Thursday, September 22, 2011

Anna Allas, Mary Chalfa & Gizella Young, Pittsburgh “Tarot Card” Serial Killers – 1932


NOTE: A recent book (Joseph W. Laythe, Engendered Death: Pennsylvania Women Who Kill, Rowan & Littlefield, 2011), notes that the killers were ethnic Hungarians, residing in the Pittsburgh Hungarian immigrant community. The Hungarian connection – to the large number of poisoning conspiracies run usually by women in greater Hungary and environs dating back at least to the 1880s – was brought up in the trial of Allas and Chalfa: “The testimony at the trial was a strange mixture of scientific dissertations and tales of witchcraft in old Hungary.” [“High Spots in Insurance Murder Trial – a Case Involving ‘Devils, Drugs and Doctors’ – That Convicted 2 Women,” The Pittsburgh Press (Pa.), Feb. 3, 1933, p. 2] SEE: “How Women Gained Power By Mass-Murder of Husbands”

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FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 9): The sinister story of the women of Nagyrev and Tiszagurt, Hungarian peasants who for a generation deftly poisoned unwanted husbands and sweethearts, last night came into the background of county detectives’ investigation of the alleged “insurance murder” ring at Munhall.

County Detective Michael McDermott, assigned to the Munhall case, recognized symptoms in the deaths of suspected victims of the Allegheny County ring as similar to those of the hundreds of men who died from poison administered by a generation of Amazons.

[UHoM view on McDermott’s suspicion: The detective was obviously unfamiliar with the common crime of arsenic murder in the U. S., yet had the sensational Hungarian case, frequently featured in the U. S. news from 1929-1931,  fresh in mind. There was no need to look for any arcane source of knowledge of arsenic as a device for murder. Yet it was reasonable to consider the possibility that Gizella Young may have been involved in similar crimes in her own country. The Pittsburg Press reporters, like McDermott, seem to have been unaware that the Nagyrev case, though heavily publicized, was but one of large number of such cases to have appeared in Eastern Europe since the late 19th century. Ironically, Pittsburgh itself was home of one of the earliest female serial killers in the U. S. Martha Grinder was hanged there in 1866 for murders involving arsenic. McDermott could have found  the descriptions of arsenic poisoning symptioms in his own department’s archives had he known about the old Grinder case. – Robert St. Estephe, Nov. 28, 2013]

Investigation of the death cult which a Hungarian midwife built to stupendous proportions and maintained for 40 years revealed that the men of the Hungarian farmlands – marked for death by a woman – invariably died from an illness which was accompanied by violent stomach disorders.

McDermott caused a request to be sent out for full details of the Nagyrev and Tiszakurt killings, for which 31 women went to trial in 1930. Six of the 31, facing conviction, killed themselves, several were hanged and others received life prison sentences.

Among these details, he said, he and Detective Patrick Trainor hope to find information which will reveal the methods used by the alleged Munhall ring.

~ Husband Makes Charge. ~

McDermott also was seeking verification or denial from Czechoslovakian police  at Kocise, near the Hungarian border, of charges made against Mrs. Gizelle Young, 35, a Homeville fortune teller, by her estranged husband.

The husband, Andrew Young, told McDermott Friday that his wife is wanted by Kocise authorities on 18 charges, one of them a murder accusation.

Mrs. Young was arrested June 27 for alleged attack upon Mrs. Stella Chalfa, 22, of Larkspur extension. Munhall, said by detectives to be one of three persons marked by the insurance ring at their next victims.

~ Victim Taken to Hospital. ~ 

Stella was taken to the Homestead, where 22 stitches were taken in her head as the result of a beating which she said as the result of a beating which she said Mrs. Young and her cousin, Mary Chalfa of Whitaker Way, Munhall, inflicted with a blackjack in a Mifflin Township picnic grove.

Chief of Police Jesse J. Crawford of Mifflin Township said Mrs. Young confessed that she and Mary Chalfa had planned to kill Stella, Stella’s husband, Joseph, and Mary’s husband, John, for their insurance money.

Mrs. Young’s attorney subsequently denied that she had made such an admission.

She and Mary Chalfa were arraigned before Justice of the Peace John R. Engel, Miflin Township, and were held the court, charged with felonious assault and battery.

~ Released Under Bond. ~

Mary was released Friday under $1,000 bail, after spending years more than a week in county jail, Mrs. Young still is there, unable to arrange bond.

While the women were in jail, insurance investigators joined the county detectives and the probe spread to four recent deaths in the homes of Mary Chalfa and a neighbor, Mrs. Anna Allas.

Insurance company records disclosed that Andrew Allas, 16, who died April 12, had been insured for $18,300 by Mrs. Allas, his stepmother.

All but $1,500 of this amount was in policies taken out two months before his death, the records showed.

~ Visits Are Protested ~

Then Young came to the county detective’s offices and made his accusations against his wife.

