Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rose Veres, Suspected Hungarian-American Serial Killer - 1931

This US case is of particular interest in that all parties are Hungarian immigrants. Thus the Veras case ought to be compared with the serial murder syndicates operating in Hungary up till the early 1930s. (See: Husband-Killing Syndicates)
Some news sources use other spellings “Veras, Vera,” but “Veras” seems to be the correct spelling.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 6): Detroit - A mother and her son were held by police today following the death by a fall from a window of a roomer in their home and the subsequent discovery by police that ten men, on most of whom the woman held insurance policies, had died in her rooming house during the past eight years.

The woman, Mrs. Rose Veras, 48, whose rooming house is in this city’s Hungarian colony, is held on a technical charge of homicide. Her son, William, 18, was arrested for investigation.

The death of Steve Mak, 68, a roomer at Mrs. Veras’ home opened the police investigation. Mrs. Veras told police Mak fell from a ladder while repairing an attic window, other witnesses said Mak was not at work on a ladder, and that it appeared he had been pushed from the window.

George M. Stutz, assistant prosecuting attorney, said he had learned there was one valid insurance policy on Mak’s life, for $4,000, of which Mrs. Veras was the beneficiary. He said he had learned Mrs. Veras recently borrowed money to make a payment on the policy.

~ Says It’s Customary ~

Mrs. Veras told police it was customary in the Hungarian colony for a landlady to insure her roomers in her behalf. Police said 75 policies were found in her home. They expressed the belief that several of them had been made out in her favor by most of the ten men whose deaths occurred in her house since 1923.

Detective Lieutenant John Whitman said he had learned Mrs. Veras paid the funeral expenses of seven of the men who died at her house.

Police examined their records to determine the cause of the death of the ten, and announced that post mortems had been held on the bodies of two who died of alcoholism, and that no evidence of criminal activities had been found.

The ten  men who died in Mrs. Veras’ home, they said, were Hungarian.

~ Freedom Delayed ~

Frank M. Kenney, Mrs. Veras’ attorney, presented a writ of habeas corpus for the release of Mrs. Veras and her son, returnable today. Instead of dismissing the writ, as he first announced. Recorders Judge Henry S. Sweeney extended the time to Thursday, saying he desired to give the police “all the time they want in investigating the case.”

Kenney declared the action against Mrs. Veras to be the result of neighborhood gossip. He said the previous deaths had been investigated and showed no criminal activity.

Detectives investigating Mrs. Veras’ activities said she had a record of six previous arrests, but no convictions. One of the arrests, they said, was for embezzlement.

[“Detroit Woman, Son Jailed As Suspects In Insurance Murders Ten Men Meet Death In Rooming House Within 8 Years; Policies Named Accused As Beneficiary, Police Claim.” Syndicated (AP), Sandusky Register (Oh.), Aug. 27, 1931, p. 1]

FULL TEXT: (Article 2 of 6): Detroit – Four persons were in custody today as authorities sought to learn whether the deaths of ten men over a period of eight years in Mrs. Rose Veras’ rooming house were from natural causes or violence.

~ Find 75 Policies ~

Mrs. Veras, the 48-year-old Hungarian immigrant who held insurance policies on the ten who died, has been in custody since Tuesday on a technical charge of murder. Other policies, 75 in all, were found by officers in her home and investigators were attempting to learn the fate of the insured.

The list of deaths under investigation had reached 11 today, with discovery that Valet Peterman, 68, a boarder in the Veras home, died shortly after moving to another house.

Sam Denyen who, police said, lived in the Veras home until two weeks ago, was arrested in Logan, W. Va., late yesterday and a detective left last night to question him. Mrs. Veras’ 15-year old son, Gaber, was detained for questioning yesterday. Another son, William, 18, has been held for several days.

~ Pushed Out of Window? ~

The investigation was inspired by the death of Steve Mak, a roomer, Tuesday morning from injuries received in a fall. Mrs. Veras said he fell while working on a ladder.

Neighbors who claimed to have witnessed his fall, told police he appeared to have been pushed from an attic window and drugged at the time.

