This blog is very personal to me as my family history was directly shaped by the actions of this man. My great grandmother was one of his victims.
Much has been written about this story. This is the story as I see it, put together with facts and family stories confirmed by a few people.
Folklore states this story started many years before. At the time there was no resident priest in the church in Kalokerines and a priest would visit Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. One Saturday night the weather was terrible, so the widow from Kalokerines who would volunteer to clean the church told the priest that he should not travel, and he should stay with her. The next few days saw the gossip and innuendo flow through the village, insinuating the priest and the widow got up to no good. The priest was so offended and disgusted with the rumours that he put a curse on the town…..
Antonis Aronis, from the Lagonaris branch, was born in Aroniadika on 1 January 1878. He was the youngest of the three children of Ioannis Aronis (Lagonaris) and his wife Georgoula Konomou.
He was a shoemaker known for the quality of his workmanship. One day, a lady from a neighbouring village collected a pair of shoes she ordered without paying. When Lagonaris complained, the lady told him to call in to her house for payment. When he arrived, she invited him inside and gave him refreshments. The woman’s husband returned home and accused Lagonaris of sexual misconduct. It is possible this was a ploy to get free shoes. Folklore states he beat him and had him charged and Lagonaris spent some considerable time in gaol for this, anywhere up to 18 months. It is here he is believed to have started using drugs such as hashish or opium.
Upon his release he returned to Kythera, but due to his past history he was no longer able to find enough work, so he left for the mainland. He managed to find work in Pireaus as a shoemaker for a fellow Kytherian from Pitsinianika from the Kalligerous Bey family.
The other workers were jealous of Lagonaris’ quality workmanship, so they planted a tool in his satchel. At the end of the day, his boss discovered the tool in his bag and accused him of theft. He wanted to give him a warning, but his wife was wary of his past reputation and insisted her husband sack him.
Lagonaris was again disgraced by a woman. It is unknown if it was drug use or if the fact that as a shoemaker had to suck on flax to make shoes, and this caused him to hallucinate, but Lagonaris was angry with the world. He returned to Kythera to seek revenge on his boss from Pireaus.
On 23 August 1909, not long after his return, he killed his mother in their home and attacked his sister who managed to escape, No death certificate exists for his mother, although her death was reported in a newspaper at the time.
He then armed himself with knives and headed for Pitsinianika. On the way, he meets some men on the road, and he asked for directions to Pitsinianika. He was told to follow the road and he could not miss the village as it had a big church bell tower. Lagonaris did miss the turnoff and headed toward Kalokerines instead.
The name Kalokerines means summer place and this village was given this name because the fog there can be extremely thick and the village only comes out of the fog in summer. This day was one of those terribly foggy days where visibility was very poor. Lagonaris arrived in Kalokerines at about 8 pm, walks through the main street of the village until he comes across Agios Spiridonas church and then repeatedly rang the church bell. There was a baptism due to take place that day, so the locals just assumed the priest had arrived and the service was about to begin, so they headed to the church. As they arrived, Lagonaris attacked each person. Fifteen people were attacked that day. Folklore states that all 15 people were killed, but documentation says there were five victims.
The priest was in Kalokerines for the baptism and heard the commotion, he grabbed his hunting rifle and shot Lagonaris, hitting him in the arm. Lagonaris dropped his knife and escaped.
On the road out of Kalokerines he encountered two men. He tried to stab them with another knife, but he had no strength in his arm and just ran off and went back to his home.
Back in Kalokerines there was panic and confusion. On the same day there was a sporting event in Kapsali and many of the men had attended, explaining why most of the victims were women and children. There were few males to offer help and support. Also, doctors did not want to attend as it was still unclear what had taken place and they were concerned it may have been a pirate attack. No matter what, it must have been a very traumatising sight.
News of the atrocity spread through the island and the next day a neighbour of Lagonaris’ saw him covered in blood and called for the police in Potamos. He was quickly apprehended and taken to Hora where the only known photo of him was taken before he was sent to the mainland for trial.
