On the night of June 26, 1920, Frank Sokolowsky cried out in the street near his home on Beers Street in New Haven. He needed help. He needed a doctor.
Sokolowsky collapsed in the street, and a doctor rushed to the scene to help as his wife, Alexandra, watched with the crowd. There was no helping Sokolowsky. He died, an autopsy would later reveal, as a result of having carbolic acid thrown in his face. He ingested some, and more burned his skin.
Alexandra slipped into the darkness. Sokolowsky was a well-known figure in Connecticut – at least people thought they knew him. His death would cause people to question who Frank Sokolowsky actually was and how the many mysteries surrounding his life played into his murder.
Publicly, Sokolowsky was the face of the American Federation of Labor, active in organizing brass workers in Waterbury and elsewhere. Using his mastery of multiple languages, Sokolowsky was instrumental in putting together a strike in Waterbury in 1919, which earned the workers a 10 percent raise.
Strikes in 1920 had been less successful, as the management of the companies had turned back union demands that the factories be closed shops (requiring all workers to pay union dues).
Sokolowsky stood at the forefront of the strikes. At their height more than 10,000 workers had walked off the job. But just a few nights before his murder, Sokolowsky had spoken to a Waterbury labor group and suggested that the workers needed to take a more conciliatory stance with the factory owners.
The message had angered some of the workers, and rumors circulated that Sokolowsky was growing too close to the owners. The workers questioned how he funded his lifestyle, traveling to New York City to act for the union. Was the union actually paying, or was he in bed with management?
More details came out about Sokolowsky that raised even more questions. When he married Alexandra in Boston, the name he used was Frank Genuitis. He had also used that name when he lived in Canada.
Even more unusual, police discovered Sokolowsky had been aligned with the Russian government in the days before the 1917 Russian Revolution. Was he perhaps still an anti-communist using his position with the AFL to thwart Bolshevik influences within the active Connecticut labor movement?
The police wanted to know more. They wanted to talk to Alexandra, his wife. But she was nowhere to be found. As police began looking, they found Alexandra had left New Haven. She stopped briefly in Bridgeport, and from there had slipped into New York City.
When they found her, Alexandra had disguised herself, donning dark, tortoise-shell glasses and a blazing red dress. She declared her alignment with the Bolsheviks. The young woman explained that yes, Frank had been an agent of the Russian government under the tsar. His name was actually Orloff. Later, she acknowledged, the pair had worked for the Canadian government, reporting on the activities of Russians in Toronto and North America.
Finally, they came to America where Frank had used his language skills for the AFL. However, she said, none of this factored into his death. He had died because she had thrown acid in his face, and spying had nothing to do with it.
Frank Sokolowsky, she told police, had taken up with another woman (or women). The woman she named, a young New York widow named Katherine Neveloff, denied any improper relationship with Frank. But Alexandra believed otherwise.
She had found letters between the two, and though she could not read them, a friend described them as love letters. Fearing she would lose Frank, Alexandra grew obsessed with the idea of disfiguring him so that no one else would find him attractive.
On June 26, when Frank returned home after two days away, Alexandra put her plan into action. “He fell into a doze and I took a pint of carbolic acid and I flung it into his face,” she would confess. “He sprang from the bed with a scream and said he was burning up all over.”
“I often had been thinking of disfiguring him so I could keep him. But I never thought of killing him. For I could not live without him.”
This story last updated in 2022.