Sunday, September 25, 2011

Maria Jager’s Husband-Killing Syndicate - 1897


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 5): Budapest, Hungary. – The greatest woman criminal the world has ever known is a midwife. She was convicted a fortnight ago at Budapest and will be sent to prison for life. She is known as the “poison witch” of Hungary.

In look as well as in trade this woman strangely resembles Mrs. Nack. The New York midwife does not compare in fiendishness with the Hungarian woman, for the latter has no powerful motive for crime.

The “poison witch” is a peasant. It has been proven that she killed more than one hundred people. Her own confession shows that she has sent a greater number to their graves.

The disclosures have attracted the attention of the scientific men of Europe. They have considered the Influence of the practice of midwifery upon women, and they have, found that it blunts the sensibilities and has a tendency to make them indifferent to the value of human life. Nothing but profound piety and innate goodness can counteract this tendency.

They have been forced also to the conclusion that there exists a “poison mania” that makes itself apparent sporadically in different ages.

It is a matter of common knowledge that whenever women have sought to kill they have turned to poisons. The majority of women who have committed murder by means of women who have committed murder by means of poisons have been driven to the crime by revenge, as were the Borgias.

But those like the Hungarian “poison witch” have been influenced by a different motive – an abnormal and horrible pleasure, in sending victims to a slow and certain death.

Her name is Alazai Jager Mari. She is sixty-two years old. For twelve years she has made a business of dealing in death. She has made murder her profession. Now that she is where she can do no harm her only lament is that she can no longer deal in poisons – that she cannot kill.

She is little more than five feet tall, and is fat. Her face is strong, but not repulsive. Her face expresses remarkable determination. The small eyes are hard and cruel. If you will place her portrait beside that of Mrs. Nack you will see many points of resemblance. The nose and mouth are very similar.

Alazai Jager Mari is a woman of remarkable intelligence, though uneducated. She can neither read nor write. Yet she brewed her own poisons.

She lived all her life in Vasarhely, in Northern Hungary. It has about 9,000 inhabitants. She lived nearly all her days in a house in the Cziganysor, or Gypsy Row.

She was married when she was a young girl. Her husband died, and she remained a widow. Early in her life she took up the practice of midwifery. It was not long before she was sought after.

She was what is known in Hungary as a “German midwife”—that is, one who holds no government license, who has not taken the hospital course necessary to gain a degree. So great is national hatred in Hungary that to say anything is “German” is the deepest reproach.

~ FIRST DESTROYED CHILDREN. ~

It has transpired that the woman was much sought after, because when children were unwelcome they lived but a little while when Azalai Jager Mari was called in attendance.

How many infants she destroyed it is impossible to guess. She has not the slightest idea. It was while studying methods to kill children that she turned her attention to poisons. For twenty years she practiced midwifery, experimenting the while with poisons.

For she prepared her own deadly doses. The materials were to be found almost on the roadside. Gradually the mania for murder took possession of her. She tired of midwifery, and gave it up altogether for the profession of murder.

Her laboratory was in the cellar. It is like all the other peasant houses—a one-story, thatched building about fifty feet long and twenty feet wide, a glaring white from the coat of whitewash that is given it each week.

It was not difficult to draw customers. She had so long been known as a midwife who would put children out of the way that it is not strange that she was sought by those who wanted to get rid of older people.

Wives who wanted to be rid of their husbands and husbands who were tired of their wives sought the “poison witch.” It was quicker and easier and cheaper than the divorce court. And the victims usually did not give cause for divorce.

For years these were the takers of the woman’s poisons. Her fame spread to other villages, and she was much sought after.

Azalai was a skilful poisoner. None of her victims died suddenly. She realized that many sudden deaths would attract attention. She preferred the slower methods.

She used only three poisons—belladonna, arsenic and chloride of mercury.

The deadly night-shade, from which belladonna is distilled, grew all about her. She could in an hour collect a sufficient quantity of the root to last for months.

The nickel ores of Germany and the Hartz Mountains produce great quantities of arsenic. The metal can almost be picked up on the roadside. It is a byproduct within the reach of any one. And the making of arsenious acid, which, is the active poison, is simple enough. Mercury, too, was in easy reach.

The cost of preparing the poisons for use was a mere trifle. The prices ranged from 40 to 80 cents for a bottle containing sufficient poison to produce death.

The first thought of this woman was not to make money but to kill. A few pennies a day sufficed for her necessities. The income from her business as a midwife was all she needed.