Mary, he said, visited his home so frequently at one time that he protested to his wife. She answered, Young said:


“Oh, that’s all right. I just told her fortune.

“What was it?” Young said he then asked and his wife replied:

“Well, she’s having a lot of trouble with her husband, so I told her to insure him and he would die in three months.”

~ Tells of Visit With Wife~

Young told McDermott he asked his wife how he knew Chalfa would die in three months and she answered:

“I’ll give her something to give him.”

Young also told the detectives that he accompanied his wife and Mary Chalfa to the post-mortem examination made of Andrew Allas’ body by Coroner’s aides.

After the examination, his wife turned to Mrs. Chalfa he said, and, smiling, told her in their native tongue:

“Those dumb Coroners don’t know where to look for poison.”

~ Comprise Strange Case ~

Olah, a midwife who had settled in Nagyrev, Hungary, 1890, was arrested in 1929 in one of the strangest cases in murder annals.

Wholesale arrests of women in Nagyrev and Tiszakurt followed.

But so closely were the women allied

~ Trap Brings Confession~

By this time, however, suspicion wife deeply rooted.

District officials, releasing the women, laid a trap and Susi walked unwittingly into it.

Other women followed. Confessions came right and left.

Susi, realizing she was trapped, hanged herself. Five others took their lives, either as Susi did or by self-administered poison.

With the convictions of the others the entire plot of the peasant women who took their loves as they found them – and killed when the first flush of romance faded – was revealed.

~ Began Poisoning Babies ~

Susi had built up her practice rapidly.

She started by poisoning unwanted babies.

Then we found that the sale of strychnine and arsenic to women who wished to rid themselves of a husband a sweetheart made a profitable sideline.

[“’Murder Plot’ Probe Widens – Alleged Insurance Scheme Here Linked to Wholesale Hungarian Poisonings,” The Pittsburgh Press (Pa.), Jul. 10, 1932, p. 2]

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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 9): Pittsburgh, July 13. – At least three and possibly a dozen arrests are expected to be made in connection with an alleged insurance “murder plot” in Marshall, Pa., detectives indicated today as result of a confession assertedly made before them late yesterday.

Detectives said Mrs. Gizella Young, 35-year-old, Homerville, Pa., fortune teller, confessed participating in the alleged plot after five hours questioning. The woman signed a 500-word statement admitting she had helped kill three persons and had attempted to kill a fourth, detectives said.

Mrs. Young named Mrs. Mary Chalfa and Mrs. Anna Allas, both of Munhall, as others who participated in the alleged killings detectives said. She said poison concocted from spiders, paregoric, starvation and a poison ointment were used in bringing about the deaths of the three persons, according to detectives.

Mrs. Young confessed that an attack upon Mrs. Stella Chalfa, in connection with which she and Mrs. Mary Chalfa were arrested, was part of a plot to kill the woman, detectives claimed. They said Mrs. Young claimed she had been forced to participate in the attack by Mrs. Mary Chalfa.

The attack on Mrs. Stella Chalfa last June 17 led to the present investigation.

The body of Andrew Allas was exhumed last May at the request of insurance company representatives who said he had been insured for a total of $18,300 in eight companies. Payment of the policies has been withheld pending further examination of his organs.

[“Expect Many Arrests In Insurance Murder Plot,” syndicated (United Press), Monessen Daily Independent (Pa.), Jul. 13, 1932, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 9): Gov. David L. Lawrence yesterday commuted the life sentence of a former Munhall woman whose conviction in 1933 climaxed one of the most weird poison-murder trials in district annals.

The governor’s action made Mrs. Mary Chalfa, 61, eligible for release from the State Industrial Home for Women, where she has served 29 years.

~ Poisoned Step-Son ~

With Mrs. Anna Allas, also of Munhall, Mrs. Chalfa was convicted of the fatal poisoning Stephen Allas, 16, a step-son of Mrs. Allas, to collect the boy’s insurance.

Mrs. Allas, who also was sentenced to life imprisonment, died at Muncy in 1951. Her appeal for commutation in 1949 was refused.

When Raymond C. Wieseckrel, a pardons case representative, presented Mrs. Chalfa’s  appeal for freedom to the State Pardon Board last September, he said he felt that “further imprisonment would do her no good” and that a daughter has offered her a home. It was her third appeal.

~ Action Not Opposed ~

The district attorney’s office did not oppose Mrs. Chalfa’s September appeal.

Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Allas also were indicted for the poison-murder of another step-son, Andrew Allas, 12, but they were not tried on that charge.

[“Life Sentence Of Poisoner Is Commuted – Munhall Woman Who Killed Step-Son May Be Set Free,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pa.), Jan. 11, 1963, p. 24]


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FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 9): Pittsburgh, June 28—Judge J. Prank Graff today sentenced Mrs. Mary Chalfa and Mrs. Anna Allas, convicted “Munhall poison murderers” to life imprisonment at the state industrial home for women at Muncy, Pa.

