjoining room, where the procurator's 17-year-old son John was staying. Armed with a revolver, he rushed into the reception room and also began shooting at the man dressed as an officer. Aiming at his chest, he fired a shot, which nevertheless apparently did not hit the target, because the murderer had only a small wound in one of his arms, in addition to the ones mentioned earlier. The murderer fired back, and hit the younger Johnsson in his left leg."
The murderer tried to flee, but fell at the door of the hallway, where the "detectives" arrested him.
"The whole incident took place in a few seconds. The police and a doctor were summoned immediately. Dr. Evert Wasastjerna, who was holding his surgery at the time, was called, and he arrived within a few minutes from his nearby apartment. The procurator was already dead by this point."
Four other Finnish doctors rushed to the scene, as well as a Russian military doctor. It was noted that the procurator had received 3 - 4 wounds in his chest and abdomen.
The gunman was believed to have been feigning a poor condition, although "he seemed to be quite fatigued". Later it was noted that he was unconscious; he had apparently hit his head and suffered a concussion as he fell.
"He could not be made to talk. He responded to all questions with silence. On the same day it was revealed that the gunman was a masseur, Lennart Hohenthal, "about 26 - 28 years of age". The officer's uniform was not of any Russian regiment, but rather deliberately manufactured in order to perpetrate a ruse.
According to his biographical data the procurator had been born on May 26, 1856 in Jalasjärvi, passed a "general law degree", served as a trainee at the Court of Appeals in Vyborg, and advanced in his career in a manner typical of the age. "The dead man was asked to serve as a Senator in the section of justice in the Senate in 1900, and he became a procurator in 1901".
He was made a nobleman in 1904, and took the nobility name Soisalon-Soininen.
During the period of the Czars, the office of procurator involved serving as an assistant to the Russian Governor-General. He saw to it that laws were obeyed in the Grand Duchy of Finland, and he served as the supervisor of all of the country's prosecutors.
The Governor-General ordered that the "murder investigation must be left to Finnish officials, and that the matter should be placed before a Finnish court".
An even more thorough description of events was published in Wednesday's paper.
More details of the gunman had been received. He was Karl Lennart Hohenthal, born in 1877 in Kuortane, the son of a church pastor. He was a student of mathematics, who had given up his studies. He was an avid sportsman, a skilful hunter, who liked sailing.
His character was described as zealous and stubborn, "For which reason he was considered somewhat odd".
Hohenthal could not be interrogated, because he was too weak. Through the week others were also interrogated - first mainly relatives, including Lennart's father, "the eldely vicar of Laihia".
Finnish newspapers rapidly began commenting on each other's stories.
Uusi Suometar emphasised that "the ruthless incitement that has taken place both publicly and in secret against our government men, and which has continued for years," and "which has primarily been targeted at the highest enforcer of the law", was the main reason for the assassination.
Helsingin Sanomat responded, writing that knowing the phenomena in the society of the previous years should have taught the people of the Suometar faction that "no incitement or instigation could achieve and maintain the rage in people's minds that manifests itself in state unrest and acts of violence, unless the conditions themselves have created [precisely] the kind of conditions that give rise to such phenomena".
The St. Petersburg newspaper Novoje Vremya noted, among other things, that "rebellion in Finland has taken the form of murder and follows the programme it has set out for itself. Governor-General Bobrikoff was the first victim, and now blood has been shed before our eyes for a second time." Bobrikoff was shot on the stairway of the Senate in June 1904, an act of individual protest against the severe Russification policies of the time.
The procurator was praised as a man who was in favour of cooperation.
"Johnsson was one of the sensible Finnish men of action who took a calm view of the demands of the Russian government, recognising them as legal. Johnsson was one of the few Finns with whom representatives of Russian power might hold discussions, negotiations, and who might ponder the situation in the country", wrote Novoje Vremya.
A long description of the funeral was published on February the 12th, in which the list of people laying wreaths covered more than an entire newspaper column.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 8.2.2005