Sunday, September 25, 2011

How Wives Gained Power By Mass-Murder of Husbands - Hungary 1929


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): Susi Olah was stewing fly-paper for her husband’s dinner. Certainly it was an unusual dish – but then Susi’s purpose was unusual. Not wifely love, but deep and bitter hate urged the young girl to her task. A pretty creature of 18, she had been forced to marry an old and disagreeable man.

So now she was preparing her husband’s dinner – not to feed him, but to kill him.

And so, many long years ago, was sown, the seed of one – of the most ghastly poison-massacres in history. A slaughter of over 100 men, women and children – which is now recalled to mind by the recent death in a Hungarian prison of one of the women involved in the horrible mass murders in the villages of Nagyrev and Tiszakurt.

For Susi Olah succeeded in poisoning her old husband with arsenic, soaked out of fly-paper. Not for a moment had this sinister girl doubted she would succeed. Had she not, a few days before, tried out this hell’s-brew on a pig? And had not the pig died? Assuredly. And in just the same way would her husband die.

He did. And Susi Olah, who had committed the “perfect crime,” had a technique with which she was to help many other women make widows of themselves. She was to live to dominate two villages as a feared autocrat. And she was to die in a manner poetically just.

One day in October, 1929, the police chief at Szolnok, Hungary, received an anonymous letter. It told of a mysterious death, which was striking men down in the villages of Szolnok and Tiszakurt.

The chief called on two detectives, Bartok and Frieska.

“This is probably written by a practical joker,” he said, “but you’d better check on it.”

In Nagyrev, the two detectives went first to the village inn. There were four men at the inn, and Bartok and Frieska bought them wine, then discreetly questioned them.

Stark fear showed in the villagers’ eyes. They looked at each other. Only one of them spoke.

“See the padre,” he mumbled. “He’ll tell you.”

The local clergyman was as frightened as everyone else seemed to be. He ushered the officers into his study, pulled down the blinds and then said:

“Gentlemen, you have come none too soon. Here we live in the constant shadow of death. For no apparent reason, healthy and robust men suddenly sicken and die. This spring when Frau Szabo’s old father died it was rumored that she and Susi Olah had poisoned him. I called on Frau Szabo and questioned her. Of course she denied the rumor but before I left she gave me a cup of tea. Within an hour I was violently ill. A medical friend who was staying with me believed she had poisoned me.”

The two detectives looked at each other. Was the padre crazy?

“You see, gentlemen,” he went on to explain, “in these villages we nave neither doctor nor policeman. All death certificates are signed by our coroner, who happens to be Susi Olah’s son-in-law.”

“Susi Olah,” mused Bartok. “That’s the woman named in the letter to our chief.”


“You’ll find her a formidable opponent, gentlemen. And if she discovers the reason for your visit you will be dead men. The superstitious peasants are terrified of her. They believe she has supernatural powers and as her official capacity as nurse and midwife gives her access to every family, she dominates the entire district.”

“But why—” objected Bartok. ‘What’s behind it all?”

“I believe,” said the priest gravely, “that these murders were originally caused by the grinding poverty of our unfortunate peasantry. The aged, the crippled and unwanted children have sometimes proved too heavy a burden for our poor. Then there were men who drank and beat their wives. These men have gradually disappeared. And in their place the women, under Susi Olah, have gained the upper hand.

“These villages, gentlemen, are utterly dominated by women. And the men are all afraid for their lives!”

“Well,” growled Frieska. “they needn’t be while we’re here.”

Dramatically – almost, it seemed, magically – the detective was given the lie. For as they stepped out of the priest’s house the darkness suddenly quivered with a terrible howl of anguish.

Drawing their guns, the two detectives ran towards the inn. Suddenly Frieska tripped and sprawled to the ground.

He had fallen over the body of one of the four men with whom they had talked in the inn — the very man who had told them to visit the padre. This man was the uncle of Frau Szabo, the woman whom the priest suspected of trying to murder him.

The uncle had talked too much! And, to punish him and warn the rest, the poisoner had shown the audacity to strike him down almost under the very noses of investigating police. True, the death certificate said the man had died of alcoholism – but the detectives, though they said nothing, knew better. By now they were completely convinced that murder indeed was stalking those two quiet little villages.


Detective Frieska decided on a bold move.

At the head of a body of police, he marched to Frau Szabo’s house. Thunderously, he accused her of murdering her uncle. Taken unawares, the woman broke down and confessed not only to this but to the murder of her father as well She named Susi Olah and several other women as man-slayers. As a result she, Susi Olah and six others were arrested and taken to Ezolnok for questioning.