The two women were found guilty by a jury of poisoning Stephen Allas, 12 year old stepson of Mrs. Allas, by feeding him stannous chloride (tin salt) solution.

Both women also were indicted for murder in the death of Andrew Allas, 16, Steve’s older brother, they were not tried on this indictment. Insurance totalling approximately $20,000 was carried by the two women on the lives of the boys.

Trial of the two women lasted two weeks and was featured by the testimony of Mrs. Gizella Young, an alleged fortune teller, that the women came to her for “card readings” as to when the two boys would die. The defendants built their case around a claim that anything they had done was done while under Mrs. Young’s “spell.”

[“Women Poisoners Get Life Terms - Judge J. Frank Graff At Pittsburgh Sentences Two Women To Life Imprisonment,” syndicated (International News Service), New Castle News (Pa.), Jun. 28, 1933, p. 8]

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FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 9):The verdict of the Allegheny county jury that found the two Munhall housewives, Mrs. Anna Allas and Mrs. Mary Chalfa, guilty of poisoning the former’s 12-year-old stepson, Steve Allas, was upheld yesterday by the supreme court of Pennsylvania, sitting in Philadelphia.

Terming the women “fortunate” because the jury did not demand the death penalty for their “outrageous and inhuman crime,” the supreme court, with final review on the spectacular poison case, refused to grant the death plotters a new trial.

~ To Be Sent to Muncy. ~

This means that the two women, accused by county detectives of being ring-leaders in a wholesale insurance spot, will be taken from the county jail to spend the rest of their lives in the State Industrial Home for Woman at Munch, Pa.

They were sentenced to life imprisonment, following their trial last February, by Judge J. Frank Graff. When appeal for new trial was refused by Judge Graf, they carried their fight for freedom to the supreme court.

The supreme court opinion, written by Justice John W. Kephart, stated that “these denendants were fortunate since the jury, under the testimony, could very properly have fixed the death penalty for what the court described as cruel, outrageous, and inhuman crime.”

It was shown at their trial that the two women carried insurance policies totaling more than $66,000 on various members of their families. Besides the death of Steve Allas they were also charged with poisoning Andrew Allas, 16, and an 18-month-old baby that had been left to Mrs. Chalfa’s case. Insurance policies had been collected on the lives of all three children.

~ Evidence Held Relative. ~

The supreme court yesterday held that the evidence concerning the alleged plot was admissible because it showed the motive and plan of the women in killing of Steve, for whose death they were being tried. The other poisonings were “essential to the pyramiding of insurance, dependent on a beginning with the funds obtained as a result of the primary homicide.”

Assistant District Attorney John F. Haggerty, who represented the commonwealth at the trial, argued the appeal with Attorney Little before the supreme court. According to the sheriff’s office, the poisoners will be taken to Muncy Saturday or Monday.

[“Poison Murder Convictions Are Sustained – State Supreme Court Denies Rehearing In Chalfa Case. – Women Are Flayed – Tribunal Says Guilty Pair Fortunate to Escape Death Penalty.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pa.), Nov. 28, 1933, Section 2, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 6 of 9): Convicted of one death and accused of three others in an “insurance plot,” Mrs. Anna Allas, one of two Munhall housewives serving life terms, has entered suit to recover on a $5,000 policy on the life of one of the alleged victims.

The suit, against Prudential Insurance Co., is scheduled for hearing in Federal Court next week.

She and Mrs. Mary Chalfa were found guilty three years ago of poisoning Steve Allas, 12, Mrs. Allas’ step-son, to collect his insurance.

Now Mrs. Allas demands payment under a policy on the life of Andrew Allas, 16, another step-son, for whose death she and Mrs. Chalfa also were indicted.

Although the State changed that Andrew as well as his brother was poisoned. Mrs. Allas claims that Andrew claims that Andrew “died of natural causes.”

Besides the two Allas boys, Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Allas were accused in the death of a year-old boy who had been “boarded” with Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Allas’ first husband.

They were convicted after a sensational trial in which Mrs. Gizella Young, a fortune-teller, was a star witness for the state, testifying that the two accused women had confessed to her.


[“Suit Is Echo To Poison Case – Munhall Woman, Serving Life, Trying to Collect Life Insurance,” The Pittsburg Press (Pa.), Nov. 10, 1936, p. 2]

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NOTE: The following article connects the Allas/Chalfa case with the much more extensive murder conspiracy case in 1939 Philadelphia known as “Arsenic Incorporated.”

FULL TEXT (Article 7 of 9): Suspicions of Philadelphia detectives that the mass murder ring uncovered there also operated in Pittsburgh were strengthened last night when a check of data in Pittsburg’s murder-for-insurance case of 1933 showed that the two women convicted here had an attorney in Philadelphia.

