Preston man, 58, died in custody after killing two men with hammer

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at a shocking double murder of two men in Preston...

The killer walked into the Stanley Street Police Station
The killer walked into the Stanley Street Police Station

Late at night on the third Friday of October 1965 Josef Potyka, aged 58, a motor mechanic of Polish origins walked into the Stanley Street police station and stated that he had killed two other Poles who lay dead at his lodgings in Roman Road, Frenchwood. Police officers immediately accompanied Potyka back to his home and there in a back bedroom, lying quite dead were two men.

Potyka stated the victims were his fellow lodger Andrezj Groch, aged 55, and a friend Jan Mateja, aged 66, who lived in Talbot Road, Penwortham. Both victims had received fatal injuries to the head and chest that appeared to have been inflicted by a hammer.

An inquest into the double death was opened on the following Monday and Dr. Benstead, consultant pathologist, told the hearing that the pair had died from cerebral lacerations and cerebral contusions due to blows received from a blunt instrument. The hearing heard that Potyka had been charge with the double killing.

Antony Jurkiewicz of Talbot Road, Penwortham who had identified Mateja stated that he had been lodging there for 18 months, but he had recently given him notice due to his drinking habits. He had spoken to him the day before the killing when he said he was going to see Groch. Grezegorz Kondras, of Salter Street, had identified Groch and he said that he had come with him to England in 1946 after army service together.

Potyka, who was slightly built and balding, appeared before the Preston magistrates the next day in a police shirt, his clothes having been sent for forensic analysis. He was represented by Preston lawyer Dereck Fazackerley who successfully applied for legal aid saying that his client had only £45 and some furniture to his name.

Det. Chief Inspector Gerard Jarvis testified that the accused had told him, “There was a big argument. £200 was missing from a wardrobe in my bedroom and we had a big fight. My money had gone and they never tell me who had taken it.”

When asked what he was doing between the time of the argument and fight before he informed the police he was alleged to have said, “I sit down and think and have to report such a thing. I have never been in trouble before. I am now in big trouble.”

When charged with the crime he had refused to comment.

According to the prosecution Potyka had told them he had been married in Poland the day before war broke out and that he had been separated from his wife ever since, and he did not know if she was still alive.

The magistrates without retiring informed Potyka that he was committed for trial on two counts of murder at the next Lancaster Assizes set for February 1966. When the Assizes opened before Mr. Justice Helenus Milmo it was announced that Potyka who had been held on remand at the Risley Remand Centre had died in mid-January 1966.

He had suddenly collapsed whilst in the exercise yard and had died within half an hour of a coronary thrombosis.

His Lordship then made out an order that the indictment should lay on the files to bring the proceedings relative to the double murder to a final conclusion.