There Frau Szabo calmly retracted her confession. She had been bullied into making it, she said. What evidence had the police other than the false admissions that a poor frightened old woman had been forced to make? Bartok and Frieska scratched their heads They had no further evidence whatever. A search of the houses of all the women concerned revealed absolutely nothing.

So Susi Olah and all the other women – except Frau Szabo – were released.

And Susi played right into the hands of the police.

On the night of her return to Nagyrev, she stole out of her house – apparently unaware that detectives were hidden all around. From one neighbor’s house to another she went – to warn her associates not to talk to the police. And Bartok calmly noted the name of each family she visited.

He felt certain that now he had a list of women involved in the poisonings. Now, he decided, was the time to start digging up the Nagyrev graveyard – exhuming the bodies of all men who had died during recent years. If he could find traces of poison in the remains, his case would be complete.

And so that very night Bartok went to the graveyard to look it over. And there he received a shock.

Fortunately the sleuth approached through the darkness quietly, and without showing a light. But there was a dim light in the graveyard. It gleamed on polished tombstone, and on the heads of a huddled group of women.

Bartok slunk behind a massive headstone, and watched. Nearer he dared not approach and so he couldn’t overhear the muttered conversation of these crouching, beshawled crones. There were thirteen women in that graveyard, and when a beam of light fell upon her witch’s face, Bartok recognized the sinister Susi Olah as the ringleader. Apparently her visits had been to summon this meeting – and after returning home she had crept out again herself.

Surely, Bartok thought, these women can’t intend to dig up the bodies themselves, and thus forestall police action? It would be a terrific task.

Then Susi Olah picked up a spade. She stuck it into the turf, and began to pry up a small headstone.

When the headstone came loose, four of those huddled figures gripped it in their gnarled hands and moved it away—to another grave.

Puzzled, Bartok watched while the headstone from this second grave was removed, and lugged back to the first grave.

And then, in a flash, Bartok realized what they were up to. They were not digging up the bodies of poisoned victims. Their plan was far subtler and easier to execute than that.

They were shuffling up the headstones!

If Bartok hadn’t caught them at it, he would have been utterly baffled, when toxicologists later analyzed the remains found in the graves. For, of course, the thirteen witches were putting the headstones of their victims and placing them upon graves containing: the bodies of men who had died naturally. Consequently the police scientists, when they came to examine the bodies, would find no traces of poison whatever.

Thanks to Susi Olah’s scheme the investigation, instead of convicting the poisoners, would give them an absolutely clean bill of health! And if Bartok hadn’t happened to visit the graveyard that night, Susi would have got away with it.

But Bartok was there. Revolver in hand, his police whistle at his lips, the detective leaped out from behind the stone. A shrill blast of the whistle split the night, frightening the women into immobility, wakening the village, summoning the other police officers. And Bartok’s gun kept them standing there, huddled together with their shawls over their heads, until help came to arrest them.

Next day the grave-digger and ten grim men of the village set to work in the grisly task of bringing back their dead friends from the grave, in order that their mute and tragic testimony might serve to protect the living from a like fate.

The receiving vault of the cemetery was turned into a temporary morgue. There doctors and laboratory technicians from Szolnok worked far into the night testing the bodies for traces of arsenic.

There seemed to be no end to that horrid procession of bodies. And – each one contained arsenic, including the corpse of a little child. In the coffin of one of Susi Olah’s husbands (she had had two, and both had died mysteriously) a bottle of thick syrup was found. It contained a deadly poison.

More than 100 bodies contained arsenic!


As a result of these horrible discoveries, 80 widows and two men were arrested. Five were hanged, ten went to jail for life. And Susi Olah cheated the gallows by taking some of her own “medicine.” One of her principal assistants, another was named Balint Czordas, hanged herself with a rope of bedding.

But before she killed herself, Susi confessed. Her first murder, back in 1911, had been to rid herself of her unpleasant old husband. Later, while coming into contact with her neighbor women as midwife and nurse, it occurred to her that there were many women who were fed up with their current husbands. So she began to sell poison, with careful directions how it should be used.

She accepted her money in three equal payments—120 penges (about $20) down, another $20 after the funeral and a third payment when the estate was settled. But not always did Susi murder for money. There was her second husband, for example – a handsome Don Juan who carried on with the younger and prettier women of the village. Susi stood that for a very little while. Then, gleefully, she slipped him a dose of “medicine” that effectively removed such ideas – and all other ideas – from his mind forever.