The case was heard in Napflion and many residents of Kalokerines attended. It was decided that Lagoanaris was such a cold-blooded killer that he was not given the death penalty as they thought he would make a good executioner, so he was given life in prison. Also, as part of the compulsory military service, there were always two Kytherian gaolers in Palamidi prison and they thought it would be more punishment for Lagonaris to always answer to Kytherians for the rest of his life. As a coincidence, one of the gaolers was my husband’s grandfather.
Lagonaris never showed remorse for what he had done. In fact, he killed a gaoler with a frying pan while in gaol and would often brag about the terror he had inflicted and the number of people he killed. This angered the Maniates as this effected their reputation, so one day Lagonaries was getting a shave and his throat was cut, ending his life.
From the death certificates we know exactly who was killed. The names on the certificates are also the same as the names the sister of my grandfather told her family decades before our research.
Roza Vlanti – she was born 21 January 1870. She was the wife of Panagiotis Vlantis and the mother of his eight children. She died instantly, probably trying to protect her children. She was 39 years old. She was very pregnant at the time. Folklore states her baby was saved, but there is no documentation to support this. The baby is a probably sixth victim.
Antonios Vlantis – he was the fourth child of Roza above. He was born 23 August 1898 and was only 11 years old.
Dimitrios Vlantis – he was the 16 October 1860. He was the husband of Fotini Kasimati and they had seven children, the youngest just one year old at the time. He died instantly. He was 48 years old.
Areti Vlanti – she was born about 1839 and the wife of Manolis Vlantis (Galanos) and mother of Dimitrios above. They had 13 children and at least 20 grandchildren at the time.
Eleni Veneri – she was my great grandmother. She was born 2 August 1864 in Drymonas and married Panagiotis Vlantis on 4 February 1890 in Drymonas. She was the mother of seven children of which only five were still surviving. She is the only confirmed victim who did not die instantly. Growing up I can remember being told that the wound in her chest was so severe that she would drink water and it would come out of her wound. She died four days after she was attacked, which is how long it takes to die of lack of water. Imagine those poor children watching their mother die in what must have been agony for so long. Her house is still in the family and her ghost has been seen in the house by a guest who had not heard the murder story.
There are two other deaths in Kalokerines in October that some people attribute to the murderer, but these are more than two months after the attack so are unlikely but not impossible.
From family stories we know the names of some of the other victims.
Konstantinos Vlantis – son of Roza who was killed. He was born in September 1905, making him under four years of age at the time. It is possible Roza died while saving his life.
Panagiotis Vlantis – husband of Eleni who died. He survived his injures, but possibly did not cope mentally very well. Growing up, I always thought my grandfather was orphaned, but I only found out during my research that his father survived. It appears he all but abandoned his children, leaving them to survive on their own. The oldest was just 11. He did eventually remarry in Kythera in 1916 and moved to South Africa. He contracted TB and returned to Kythera and his children nursed him until he died.
Unidentified survivors are Maria Vlantis, Ioannis Vlantis, Panagiotis Kasimatis and Georgitsa Kasimati. The other victims’ names have been lost to history.
Lagonaris has been given the nickname Captain 17. There was his mother, the 15 people attacked in Kalokerines and the guard in the gaol, making 17 known people. He has left behind a piece of history and these victims deserve not to be forgotten.
These events were obviously horrendous and had a huge impact on my family history. Would my grandfather' have ever come to Australia to meet my grandmother or would he have been forced to stay in Kythera being the eldest son? Would he have been the kindest, most generous, gentlest man I have ever met? I will never know.
To learn more about this story, last year Panos Dimakis publish a fictionalise novel (written in Greek) based on these events called Dεκαεπτά Κλωστές which can be purchased in Kythera and Greece and will soon be made into a Greek television series.
Kytherian death certificates found at www.familysearch.org
ΚΥΘΗΡΑΙΚΑ Newspaper October 2013, written by Eleni Harou-Koroneou
Ιnterview with Diamanta Kalegeros (daughter of victim Eleni Vlandis) by Manuel Vlandis, in Kalokerines April 1983
Ιnterview with Peter Vlandis (grandson of victim Eleni Vlandis), Canberra, by Maria Schwirtlich 2013