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Forest Bor - real history through the eyes of periodicals, part 1 (1865-1875)

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In recent years we have brought you several investigations of paranormal phenomena in the Bor forest, which have revealed to us that there are electromagnetic anomalies in this place that we are not yet able to explain. We have also looked into the legends surrounding the Bor Forest and pondered how many of them are based on real, factually provable events.

In this article, however, we will stick strictly to reality.

Thanks to the Facebook page Historické Budějovice we got in touch with Mr. Jaromír Jindra. A writer, philumenist and expert on Budějovice periodicals, who put together the facts about the Bor forest between 1865 and 1914. He has thus created the most comprehensive and factual view of this mythical forest based on contemporary reports of local periodicals Budivoj, Českobudějovické Listy and Jihočeské Listy, among others.

In order to maintain maximum fidelity, we will leave some of the interesting facts or black chronicle in the full contemporary text (including possible grammatical errors) with the date of publication and the name of the periodical as sent to us by Mr. Jindra. Articles mentioning trips to the Bor forest will be recalled only marginally for reasons of content.

So, dear readers, let us go back to the distant past, when Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia were part of the Austrian Empire and, since 1867, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In this first part we will deal with the years 1865-1875. This period is represented by information from the periodical Budivoj.


On May 25, 1865, the newspaper mentions the girls from the upper girls' school who made a trip to Bor on Monday at noon. Another article of 29 June 1865 makes a similar mention of a trip made by pupils of the local real schools, who, accompanied by their teachers, visited the forest and did not return home until the evening.

The first incident within the Bor forest mentioned in the press dates from 17 August 1865. It literally reads:

Budivoj, August 17, 1865:

Misfortune. - On Sunday a certain company amused themselves in the nearby forest of "Bor" by target shooting. A scholar stumbled on the cord while loading a mortar and wanted to stop the plug; the powder exploded and burned the young man so dangerously in the face that he had to be taken to the local hospital. He lost one eye completely and the other is still in danger.

Just six months later, Budivoj devotes another, already more voluminous article to Bor forest, reporting on the discovery of the dead man.

Budivoj, February 26, 1866:

Dead body found. - On the 15th of the same month the corpse of Josef H., a servant from Hakl Dvori, was found in the forest of Bor in a swamp; he was decently dressed, but his underpants were torn and his right foot was barefoot; no hat was found either. On the spot where the corpse was, two footprints were seen and signs that the body had also been dragged through the place. There were signs of violent strangulation on the neck and a large swollen bruise on the left leg above the ankle. It is believed that he was deprived of his life in a violent manner, although it is rumoured that Josef H. was hard of mind and that he may have taken his own life. On the afternoon of the 17th of this month, a judicial opening of the corpse was scheduled. The police are already on the trail of this mysterious event.

It is a pity that Budivoj has not returned to this event.

On 17 June 1866 and 1 July 1866 Budivoj introduces us to further trips to the Bor forest. The first report deals with a trip that has yet to take place with musical accompaniment, and the second with the trip already made by the regional main school, together with "crowds of the population".

Let us stop, however, at 6 December 1866. For on that day an article appears informing readers of a robbery-murder.

Budivoj, December 6, 1866: 

Robbery murder. - On Sunday, two young people, Fr. Staffenberger, son of a telegraph supervisor, and Jos. Petrovic, son of a local householder, but who belongs to the village of Mokré, in Čtyře Dvory, for a drink. Here Petrovic saw a gold watch and rings which Staffenberger had bought for himself when he left the service of the "U stříbrného zvonu", where he was a cellarer, and the idea of getting hold of these things came to him. At least, it seems that he had already lured Staffenberger with that intention, for the corpse of the same was found on Monday by citizens of the town returning from a hunt in a ditch along the road to the forest of the "Bor". The murdered Staffenberger had a wound on his head and his throat cut with a sharp knife, and was almost unrecognizably disfigured on his head and neck; and one finger was missing, which the murderer had cut off in order to seize the ring on it. As soon as the corpse of the murdered man was found, suspicion immediately fell on Petrovice, who, although his shirt was found bloody when he was arrested on Tuesday morning, as well as a bloody knife, a watch, a ring and money - not quite 2 zlotys. - although the murdered man's belongings were found in his possession, yet he continued to deny it, blaming another from whom he said he had received the things. At last, however, overcome by all the evidence, and seeing the necessity, he confessed after almost a whole day's interrogation. That is, all that has been told us of this terrible event so far. The murdered man and the murderer are almost of the same age, the former being 17 years old, a former cellarer, and now staying with his parents. The murderer is over 18 years old and served as a groom for a landlord in Four Courts.

In the issue of 17 January 1867 Budivoj specifies that the murder in the Bor forest took place on 2 December 1866.

Budivoj, 17 January 1867: 

From the courtroom. - Yesterday, the main trial in the criminal case of Josef Tondl, also Petrovice, from Čtyř Dvorů, accused of the crime of premeditated and robbery murder, which he committed on 2 December 1866 against Jiří Staffenbergr near the forest of "Bor" near Budějovice, was held at the local regional court. The defendant is sentenced to hard labour for 15 years and to pay the costs of the criminal proceedings. We will give a more detailed report next time.

