After the assassination of the Tsar police action slowly got underway. While the initial response was sluggish it was extremely thorough, following up every lead and tracing all the contacts. In August 1883 Esper came to the attention of the police. He was still serving in the navy, in temporary command of an artillery battery in the Gulf of Finland.
There are several accounts of what happened. One in an account written by Lev Tikomirov, says that he got a tip off that he was about to be arrested and escaped in advance of that arrest. The other says that he was arrested, but then escaped. The second version is written in “The universal review volume 7 May 1890”. This was a journal published in London and it carries an article written in French by Esper about the atrocities being conducted by the Russian state against prisoners arrested for revolutionary activities. In the introduction to the article the editor writes the following “He was arrested in 1883 but managed to escape the same evening, and took refuge abroad.” The article states that this information was given by a translator with close contact with Esper.
In an account written by Esper in his book published in 1894, he says that he had been urged to escape for some time by a man called Mr Stepurin, who told him that as many of his fellow officers had been arrested and executed he should leave Russia.
Eventually a forged passport was supplied to Esper by a Mr Ovchinikov and on the 19 of August 1883 Esper escaped abroad. There are no real details of the journey but Esper writes that “it was a long journey full of hardship”.
Whichever version was the result was that Esper escaped Russia. The forged passport was in the name of a Swiss citizen Edward Nikolaievitch Blank.
He next comes to notice in Paris in February 1884. Paris at that time was something of a hot bed of Russian dissidents, those who had escaped from Russia were collecting there and trying to maintain and develop revolutionary activities in Russia. They were engaged in raising money to print leaflets and papers to be sent back to Russia.
When Esper arrived he was in something of a poor state, his clothes were in rags, and his shoes had holes. He had no contacts or introductions to people who might help him. He wandered around the city for two weeks until he chanced upon the address of Petr Lavrov, the leading thinker of Narodnaia Volia. Through Lavrov he was introduced to the émigré Russian community, among them his old comrade from Narodnaia volia Lev Tikhomirov. In his memoirs Tikhomirov gives several mentions of meetings and correspondence with Esper. Tikhomirov wrote about finding Esper in a small room in the Rue de la Glacière;
In the first room there was a little blackened fireplace with a few handfuls of lukewarm coke, sitting hunched was a skinny young blond man, poking around in his tattered shoes.
– Hello, Esper A. – I said. – How are you? Have you work?
He jumps up, one leg in a torn shoe, the other barefoot. He holds the shoe on his hand and bows in an elegant way:
– Yes, that’s completely falling apart; do not know how to hold them together…
The boots are really on their last gasp. All of them consist of patches, and unravelling patches. There is a new hole. Fingers protrude outward.
Tikhomirov describes the Rue de la Glacière as a narrow, curving, run down dirty street with old houses that had not been repaired. There were no shops in the street and only the very poor lived there. Esper’s apartment was cramped and dirty, reached via a narrow stone staircase with two rooms and a cramped small kitchen.
Esper was brought in to the revolutionary Russian community in Paris. While he was helped by the group he was not fully brought into the group. This was partially because of his military background and partly because of his unwillingness to fully engage in possibly criminal activities.
But it was there that he met Ekaterine and Dora Tete’leman, two sisters who had recently arrived from Odessa.