Your Money or Your Life: 5 Famous Highwaymen Who Lived Fast and Died Young

Janosik by excharny. DeviantArt

2 – Juri Janosik (1688 – 1713)

Also known as the Carpathian Robin Hood, Janosik was a famous Slovak highwayman. Like many other outlaws, tales of his deeds are almost certainly exaggerated as he became the main character of many poems, films and novels in Slovakia and Poland. According to legend, he stole money from rich nobles and gave it to the poor; just like fictional British outlaw Robin Hood.

Janosik was born in Terchova, the Kingdom of Hungary (modern-day Slovakia) in 1688. He clearly had a rebellious streak from a young age because he fought with Kuruc insurgents when he was just 15 years of age. After the Kuruc lost at the Battle of Trencin in 1708, Janosik joined the Habsburg army. Two years later, he helped a man named Tomas Uhorcik escape when he worked as a prison guard and together, the two men formed a highwayman group. Janosik became a leader when Uhorcik left, and it appears as if there is some truth to the group’s exploits.

Janosik seemingly told his men to treat their victims with respect; they were chivalrous to those they stole from and were not responsible for any deaths. On one occasion, the group accidentally injured a priest during a robbery and tended to his wounds. There is even a suggestion that the group did share a portion of their ill-gotten gains with the poorer elements of society. Other sources disagree with the notion of a ‘gentlemanly group of outlaws’ and suggest the group were violent and often murdered soldiers. Janosik supposedly killed rivals within the clan and is portrayed by some as a cruel individual.

Whatever the reality, the group’s antics made them a prime target for authorities and in 1712, Janosik was caught, arrested and detained at the Mansion of Hrachov but oddly enough, he was released soon afterward. There is an account which says the gang killed a priest, but details are not clear. As a result, a manhunt took place, and Janosik met up with his old comrade Uhorcik who ran a pub under an assumed name.

In the spring of 1713, the authorities finally caught up with him, and Janosik was tried, found guilty and executed. While some historians say he was hanged, other sources suggest the Outlaw suffered a cruel fate. He was stabbed with a hook and left dangling on the gallows until he bled to death. Janosik only gained fame in the 1830s when he was depicted as a romantic hero. Since the early 20th century, the life and death of Janosik have become the stuff of legend, and it is routinely depicted in books and on the big screen.