Safe As Houses: 37 Kent Street, Deakin
A couple can’t escape the trauma that haunts them for decades and leads to a man’s death.
- WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.
The sentencing judge wasn’t exaggerating when he called the story of Bronislaw and Helen Kowejsza “very sad” and even “pathetic”. The two were survivors, but the horrors of what they had survived echoed through the years after they emigrated from Germany to Australia, and would ultimately shatter their lives.
The Kowejszas were Croatian, but had lived in Germany for much of their lives. There, like millions, they had suffered the brutal terrors of the Holocaust. The couple had both been consigned to the Belsen concentration camp. Estimates say more than 50,000 people met their end in the camp, but Bronislaw and Helen survived.
This survival left deep scars. It seems the Kowejszas couldn’t escape the horrors they’d been subjected to, even by moving to the other side of the world. They settled into a modest brick home at 37 Kent Street in the Canberra suburb of Deakin, but their home appears to have been far from a happy one.
Bronislaw became drunk and abusive toward his wife and daughters. Helen and their younger daughter Julie seem to have borne the brunt of this. As Helen would later tell police, “Julie was rats and I was rats and rats have to be destroyed”.
The course of events that would end in Bronislaw’s death began when Julie brought some friends, including some boys, over to the house at 37 Kent Street. Helen told police this led to a week of arguments and threats. This was nothing new for Bronislaw, though. Three weeks before his death, he had locked Helen in the laundry and put a hose around her neck, threatening to kill her.
“But first he want me to write a note to say I suicided,” she said.
The day before Helen took action, Bronislaw had chased her up the street with a hammer. Helen had already survived one brutal prison. It was this hammer that Helen would use to escape another.
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On 6 September 1970, Helen took the hammer into the bedroom where Bronislaw was sleeping and hit him in the skull behind the ear. She threw the hammer into the backyard and fled to her daughter Kristine’s. There, Kristine cooked her a meal and told her to stay the night, locking the doors lest Bronislaw come seeking revenge.
“I scared. I still think he coming after me because I still think he was alive,” Helen said.
But he wasn’t. The blow she struck had killed Bronislaw. Helen was charged with murder, with the charge eventually being downgraded to manslaughter.
Helen’s tale became even sadder after her conviction. While awaiting sentencing, she tried to overdose on pills and had to be admitted to hospital.
In the end, Helen Kowejsza was determined to have suffered enough. She was sentenced to three years, but was ordered to be released after only nine months.
The house at 37 Kent Street still stands. It last sold in March of 2015 for $860,000, and is currently valued at $1,018,447.
The Kowejszas story was deeply tragic. The terrible inhumanity they had been subjected to had repercussions that would poison their marriage and destroy their lives. In the end, though, Helen remained a survivor.
Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders and the effect those killings have had on real estate values.