Sonya Golden Hand

Sonya Golden Hand

Sofia Blyuvshtein, better known as Son'ka the Golden Hand, was a legendary thief who lived in Russia during the second half of the 19th century. Little is known of her life for certain, except that she committed several carefully-planned robberies, and was eventually captured and exiled to the Sakhalin penal colony; however, she has since become the basis of several books and films, in which she is depicted as a Robin Hood figure, who never killed, and who stole only from the rich.

In 1890, she met Anton Chekhov, who was visiting Sakhalin during his investigations into prison reform; he subsequently described the incident in his book "Sakhalin Island."

A headless statue by an unmarked grave in Moscow's Vagankovo Cemetery is used as a shrine to Sonya; worshippers, who believe Sonya to be buried there, ask for her spiritual assistance in their own crimes.

The Robbery of the Jeweler Karl Von Mel

During May 1883 a beautiful and well dressed young lady entered the Von Mel jewelry store and introduced herself as the wife of well-known psychiatrist. She had expensive tastes and selected a variety of items worth thirty thousand rubles. She asked for the jewelry to be hand-delivered by the owner to her home address where her rich husband would pay for the items. At the appointed time, the jeweler with the collection of diamonds arrived at the doctor’s residence. The beautiful wife met him and took the box of jewels explaining that she wished to wear them that night. She invited him to wait in her husband's office. Later the Doctor arrived and asked the jeweler what he wanted. When the jeweler made a compliment on the sophisticated taste of his gorgeous wife and persistently insisted to be paid for the items he had just delivered, medical orderlies captured him and took him away to a mental hospital. As it was revealed later, the lady arrived just before the time assigned for the jewelry to be delivered and presented herself to the doctor as a wife of Von Mel. She said that her elderly husband had gone crazy over buying diamonds, and paid for his treatment upfront. Of course, the con artist had disappeared with all the treasure and no one saw it ever again.

Son'ka the Golden Hand, according to eyewitnesses, was not a garish beauty. But garish beauty is not necessary to female seducers, in them are their special magic, their personal methods, and not only an artistic taste but also the gift of reincarnation, they by inside feel know how to make any person obedient to them. Sofiya Blyuvshteyn possessed this natural gift over any measure that also made her a queen of the criminal world of Petersburg.

Banker Dogmarov's robbery

During October 1884 in Odessa at cafe "Fankoni" the banker Mr. Dogmarov noticed quite a beautiful lady who identified herself as Mrs. Sofiya San-Donato. After some pleasant conversation she asked him to change a thousand rubles bill. Soon the banker learned that she was leaving for Moscow by evening train, the same as he. The banker suggested that he accompany her. In the sleeping compartment they politely conversed, laughed, and ate chocolate candies. In the morning, after having a good sleep, the banker found neither his money nor securities for the sum of 43 thousand rubles.

Sofiya Blyuvshteyn did not like the small cons and impromptus. She was always thoroughly prepared and tried to foresee chances. For her there existed neither high walls nor state borders. She was fluent in five languages, had mastered secular manners and after the successful con preferred to relax in Mariyenbade under the false documents of some baroness. Son'ka remained an "aristocrat" of criminal world. She was very proud of her nickname "The Golden Hand" as court title, and the most famous St. Petersburg swindlers were her lovers. Preferring to act alone, she nevertheless created her own gang, after inviting the well-known pilferer (vor v zakone, highest rank in Russian criminal world) Levit Sandanovich, and even became a member of a prestigious criminal club in Moscow, "Red Jacks".

At first Son'ka was hardly ever cornered on robberies, and even in those rare cases she succeeded in escaping without being caught. When Son'ka the Golden Hand for the first time proved to be on the bench of defendants, all Russian newspapers reported about this event on the first page. For several days, remaining in Smolensk prison, the dormouse charmed overseers - she read them verses in different languages, told them stories about life in the distant countries... In whole, one gendarme fell in love with her, had arranged the escape and ran away together with her. Gendarme was caught soon, judged and punished, but dormouse continued "to hit" rich fools. Once she cleaned even her own attorney but being charmed by her he protected her anyway.

The robbery of Khlebnikov jewelry store on Petrovka street

During August 1885 the manager of a jewelry store T. recommended a collection of adornments for 22 thousand 300 rubles to a Courland baroness- Sofya Buksgevden. When treasures were picked and nicely packed, the honorable lady recalled that she forgot all her money at home. She took jewelry and left in a hurry after the requested amount, leaving as the guarantee accompanying her relatives – gray haired father and a little baby girl on governess' hands. She promised she would return very shortly and paid for the jewelry. When two hours later the owner of the store reported robbery to police station they found out that these "relatives" were hired on Khitrovka market by an advertisement published in a newspaper.