Mrs. Mary Chalfa, the Munhall housewife who on an income of $200 a month carried insurance of more than $30,000, on members of her family, admitted on the witness stand at her trial that even before her arrest that she had gone to Philadelphia to consult an attorney.

~ Convicted of Murders. ~

Both she and Mrs. Anna Allas were convicted of first degree murder for the poison killing of Mrs. Allas’ step-son, Andrew Allas. They were also charged with killing a six-months-old baby, another son of Mrs. Allas’, and also Mrs. Allas’ first husband so they could collect their victims’ insurance.

At the trial, Assistant District Attorney John Haggerty flourished a telegram before Mrs. Chalfa and asked why, long before her arrest in June 1932, she had hurried to Philadelphia to consult an attorney. The telegram, now missing from the court house files, was  a message to that attorney. It was dated May 17.

Mrs. Chalfa finally admitted that she had talked over the “trouble” whe was in with the Philadelphia attorney.

Then Prosecutor Haggerty pounced on her verbally, pointing out that at the time she was discussing her “trouble” with the lawyer she was in no trouble with the law and that not a word of the case appeared in any newspaper.

~ Used Unusual Poison. ~

A bit confused, Mrs. Chalfa said that one of the Allas boys had been talking about his brother’s death and making some trouble about insurance collections so she had gone to her lawyer in the Eastern city.

This was just another link in the chain that has made Philadelphia detectives believe that the Chalfa and Allas women may have been under the direction of leaders of the Philadelphia money killers, whose victims are believed to have been more than 100 in number. Another link is the fact that the Munhall women used an unusual poison – a soluble salts of tin – which has been discovered in the body of one of the Philadelphia victims.


The defense of the local women was also similar to the talk of “spells” and “witch doctors” that have been uttered by some of the 24 people arrested in Philadelphia.

The women claimed they went to a fortune teller, Mrs. Gazella Young, who immediately put a magic spell on them. They said she would lay out her magic cards, brought from Czecho-slovakia, and predict death for members of their families. Then, they said, she would advise them to take out large insurance policies on their husbands, children and cousins and even go so far as to send insurance men to their homes.

Under the spell of this “witch woman fortune teller,” they said they washed clothes for her, cleaned her home, and then joined with her in concocting charms that would bring forth “little red devils” to choke the men and women Mrs. Young wanted to die.

~ Serving Life Terms. ~

But the heavy insurance policies they carried on more than 10 people spoke louder than their words to the jury. They were convicted and sent to the State Industrial Home for Women at Muncy for life.

Even at the time of their trial, detectives and several members of the district attorney’s office were not convinced that the woman had worked alone in their plot to insure, then murder their victims. When the two women were first arrested, the district attorney’s office announced that still more arrests would follow. They never did.

~ 13 ARE BEING HELD. ~

Philadelphia, May 11 – Tales of “hexing,” the “evil eye,” and “magic love potions” were dramatically mixed with tearful professions of innocence as men and women were hauled before police judges in swift preparations today for mass trials of the dozens accused in the Eastern states insurance-murder plots.

In all, 13 were held for trial, the grand jury, further hearing or extradition. Seven are widows of men whose deaths investigators have laid to the far-flung ring that operated in Eastern Pennsylvania and extended into New Jersey, New York and Delaware.

“Up to 100,” is the latest official estimate of the deaths that might be traced to the plotters over the last 10 years. Some investigators, however, have taken a “name your own figure” attitude on the number of victims of poison, drowning, head-breaking and automobile “accidents.”

Evidence of the ring’s workings, Assistant District Attorney Vincent P. McDevitt said, disclosed that some wives gave the ring a flat fee or percentage of insurance to kill their husbands; others paid for a poison the ring called “witches brew” and administered it themselves.

Then, in some cases, the poisoners were poisoned to shut their mouths,” the detectives said.

[“Check of Munhall Poisonings Strengthens Murder Ring Link – Philadelphia Detectives Are Convinced Cases Connect. – Women Retained Lawyer Before Being Jailed For Deaths.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pa.), May 12, 1939, Section 2, p. 1]

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[Illustrations from: “High Spots in Insurance Murder Trial – a Case Involving ‘Devils, Drugs and Doctors’ – That Convicted 2 Women,” The Pittsburgh Press (Pa.), Feb. 3, 1933, p. 2]

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FULL TEXT (Article 8 of 9): Gov. David L. Lawrence yesterday commuted the life sentence of a former Munhall woman whose conviction in 1933 climaxed one of the most weird poison-murder trials in district annals.

The governor’s action made Mrs. Mary Chalfa, 61, eligible for release from the State Industrial Home for Women, where she has served 29 years.

~ Poisoned Step-Son ~

With Mrs. Anna Allas, also of Munhall, Mrs. Chalfa was convicted of the fatal poisoning Stephen Allas, 16, a step-son of Mrs. Allas, to collect the boy’s insurance.

