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Maria Tarnowska (or Tarnowskaya, also spelled Tarnovska, Tarnovskaia), born Maria Nikolaevna O'Rourke (Russian phonetical transcription: Orurk), born June 9, 1877, Poltava (Ukraine, at the time the Russian Empire) – died January 23, 1949, Santa Fe, Argentina.

She gained international notoriety by standing trial for plotting and instigating the murder of one of her lovers. Her trial in Venice (1910), with its details, and her subsequent conviction attracted media attention from both sides of the Atlantic and later became the subject of various books (Annie Chartres Vivanti, Hans Habe etc.).

After marrying the Russian aristocrat Wassily Tarnowski at the age of seventeen and giving birth to a son (Tioka, b. 1895) and a daughter (Tatyana, b. 1896), she became romantically involved with several other men. She was also known to abuse narcotic drugs (morphine).

In 1907, one of her lovers, Nicholas Naumov (also spelled Naumoff), killed another Maria's lover, Count Pavel Kamarovsky, in Venice, allegedly upon her instigation. The Countess Tarnowska, as she was commonly called, was arrested that same year in Vienna and transferred to La Giudecca penitentiary in Venice, where the trial was to be held. The trial, locally called the Russian affair (il affare dei Russi), began on March 14, 1910, and ended on May 20 of the same year, with the conviction of both defendants. Maria Tarnowska was found guilty but was sentenced to serve a relatively mild term of only eight years in prison, thanks to an ingenious defence (it was one of the first to include Freudian analysis of the defendant's personality and motives) – and, possibly, due to the leniency of the presiding judge.[1] She was transferred to the penitentiary at Trani (southern Italy), and was released in 1915.[2]

Accounts of Tarnowska's life after her release are sketchy at best. She is known to have emigrated to America shortly after her release, in the company of a USA diplomat, possibly under the assumed name of »Nicole Roush«. In 1916, she was living in Buenos Aires with a new lover, the Frenchman Alfred de Villemer, and calling herself »Madame de Villemer«. There are accounts of her running a store selling silk and other finery.[3]

In 1940, Alfred de Villemer died. (The same year also saw the death of her husband, the Count Wassily Tarnowski.) Maria Tarnowska herself died on January 23, 1949. Her body was transported back to the Ukraine (then the USSR) where she was laid to rest in her family tomb.

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