HUNGARY, for some strange reason, seems to have occasional epidemics of husband slaying. Similar to Susi’s profitable murder-business was the brisk trade in death done by a 70- year-old widow Juliana Janos Nagy, native of the little village of Csokmo in the Hungarian lowlands. In 1935 she was hanged for murdering twenty husbands. She had started by poisoning her own husband’s first wife so she could marry him. Then she poisoned him, and also their five children, one by one, so that she would inherit all the dead man’s estate.

Then there was “Smoking Peter,” a big, man-hating woman who disguised herself as a man. She taught disgruntled wives how to make their husbands helpless by a peculiar tap on the back of the head then how to hang them up by the neck, to make it appear suicide. But when one extra-husky and zealous wife fractured her husband’s skull with the peculiar tap, the coroner investigated. “Smoking Peter” went to the rope she had uncoiled for many a husband; two widows were sentenced to life imprisonment and the rest to various shorter terms.”

But none of these lesser man-slayers even approached Susi Olah in the magnitude of her businesslike, large-scale widow-making – which entitles her to go down in history as the only murderer to ever peddle death on the installment plan!

[“How Wives Gained Power By Mass-Murder Of Husbands – Ghastly Widow-Making Syndicate Dealt on the Installment Plan and Cost More Than 100 Lives Before Its Grisly Career Was Ended by Dramatic Arrests in a Cemetery,” Oakland Tribune, Nov. 7, 1937, Magazine Section, p. 11]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 f 3): Budapest: A little knowledge of chemistry recently unlocked the secret to one of the most atrocious and astounding wholesale murder plots of modern times.

It revealed for the first time how 100 unwanted husbands, in the little Hungarian village of Nagyrev, not far from here, have been fatally poisoned by their own wives.

The murder-crazed wives fed their husbands a solution containing arsenic, dissolved from flypaper. The sudden deaths of men of rugged health caused no suspicion, chiefly because of the lack of proper medical supervision.

But one day a strange, fantastic rumor reached the authorities. Their investigation resulted in the bodies of several of the husbands being removed from their graves. Even then the murderous wives felt safe. The bodies had been buried so long that the flesh had disappeared and they believed that traces of the arsenic solution would not be found.

The poison was discovered, however, another baby would be reported dead. by a simple test. For arsenic can be found on the finger nails of those who die from its poisonous influence!

Thus began a series of wholesale arrests of many widows of Nagyrev. And out of the hitherto peaceful village came a story of sinister proportions seldom equaled in the criminal history of the world. It was unfolded in the Szolnok courthouse and the penalties imposed upon the 100 wives ranged from hanging to at least fifteen years in prison.


It was a story of post-war greed for land, of family intrigues of a strange called Mrs. Suzanne Fazekas, who moved through the village like a veritable she-devil. According to the court testimony, it was she, who, for years, had instigated murder, by selling the flypaper poison solution to wives who wanted to get rid of their husbands. And, in the end, just as she was about to be arrested, she swallowed a big dose of the fatal poison herself and died.

Perhaps the most striking explanation of the fiendish blight that had fallen upon the village was given during one of the trials by the attorney for the defense, Dr. J. Viragy. After picturing the smiling villages of Hungary in the long dead post-war days, he said:

“Nagyrev was Eden then. Then the war came, the peace came; poverty followed. Instead of plenty there was bareness, instead of joy – despair. No priest ever visited them, no doctor came to cure their sick. In Nagyrev – where most people could not read or write – desperation was breeding greed.”

“And then comes into their midst the spirit of evil, re-born in Suzanne Fazekas – an unlicensed village doctor, but known far and wide as the ‘white Devil.’ She tempted them, as perhaps no women have ever been tempted.”

Suzanne Fazekas was, indeed, respected everywhere in the village by the dumb, red-cheeked peasants. She was a good doctor, an expert in the sickroom. They spoke of her, in that superstitious village, as a wise woman. It was the practice of many parents in the little village to have only one child – so that the land would not be divided after their death. Often, when an additional baby was born Mrs. Fazekas was called in. Soon after another baby would be reported dead.

Mrs. Fazekas’ first husband, died after a short illness, but she did not mourn him for a long time. She married Fazekas, a well-to-do peasant, who owned a house and. several acres of land. Less than two years later he contracted a mysterious “disease” and died, leaving her his little fortune.
 

