Thursday, April 6, 2017

Husband-Killing Syndicates

HUSBAND-KILLING SYNDICATES: The vast majority of victims of these conspiracies were husbands, yet some were wives or other family members, including children.

Among the cases listed below you will find news reports with such headlines as “Husband Poisoning by Wholesale” (1882), “Ten Husband Poisoners” (1890), “A New Business; Husband Poisoning on the Scale of a Commercial Enterprise” (1891), “Killing Off Husbands” (1895), “Epidemic of Poisoning in Hungary; Eighteen Men Killed” (1901), “Women Formed Club to Murder Husbands” (1903), “Woman Kills 300 At Wives’ Behest” (1909), “Exterminating Husbands” (1911), “Wanted to Be Widows So They Hanged Their Husbands” (1933), “Used Fly Paper to Kill Husbands” (1935), “How Wives Gained Power by Mass Murder of Husbands” (1937).

In the following collection are 35 cases which took place in eastern Europe (Croatia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia) between 1882 and 1939.

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Leader: La Toffania (or, Toffania, Tofana, Toffana); teacher Hieronyma Spara
Method: liquid poison sold in vials
Victims: large numbers; mostly husbands

1658: ITALY – Rome
Leaders: Hyeronyma Spara, Gratiosa, La Toffania; Spara, Gratiosa & 12 other hanged in 1659
Method: liquid poison called "Tifana water"
Victims: over 700

Leader: Giovanna Bonanno; executed Jul. 30, 1789
Method: poison, a mixture of spring water, white wine and arsenic, intended to kill lice, purchased from apothecary then resold; 3 stages of dosage
Victims: 6 confirmed (4 men, 2 women), many more suspected.

60 women hanged for poisoning husbands with arsenic.
Note: The source may be in error, mistakenly referring to the cases of the 1880s yet referring to the 1850s.

1868: FRANCE - Marseilles
Leader: Monsieur Joye, herbalist
Method : arsenic
Victims : 3 husbands whose wives purchased poison from Joye.
Venue: “a poisoning “party”
Perpetrators: 4 wives
Victims: 4 husbands
Method: “poison”

Leaders: Thekla Popov, active more than two years (1880-1882), Anna Minity, Sophia Ivanovitch;
over 100 women implicated; court cases continued into at least 1889
Method: bottles of "red liquid poison" priced at 50-100 florins
Victims: over 100

Leader: Kathi Lyukas (or "Kate Nagy"), murder two of her own husbands; Lyukas confessed to 6 other murders (20 other deaths suspected to be caused by her); Lyukas was hanged Nov. 30, 1882
Method: arsenic baked into little cakes
Victims: convicted of 26 murders

Leader: Persa Czirin; considered the poison supplier; released for lack of evidence
Method: poison
Victims: Multiple husbands of women who acquired poison from Czirin
Leader: An “old woman” poison-seller & racketeer
Method: poison (unidentified as of yet)
Victims: 7 men lured into marriage to be murdered for their assets

1890: SERBIA ("Hungary") - Erdevik, District of Smyrna (Syrmia), Bingula & the Mitrovitz district (Austro-Hungarian Empire, Serbia)
Leader: Makrena Stankovic; deaths occurred in 1880, 1883, 1884, 1884, 1885, 1886 and 1888
Accomplice: Milika Plavsic, aided 2 husband-killers
Method: Poisoned with arsenic derived from fly-paper cooked into christening cakes served on christening day to the father; elsewhere reported as poisonous spiders in dumplings.
Victims: more than 10 

1890: SERBIA ("HUNGARY") – Mitrovitz (Sremska Mitrovica)
Leader: Esther Sarac (“witch or herbalist”); 10 women arrested
Method: arsenic extracted from flypaper
Leaders: Frau Kernaez, Frau Kurjakow, Frau Rivnicski
Method: arsenic
Victims: 10 

1895: ROMANIA ("HUNGARY") – Pecica ("Peceska," "Pecs")
Leader: Maria Hevesy; was paid 100 florins for arranging murder
Method: Ex-con hired to carry out murders
Victims: multiple married men

1897: HUNGARY – Hodmozoe (Hod-Moyo-Vasarheky; Hódmezővásárhely)
Leader: Mari Azalai Jager
Accomplices: "a band of poisoners" 3 men & 2 women (including Gulyas Kis-Samuel, male)
Method: Three poisons, belladonna, arsenic and chloride of mercury
Jul. 24, 1897, Budapest: Trial of 12 women & 2 men; 4 sentenced to death; 1 to life in prison (man who killed his mother); 1 to 6 years in prison
Victims: estimated at over 100

Leaders: George Korin, apothecary, ringleader, and Dr. Johann Mayer, village physician
Perpetrators: Maria Nikodem (murdered 2 husbands); Lisa Triku (murdered 4 husbands)
Method: arsenic
Victims: 14

