FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): Over a period of eighteen years mysterious deaths were continually occurring in a country district called “Tisza Corner,” near Budapest. The victims, mostly innocent people, always died in agony.
A cold-blooded mass poisoner was at work. Everyone knew her identity – Yet Madame Julius Fazekas [Julius was the husband’s first name; Júlia is given as her name in some sources; BBC states hers was Zsuzsanna, possibly confusing her with Olah] was allowed to carry on her terrible trade until more than fifty people had met their deaths at her hands.
The key to her power lay in the fact that many local people had paid her and her assistants to break the law for them – and even get rid of unwanted relatives. They were terrified of being implicated.
Another extraordinary feature was the odd reluctance of both local and regional authorities to make more than superficial investigations when their suspicions were around by the arrival of anonymous letters.
Madame Fazekas lived in the village of Nagyrev, which, with a few hamlets and one other village named Tiszakurt, comprised the area known by a loop of the river Tisza.
A widow, she was a midwife by profession. Greedy for money, she showed criminal tendencies while still a young woman.
Finding that the trees earned by normal midwifery were too small to satisfy her desires for clothes and jewellery, she turned her attention to illegal operations.
That was in 1908. Six years later the first great was began, and Madame Fazekas soon found at hand all the circumstances which could make her illegal occupation lucrative.
For, as the war dragged on, so more husbands and male sweethearts were called up, and prisoners-of-war began to arrive. And the womenfolk, deprived of their husbands and sweethearts, found the P.O.W’s engaged in agricultural work more than ready to take the place of the absent men.
Under these conditions Madame Fazekas, working on the credulity of the simple village women, was soon making a lot of money at her vile trade.
Meanwhile, another midwife had set herself up in opposition. To the avaricious Madame Fazekas this was a barefaced attempt to steal her livelihood. Cunningly, she set about removing this menace. She became the sweetheart of the woman’s brother, and not long afterwards, by apparent coincidence, her rival died a sudden violent death!
The neighbours, and especially the woman’s grown-up son, were certain she had been poisoned by Madame Fazekas, but only the son had the courage to do anything about it. He challenged Madame Fazekas with the murder. Brazenly, she dared him to prove it.
Outwitting the vengeful son was not very difficult. Madame Fazekas visited a number of people whom she had “helped,” and thus formed a gang who let it be known that they were prepared to burn down the house of anyone who gave evidence against her.
It was natural enough, then, that the villagers of Nagyrev should pretend they knew nothing when the son sought confirmation of his belief.
Thwarted, he waylaid Madame Fazekas one day, shot at her – and missed. The penalty for the attempt was a long term of imprisonment, an art of fate which removed Madame Fazekas’ greatest enemy.
The case with which these two enemies have been removed tempted Madame Fazekas to offer her “services” to other people also desirous of getting rid of somebody.
Almost openly she let it be known what it would cost, and she arranged a scale of fees which varied according to the wealth and social position of the interested persons.
Subsequent investigations suggest that the first “murder for profit” took place in 1916. the victim was a fairly wealthy man. When he fell genuinely ill, his wife (wishing to be rid of him) obtained Madame Fazekas’ help to ensure that he didn’t recover. Arsenic, supplied by Madame Fazekas, was added to his medicine.
Ironically, the guilty pair hid the bottle of arsenic-contaminated medicine in the victim’s coffin, never forseeing that the body would be exhumed and the grisly evidence revealed nineteen years later.
During the period 1918-1924, many people died “mysteriously” in the villages of Nagyrev and Tiszakurt. But few had any doubts as to the identities of the murderers.
Then, in 1924, the suspicions of a local doctor became crystallized by the sudden death of a wealthy patient whom he had been treating for bronchitis.” The illness was not serious so that the doctor was startled when, about a week later, the wife visited him at his surgery, said her husband had died in the night, and requested a death certificate.
In 1929 a third anonymous letter arrived, this time addressed to the Attorney-General at Szolnok. In it the writer was identified, and failing to produce evidence to support his accusations, was promptly sent to prison for slander!