There were many women in the village who envied the Widow Fazekas. She now owned her own property, and had no husband to bother her or dictate to her. There was one woman, whose disabled husband was a burden on her shoulders; another, whose husband came home from the war blind, while she had to care for the small farm; another, whose husband could not work; another, who liked to have a good time, but could not because of her husband’s objections. And another – and another – and another.

She showed the women how to soak the poisonous paper in water – she sold them the arsenic-imbued liquid, half a tumblerful of which would suffice to kill five horses – or an unfortunate, trusting husband, or brother. If a doctor were called in from a neighboring town, and he prescribed any medicine, the best thing to do was to pour the fly-tox arsenic into it. Whose fault if the prescription didn’t agree with the patient and he died half an hour after taking it or maybe several days later?

But the doctors seldom came. Like many other parts of Hungary since the war, this area has been poverty stricken, and has practiced the strictest economy in government and private endeavors. Proper medical supervision was impossible, and the few, overworked, underpaid doctors seldom visited Nagyrev. They thought that Suzanne Fazekas was competent enough to attend to the medical needs of the small populace.

And thus it was that year after year more mysterious deaths of more robust husbands were reported. For twenty years this horrible nightmare continued. The ignorant, hard-hearted, greedy peasant women were the tools of Suzanne Fazekas, and paid her in land, in money and in grain.

Thus grew up an almost incredible widow-making syndicate. The men of the village trembled when robust friends they knew so well, suddenly died. But they did not understand. They did not understand, perhaps, until the last few moments of life, when, writhing in agony, the awful realization of what had happened dawned upon them, and they saw the fiendish glitter in the eyes of their wives.

Still the secret remained. The authorities did not suspect. There was not even a rumor to disturb the merry widows of Nagyrev. Then one day the ten-yearly census was taken in Hungary. The authorities, examining the statistics, were struck by the fact that at Nagyrev, where in 1919 the population was 3,700, the birth-rate exceeded the death rate by only 36, instead of at least 340, as it should have been on the usual basis.

An investigation was started. It revealed the sudden deaths of young and middle-aged men in good health. The causes of their illnesses were vaguely explained.


Suzanne Fazekas was arrested. She denied knowing anything extraordinary about the deaths of the husbands. When she was allowed to go home free, under the impression that she had outwitted the authorities. Meanwhile her me was searched. In the attic was found a large supply of the arsenic fly-paper. Neatly arranged, on shelves were bottles filled with water, in which the flypaper was soaking. Other bottles contained the arsenic-saturated solution from which the been removed.

The moment Mrs. Fazekas returned from Budapest to Nagyrev she was followed, though she did not know it. Detectives observed that she made hasty visits to many women in the village. They heard words of warning to the merry – but now rather startled – widows.

Hoping to steal a march on the widows, the authorities went to the village cemetery. Grave diggers were put to work to disinter several bodies of men who had died mysteriously, so that they might be examined.

But they found some of the widows had been ahead of them. They had visited the cemetery and changed around the tombstones to confuse the authorities. The latter, however, succeeded in removing the bodies of some of the poisoned husbands.

The widows went to Suzanne Fazekas in fear. But she assured them that arsenic, in solution, could not be traced in a disintegrated body. But the authorities, meanwhile, had learned about a telltale finger nail test. They looked for dark splotches under the finger nails which conclusively proved the presence of arsenic poisoning.

With this evidence they went first to the home of Suzanne Fazekas. She saw them come in. She looked wildly about her for a chance to escape. There was none. But on the table was a bottle containing the arsenic solution – intended for another unwanted husband. The “wise woman” of Nagyrev seized it and poured part of the contents down her throat. Then from her came a wild scream. Her death was as agonizing as those of her victims.

After that the authorities checked up on additional rumors, on records strangely kept in Suzanne’s room and within a short time 100 widows were arrested – charged with murdering their husbands! Some of them were even accused of poisoning their fathers and brothers.

With the word of Suzanne’s suicide the other widows became panic stricken. Four of them committed suicide in jail while awaiting trial of the first batch of prisoners brought to trial one was sentenced to death and four to life imprisonment. All were ordered to pay the costs of the prosecution, with the result that the little cottages, the small patches of land, which were their incentives to commit murder, were sold.

This was not the first time, however, that a nightmarish orgy of murders, instigated by women, has descended upon the peasants of Hungary. The nation has known cases similar in every detail; the same horror, inhuman purpose and indifferent disregard for human life.