~  FIENDISH JOY IN MURDER. ~

As one who is rich finds the greatest pleasure in a yacht or fine dinners or pictures or travel, so this woman found joy in murder. For ten years she so fashioned her life that its single end was to destroy as many other lives as possible.

She protected herself not so much because she wanted to live, but  because she wanted to destroy?

All this was made clear in the trial which has just ended.

She is receiving the greatest punishment that could be meted out to her. She lives and is helpless. She cannot even menace life, much less do away with it. In the threescore years she had lived in the town she had come to know nearly every person in it, When murder was in hand she was the arbiter of the fate of the person selected as a victim.

This short, fat, peasant woman could take life or prolong it as she chose. It is not known that she ever refused to furnish the drug that killed. No compassion or pity moved her heart with the feeblest flutter. There can be no doubt that she knew each person for whom a dose was prepared. This was necessary so that she could regulate it. A sickly woman required a smaller quantity than a healthy, muscular man. Once a victim was determined upon, this woman could measure his days. She prolonged or cut short his sufferings as she saw fit.

Her great difficulty was in guarding against undue haste upon the part of her customers. In their anxiety to kill they often were inclined to administer too much of the poison at once. The “poison witch” never administered the poison herself. She merely supplied it to others who wished to use it.

In almost every case the stuff was placed in coffee. The woman gave exact directions as to the quantity. She could tell almost to the hour when death would come. Gradually the unfortunates wasted away, having no thought themselves of the cause of their trouble. Nor did their health arouse suspicion in others.

Year after year this ghoulish woman lived in her house alone, distilling the poisons and selling them. When she went abroad it was to look upon those whom she had sentenced to death and whom she was executing.

The sight of the pain-racked creatures staggering to their end filled her with horrible pleasure. Their sufferings were music to her soul. She watched them all, from the time that the poison was first administered until death was bearing them away. She looked upon them with outward calm, with no expression of interest. But inwardly she was in a tumult of awful ecstasy.

This was her chiefest joy—to see the poison gripping at the vitals of the condemned. She watched their fight for life, and a fierce and horrible jubilation possessed her. She knew what the end must be.

Those whom she poisoned were peasant folk like herself. This partly explains why the many deaths made so little stir. And she might have gone on sending forth death until she herself died had not she become more jealous of human life, more anxious to kill.

She organized a band of poisoners. It was made up of three men and two women. But these were not moved by the motives that dominated the “poison witch.” They wanted to make money only.

So long as the gang interfered with human life only they pursued their ways unmolested. But at last they interfered with business—a business that deals in life and death—and then the discovery came.

The peasants who had successfully murdered because of their passions discovered that they could make money by killing. There are insurance companies in Hungary as there are everywhere else. It came about that lives were insured and death followed. It became a business.

The “poison witch” found her business much increased, and her uncanny joy was the greater. But those many mysterious deaths, which meant so many losses, made the insurance companies suspicious.

~ KILLED FOR INSURANCE MONEY. ~

An investigation was finally set on foot. Members of the gang which Jager Mari had organized became so greedy and inhuman that they began killing members of their own family for insurance. One woman poisoned her father and mother. Every member of the gang killed some member of his own family.

Detectives were sent among the people. Still the deaths continued. Arsenical poison is discovered with the greatest ease. Nor is mercurial poison much more difficult to detect. The insurance companies could prove that the victims were poisoned, but they could not discover from whom the deadly stuff was secured. The “poison witch” went her way, concocting, selling and rejoicing, while the detectives searched for her. Months and months passed, and Jager Mari was still secure, still dealing out death.

The disclosure came a month ago. Gulyas Kis-Samuel sold poison to the servants of Juliana Kotl, and this was used upon another servant who was insured. The poison was traced directly to Jager Mari. Many deadly bottles were found in her cellar. The crude crucibles, the charcoal and the material from which the doses were prepared, were all captured. It was called the “witch kitchen.”

When Jager Mari was placed in prison and made to understand that her career of murder was ended, she old of her crimes, gloating over them, showing horrible joy in recalling them. She could remember more than a hundred murders she had committed.

She had killed many more, but these stood out in her memory because they were of especial importance, it has been proved that her murders exceeded his number.

The “poison witch” has only one regret—that she was not bolder and that she had not taken more lives. She mourns over this fact in prison, and begs for liberty that she may resume her trade.


The five members of her gang were also captured, and they are now in prison at Budapest. A correspondent of The World sends a photograph of the extraordinary woman, taken during her trial in June.

