Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Cross-Dressing Husband-Killing Syndicate Maven: Viktoria Foedi Rieger - 1933


ILLUSTRATION CAPTIONS: The  Procedure of the Murders Was Always the Same, the Hungarian Police Assert. The Wide and “Smoking Peter” would prepare the noose and Place Under it a Box.

“Come out to the barn, I’ve some thing to show you,” the Wife Would Say to the Husband. The Husband Would See the Rope and Ask, in Wonder, What  It Was for.

“That’s for you to hang yourself with,” She Would Answer.

And then “Smoking Peter” Would Rise Up From Her Hiding Place, Strike Him With Her Sandbag, and the Two Women Would Put the Husband’s Head in the Noose, Kick the Box From Under Him, and the Coroner’s Verdict Was Always “Suicide.”

The  Procedure of the Murders Was Always the Same, the Hungarian Police Assert. The Wide and “Smoking Peter” would prepare the noose and Place Under it a Box.

“Come out to the barn, I’ve some thing to show you,” the Wife Would Say to the Husband. The Husband Would See the Rope and Ask, in Wonder, What  It Was for.

“That’s for you to hang yourself with,” She Would Answer.

And then “Smoking Peter” Would Rise Up From Her Hiding Place, Strike Him With Her Sandbag, and the Two Women Would Put the Husband’s Head in the Noose, Kick the Box From Under Him, and the Coroner’s Verdict Was Always “Suicide.”

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FULL TEXT: BUDAPEST – When the guards started to give “Smoking Peter,” the Hungarian cowboy “widow-maker” from Tisza Valley, his regulation first bath in jail, they discovered that this strange crusader, who went about relieving wives of husbands who were no longer wanted, was a woman. It was this same Tisza Valley that not long ago startled the world by laying bare a long series of poisonings by which wives had been making themselves widows without any assistance.

The authorities thought they had put a stop to these “graveyard divorces” when they hanged five of the self-made widows and sent a score more into life imprisonment.

They suspected nothing when this was followed by an epidemic of suicides in which husbands had apparently gone out to their barns at night and hanged themselves. In most cases it was common knowledge that the widows were not entirely inconsolable at their bereavement.

In fact it was known that they had bedeviled their husbands and married life as unhappy for them as they could. However, if a wife can make her husband’s life so unhappy that he prefers to take it by his own hand that is perfectly legal and there is nothing to be done about it.

Had the police suspected that these were not unassisted hangings, a brief investigation would have shown one suspicious item connected with them all. In each case a certain hard-riding, hard-drinking and above all hard-smoking cowboy, known as “Smoking Peter,” because, he was never seen without a pipe in his mouth, had been a close friend of the widow for some time before the tragedy.

Neighbors, especially women, had not failed to note this coincidence, but they misunderstood its significance. Never having any reason to doubt that “Smoking Peter” was a man, they figured the rest out by the accepted rules of gossip. There must have been a love affair between “Smoking Peter” and the wife which had stimulated her dislike for her husband and aggravated her meanness toward him until finally, after some unusually bitter quarrel, he had gone out and ended it all.

That would leave the widow free to marry her supposed lover, “Smoking Peter.” What puzzled and confused the gossips was that none of the widows ever did marry him and, even more surprising, they showed no jealousy at seeing him attach himself to another married woman. Such unfeminine absence of jealousy could only be explained by abandoning the idea that there had ever been any romance, and without thin they could imagine no theory by which “Smoking Peter” could have had anything to do with the hangings.

But it takes a man to go the limit in misunderstanding a woman, and finally one did so the other day with such completeness that in his blunderings he revealed the secret to the police -- otherwise the epidemic, of “suicides” might have gone on indefinitely. The gentleman who performed this public service was John Vecsernyes, coming to the police full of jealous fury to tell them that the widow of John Boercsock, a wealthy cattle miser, had confessed to him that she had paid “Smoking Peter” to hang her husband for her.

Looking up their records, the police were skeptical, because those snowed that the man had died by strangulation with no marks of a struggle or signs that his arms and legs had been tied. How could he explain that?


Vecsernyes related the method. First the scoundrel rigged the noose in the barn, with the knot all tied at the proper height with a tall box under it. Then, after supper when it was dark, the wife had gotten her husband to come out to the barn on some pretext. Seeing the noose and box, he had walked right up to it wondering out loud what they were for.

“For you to hang yourself with, John,” his wife had replied. When the astonished husband turned to see what his wife meant by such a remark, “Smoking Peter” had stepped out of the darkness and hit him on the back of the head with a sandbag. This is where Peter’s skill came in. He claimed to know how to hit a person just hard enough to knock him senseless for a few minutes without fracturing his skull or raising a bump. But some skulls are thicker than others and it has since been found that sometimes he hit too hard, as crusaders often do.

Anyway, the instant the husband dropped from the blow, Peter and the wife, climbing up onto the box, pulled up the unconscious form and placed the noose around the neck, tipped over the box as if it had been done by the “suicide” himself and left him to die by strangulation while still insensible.

As soon as death was certain, Peter received his pay and went home. The wife, cheered by the knowledge that she was a widow, went to bed. In the morning she went out to the barn, pretended to make the discovery and ran screaming to the nearest neighbor.

The police, still dubious, wanted to know how their informer had learned all this and why he was informing them. Vecsernyes explained that after Boercsock’s death he had been the widow’s lover and she had confessed to him. He would never have told on her if she had not recently tired of him and, looking around for the reason, he heard that she was seeing “Smoking Peter” again, a thing that he had always feared because he doubted that a man would commit a murder for any such small sum as this woman would be likely to have in ready cash. Mad with jealousy, he saw an easy way to be rid of the supposed rival. Therefore he was now doing his somewhat belated duty and hoped they would not punish his beloved.