Just three days later, Budivoj returns to the case with an extensive article on the details not only of the trial but also of the murder itself.

Budivoj, January 20, 1867:

From the courtroom. Premeditated and robbery murder. - As we have already noted in the previous issue, on the 16th of this month the final hearing in the criminal case of Josef Tondl, also called Petrovic, for the crime of murder took place in the local regional court. We are now reporting in more detail on these proceedings.

The court, consisting of five judges, was presided over by the president of the regional court, Mr. Kučera; the public prosecutor was represented by Mr. Vojáček, deputy public prosecutor; the defendant's counsel was Dr. Rytíř of Jungmann. The criminal proceedings were conducted in German, since the defendant is a German, and began at 9 a.m. in the presence of a large audience.

The defendant, Josef Tondl, a Catholic, 17¾ years old, unmarried, is of medium build. Although he has attended school for some time, he can neither read nor write. He served until his arrest with the farmer Porhansl in Čtyři Dvory, and was never examined. He confessed that on Saturday, 1 December 1866, he had intended to murder his friend George Staffenberger, about 18 years of age, the son of a telegraph supervisor, who also lived at Čtyři Dvory, in order to appropriate his gold pocket watch, two rings, and a capsule containing money, which things he had often seen at the latter's house. He dwelt on this idea all day and even at night, and, unable to sleep, thought how he might most easily and surely commit the deed; at last he resolved to get Staffenberger drunk with liquor, so that he might not be able to defend himself. On the morning of Sunday, 2 December, the accused went to the parish church in Budějovice for confession by order of the landlord. However, he did not receive communion again. When asked by the President why he did not go to Holy Communion this time, he confessed that he had omitted to do so because he was afraid of displeasing God if he came to the Lord's table with the intention of murdering another in the afternoon. - He went from the church to his mother, where he stayed a while, and returned to the householder. After lunch he went to the yard of the farmer Seidl, where he came across Jiří Staffenberger, went home with him and helped him to cut wood; while doing this work he invited Staffenberger to go with him to the forest of 'Bor', which Staffenberger promised to do. At about 1 o'clock they set out on their journey, but stopped at Steiner's distillery in Čtyři Dvory, where, wishing to make St. drunk and to give himself courage, Tondl had caraway liquor poured for 3 kroner, which, when they had both drunk, they bought rye liquor for 4 kroner.

Then they walked together behind the village along the Dubenská road and turned from there into the carriage road, where St. needed to pee; the accused, standing behind Staffenberger, looked around on all sides and, having convinced himself that no one was around, caught St, as soon as he stooped, by the collar of his coat, and with the hilt of a large knife (a dagger) struck him several blows on the left temple; Staffenberger, rising to his feet and gathering his underpants in his hand, started to flee; but the accused immediately overtook him, seized him from behind, and struggled with him, while he cried for help in words: "Jesus, Mary, Joseph!" and "I'll give you anything, but don't do anything to me!" In this struggle Tondl succeeded in knocking Staffenberger to the ground, and they both fell into the ditch. There Tondl immediately knelt on Staffenberger's stomach, struck him with the hilt of his knife, still closed, about ten blows in the left temple, and holding his victim, opened the knife. - The President asks why he then opened the knife, whereupon the accused replies: 'Ich wollte ihn enber umbringen, um ihn zu berauben und zwar der Uhr und Ringe, und wollte viele Sachen verkaufen, um mir Kleider zu kaufen.' (I wanted to kill him first, in order to rob him of his watch and rings, which I intended to sell and keep the clothes.)

Staffenberger's corpse remained lying at the place of the murder, bloodied and stabbed beyond recognition, until the morning of the next day, when several hunters from Budejovice, on their way to hunt, found it and reported the discovery in the town that afternoon. The same evening a judicial commission came to the place where the corpse lay, and the search for the culprit began at once. Soon Tondl was arrested and the things stolen in the barn under the manure were found. Tondl denied it at first, but not for long, and confessed in a preliminary investigation to the whole murder.

From the report of the forensic medical examination we find that the corpse had a lot of dried blood on it, under which were many wounds of a lighter nature, but on the neck three large wounds, one of which was up to 4 inches long. The trachea and oesophagus are completely cut. - According to the medical examiners, the murder was committed with particular cruelty. - After reading the testimony of the father of the murdered Staffenberger and the witnesses, as well as the testimony as to manners, age, etc. of the defendant, the public prosecutor suggests that, in view of the aggravating circumstances that the crime was brutal and that both premeditated murder and robbery are proved here, and in view of the mitigating circumstances that the defendant is young, that he has not yet reached his twentieth year, in order to be legally sentenced to death, he was sentenced to 18 years' hard labour and to pay the costs of the criminal proceedings.