Mrs. Allas, who also was sentenced to life imprisonment, died at Muncy in 1951. her appeal for commutation in 1949 was refused.

When Raymond C. Wieseckrel, a pardons case representative, presented Mrs. Chalfa’s  appeal for freedom to the State Pardon Board last September, he said he felt that “further imprisonment would do her no good” and that a daughter has offered her a home. It was her third appeal.

~ Action Not Opposed ~

The district attorney’s office did not oppose Mrs. Chalfa’s September appeal.

Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Allas also were indicted for the poison-murder of another step-son, Andrew Allas, 12, but they were not tried on that charge.

[“Life Sentence Of Poisoner Is Commuted – Munhall Woman Who Killed Step-Son May Be Set Free,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pa.), Jan.,  11, 1963, p. 24]

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FULL TEXT (Article 9 of 9 – from 1952): The screaming, bleeding young woman found refuge in a house on the edge of the woods through which she had just stumbled.

“They beat me – they beat me – they beat –”

She collapsed. The householder, making no sense out of her words, called police. They took the girl to the hospital in Homestead, on of the workers’ villages which huddle around the great steel plants on the outskirts of Pittsburgh.

Later, after 21 stitches had been taken in her scalp, the young woman identified herself as Stella Chalfa, 22, and said that “they” were her Aunt Mary Chalfa and Aunt Mary’s busom friend, Gizella Young. But she simply couldn’t explain the reason for the beating.

Aunt Mary and Gizella had taken her to Homestead to buy shoes. Then they had started through the woods to visit a friend. “And when we stopped to rest they started beating me with a black jack”, Stella sobbed. “I broke away and ran”.

Stella swore out warrants charging felonious assault and battery against both women and the officers went to arrest them. They found Mrs. Chalfa in her home on Whitaker Way, a black top street in the village of Munhall, which looked down on the Homestead plant, where her husband, Joe, worked the night shift.

“Aunt Mary” was a sullen woman, big, buxom and somberly dressed. She made it plain that she could speak no English and that she had no desire to talk to the policeman who could speak her native Czech. She went unprotestingly to jail, but her questioners got nothing out of her.

With Mrs. Young, who was tall, dark-haired and talkative, it was different. The police found her in her house at Homesville, a mile from the Chalfa house. Gizella liked men, even policemen. Her husband, Andrew, had left her nine months before, and she welcomed her visitors and made eyes at them. Butt she answered questions about the beating of Stella by shrugging her shoulders.

To most newspaper editors it didn’t promise to be much of a story – “just a women’s fight”. But Lawrence J. (Larry) Fagan, city editor of the Pittsburgh Press, recognized the names of Young and Chalfa. He called in a reporter, Edward J. Kasun.

“There’s a woman named Allas – Anne Allas. About two months ago her 16-year-old stepson, Andrew Allas, died. There was some $18,000 insurance on him and the insurance investigators have been over in Munhall checking on his death. Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Young are mixed up in it some way. You look around and see what you can find out”, ordered the city editor.

And that’s why, early in June, 1932, Ed Kasun went down into the industrial Monongahela Valley and uncovered a story reminiscent of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, from whence many of its inhabitants had migrated.

From Mrs. Allas, Kasun got nothing. Like Mary Chalfa, a friend who lived across the street until she was required to take up residence in the county jail. Mrs. Allas was short and dumpy and wore drab clothes. Mrs. Allas also took refuge in her inability to understand English.

She had arrived in Pennsylvania in 1905 from Kvolinska, Hungary, and four years later had married Joseph Mantyo, a Homestead worker. They’d had five children and all had died. Finally, Mantyo died after he tripped on a short flight of stairs while drunk.

After that, things were better for Anna. She collected $4,000 insurance on her husband’s life. One year later, in 1929, she married George Allas, a widower. Allas brought Andrew, 16, and Steven, 12, the two youngest members of his large family, into his home with Anna.


~ Anna and Mary Meet Gizella ~

So much for the Allas family for the moment.

It was in May 1931, that Mrs. Allas and Mrs. Chalfa, her neighbor, met Gizella Young, a fortune teller, Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Young seemed to understand each other immediately, even as Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Allas understood each other. For a while Mary Chalfa forsook Anna Allas in favor of Gizella Young. This was to the great relief of Allas and his sons, who had complained about Mrs. Shalfa spending so much time at their house and being so bossy.

Mrs. Chalfa told Gizella about her sufferings. Gallstones, for one thing. Gizella took her down to Braddock in October, 1931, and introduced her to Dr. John Zock. Mrs. Chalfa didn’t bother to mention her gallstones. She came straight to the point. She came straight to the point. She wanted Dr. Zeok to sell her poison “for my husband, because he’s a drunkard.”