In the red history of crime there are parallels to the Hungarian monster. One was as high born as Jager Mari is plebeian. She was as beautiful as the “poison witch” is hideous. But the overpowering desire to murder was common to them both. You shall read of the Marquise Brinvilliers in her proper place. It is significant that one of the earliest wholesale poisoners was a midwife. She was Jeroma Spara, and she flourished in Rome in the seventeenth century until her existence was ended by a rope.

Jeroma Spara’s customers were young wives who wanted to become widows. So many husbands were poisoned that there was an investigation. One of the widows confessed that she secured her mourning veil through poison purchased from the midwife. After the midwife was hanged some of the widows were whipped in the public streets, and those of the aristocracy were banished.

The poison mania was more fully developed in the woman Tofana, who was also a midwife, and who travelled through Italy, leaving a trail of dead behind her. She was a Sicilian. She began poisoning in Naples. She had skill in chemistry. She concocted a poison, the secret of which is not known to this day which she called “Manna of St. Nicholas of Beri” She said it was a panacea—which was true enough, for it ended all human suffering. It was one of the deadliest of poisons.

~  TOFANA’S POISON MANIA. ~

She poisoned, not for money but because it gave her pleasure to kill. When suspicion was directed towards her in Naples she travelled through the country, changing her disguises constantly.

When age fastened its clutches upon her Tofana took refuge in a convent. It was there that she was discovered and dragged forth. After severe inquisitions she confessed her many murders. To this day there is a solution of arsenic called Aqua Tofana, so that the name of this woman will be perpetuated through all time.

There were other mid wives who gained infamous distinction through poisoning people. It is a significant fact that Mme. Brinvilliers is the only woman who poisoned In a wholesale manner who was not a midwife.

The Marquise Margarette de Brinvilliers was one of the most beautiful women in the court of Louis XIV. It was said that her face was the image of Correggio’s Magdalene. She fell in love with St. Croix Gaudin.

To avoid scandal M. d’Aubrey, the. father of the Marquise, had Gaudln imprisoned in the Bastile. There the officer became the friend of a famous poisoner, Exili, from whom he learned many dark secrets. When Gaudin was set free he told the Marquise of his poison discoveries. They concocted a compound which they called “inheritance,” because it so easily removed those who stood in the way,

The Marquise de Brinvllliers and Gaudln experimented upon dogs and then upon patients in hospitals, whom she sought under the guise of charity.

Poisoning became the great passion of the woman’s life. She gave it to her guests. She made tests on herself until she was sure of its workings. When she was satisfied that she know Its power she gave a dose to her father, placing it in his chocolate. It sent him to his bed. The daughter took her place by his side. She never left him. Apparently she was the most devoted of daughters, and all the time she was giving him the poison. He died in her arms, blessing her.

The two brothers of the woman came from Normandy to attend the funeral. Within a month they were dead.

Then the Marquise determined to destroy her husband. They had separated. She drew him to her side. He grew thinner and thinner, but he did not die. Gaudin was making the poisons. He saw to it that the Marquis did not have fatal doses.

The matter of the compound was the next to succumb. Gaudin had a secluded laboratory where he worked. The preparation of the venom was dangerous business. He worked always with a glass mask because of the gases. One day the mask dropped from his face.

Gaudin dropped to the floor unconscious, and died in a few seconds. The fumes were no less deadly than the poison itself. The authorities found a trunk upon which was a letter directing that it be sent to the Marquise de Brinvilliers. In this trunk were found letters from the woman telling of her murders.

The Marquise fled to London, where she remained three years. Then she returned to France and entered a convent. She was enticed from it and arrested.

In her cell was found a diary. It showed that had not only poisoned her father and two brothers, and many hospital patients, but her own child and two servants as well.

The Marquise de Brinvilliers was tried and convicted. She thought her beauty and influence would save her, but she was made to pay the penalty. She was sentenced to walk through the streets of Paris bare-footed, clad in a shirt and carrying a lighted torch in her hand, to Notre Dame tower, where she was forced to beg the people of France to forgive her. Then she was beheaded.