So it is not entirely surprising that these horrible tales should have fired a spark in the distorted mind of Suzanne Fazekas. Where she came from, when first she entered Nagyrev twenty years ago, no one knew. She appeared to have many high recommendations from physicians and, because of the inaccessibility of the village, authorities were glad there was someone to minister to the needs of the populace.

With the passing of the wise woman and the arrests of the murderers, peace is settling once more upon the village of Nagyrev. The  peasants gather in clusters in the dusk and speak with awe of the “White Devil,” and of the “she-devils,” for they are superstitious and many of them fear the Evil Eye.

They say now that an evil, spread over twenty years, at last has been banished. And they are happy, like children are in the broad daylight, when they, think back on some fantastic nightmare.

[“100 Husband Poisoners Trapped Tell-Tale Finger Nails - How an Unfailing Microscopic Test Led to Wholesale Arrests of Much Surprised Widows Charged With Getting Rid of Husbands They Didn’t Want.” Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ut.), Feb. 9, 1930, Magazine Section, p. 5-C]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 3): Budapest.—Further details of the wholesale poisoning of husbands In the Hungarian province of Satolnok, on the Theiss, 54 miles southeast of here, are causing a sensation.

In this country. More than fifty exhumations in Nagyren and Tiszakurt and neighboring villages have brought the number of husbands known to have been poisoned to death up to an even hundred, while scores of widows have been arrested charged with murder, or held as suspects, until the causes of the demise of their husbands can be Investigated.

So far the police have traced these murders back over a period of 15 years – and suspect several of an earlier date. According to the national police. It has been proved that in the winter of 1914-15, after all able-bodied men had departed for the World war, some of their wives, being lonely, begun to go about with young men below military age, and, first in jest and then seriously, organized a “war widow cult,” which devised means to get rid of the husbands who returned from the war.

~ Used Toadstools, Rat Poison. ~

The “cult” has been talked about jokingly ever since the war, until three of the second husbands riled mysterious deaths and a fourth, feeling that he had been poisoned, told the police.

They received his information with incredulity, but an investigation was started, and recently the first arrests were made, confessions of some were recorded, and the series of exhumations began. According to the confessions the principal poisons used were toadstools served as mushrooms, and rat poison containing arsenic.

The founders of the “cult,” according to the police, are three widows who disposed of their husbands In 1918, although before the existence of the organization other husbands had died from poison, as their exhumed bodies revealed. Apparently envious of the facility of the trio in exchanging old mates for new, other women from time to time followed their example with great success. Only when the alarming percentage of deaths among supposedly healthy land owners of the province of Szolnok became the subject of general gossip did the police step in.

~ 98 Women Arrested. ~

“The official investigation quickly spread from Tiszakurt and Nagyren to Nagy-Nev and Ujecske. Of the 98 women arrested the evidence resulting from exhumations is overwhelming against 51. These and the remainder under suspicion have been transferred to the prison at Szolnok, capital of the province, lest the men in the region storm the village jail to revenge their brothers and friends who have been done to death.

“In the present instance,” the police report says, “gossip at Tizakurt pointed it finger to two midwives, Mmes. Fazekas and Papal who in the last ten years were reported to have amassed sizable fortunes; gossip also said they were addicted to blackmail, and whenever in need of cash knew how to raise a hundred of pengoes from widows and others.”

The two midwives fled before the police could arrest them and hanged themselves from the rafers of a kitchen in a house where they sought asylum.

~ Midwives Offer Services. ~

From the accusations which followed these dramatic deaths, which also amounted to confessions in the ease of almost every person who made them, the police learned that the two women, as early as 1911 had visited various households where the husbands were either blind, in their dotage or otherwise troublesome, and offered their services. One of the accused widows, who has been more frequently blackmailed by the pair, made use of them an seven occasions.

The mental attitude of the wives of Szolnok is thus analyzed by Father Laszlo Toth, pastor of Tiszakurt, the whole community of which is Calvinist:

“The peasants hereabouts are mean and grasping, and think only of money and comfort. All the women, who somehow seem stronger than the men, are married two or three times. Spiritually they have no existence, nor yearning for spirituality. My church is empty although I must admit that among the accused are several of my few faithful – women who have been active in all kinds of parish work.”

[“Many Husbands Poison Victims - Scores of Women in Hungary Accused of Murder of Spouses.” LeMars Globe-Post (Le Mars, Io.), Nov. 11, 1929, p. 8]

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• Posts on INDIVIDUAL SERIAL KILLERS in the 1929 Tisza Valley case •


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For more than two dozen similar cases, dating from 1658 to 2011, see the summary list with links see: The Husband-Killing Syndicates

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