“Mrs. Chalfa!” exclaimed the horrified physician. “I wouldn’t sell you poison for $1,000 or one million dollars.”

Mrs. Young didn’t seem quite so shocked at Mary’s request.

It was after Mrs. Chalfa had become a frequent caller at the Young house that Gizella’s husband asked, “What’s she looking for?”

“Oh, she’s a good woman who brings me customers”, Gizella passed off the question. But later he vouchsafed that Mary didn’t love Chalfa. As a fortune teller, Gizella had predicted that the unhappy wife would be a widow in three months.

Young was a little horrified by this revelation, but he had no reason to question his wife’s mystic powers. He watched silently as she wrote three times to Europe. He watched while she read her three answers. The third answer she tossed on the floor, grumbling, “I have asked mother three times for a certain thing and she has not sent it.”

“What?”

“Toenails, fingernails, clothes and hair off a dead person. You can kill with that and no doctor on earth can recognize the cause of death,” Gizella explained.

“Aren’t you afraid of God to kill a man?” asked her husband.

“Oh, I won’t do it” came the blithe answer. :I’ll give it to someone else to do. I’ll give it to Mary Chalfa.”

But apparently Mrs. Chalfa has resorted to other means. For one day when Mrs. Young visited the Chalfa house she saw a little bottle of white powder. She asked Mary about it.

“People die from that,” Mary explained succinctly. But neither woman had time to discuss who was to benefit from the white powder, for each felt it her duty to be at the Allas house across the street where there was trouble.

Twelve-year-old Steve Allas was ill; his stepmother said he had been injured in a football game. All four of his married brothers and sisters came to sit at his bedside, much to the annoyance of his stepmother and her friends, Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Young.

“Steve is going to die” Mrs. Chalfa said to Steve’s sister-in-law, Eleanor Allas. Feel his legs”.

Eleanor did. The boy’s legs were cold.

Four nights later they gathered at the deathbed. Steve’s father was crying. His brothers and their wives watched in amazement while Mrs. Chalfa on one side of the bed and Mrs. Young on the other fed the led what they called “holy water” from a teaspoon.

“Why don’t you get a doctor?” George Allas Jr. demanded of his stepmother.

“We don’t need a doctor. The undertaker will take care of things”, was the response.

They all agreed that Steve “turned blue” when he died that night on Dec. 2, 1931. after looking at the body the undertaker, Joseph A. Prokovich, commented, “This boy must have died a horrible death!”

Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Allas lit a candle and got down on their knees and prayed.

But Steve’s death wasn’t all sorrow. Mrs. Allas collected about $1,500 from two insurance companies. She had been farsighted enough to take out one of those policies five months before Steve died and the other only one month.


~ Mrs. Chalfa Describes Properties of Medicine ~

Two months later while Gizella was visiting with Mrs. Chalfa, a little girl brought four bottles from a drug store. One had green powder in it.

“What do you need that little green one for?” asked the fortune teller.

“For that from which people die.”

“How do you need that little green one for?” asked the fortune teller.

“I know for sure because Steve Allas died from it?”

Tragedy continued to hover on Whitaker Way.

In March, 1932, Mrs. Chalfa was caring for Richard Duyava, the 1-year-old illegitimate child of a friend. At the house also were a cousin, Joseph Chalfa, and his wife Stella. The latter had found a little green bottle labelled poison. It had white powder in it.

These relatives couldn’t say for certain that Mrs. Chalfa gave the baby any of the powder. But the baby did get sick, and Mrs. Allas came over to help. They “syringed” the baby often.

“And they talked liked they had secrets between them”, Stella recalled.

There was $755 to be collected on little Richard. Of this, $100 was to be paid to his mother. But for Aunt Mary’s sake, Stella Chalfa impersonated the mother and collected that money.

Shortly thereafter Mrs. Allas and Mrs. Chalfa went to a carpenter and ordered four wooden crosses. Four crosses! But only three were dead. They promised the carpenter “a lot of work.”

Among the healthy people on Whitaker Way at that time was Andy Allas, the dead Steve’s 16-year-old brother. One of Andy’s sisters saw him on April 7 and he looked perfectly healthy to her. but the next day he was sick, doubled up with pains in his stomach.

About that time Mrs. Allas had Gizella read her fortune.

“There’s an ill person in your house”. Gizella announced.

“Will he die?” asked Mrs. Allas.

“He won’t live three days.”

“Thank God!”

Gizella was right. Theree nights later the family was at Andy’s deathbed. Again George Jr. spoke about a doctor, although for Andy. Mrsa. Allas had got Dr. C. C. Huff, who also attended Steve Briefly.

“We don’t need no doctor”, counseled the ever-present Mrs. Chalfa. “Our doctor won’t sign for us if we get another doctor.”