The defendant's counsel states that the defendant is of an early age, that he has not received the careful upbringing of a child born out of wedlock, and further states mitigating circumstances, such as a frank and full confession, etc., (The defendant cries as the lawyer speaks, sitting down.) - The Court has retired from the courtroom and after half an hour's deliberation the President reads the judgment by which Josef Tondl is found guilty of the crime of premeditated murder and robbery and sentenced to hard imprisonment for 15 years and to pay the costs of the criminal proceedings. The property of which Staffenberger was robbed shall be returned to his father. - The defendant has been advised of his right of appeal and, in consultation with his counsel, declares in tears that he will think again about whether to appeal the sentence or to ask for a reprieve in the way of a pardon. At 1.00 p.m. the criminal proceedings were declared over.

For the sake of relevance, let us mention that the Bor forest of 1867 was not the Bor forest of today. The forest extended far into the part dominated today by the Máj housing estate. And we can assume that this is where the murder, mentioned several times by the periodical above, could have taken place. The photo below shows us the Bor forest before and after the construction of the housing estate, today's Máj Antonína Barcala.


On 7 July 1867, 1 August 1867 and 18 August 1867 Budivoj briefly mentions the planned or already made walks - trips to the Bor forest.

On 25 June 1868, he writes about a forest fire that engulfed the Bor forest the previous Sunday, which killed "1,000 korců of low brush" before the firefighters brought the entire fire under control and extinguished it.

On 26 July 1868, a short information column appeared about the strange trip, which failed to be organised as the participants had imagined and instead they toasted to 'comforting times and peace in Bohemia' at the Budejovice tower.

The touching story is mentioned in a few lines on 30 July 1868.

Budivoj, 30 July 1868:

Married on his deathbed - the town gamekeeper in "Bor" was married to his bride because he suddenly and severely fell ill.

On 25 November 1869, news spread through Budejovice of a mishap that had befallen the 18th Hunting Battalion while target shooting.

Budivoj, 21 November 1869:

Misfortune. - Last Wednesday, the bugler of the 18th Hunting Battalion, Jan Novák, was accidentally shot while target shooting. On the same day, at one o'clock in the afternoon, Lieutenant Pfaff and the skirmisher of the same battalion, with twelve recruits, went to the forest of Bor to train the recruits in rapid target shooting. It was stipulated that everyone should fire five shots in succession, and the bugler Jan Novák was to report at the target after the fifth shot how each had shot. The lieutenant fired five shots first, and after him was Maršner, who was also to fire the same number of shots. After the third shot, however, Novák, no doubt not counting the shots well, jumped out of his hiding place and ran to the target, where the fourth shot hit him. The bullet entered his skull from behind and exited out of his left eye. The unfortunate man was dead in an instant; his comrades rushed to him immediately after the shot and found him already dead. The shot man was a native of Budějovice, 21 years old, and had been trained as a shoemaker. It is just a year since he volunteered for the army. The funeral took place on Friday afternoon in the Old Town cemetery, with a large attendance of soldiers and citizens. The parents wept greatly over the grave of their unfortunate son.


The photo above is perhaps the only one that shows us the now defunct Branišov shooting range.

Mr. Jaromír Jindra further informs us that for the next two and a half years not a single line was written about Bor in Budivoj, including the traditional trips; this was probably due to a different view of publishing association news (which was generally declining in the newspaper at that time), as there was a change of editor at the same time.  Reports of trips to the Forest of Bor begin to return to the pages of the paper again from June 1872, but it is not until the following year that many are published; five trips to the forest are planned in a two-month period. These were on the following dates: 12 June 1873, 19 June 1873, 26 June 1873, 24 July 1873 and 27 July 1873.

On 11 September 1873 Budivoj uncovers another death in this forest.

Budivoj, 11 September 1873:

Dead body found. - The corpse of an unknown man, who a few days ago had been begging in the surrounding villages, was found on Saturday on the edge of the Bor forest between Branšov and Hakl Dvory. The corpse was dressed only in a shirt and underpants; as no personal documents were found, his identity could not be established. No signs of violent death were found on the corpse.

Further on in Budivoj follows a reference to an outing held in the famous forest on 25 June 1874. The latter is even extensively discussed.

More briefly, however, on 23 July 1874, the periodical mentions a fire from an unattended fire, which, however, was noticed in time and smothered.

Other articles in Budivoj dated 17 June 1875, 20 June 1875 and 26 August 1875 again deal with trips to Bor. The first two belong to the Czech Gymnasium. They give the date of the trip and then the reason for its postponement due to bad weather. It is also interesting to note that Mr. Svidensky, the restaurateur at Beseda, took care of the food and drink on the spot. The third and final trip concerns the Sokol, where the author is surprised that this event was not as popular with the public as in previous years.

This concludes the first part of the article on the Forest of Bor through the eyes of contemporary periodicals. It reveals that the history of the suburban forest mentioned above is extremely rich. It was a popular tourist destination and also a place where tragedies and disasters sometimes took place.

But we shall see what the newspaper reveals in the years to come.

author of the article: Ondřej Bezouška
extracts from local periodicals: Jaromír Jindra
Pictures provided by: Historické Budějovice
Corrections by Kateřina Běhanová, Jaromír Jindra