Vinko Pintarić (3 April 1941 – 25 May 1991)
was a Croatian serial killer and outlaw who murdered five people over
the course of 17 years and escaped from prisons and police stakeouts
on multiple occasions.
His violent, vindictive nature and proficiency with
firearms struck fear into inhabitants of Hrvatsko Zagorje, a region of
northern Croatia where he spent years at large, hiding from the law
enforcement and engaging in various crimes, until his 1991 death in a
shootout with the police.
Protracted media coverage of his exploits made
Vinko Pintarić a household name in Croatia and Yugoslavia and even
brought him a degree of sympathy from the general public, who saw him
as a Robin Hood-like figure, and dubbed him "Čaruga of Zagorje", after
an infamous post-World War I outlaw Jovo Stanisavljević Čaruga.
Vinko Pintarić was born in 1941 in Zrinski
Topolovac near Bjelovar. During World War II, his father Ilija joined
the Partisan resistance, but near the end of the war he was taken away
by Ustasha Army and spent several months with them. Because of this,
in June 1945 Ilija was beaten by OZNA agents in the presence of his
family, including Vinko and his elder brother Josip, and then taken
away. Vinko's mother urged Ilija's Partisan comrades to intervene on
his behalf, but they refused. Ilija never returned; according to
rumors, he was shot the day after his arrest.
Vinko's mother remarried after a couple of years,
and his alcoholic stepfather physically abused him. All these
traumatic events instilled a permanent sense of betrayal in Vinko and
fueled his anger and resentment; he would often talk about "avenging
his father". In his adolescence, he developed an interest in firearms,
using them for poaching. On several occasions he had his illegally
owned weapons confiscated by the police.
His first marriage lasted only a couple of months.
Angered by demeaning treatment from his in-laws, he assaulted them,
for which he spent some time in prison. He never returned to his wife.
Instead, he moved to Zabok and married Katica Tisanić, a divorced
woman with a child. They built a house in Zabok and had a daughter.
For a while, Pintarić was a good husband and father, a man who wanted
to move away from his traumatic childhood and failed marriage.
Pintarić committed his first murder on 26 April
1973. On that day, he applied for a job in a local factory, but was
rejected. Disappointed over his repeated failures to secure a job in
the factory and suspecting undue influence of his brothers-in-law, who
were already employed there, he went to a local inn and drank heavily.
On his way home, he got into a quarrel and physical confrontation with
his neighbors. Pintarić went to his home to get a pistol, shot the
neighbor dead, and wounded his neighbor's tenant. He hid for 18 days
before turning himself in to the police. He was committed to Vrapče
Psychiatric Hospital for evaluation, but he escaped from the
institution on 18 September 1973 and went into hiding again.
Pintarić was suspicious towards his wife, believing
that she was helping the police to capture or even kill him. On 24
October 1973 Pintarić shot her dead through the window of his
brother's house and fled into the night. Again, Pintarić was drunk
when he committed the crime, and had no recollection of the event on
the following day. Only after inquiring about what had happened in
Zabok, he realized that he had murdered his wife.
Pintarić was captured on 20 January 1974. The
police learned of his whereabouts and surrounded the house in which he
was hiding. After brief negotiations, Pintarić surrendered without
resistance. He was tried for two murders, an attempted murder, and
endangering his neighbors by shooting at their homes. He admitted the
crimes, but pleaded not guilty, arguing that he was provoked into
murder while intoxicated. On 18 November 1974 he was pronounced guilty
and sentenced to death, an outcome Pintarić had feared the most.
However, to his relief, this was quickly commuted to 20 years
imprisonment, the maximum prison term under the law.
Imprisonment and escape
Pintarić served his sentence in Stara Gradiška
Penitentiary. Due to his good behavior, he was assigned duties which
were not accessible to other prisoners, such as preparing coffee and
growing flowers. Still, after eight years in prison some problems
emerged, as Pintarić was issuing threats to his former neighbors. At
the same time, he was petitioning for a leave. The authorities were
aware of his threats and denied all his petitions, assessing that
Pintarić might commit more crimes upon release.
On 21 February 1982 Pintarić managed to escape from
the prison by simply adding his name to a list of prisoners to be
released on a leave. Five days later, he wrote a letter to his
attorney, saying that he escaped because writing petitions made no
sense any more. He announced that he was going to kill a lot of people,
and that what he had done was just the beginning.
Pintarić got involved with Barbara Šipek, a woman
from the village of Andraševec, near Donja Stubica. They lived
together in her house, and even went stealing together. She knew about
his identity, as did the villagers. When she was apprehended by the
police in April 1983, Pintarić barged into a nearby Kucelj family
house armed with a shotgun, and threatened to kill "thirty people"
unless she was released. However, Milan and Matija Kucelj managed to
surprise Pintarić and overpower him, hacking him with a cleaver in the
process. They left him for dead and promptly alarmed the Oroslavje
police. Pintarić was severely injured, but he survived. As a result of
his injuries, he lost full use of his right arm.
Imprisonment in Lepoglava and final escape
Pintarić was charged with threats, attempted murder,
and 30 counts of burglary. He was again sentenced to 20 years and sent
to Lepoglava prison. Life behind bars bored him, so he decided to
escape again. On 3 September 1989 he was given a day's leave from
which he did not return.
Pintarić went back to his outlaw lifestyle. He kept
breaking into cottages across Hrvatsko Zagorje, carefully picking
those which had a clear view towards the road and were close to a
forest, making the escape easier.
In June 1990 the police received a tip about
Pintarić having been seen in Prosenik Začretski, near Zabok. They
talked to Rudolf Belina, owner of a nearby cottage. A couple of days
later, he was visited and shot dead by Pintarić, who thought Belina
had betrayed him to the authorities. Shortly after that, Pintarić
murdered Barbara Šipek's neighbor for having killed one of her
chickens. His fifth and final victim was Božo Habek, shot dead on 2
August 1990 simply for asking the already paranoid Pintarić if he was
looking for somebody.
The police was closing in on Pintarić, and twice
came very near to apprehending him. However, on both of these
occasions Pintarić opened fire, wounded a policeman, and managed to
By 1991, the Zabok police had set up a team
dedicated to locating and capturing Pintarić. Over time, they learned
more about his habits. He was getting increasingly careless, partly
due to alcohol abuse. In May 1991 they received an information that
Pintarić was visiting his lover Ankica Buhiniček and decided to set up
a stakeout on her house near Veliko Trgovišće. On the third night, the
policemen saw a man coming from the woods and approaching the house.
After they radioed for backup, they were joined by a special forces
team from Kumrovec, and the compound was quickly surrounded.
When Pintarić exited the house in the morning, he
was called to surrender, but he opened fire instead. There was a brief
exchange in which Pintarić was wounded and he ran back into the house.
He still refused to surrender, and asked for his attorney. When the
attorney came, Pintarić asked him to come to the house, which the
police did not allow. By noon of the same day, it was apparent that
voluntary surrender is very unlikely, and the police fired tear gas
into the compound. Pintarić then shot Ankica in the stomach, accusing
her of "ratting" him, and fired on the police. One of the policemen
then entered the house and killed Pintarić by a single gunshot to the
head. The woman survived the shooting.
Vinko Pintarić is buried in the Lepoglava cemetery,
in an unmarked grave.
Wanted poster of Vinko Pintarić, serial killer and