Mrs. Young wasn’t present this evening, so Mrs. Allas and Mrs. Chalfa took turns giving the sick boy “holy water” with a spoon. They also gave him enema after enema, although he kept crying that another “syringe” would kill him.

Like his brother Steve, Andy “darkened” when he died.

Mrs. Chalfa accompanied the boy’s father to the undertaker. The undertaker said something about getting a coroner. Mrs. Chalfa was very much disturbed.

After that Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Allas went to Gizella for a reading to see if Mrs. Allas would get “big money”.

“Big insurance – big trial” reported Mrs. Young.

“What kind of trial?”

“People will say you poisoned that boy.”

“If they take him out of the ground 20 different times”, retorted Mrs. Allas, “American doctors cannot discover that.” Then turning to Mrs. Chalfa, “You gave him the medicine and I rubbed him”, she charged.

Mrs. Chalfa promptly warned Mrs. Young not to repeat anything she’d heard and added, “We’ll give you $500 to hold your mouth.”

Actually, there wasn’t any money to give immediately, for the insurance companies held up the insurance on Andy.

Mrs. Chalfa summoned Gizella to read the cards for her.

“You’d better take out insurance on your husband because he’s going to die”, the seer announced. But it wasn’t necessary to take out insurance on John Chalfa or any any of her other relatives. Mary Chalfa was very far-sighted. She’d had them all insured.

And then came the beating of Stella, which was directly responsible for reporter Kasun’s visit to the Monongahela Valley.”

“We were going to kill her,” declared Gizella, when she decided to throw herself on the mercy of the court. “We were going to arrange her body to look like it had been raped.

“Mary has insurance on Stella. Mary was going to have her husband killed in his bed when he came home from work on the night shift and Anna Allas was going to have her husband taken for a ride. And they had plans for Stella’s husband, too. All insured.”

The talkative Gizella told the police that Mrs. Allas has pushed her husband, Mantyo, downstairs; that Andrew and Steven had been killed by slow starvation, paregoric, and poison ointment; and that Richard Duyava had been starved, fed paregoric, and his body massaged with an ointment which congealed his blood and hampered its flow.

Oh, yes, and he’d been given chopped spiders in his food!

All four bodies were exhumed and the viscera examined. With Mrs. Young turned state’s witness, it was decided to try Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Allas for the murder of Steve Allas only.

The trial began January 23, 1933, before Judge J. Frank Graff in what is known in Pittsburgh as Criminal Court but is officially the Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Jail Delivery. The women were tried together, with Assistant District Attorney John F. Haggerty acting as professor and Louis Little as the chief defence counsel.

The defence strongly objected to evidence about killings other than Steve’s, but Judge Graf overruled these objections.

It would be hard to say whether Gizella or the state’s expert witnesses were the most important.



~ Pathologist Details Post-Mortem Findings ~

Dr. Theodore R. Hembold, pathologist at South Side Hospital, said he did a post-mortem on each of the bodies, but the condition of the corpses of Mantyo and the infant made it impossible for him to determine how they died. He thought Andrew died of bronchial pneumonia rather than the peritonitis listed on the death certificate. Steve’s intestines were inflamed.

County Chemist F. C. Buckmaster testified that he found traces of soluble tin salt in the viscera of each – a great amount in Steve.

On cross-examination the defence tried to sell the idea that the tin might have come from the meat grinder through which Buckmaster ran the organs making his chemical test. The witness reported that he ran a beefsteak through the grinder after the tests and it showed no stannous chloride.

Gizella was a much livelier witness. She told all, handling herself with considerable care and with a great show of honesty. For example:

Q. Do you say that Mrs. Allas told you she pushed her husband, Mr. Mantyo down the cellar steps? A. she didn’t say that she pushed him. She said that she opened the door for him.

Q. Did you say that she had knocked his brains out and made an accident about of it? A. I don’t know anything about that.

Q. Did anybody say that to you? A. Mrs. Chalfa said that.

The defence did its best on cross-examination to suggest that Mrs. Young kept the two unfortunate woman from Whitaker Way under her spell. Gizella insisted she had no voodoo power, couldn’t cast a spell over anybody, and used a deck of cards with which anybody could tell fortunes.

Stressing the reading during which Gizella told Mrs. Chalfa her husband would die – an incorrect prediction, incidentally – defence counsel asked, “Didn’t you suggest to her to put $3,000 on her husband?”

A. I laid out the cards and the cards showed she would be a widow. “She said, “If I had only insured him more!” I recommended an insurance agent.

Gizella denied that she had any commission arrangement with her favorite insurance man.

The defence called both Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Allas to give the lie to their erstwhile friend and counsellor.

Mrs. Chalfa said that Gizella practiced by magic and had turned her into a “slave.” On her second visit Gizella, the fortune-teller had given her a magic stocking to put beneath her husband’s pillow to kill him.