Despite this, frightened people in the village concerned continued to write many anonymous letters. And, at last, a thorough investigation was launched by the authorities.
A number of bodies were exhumed and arsenic was found in them. Police inquiries quickly broke down the wall of fear which had so strangely protected the guilty, and several people confessed. The evidence against Madame Fazekas piled up so quickly broke down that she was on the point of being arrested when she took her own life.
Altogether, twenty-nine bodies were exhumed, involving eighty-six cases in the village of Nagyrev alone. Something over forty people from both villages were implicated in the murders.
After a long and sensational trial, six were found guilty and sentenced to death, seven received life imprisonment and another seven were sentenced to periods ranging from five to fifteen years.
In her diabolical “trade” Madame Fazekas was assisted by two women friends. To obtain by two women friends. To obtain the arsenic, they used flypapers – so many that at the trial a grocer from a neighbouring town was able to testify that more fly-papers were sold in Nagyrev than in all the rest of Hungary. From these the arsenic was extracted and mixed with the food, drink or medicine of the chosen victim.
[“Flypaper Poisoner Killed For Profit,” The Buckingham Post (Quebec, Canada), Dec. 2, 1955, p. 23]
FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): Budapest – Nearly a hundred women have been arrested, the bodies of thirty murdered husbands have been exhumed and two suicides have resulted so far from the exposure of Hungary’s “Widow-Making Syndicate.” To the astonishment of the police and terror of married men, a successful, wholesale murder plot has come to light, worthy of the dark ages.
Since 1911 it has been possible by paying a reasonable fee for any wife in the two small villages of Nagyrev and Tiszakurt, on the banks of the Tiszaltiver, to have her husband transferred to the cemetery, without any fuss or trouble or questions asked. This remarkable murder service was strictly for married women only. No unmarried woman could have a faithless lover punished by death and the “Widow Makers” would not relieve a husband of an undesirable wife. Also if a woman was happily married and therefore not a likely customer for the syndicate, she was not taken into the husband-killing freemasonry and, like the spinster, was not told about it.
The secret was kept and nobody knows how many husbands had been put under the sod prematurely when, a few weeks ago, the wife of the precentor of Nagyrev let it out in a burst of temper. It seems that the precentor, though an important dignitary of the village, had several times in succession come home somewhat under the influence of the native wines, much to the annoyance of his wife. Seeing that her scoldings made no impression, the lady, who is something of a prohibitionist, remarked that she had been married to a drinker just about as long as she intended to be.
The precentor took one look at his better half, saw that she meant it, and suddenly became sober. That was no divorce threat. The couple, like virtually everyone else in the vicinity, belonged to a religion which does not permit divorce. Though the “Widow Makers” had never talked before, there had been rumors and fantastic gossip whispered among the men that somehow husbands were surprisingly obliging about dying to suit certain wives’ convenience.
All this hashed into the precentor’s mind as he noticed that the wife of his bosom bit her lip, as she often did when she realized she had said too much. Not for nothing had it been said that the doctor must have vaccinated the precentor’s wife with a phonograph needle. Before morning he managed to wring from his garrulous wife a confession.
Their neighbor, the Widow Szabo, had offered to sell her poison enough to kill him and show how to administer it—all for 120 penges (about $20) down, 120 penges more after the funeral and a final installment of the same amount when the estate had been settled up. Frau Szabo said she could guarantee the poison would work without making the doctor suspicious because the had tried it successfully on her own husband and brother.
The precentor knew that his old friend Herr Szabo had gotten to be an invalid and nuisance to his wife before his last and brief illness, but he was puzzled as to why she had murdered her brother. It was later discovered that the brother carried life insurance in his sister’s name and she needed the money.