“Smoking Peter,” the widow and her son were arrested but all stoutly denied their guilt at first. Then the police tried the old trick of telling each that the other had confessed and confronted the widow with the supposed cowboy. They merely glowered at each other until n police detective remarked :

“This man claims that you never paid him for ridding you of that mean old husband of yours.”

“That’s a lie,” answered the woman hotly. “I paid him 3,000 good silver crowns for the job, and that’s more than he got from anyone else.” Instantly “Smoking Peter’s” fist made a powerful swing for the widow’s jaw. The policeman who blocked it with his wrist stated that had it landed Mrs. Boercsock might well have been silenced forever.

They pinioned “Peter’s” arms but let “him” curse the woman for an ungrateful liar.

“You did it for charity, did you?” sneered the widow. “Perhaps you are thinking of your dear little friend, the widow Dobak. I happen to know for a positive fact that when you hanged Anton Dobak for her, all you got was a lambkin and a little wine.”

“Idiot!” yelled “Peter” in despair, “you will hang us all.”

This prophecy seemed likely to be fulfilled, because when they arrested Frau Dobak she confessed and described almost the identical technique in getting her husband out of the way. Faced with this second confession, “Smoking Peter” admitted, so the police allege, both murders, but curiously enough still denied that the Boercsock woman ever paid her the 3,000 crowns.

The police thought they had enough evidence to convict “Peter” of five more hangings and expected to connect her services with still another dozen, at least, though the arrival of a lawyer put an end to any more confessions.

When her sex was revealed, “Peter” made no attempt to conceal her identity. In the prison of Szeged, she said that her maiden name was Viktoria Foedi, that she was the daughter of a wealthy peasant who had married her off at the age of 18 to Paul Rieger, a rich old widower, 21 years ago. According to her story, Rieger and his two grown daughters had treated the girl bride as a servant, even after the birth of her daughter. Two years of this was all she could stand and then one night she had fled, taking her baby with her. The husband, seemingly glad to be rid of them, made no attempt to get them back and after a while divorced Viktoria.

Rieger confirmed this except that he said the trouble had been caused by the young woman’s mean disposition and ungovernable temper. He admitted that she had been a beautiful creature when he married her 24 years ago. Physicians who examined the prisoner found her suffering from a glandular disorder which had developed after her running away and transformed the young woman into a sturdy person with a deep voice and muscular frame.


As her grievance against her husband was preying on Viktoria’s mind at the time, they believe that it gave her the fixed idea that all wives were abused and therefore it would be a sort of noble crusade to go around liberating as many wives as she could from the misfortune of having a husband.

Dressing, looking, talking and working like a man, she turned up as a farm hand on a lonely farm north of Szeged, whore thousands of cattle, and horses are bred by picturesquely-dressed equivalents of the American cowboy, being a man-hater, she shunned the male sex which looked upon her as a sort of Don Juan because she was seen going around only with married women.

As a woman who hates her husband usually makes no effort to hide her feelings, Viktoria had no difficulty in finding those who yearned to be rid of their husbands but could not do so by divorce.

Of course murder is also forbidden by all churches but, unlike divorce, it might be hidden. Viktoria’s ingenious scheme of covering murder with pretended suicide was accepted, the Budapest police officials assert, by discontented wives the more readily because it was what psychologists call “wish fulfillment.” Every woman who hates her husband enough is bound to wish that he would get off the earth in some way that would not get her into prison. Aside from sickness or accident, suicide is the only way this could be expected to happen. In their ignorance of anatomy and medical matters this woman and her clients did not realize that they would have been caught at the start except for the good luck of careless medical examination in that sparsely settled country.

Old Rieger, remembering the feminine young thing that had run away from him, could not believe that Viktoria had palmed herself off for 22 years as a man, especially after he saw the coarse, masculine features of the prisoner when her pictures were printed in the papers. So he went to Szeged Prison and asked to look at his former bride. As he stared through the bars at the weather-beaten features and toil-worn hands of this pipe-smoking person, he shook his head and told the jailers that she must be a fake. Just then the prisoner snapped at him.

“You accursed old devil! You are the cause of all my hardships and even this. I was a fool not to begin on you.”

Rieger stopped shaking his 74-year-old head and began to nod it vigorously.

“You!” he cackled. “If she hadn’t said that, I wouldn’t have recognized her. I hope she is hanged.”

He will get his wish. Smoking Peter has just been convicted of two of the murders and sentenced to dangle at end of the same kind of noose she had prescribed for Mmmes. Boersock’s and Dobak’s husbands. It appeared that in the Dolak case, she received as a fee a year’s room and board at the home of the widow, and tobacco. The two widows were sentenced to life imprisonment, Vecsernyes, the apprehensive lover, was given 15 years at hard labor and young Imre Boercsock two years for not reporting the “suicide” as murder the moment they knew what it was.

Smoking Peter was acquitted of active complicity in seven other cases, but it doesn’t do any good. Anybody hanged for two murders is as dead as one hanged for a hundred. About fifteen other cases are still being investigated.

[“Wanted to Be Widows So They Hanged Their Husbands – Epidemic of ‘Suicides’ in the Same Hungarian Valley Where 100 Wives Were Recently Arrested for Husband-Poisoning Reveals an Ingenious Murder Plot With a Strange Man-Hating Woman as its Leader,” The American Weekly (San Antonio Light) (Tx.), Mar. 12, 1933, p. 9]

NOTE: Female serial killer suspected of 24 murders

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Albert Knobbs with an Edge: The cross-dressing serial killer,”

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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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