[“Widow Quizzed in 10 Deaths,” “Probe Rooming House Deaths – Four In Custody As Police Investigate Death of Eleven Men; Hungarian Woman Held Insurance Policies,” syndicated (NEA), Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune (Wi.), Aug. 28, 1931, p. 1]

FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 6): Detroit, Aug. 31 – Duncan C. McRae, assistant prosecutor, announced today that Mrs. Rose Veras, rooming house proprietor, held on a technical charge of homicide following the death during the past eight years of 12 men in her home, had confessed to “a party not connected with the police department,” that she pushed one of the men from an attic window, the fall causing his death.

McCrae said that the woman told the person whose name was not revealed by police that she pushed Stephen Mak, the last of the 12 men to die, from an attic window after attempts to poison him has failed.

~ Had 75 Policies. ~

Harry S. Toy, prosecuting attorney, said he would not reveal how the confession was obtained. He said that for reasons he “did not care to disclose” the person’s identity, which would not be revealed at present.

Seventy-five life insurance policies were found in Mrs. Veras’ home, when she was arrested, on the lives of the men who died in her home. Officials said that Mrs. Veras held at last $6400 insurance on the life of Mak.

~ Denies Others. ~

McCrae said the woman denied any complicity in any of the other deaths in her home, but had admitted she killed Mak to obtain insurance money of which she was the beneficiary. She said she held seven policies on Mak’s life and that she paid the premiums on all of them.

According to McCrae, Mrs. Veras confessed she tried to poison Mak by putting lye in his coffee and liquor that he drank, but when she found he was not “dying fast enough” she lured him up a ladder, placed at the side of her home, urging him to enter an attic window and then pushed him from the window. Mak died the day following the fall from the window.

[“Detroit Woman Admits Killing One of 12 Men To Collect Insurance,” syndicated (AP), The Southeast Missourian (Cape Giradeau, Mo.), Aug. 31, 1931, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 6): Detroit. Sept. 1.—After intermittent grilling of more than 100 hours. Mrs. Rose Veres. 48, so-called “Witch Widow.” of Medina street where her unkempt boarding house is located, today broke down and  confessed to killing one of the 12 men who died under what police alleged were incriminating circumstances during the past eight years. She is charged with murder and faces life imprisonment.

According to Assistant Prosecutor; Duncan McCrea, in charge of the weird case, the widow said:

“I was hard up and needed the insurance money on the man. I tried to poison him twice but he didn’t die, so I pushed him out of the attic window.”

Her victim was Steven Mak, 68-year-old roomer, whose death led to the probe which disclosed that other men had died “mysteriously” in her boarding house.

[“Detroit Woman Admits Murder – Mrs. Rose Veres, Alleged ‘Witch-Woman’ Confesses To Death Push - Sought Insurance Money On Victim, syndicated (International News Service), New Castle News (Pa.), Sep. 1, 1931, p. 12]

FULL TEXT: (Article 5 of 6): Detroit, Sept. 2. – Officers investigating the death of Steve Male and eleven other lodgers in Mrs. Rose Veras’ rooming house said tonight a witness had told them he saw Mak pushed from an attic window of the rooming house.

“A pair of arms” shoved Mak from the window, they quoted George Halasz, the witness, as saying, and a moment later Mrs. Veras peered out. Mak died August 28 of injuries suffered in the fall.

Halasz, 49, and a former lodger in the rooming house conducted by the 48-year-old woman, said he had gone to the house to see a man rooming there and was waiting outside when he saw Mak fall to his death. Halasz also was quoted as saying he moved out of the rooming house because Mrs. Veras sought to take out an insurance policy on his life, naming her as beneficiary.

Mrs. Veras had paid premiums on $2,600 of insurance on Mak’s life and on seventy-five other policies, many of them on the lives of lodgers who died in her house or shortly after they moved out, within the past eight years.

[“Witness Says Lodger Pushed From Window,” syndicated (AP), Bluefield Daily Telegraph (W. Va.), Sep. 3, 1931, p. 1]

FULL TEXT (Article 6 of 6): The “Old Gray Witch of Medina Street” sits in her tiny room in the Michigan House of Correction at Plymouth. Imprisoned fear life, far from her native hills of Hungary, she talks to no one. All through the past Winter she was silent, shunned and feared by her fellow-prisoners. Even now seeing from her window the trees budding and the grass turning green, just as the Magyar slopes came to life in the Spring in her native town of Sarud, she keeps a seemingly mystic vigil, her strange eyes fixed upon objects which do not exist.