But, as Mary Chalfa explained the pillow because she was under Gizella’s spell, the spell was not strong enough to keep under Gizella’s spell, the spell was not strong enough to keep her from worrying that her husband would make her lie on that side of the double bed and she would be the one who’d be dead. So she threw the stocking away.

Under Gizella’s spell, Mary took out insurance on her husband. but when Gizella foretold that Mary would soon be a widow. Mary testified that she wept, “For God’s sake, don’t scare me!” Actually, Mary testified that she wept, “For God’s sake, don’t scare me!” Actually, Mary insisted, she’d be very sorry to have her husband die.

Mrs. Chalfa testified that she took out insurance on little Richard only because Gizella had told her the infant was going to die.

The defence also called Andrew Young, Gizella’s husband. although he couldn’t actually testify testify against his wife, he did hint that she had been “in trouble” in her native Slovakia before she joined him in America in 1929.

He had signed a statement saying he believed his wife was wanted for murder in Kosice. Czechoslovakia, and that he “had cause to believe that she helped on the poisoning of a number of persons.”

Young testified that Gizella had been in jail three months in Kosice for chicken stealing and that she skipped bond to get in this country, where she was waiting under his new name. his original surname was Yiencek.

The defence closed with its own technical experts, who blasted Buckmaster’s method of reaching his conclusions that there were tin salts in the viscera of the dead.

Before the case went to the jury, the prosecution recalled Joseph Olack, one of Steve’s pals who had testified for the defence about how Steve was hurt in a football game. When he returned in the witness stand, Olack said he hadn’t seen the game.

Q. Why did you testify falsely? A. Well, she told me to.

Q. Who told you to? A. Mrs. Chalfa.

Q. What did she tell you to testify? A. That Steve was knocked out. But he wasn’t.

Q. Did she tell you to testify? A. That Steve was knocked out. But he wasn’t?

Q. Did she offer you anything to testify? A. Ten dollars.

The jury found Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Allas guilty and they were sentenced to life imprisonment, Mrs. Young wasn’t tried, even for the attack on Stella.

In 1937, the year Chalfa divorced his imprisoned wife, Mrs. Allas was heard from briefly. She sued an insurance company for money due her on one of Andrew’s policies. An out of court settlement was made.

Gizella has dropped out of sight. Mary and Anna are still in prison.

The defence also called Andrew Young, Gizella’s husband. Although he couldn’t actually testify against his wife, he did hint that she had been “in trouble” in her native Slovakia before she joined him in America in 1929.

He had signed a statement saying he believed his wife was wanted for murder in Kosice, Czechoslovakia, and that he “had cause to believe that she helped in the poisoning of a number of persons.”

Young testified that Gizella had been in jail three months in Kosice for chicken stealing and that she skipped bond to get to this country, where he was waiting under his new name. His original name was Yiencek.

The defence closed with its own technical experts, who blasted Buckmaster’s method of reaching his conclusions that there were tin salts in the viscera of the dead.

Before the case went to the jury, the prosecution recalled Joseph Olack, one of Steve’s pale who had testified for the defence about how Steve was hurt in a football game. When he returned in the witness stand, Olack said he hadn’t seen the game.

Q. Why did you testify falsely? A. Well, she told me to.

Q. Who told you so? A. Mrs. Chalfa.

Q. What did she tell you anything to testify? A. That Steve was knocked out. But he wasn’t.

Q. Did she offer you anything to testify? A. Ten dollars.

The jury found Mrs. Chalfa and Mrs. Allas and guilty and they were sentenced to life imprisonment. Mrs. Young wasn’t tried, even for the attack on Stella.

In 1937, the year Chalfa divorced his imprisoned wife, Mrs. Allas was heard from briefly. She sued an insurance company for money due her on one of Andrew’s policies. An out of court settlement was made.

Gizella has dropped out of sight. Mary and Anna are still in prison.

[Ruth Reynolds, “How Fortune Teller Saw Death in Cards – Steady Income for Wives As Tragedy Strikes Homes,” The Ottawa Evening Journal (Canada), Feb. 16, 1952, p. 19?]

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SEE: article on the 1939 “Arsenic Incorporated” case

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VICTIMS

Died:
Richard Dunyava, one-year-old baby who was cared for by Mrs. Chalfa.
Mrs. Allas’ step-sons, Andrew Allas, 16
Mrs. Allas’ step-son, Stephen Allas, 12.
Joseph Mantyo, Mrs. Allas’ first husband

Survived:
Mrs. Stella Chalfa, attacked on June 17, 1932, but survived.

Intended victim:
John Chalfa

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PHOTO from: [“Marked For Death In Plot – May Exhume Four Bodies In Poison Plot Inquiry – Murder for Insurance Alleged by Man in Complaint To Detectives Who Are Probing Woman’s Story.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pa.), Jun. 30, 1932, Section 2, p. 1]

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For more occult cases, see: Occult Female Serial Killers

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