Next morning without waiting for breakfast, the precentor called upon the officer in command of the village s soldier-police force. That night, after all the village was asleep, the police quietly took the widow Szabo to the neighboring large town of Szolnok, where the police judge soon drew the facts from her. She had, indeed, poisoned her husband and brother, and gotten the stuff from another widow, Frau Zsuzsi Fazekas, the village midwife, who was equally efficient at bringing people into the world or pushing them out of it.
Frau Fazekas was also arrested and brought to Szolnok for questioning. But, after two days, when the judge had gotten no admissions from the iron-willed woman, she was allowed to go home under the impression that she had bluffed the authorities. Meanwhile, they had searched her house and found evidence of a murder business, suggestive of Rome under the Borgias.
In the attic of the house belonging to this woman, who was not a licensed midwife though the best general nurse in either village, they found hidden away a large supply of arsenic flypaper. Between the floor-boards of the attic and the ceiling of the room below were a dozen pint bottles carefully corked and filled with water, in which this same flypaper was soaking. The other bottles contained the arsenic-saturated solution from which the papers had been removed.
Taking samples from the bottles and replacing the liquid they had removed with, an equal amount of water, they left things so the woman would not suspect that her poison hoard had been found. For two days after her return the poison merchant stayed in her home as if nothing had happened, and then, as the authorities hoped, curiosity began to burn her up. She just had to find out if someone had talked and to caution all the other members how to act.
The second evening after her return she set out on a round of calls. Every few minutes her shawled head turned around that her sharp old eyes might assure her that nobody was following. Nevertheless, she was shadowed most expertly and every house she visited was noted. Also it was noted that in every case she conversed with a woman who had been at least once a widow. On the next evening her ringing of widows’ doorbells began and ended with that of Frau Szabo, the precentor’s neighbor.
This husband and brother killer had been returned to her own abode on the understanding that if she would co-operate with the authorities, she would get off easy. A detective was hidden within earshot when the nurse called, but apparently some warning, perhaps involuntary, passed from the widow Szabo to the widow Fazekas, for after a few perfunctory remarks about the weather, the caller went straight home.
Realizing that their bird was warned, the police made their next move. The following morning the regular grave digger at the cemetery between the two villages was astonished to find that the police had provided him with a squad of assistants and orders to open 11 [illegible digit: 11?] graves. No explanation was given, but the proceeding caused a sensation and brought to the scene nearly the entire population of the communities. Among them were the widow Fazekas and the eleven ladies she had called upon. The eleven saw with dismay that the diggers were attacking the graves of their late lamented husbands.
The twelve ladies and another, a widow, making thirteen, went into a huddle and after much whispering, dispersed. The thirteenth, who proved to be the widow [of] Balint Czordas, then put on her best clothes and went to the Hungarian capital, followed by police agents. At Budapest she entered a chemist’s shop and a few moments later was seen to emerge with a white and agitated face, for which one of the agents soon learned the reason. She had asked if when a person dies of an arsenic solution, traces of the chemical remain in the body. The chemist assured her that the poison can he detected by a very simple test. She then wanted to know if any of it could still be found when the body had been so long buried that the flesh had all disappeared. The lady had seemed surprised to learn that it could still be found in the hair and finger nails.
Balint [Chordas’s widow] returned to town, informed the nurse of the bad news and was arrested on her way out. With the eleven widows whose husbands were being exhumed and the precentor’s neighbor, she was taken to the jail at Szolnok, where the ghastly story of the “Widow Makers” rapidly began to come out. As the officers began to arrest her she drank a glass of lye, for eating grease out of pipes, and died after prolonged and terrible agony. She gave herself a more agonizing death than any of her victims. The widows tried changing the headstones in the cemetery by night, but a police guard stopped that.
The receiving vault of the cemetery was turned into a morgue where the presence of arsenic in the bodies of the eleven was speedily found. After these had been returned to the earth it was also found in the remains of the husband and brother of the precentor’s widow-neighbor. After these came more with the same result, thirty poisoned husbands in all, as the confessions at Szolnok brought more and more crimes to light. And more and more widows were arrested until nearly 100 of them are now in the Szolnok jail, accused of belonging to the syndicate.