Public was excited over Son'ka's tricks. The popularity of Golden Hand in the people was so great that in the epoch of the absence of television news she was recognized on the street. At first this even helped her - the excited crowd could push aside the police. But soon reputation began to seriously interfere with Son'ka's shady business. Moreover with the years Sofiya Blyuvshteyn became sentimental. She returned 5000 rubles to a widow robbed by her, who had two daughters. To the actor of a small theater in the impulse of feelings she sent to the scene a gold watch just stolen from someone in the theater's lobby. After seeing in the hotel room a sleeping young man near whom laid the gun and the letter to the mother with the acknowledgement about spending of 300 rubles given out to the treatment of his sister, dormouse took out of her purse 500 ruble bill, put it in young man's hand and slipped out from the room. Furthermore, she spent the enormous amount of money on her two daughters' education, who, inheriting the artistic talent of the mother, came out subsequently on the musical-comedy scene, but thoroughly hid their origin.

Son'ka's special methods

Son'ka the Golden Hand had her own "Special methods". Under the specially grown long nails she hid precious stones, for the thefts in the stores she had a dress- bag, in which entire roll of fabric could hidden. She used a small monkey to help her in her shady "business" - while mistress negotiated over some jewelry, little beast swallowed the precious stones, and at the house they were freed from her stomach with the aid of the enema. "Guten Morgen!" is another a good example. It is possible that Son'ka invented this famous method of hotel thefts. Method was simple and insolent - beautifully dressed, elegant Son’ka gets into the hotel room of potential victim early in the morning and begins to rob him. If lodger all of a sudden awakes, she would pretend that she mistook the door, she was confused, but rarely departed empty-handed. For the benefit of the matter she could even spend a night with the rich cavalier, and then already quietly would clean his pockets. She had lots of other "professional" tricks that she used throughout her crime life which some still used by thieves around the world today more than 100 years later.

First time very young Sheyndlya got married to some Rosenbad, gave birth to Sura-Riva, stole all his money and had disappeared for him forever. The second time she got married to the old rich Jew Sheloma Shkol'nik (whom she also left without the money), and the third - to the railroad thief Michel Blyuvshteyn, under his surname she figures in all judicial matters. During this marriage she bore daughter Tabba, but their marriage rapidly ended after her husband flew into a rage, when he heard that dormouse committed her crimes with the aid of her sexual charms. Story has it that one day while committing one of his robberies Michel under the rage had killed an old rich widow, was caught and sentenced to life time catorga (penal servitude) on island Sakhalin where he died short after.

Finally Son'ka actually madly fell in love and her this late passion ruined her. Young dandy pilferer Volodya Kochubchik (to the world Wolf Bromberg, which began to live by stealing at the age of 8) became her true passion. He was spending all the money Son'ka "earned" by playing cards. She was forced increasingly more to risk with every day, became very nervous, was making lots of errors during her "work", and finally Fortune has turned her back at her. After improbably loud court trial Sofiya Blyuvshteyn was sent to catorga (penal servitude) on island Sakhalin. Entire Odessa came out on the streets and has cheered her as a hero while she was transferred from the prison to the ship which she had to aboard in order to get to remote island. But her young lover, after finishing 6 months of "working house", became well-off landowner in the south of Russia. Son'ka ran three times from Sakhalin. The first time guards simply returned her back, after the second - they chained her into the shackles (she was the first chained woman in the history of penal servitude!), on the third attempt, performed alone or with her then lover killer Bogdanov, Sofiya was broken. According to one source, she soon died, however according to another source she became the owner of kvass pub (Aut. "kvass" is a popular Russian rural drink made out of bread or grains) and entertained the local Sakhalin residents.

Meeting with Anton Chekhov

When Anton Chekhov met Sonya in 1890, she was being held in solitary confinement, clamped in leg irons, in Alexandrovsk. Chekhov wrote: "Looking at her, it is impossible to believe that not long ago she was beautiful to such a degree that she charmed her prison guards, as she did in Smolensk, for example, where the overseer helped her to escape and himself ran away with her."

By the time of this meeting, Blyuvshtein -- perhaps in her mid-40s -- was a "small, skinny, already graying woman with a crumpled, old-womanish face," Chekhov wrote. She had lived freely in exile on Sakhalin but was moved to solitary confinement after escaping from the island dressed as a soldier. She managed to carry out several crimes before being recaptured.


The first episode of the 2007 "Sonka Golden Hand" miniseries, which was broadcast by Rossiya the same day that Boris Yeltsin died, was watched by 29% of Russian viewers.


[ Article on Sonya in the] "Moscow Times

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