IS IT A CASE OF ARSON?

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Alleged Causes for the Burning of the Russian Church.

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CRIME IN HIGH PLACES.

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Members of the Eastern Orthodox Church Suspect of Embezzlement.

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LIVES AND RECORDS ENDANGERED.

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The partial destruction by fire of the Russian church, early yesterday morning, has caused a great deal of excitement among the Greek and Slavonic residents of this city, who openly charge that it is the work of an incendiary and he a co-religionist.

To an Examiner reporter Bishop Vladimir said: "On Monday evening the officers of the Russian man-of-war dined with us, taking their departure about 9 o'clock. I retired at 11 o'clock, having previously made the rounds of the building as is my custom, to see that all is well, and found that all the lights were out and that everything was secure.

"About 1 o’clock I was awakened by a suffocating feeling and opening my door discovered that flames were issuing from the sanctuary. I roused the inmates, and fortunately all escaped without injury excepting Father George, who was severely burned on the arm and leg, and myself though my own injuries are not serious.

"To-day, in our calendar, is the 9th of May, and we had arranged to celebrate the day which is sacred to St. Nicholas, our patron saint, in an appropriate manner.

"I had intended to start for Alaska next Friday on the Russian corvette now in the harbor, but shall not do so now. The church will be rebuilt. The insurance is $15,000, although that will not cover one fifth part of our loss, which included costly vestments, pictures and adornments of the altar."

"Do you think the fire was accidental?" ask an Examiner reporter.

AN INCENDIARY’S WORK.

"I do not see how it could have been," replied the bishop.

"Then, if intentional, whom do you suspect?"

"I do not suspect any one, as I can ascribe no motive for the deed."

"Are there not two factions in the church who are bitterly opposed to each other, and may not the fire have been started by some one belonging to the church, out of revenge?"

"Within the church all is peace. Any trouble which may have existed was an outside affair and was not brought within the sanctuary."

"Then if revenge was not a motive, may robbery have been a cause?"

"The church has not been robbed."

Said E. P. Alexandrine, Superintendent of the building: "I know that the fire did not start until after midnight, for I was up at the time. The fire must have started about 1 o’clock. I do not think it was accidental, but have no individual suspicions."

Father Sebastian, whose name prior to taking diaconate orders was J. E. Dabovich, said:

"I am so unnerved by the fire, that I hardly know what to say or what to think. I cannot give you any opinion as to whether the fire was the work or an incendiary or an accident. I must take time to consider the matter."

Father George, the Archimandrite, was so ill from the severe burns which he had received, that he was unable to see any one.

For some time there has existed a bitter feud among members of the Greek faith in San Francisco. One of the prominent Slavonians of this city said to an Examiner reporter:

"The fire is an attempt to cover up serious crimes, in which are included embezzlement, a scheme to obtain valuable property and murder.

MURDER AND EMBEZZLEMENT.

"To-day the Greek-Russian-Slavonian Orthodox Eastern Church and Benevolent Society stands robbed of its finances. There are half a dozen or so of designing men who have used the funds for their own private purposes. They are thoroughly corrupt and are afraid of exposure. It is their intention to destroy Bishop Vladimir if they can, as they caused the murder of Archbishop Nestor in Alaska, to prevent the exposure of their vicious methods of life.

"There are a number of men who band together to aid each other in their wicked designs, and nothing is too base or criminal for them to do. One of their number is in holy orders, and was within the church on the night of the fire.

"It is a well-known fact that the Archpriest Kedrolivansky was murdered here by a member of this band some years ago.

"The church here is supported by the Russian Government, but large contributions are made for charitable and benevolent purposes by wealthy members of the faith. These funds are misappropriated to serve selfish purposes.

VALUABLE RECORDS.

"There is another feature to which I desire to call attention. In the church are kept the register of births, marriages and deaths. There are a number of very valuable estates in this city, the possession of which largely depends upon that register. I have in mind one case in particular, where a wealthy Slavonian died, leaving heirs in Europe who will arrive here next month to look after the estate. Some time since a woman laid claim to the estate on the grounds that she was his wife and the mother of his children. There is no record either of a civil or religious marriage between the two, while the children were baptized under their mother’s name, which is a recognition of their illegitimacy, according to the Russian custom. If the record of their baptism was destroyed, this would aid the woman in her attempt to claim the estate."

Among the Greek population an Examiner reporter found that the fire was considered the work of an incendiary.

Said C. Constantine, 45 Vallejo street, one of the leading Greek citizens of this city: "I think the building was fired intentionally. I have my suspicion as to the individual, but as I have no legal proof, can not mention his name."

Rather interesting developments are promised. It is understood that B. M. Gopchevich has a history nearly completed of the troubles existing between the Slavonian members of the faith in which startling disclosures of crime are made. In response to an inquiry of an Examiner reporter Mr. Gopchevich acknowledged that he would shortly publish such a work, but declined to state the specific nature of the charges.

Father Sebastian and Superintendent Alexandrine thought that a portion of the church registers had been destroyed, but Bishop Vladimir assured an Examiner reporter that they had been preserved.

The San Francisco Examiner, Wednesday, May 22, 1889, p. 1