[“A Woman Who Has Poisoned More Than 100 People,” The World (New York, N.Y.), Jul. 11, 1897, p. 29]

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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 5): The trial of seven women and one man on a charge of having poisoned more than a dozen persons at Hofanezoe Vasarhaly, in order to obtain possession of sums foe which they had been insured, has now lasted ten days. The evidence tends to show that there are more guilty persons than was at first supposed. Fresh arrests have been made, and more dead bodies have been disinterred. The village was a nest of conspirators, the doctor and the midwife lending their aid to the vampires who actually administered the poison. The insurance societies, it seems, are in such close competition that they kept secret their lists of members, and it was possible for these men and women to ensure their relations in as many as seventeen societies at once. In some cases it was an aged mother who was insured by a son and daughter, or an ailing sister, a crippled brother. Sometimes it was a poor person who had nobody to care for him or her, and was thankful to be received into a house on any terms. All these were insured for moderate sums. One man, who lived in extreme poverty, got £120 when his mother died, having insured her in five societies, The midwife. Jager, it is stated, always supplied the arsenic, which was ready at hand when the insured person ailed, and could be given with the medicine without arousing suspicion. When death took place the doctor examined the body and declared everything in order, and the midwife was handsomely paid when the insurance money had been received. In some cases persons previously insured were asked to dinner, and were given poisoned food. The midwife denies her guilt, saying she gave the women poison to put with soap which they made.

[“The Wholesale Murders in Hungary. - Sensational Evidence,” The Auckland Star (New Zealand), May 22, 1897, p. 3]

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FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 5): The New York Sun special from London, March 27, says the poisoning trial which is still continuing in Hodmoazoe, Hungary, has developed into the greatest criminal revelation of modern times. It is beginning to appear that murder by poison is a family custom in that part of Hungary. The victims are numbered almost by the hundreds. Most of the accused persons denied everything at first, but when the woman Czordus, driven into a corner and seeing that she could not get away, began to reveal fresh facts and to inculpate the accused midwife, Jager, the latter not only made a full confession, but also referred to cases which had not been suspected. She gave names and facts in such detail that the Court was bound to order fresh arrests and the exhumation of twelve more bodies. The number has increased still further, as all the accused are now with each other in making startling revelations. A pork-butcher, Horvath, nicknamed the “Evangelist,” because of his habit of quoting Scripture, now stands accused of having poisoned his mother, father, parents-in-law, and, finally, his wife. The woman Czordus owns to have poisoned her sister and niece, in addition to the crimes of which she was originally accused [presumably, making the total four]. She also informed the Court that the midwife, Jager, procured the poison from a chemist's. assistant, whose arrest has been ordered. It has been thought that the cases under trial would prove only a small portion of the crimes actually committed in this one town, but the new disclosures are so far inconsistent that they will probably necessitate an adjournment of the trial. A correspondent says that there is not a home in Hodmozoe in which suspicion does not exist that deaths dating back several years are the result of foul play, and family ties in the town are being broken right and left. Insurance for the amount of the ordinary burial expenses furnished the motive in nearly all the cases. Midwife Jager, it is said, always supplied the arsenic, which was ready when the insured person became ill and it could be given without arousing suspicion. When death took place the doctor examined the body and declared that everything was in order, and the midwife was handsomely paid for when the insurance money was received. In some cases persons previously insured were asked to dinner and received poisoned food.

[“The Poisonings in Hungary. – Horrible Disclosures.” From The New York Sun, The Mataura Ensign (Gore Otago, New Zealand), May 6, 1897, p. 6]

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FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 5): Budapest, July 24.—The trial of 12 women and two men charged with wholesale poisoning was concluded here and sentences were pronounced upon six of the prisoners.

Four of them were condemned to death, one to penal servitude for life and one to a term of six years imprisonment. Of those under sentence of death one [presumably Frau Czorduz] was found guilty of having caused the death of four persons by administering poison, another was convicted of having poisoned two persons, the third of having poisoned one, and the charge of murder was proven against the fourth.

The sentence of penal servitude for life was imposed upon a man convicted of having killed his mother and that of six years imprisonment on a prisoner against whom a verdict of murder was returned.

The victims were in most cases married men who were killed by their wives, the motive for the crimes being generally a desire to obtain insurance money. The insurance companies, the testimony at the trial showed, had called the attention of the authorities to the suspiciously low rate of mortality in the district hitherto and proceedings were begun. An alleged midwife named .Marie Jager supplied the other female prisoners with the poison used by them.

Two hundred witnesses were examined in the course of the trial.

[“Six Convictions. - End of Sensational Poisoning Cases at Budapest. – Four Are Condemned To Death. - For Some Years Past Women Have Been Defrauding Insurance Companies by Administering Fatal Poisons to Their Husband – Marie Jager was the Chief Dispenser of the Deadly Drug.” Newark Daily Advocate (Oh.), Jul. 24, 1897, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 5): One of the most sensational trials of the century has just been held in Hungary. Seven persons were accused of a monstrous crime, that of poisoning! their neighbours and kindred, their, object being to obtain the money, for which their victims’ lives were insured. Since the trial began, four more persons have been implicated making the total number of accused eleven. Homedzo-Vasarhaly is the scene of this horrible crime, or rather, series of crimes. It is a quaint old town not far from Budapest, and contains about 55,000 inhabitants, almost all of whom are in some way engaged in the farming industry.