Men, women and children peered in the windows of the little morgue at the forms of men who had died during the last eighteen years and whose widows have confessed that they put them away with a little of the nurse’s “medicine.”
Soon the confessions implicated almost every widow in either of the two villages whose husband had breathed his last in bed during the last decade and a half. So the authorities have just ordered that every married man who died since 1911 shall be exhumed and examined. At the present time the cemetery looks like one of the battlefields of the late war and every widow will soon have the opportunity of looking again upon the features of her late lamented. Thus far only the bodies of two women and half a dozen children have been ordered disturbed.
At present there are nearly 100 widows in prison waiting trial, and it has been predicted that before the last test has been made there will be as many more prisoners. A few widows, far from protesting at this wholesale digging up, have insisted on it. They maintain that their present husbands will run away and that they will never be able to pet others unless this chance, is offered to prove that they were not in the “Widow Making Syndicate.” Incidentally, all marrying and giving in marriage seems to have stopped in the vicinity. The institution of matrimony is not expected to flourish again until the trials are over.
An unexpected feature of the exhumation was the finding in some of the coffins of bottles containing dried out sediment of what was evidently the arsenic solution with which the crime had been committed. In some also were remains of bread and cakes saturated with the poison. This happened only when the nurse herself had been in charge of the case. She took this queer method of getting the evidence out of the house.
The confessions showed that the widow [of] Balint Czordas [Christine] was the second in command, a sort of vice-president of the murder syndicate. She confessed to having helped poison twenty husbands and, also, during the hungry years, just after the war, a few children who were hard to feed. The morning after her confession the authorities wished to ask one or two more questions, but she had committed suicide during the night. Three other widows, sharing her cell, had watched Balint make a rope from bedding and hang herself, without interfering.
The nurse started things in 1911 by showing the wife of Lewis Takacs how to murder her husband. Seeing Lewis slip into his grave without making any fuss, she went into the business of exterminating unnecessary husbands. As midwife she had occasion to talk intimately with wives, and if they were tired of their partners showed them the way out. Like the surgeons, she charged according to how much her customer could pay. It is said that she did the Takacs murder for “charity.” But she never revealed that her “murder medicine” was just flypaper soaked in water. She had the delusion that arsenic, in solution, could not he traced in a cadaver.
One of her customers poisoned two husbands and had bought the bottle for the third when the police intervened. The widow Palinka only murdered one husband but it worked so nicely that she could not resist getting more of the stuff and in two years slipped six more members of her family, her parents, two brothers, sister-in-law and aunt, into the graveyard. By so doing she inherited a nice house and two and a half acres. This, however, was contrary to the rules of the syndicate which was supposed to be entirely a man-killing enterprise, with an occasional child thrown in, but never a woman.
The Palinka widow did her work with an ostentatious flourish. She would first administer a small dose, just enough to give the victim a touch of cramps. Then, to cure this, she would rush to the city and return with a bottle of expensive stomach medicine, from which, in the sight of everyone, she would give the sick person generous doses till he died, of course, she had poured out the original contents and refilled the bottle with the flypaper water, obtained from the nurse.
Like many other part of Hungary since the war, this area has been poverty-stricken and has practiced .he strictest economy in both government and private circles. Government penuriousness has prevented proper medical supervision of death certificates, which, with the hasty calls of the overworked and underpaid doctors, made the murder syndicate’s work possible.
[“100 Self-Made Widows in One Jail – Husband Poisoners – Rumours of the Wholesale ‘Removal’ of Unwanted Husbands Start the Authorities to Open Dozens of Graves in the Village Church Yard at Nagyrev, Hungary, With Startling Results,” The American Weekly (San Antonio Light) (Tx.), Nov. 24, 1929, p. 3]
Note: This article gives Fazekas’ first name as Zsuzsi, while other sources give Susanna or Suzanne.
SEE: “How Wives Gained Power By Mass-Murder of Husbands - Hungary 1929”