Perhaps it is just as well for her that things beyond her window panes do not intrigue her, for by the terms of her sentence she will never again be nearer them than, she is now. Twelve men died, tragically in hear house; three were suicides. And the other nine? In charging the “witch” with murder, the State decided to concentrate on the case of Stephen Mak, the twelfth man to die.

It was last August 21st.

In the front yard of her home on Medina Street in the Hungarian colony of Detroit, 11-year-old Marie Chevalia was playing. All morning she had been making mud pies.

It was a warm day, but the air was heavy, and dull smoke from surrounding factories resisted the sunlight. Against this background of haze; the house directly across the street from the yard where little Marie was playing looked somewhat ghostly.

The reason, perhaps, lay in the legends of Medina Street.

Almost from her cradle days, little Marie Chevalia had heard people say strange things about that house and its inmates.

“Behind those filmy curtains,” Medina Street mothers told their, .children when family circles were gathered around the hearths, “stalks a bad witch-woman. Her name is Mrs. Rose Veres. She bewitches factory men, they go to live in her house, and in the cellar the witch-woman brews potions. She has the Evil Eye. When she looks at these men, they have to do when she tells them. They want to go away, but they can’t. She bewitches them. Then they die.

“She was born with a full set of teeth and a veil, and if she wants she can change herself into a wolf or a hare.”

In the Old World, among the Magyrs, in the Hungarian hills whence most of these people had come, so-called witches were common. Other people didn’t have to believe in them if they preferred not to, but all the cynical sophistication in the world couldn’t take the vampires and other evil spirits out of the darkness which descended upon Sarud and Nagyrev every night.

These people knew. They had seen the vampires. They had seen the wolf-men and the wolf-women and beard their blood-curdling cries whenever anyone in the village died.

So Mrs. Veres, it was clear, was a “witch,” even though she lived in Detroit, in the United States of America.

Why, many times she had been seen growling about the alleys at might, garbed in her long flowing garments of black flannel, a cape tucked tightly about her stooped shoulders and her hair covered by a lace boudoir cap.

On such occasions it was considered unsafe to be abroad in the darkness. And when the word would go out that “The Witch of Medina Street” was on a nocturnal prowl, every door in the neighborhood would be locked and double-barreled, and every shade drawn.

So little Marie Chevalia, as she fashioned her mud-pies last August 21st, was glad that she was in her own yard, glad that it was daylight, glad that she was in her own yard, glad that her Mamma and Papa had warned her against the bad witch.

Soon, as Marie watched, Mrs. Veres stopped out from behind the front door. Marie dropped her mud pies and stared.

Mrs. Veres, her net boudoir cap on her head, descended the steps and spoke a few words in low tones to John Walker, a colored man who had been sprinkling the lawn. Walker was one of Mrs. Veres’s boarders, and occupied an attic room. At the “witch’s” direction, he dropped the hose and retired to the cellar to shut off the water and perform some other duties.

As soon as Walker had disappeared’ behind the house, little Marie saw Mrs. Veres pick up a long ladder and place it against the side of the house. Then, clutching her skirt, beneath which she was accustomed to wear five or six petticoats, the “Old Gray Witch of Medina Street” walked back into her house and closed the door behind her.

Transfixed, by vague fears and a very definite curiosity, Marie remained, wide-eyed, squatting over her mud pies. Probably because she was a member of the more curious sex, little Marie’s curiosity was stronger than her fear. That is why she was later able to recount the entire drama as it unfolded before her young eyes.

Presently an old man emerged from the “witch-house.” He was unsteady on his feet. He was carrying a small box and a hammer. Marie recognized him as Stephen Mak, one of Mrs. Veres’s boarders. He walked toward the ladder and put a foot on it.

