What Makes Jerusalem the Perfect Crime Scene?

The entire city is filled with mystery, hiding in doorways and hidden layers, says Asher Kravitz, one of the people behind the series of tours 'Detectives in Jerusalem – Between Reality and Imagination.'

Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad
The Kishle.
The Kishle.Credit: Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad

Is there something in the fabric of Jerusalem that attracts or encourages detective stories? “Every street in the city is packed with riddles and mysteries. Many areas are completely under the radar of the police or the rule of law,” claims Asher Kravitz, an author of Jerusalem detective stories who teaches physics and math, and also talks about Jerusalem as the perfect crime scene in his series of tours “Detectives in Jerusalem – Between Reality and Imagination,” which began this month in the Old City’s Tower of David Museum.

The entire city is filled with mystery, hiding in doorways and hidden layers, says Kravitz. “Very few police officers go to Mea She’arim, or the eastern parts of the city or the annexed villages. Jerusalem also contains all the possible motives for crime: political, personal, financial, romantic or historical,” he adds.

Edna Assis, a tour guide and coordinator of the talks, draws a connection between Jerusalem and the world capital of international detectives: London. The person responsible for the surprising link is Charles Warren, who was appointed to head Scotland Yard in 1886.

The Ratisbonne Monastery.Credit: Moshe Gilad

“Before his appointment [as London’s police commissioner], Warren was an officer in the British Royal Engineers, and provided an interesting link between Jerusalem, London and even the great Sherlock Holmes,” says Assis. “Almost 150 years ago [in 1867], he discovered – as the representative of the Palestine Exploration Fund – some of the most important archaeological discoveries in the study of Jerusalem. Then, when he returned to London, he commanded the British police during the period of the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper. To this day, many think he resigned because he did not succeed in solving the cases.”

The first of the four meetings in the lecture series was dedicated to Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN peace mediator who was assassinated in 1948. The corner of Hapalmach and Hagdud Ha’ivri streets is quite peaceful today, but we are standing in the center of a historic crime scene: Here, next to 18 Hapalmach Street, four men waited in a jeep on September 17, 1948. They blocked the path of the car bearing the United Nations flag and fired over 50 bullets at Bernadotte’s car.

The police representative, Superintendant Shlomi Sheetrit, explained how officers in the nascent state – founded only four months earlier – ran the sensitive investigation and how it was possible to explain why those who carried out the political murder intended to eradicate Bernadotte’s plan for a new partition of the land.

Eilat Lieber.Credit: Moshe Gilad

Our next destination is the Talbieh neighborhood, where Nurit Basel awaits us at 13 Disraeli Street. This is the scene of Batya Gur’s 1993 book “The Saturday Morning Murder: A Psychoanalytic Case,” which was her first detective novel featuring Chief Inspector Michael Ohayon.

The house on Disraeli Street is preserved exactly as described in Gur’s book, as the site of the Jerusalem Psychoanalytic Society. In addition to Gur’s novels, Basel lists a number of other thrillers and detectives: Amnon Dankner’s “The Boneless” and “Aunt Eva, His Nights and Days”; and Amnon Jackont’s “Honey Trap.”

Israel Goldman greets us at the corner of Disraeli and Marcus streets; he will guide the session “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” When we are across from No.12, a pretty building, Goldman points to the fourth floor and tells the story of the “athletic rapist,” who was shot and killed at this spot by a piano teacher – who was later revealed to be a Mossad assassin.

The Kishle in 1918.Credit: The Tower of David Museum

We next hear about the great clocks and watches heist from the L.A. Mayer Museum of Islamic Art down the street, which shocked the entire city and country in 1983. A short walk from there, we reach 25 Ramban Street, where Goldman tells us about the first major bank robbery in Jerusalem, back in 1940. The robbers were members of the Irgun pre-state underground militia, but the British still insisted on charging them as common criminals.

Another short stroll leads us to the Ratisbonne Monastery at 26 Shmuel Hanagid Street, Rehavia. In 1956, the monastery’s watchman was murdered when a package he opened exploded. The crime was solved when it was discovered that a young woman, Shoshana Barzani, wanted to take revenge against the guard’s son, who had left her for another woman a short time earlier.

Eilat Lieber, the director of the Tower of David Museum, takes me to The Kishle, the long structure at the southern end of the museum complex, which served for some 100 years as a prison. She points out the finds from archaeological excavations at the site, where researchers think Herod’s palace stood over 2,000 years ago. The British held members of the Irgun and Lehi militias on the top floor. The barbed-wire fences surrounding the roof make it clear that the prison may no longer be in use, but the crimes committed by its inmates are still looking down on us from every corner.

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