Furthermore, it is the headquarters of the “peasant socialists” and it became notorious some time ago in consequence of the bitter quarrels that arose in regard to the arable lands surrounding the town. The inhabitants, it seems, claimed the right to work these lands, and the municipal authorities hotly contested this claim.

A stranger passing through Homedzo-Vasarhly is at once struck by the number of funereal inscriptions which, meet his eye. On every side he sees stores bearing the words: “Coffins Sold Here” “Depot for Tombstones” and “Undertaker’s Establishment.” The reason is that every one is particularly anxious to have a fine funeral. This wish can be readily gratified, thanks to the existence of many temetkesezi-tarsulatok, or so-called burial associations.

These are societies of mutual help the members of which pay from one to five florins as dues, being guaranteed there for a sum ranging from 100 to 500 florins during illness, as well as medical aid in case of sickness and indemnity in case of accident. When a member dies his heirs or representatives receive the amount for which he is insured, and which is intended to be spent on his funeral.


Now, the president of one of these societies noticed in the autumn of 1895 that a very large number of insured persons were dying suddenly. It also struck him as odd that all these persons were in the best of health before they were struck down, and that they all died under the same conditions and manifesting, the same symptoms. He suspected foul play and told his suspicions to the Prefect of Police. The Prefect investigated and quickly, discovered that several persons had been wilfully poisoned.

Without delay he arrested five women and two men changing; them with having- poisoned then immediate relatives and other persons The women accused were the wife of Paul Hodi, the wife of Michel Muczi, the widow of Michel Turi, the widow of Francois Bau and Maria Szalai Jager, a midwife. The two men were Samuel Gulyas and Jean Horvath.

The prisoners’ procedure was simple. First they took care to get their victims’ lives insured; then, at the first sign of indisposition on the part of their victims, or sooner if the whim seized them, they gave them, instead of the medicine prescribed by the physicians, a poisonous drug prepared and furnished by the midwife, Maria Szalai Jager. Of course, the poisoned persons died, and the harpies collected all the insurance money.

The excitement during the trial has been tremendous. The proceedings opened quietly enough, but when the widows and the midwife were arraigned strange scenes disturbed the decorum of the court. One of the accused women, in a mad burst of passion reviled her colleagues bitterly, and wound up by making a confession which the court had certainly not expected.

In a word, she spoke of several other persons in such a suspicious manner that warrants were at once issued for their arrest. In this way the number of accused was increased to eleven. After this amazing outburst the trial went on for another day, but when the evening session was about to begin word was brought that the president of the court was dangerously ill. The next the court opened as usual, but the president did not appear, and very. soon it became known that he had died during the night.

Like, a flash the rumour spread that .Maria Jager had crowned her diabolical work by poisoning him and though his physicians maintained that he had died of anthrax, few were willing to believe that he had died a natural death.

But, of all the incidents of the trial not one excited as much astonishment as the conduct of Lidia Muczi Instead of showing fear when the crowd hurled reproaches at her she faced her accusers boldly, and actually maintained that she was a much wronged woman. What did people expect? If she had poisoned anyone no one could say that she had not given the dead a fine funeral. And, after all, what is better than a fine funeral? So she went on, apparently entirely unconscious of the gravity of the charge against her. — ”New York Herald.”

[“Poisoned for Insurance Money –Awful Crimes In Hungary. –  Eleven People Implicated In The Monstrous Work. – The Trial Productive Of Sensational Disclosures. – Sudden Death Of The  Judge,” (from the New York Tribune),  Aug. 21, 1897, Supplement, p. 1]

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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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2 comments:

  1. There are some huge mistakes in this article.
    First of all her name is not Alazai but Szalai. And it is just a misunderstanding because of the Hungarian language.
    I have read so many articles from that time about the trial and a summary. In this summary there were citations from the trial report. And I have not red these ridiculous "facts".
    I had to laugh during I read.
    Sensationalist, inaccurate, full of factual errors.
    To spend just a little time reading real articles in this subject anyone can write a better one.

    (Sorry for my weak English.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I will be very pleased to make use of your assistance. The articles reprinted here and which you refer to were written in 1897. Please give bibliography and any other references, plus the most important corrections and I will post them here. It is common for newspapers to make errors in stories about complex cases in foreign countries, but by posting what is available to me is a way to attract the attention of those who can assist with getting the best factual account.

    ReplyDelete