Hesitantly he climbed, step by step. At the top he paused to lay his hammer and box on the ledge. Then he opened the window, pulled himself partially through and sat on the sill. For a full minute he remained in that position – then before the watchful eyes of little Marie, be suddenly disappeared.

George Halasz, a short, swarthy man who lived nearby, was strolling along Medina Street. Up to this point, he had seen nothing unusual. From the sidewalk he called once or twice for Mike Ludd, a friend who boarded at the Veres house. Receiving no immediate reply, Halasz leaned against a tree and started rolling a cigarette.

A moment later Walker returned from the basement, rear, and began walking toward the street. He was almost directly below the attic window when a box of nails dropped in front of him; then a hammer thudded. He raised his hands above his head and drew back, then looked up. As he looked, the body of Stephen Mak hurtled through the attic window head-first, crashed against the side of the house next door and plunged headlong to the ground. 

Walker raced to the back door and shouted loudly for Mrs. Veres. George Halasz removed his newly rolled cigarette from his mouth and looked on in amazement.

Marie Chevalia screamed and ran into her house.

Marie’s screams aroused the neighborhood and quickly a crowd gathered around the Veres home. Its gong clanging, an ambulance swung into Medina Street, and fifty-five minutes later the ‘Widow Veres” her face noticeably dirty and her head covered with cobwebs, calmly and inquiringly entered her yard from the alley beyond. Mak was taken t» the Detroit Receiving Hospital, where he died two days later.

Mak’s death went into the preliminary official reports as an accident. Mrs. Veres told police that she had asked him to fix the window, and that he had presumably fallen because of his age and infirm condition. At the time, she explained, she had been shopping, and her elder son, William, was at a movie. Walker corroborated this story. Police were not suspicious. Mrs. Veres’s reputation as a “witch” was not taken seriously beyond Medina Street.

But rumoxs began, to get around. Mak was the twelfth man to die prematurely after a residence in the Veres house. The first was Veres himself. The. rest were boarders. And little Marie Chevalia kept telling her mama that “the witch killed Mr. Mak. I saw her face in the window.” George Halasz was quite sure of that, too.

Then it was discovered that the window Mak went up to fix needed no fixing; that he wore shoes when he went up and none when he came down, that he had told neighbors he was afraid of Mrs. Veres and was sure that she was going to kill him; that there were marks on his head which looked like blows; and something in his stomach which might not be just liquor.

It was revealed, too, that on the morning of Mak’s death Mrs. Veres had cut a hole in the attic partition through which a man’s body, might drawn, that that she had offered Walter $500 to “keep his mouth shut” about his suspicions.

Officials of insurance companies volunteered the information that Mrs. Veres had a $5,000 policy on Mak’s life, double indemnity in case of accidental death—and that she was; still trying to make collections on policies issued to her on the lives of dead former boarders. It was revealed, too, that she owed $1,000 to her next-door neighbor, Aaron Freed, and had promised to pay him “as soon as I collect some insurance money.” Police soon found a trunk containing over seventy-five policies taken out by Mrs. Veres since she moved to Detroit.

William, her elder son, had testified that he was, at a movie at the time of Mak’s “fall.” But John Veres, the widow’s younger son, frankly told detectives another version.

“Bill told me to say he was at the Grand Theatre,” John told officers. “But he wasn’t. He was at home with Mother.”

William Veres was destined to share his mother’s fate. He, too, received a life sentence, in spite of his youth. Old Mrs. Veres sits motionless in the House of Correction. ‘Her eyes’ seem fixed upon objects.

[“While a Little Girl Watched the Old Gray Witch of Medina Street – The Hungarian Widow’s Twelfth Boarder Tumbled to His Death, But Marie of the Mud Pies Saw All, And Told!” Ogden Standard Examiner (Ut.), Apr. 3, 1932, page number unknown]


Rose & William Veras were convicted October 5, 1931. Both were sentenced to life
October 14, 1931. 13 years later a retrial was granted resulting in an acquittal on December 10, 1945.

Here are two long, well-illustrated articles on the Veras case:
“The Witch of Delray,”  The Deceased of Detroit, Jul. 23, 2010
“The Witch of Delray,” Weird Detroit, Sept. 11, 2011


For similar cases, see Murder-Coaching Moms


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