1900: “AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN EMPIRE” – “Zlifet, “Hungary”
Leader: unknown at present
Method: arsenic taken from face rouge, placed in drink
Victims: 6 husbands
Leader: Nikola Bettuz (seeress)
Method: secret poison (Bettuz refused to disclose its composition)
Leader: Petar the Magician
Method: poisoned brandy
Leader: Coroner Hanusch, formed a "club" of wives who wished their husbands dead.
Method: poison supplied by the coroner, who would certify victim died of heart disease
Victims: at least 6 husbands 

1905: HUNGARY – Czongrad (Csongrad)
Leaders: Female poison-maker and a group of women (names currently unavailable)
Method: poison
Victims: husbands and wives, including a couple who each bought poison to murder one another

1905: HUNGARY – Hodmezo-Vasarhely (Hod-Moyo-Vasarheky; Hódmezővásárhely)
Leader: Balapa (reputed witch)
Customers: Women who wished to kill husbands or infants
Method: poison
Victims: 6 men; 20 infants

Leader: Frau Sivacky
Method: poison
Victims: 9 husbands critically ill; other deaths; 12 women arrested

1906: ROMANIA ("HUNGARY") – Knez (Knecz, Kneez),Temeczvar (Timișoara, Temesvár)
Merthod: arsenic, sold for $4.50 per portion
Victims: 25 bodies exhumed; Catherine Biber murdered 3; an unnamed widow murdered 4 husbands consecutively 

1909: UKRAINE ("RUSSIA") Samara
Leader: Madame Popova; claimed all victims were husbands who had abused their wives
Method: poison in food or drink placed there directly by Madame Popova
Victims: 300 (all husbands) 

1911: HUNGARY – Szegedin (Szeged)
Leader: Maria Gerzan, professional nurse
Accomplice: Levai, murdered husband
Method: poison, claimed to be for killing vegetable parasites
Leader: Frau Kapruczan, murdered her first 4 husbands, 5th alive at time of arrest; 6 other women arrested
Method: not yet ascertained
Number of victims: 9 men (including leader’s 4 husbands)

1926: SERBIA {"JUGOSLAVIA") – Nagy Kikinda (Kikinda)
The “St. Lucretia Club,” a charitable organization was dedicated to sharing information about husband-murdering techniques
Leader: Maria Vukitch
Method: poison
Victims:7 husbands

1927: RUSSIA – Novay Ladoga ("Navoia")
Leader: Sophie Safarine
Method: poison
Victims: 58 husbands (entire population of husbands)

1929: SERBIA ("JUGOSLAVIA") – Vladimirovac; Panchova, Banat ("Banyat") region
Leader: Anuja de Poshtonja (Anna Pistova), "The Witch of Vladimirovac", AKA: Anyuka Dee, the “Banat Witch,” Baba Anujka.
Method: "vegetable poisoning"; arsenic
Perpatrators: includes Stana Ludushka (3 victims: 2 husbands; one uncle)
Victims: 13, all husbands (50 in one account); 50 year career probably involved scores more
Leaders: Júlia Fazekas (murdered 2 of her own husbands), Christine Chordas, (“Czordas”), and Susi Oláh (murdered 2 of her own husbands)
Method: arsenic extracted from fly-paper, rat poison containing arsenic, toadstools.
Victims: estimates vary from 30 to 100.
13 serial killers: Maria Aszendi (3 murders), Christine Chordas (3 murders), Julia Dari (3 murders), Julia Fazekas (scores of murders), Juliana Foeldvary (3 murders), Maria Kardos (3 murders), Julianne Lipka (scores of murders), Suzi Olah (scores of murders), Mrs. Louis Oser (or, "Cser," 3 murders), Frau Palinka (7 murders), Julia Sijj (7 murders), Esther Szabo (multiple murders, including 2 family members), Maria Varga (3 murders)
Leader: Name not discovered as yet
Arrests: 5 women arrested, 1 committed suicide
Method: Poison
Leader: Mme. Stanke; poisoned 3: husband, Julie Talinik, Mr. Talinik,
Arrested: Repisky (farmer), poisoned father in 1928; Victoria Szenesi, arrested
Method: poison
Victims: 6 known, others suspected to be discovered upon investigation
Leader: Viktoria Foedi Rieger, nicknamed “Smoking Peter.” She was a cross-dresser who passed as a man; "The Devil Woman of Pista"
Method: hanging arranged to simulate suicide
Victims: 22 suspected

Leaders: Florica Duma & Ilona Kovacs
Method: Arsenic extracted from fly-paper
Victims: 6 persons, men and women

1935: HUNGARY – Debreczen
Leader: Julianne Nagy
Method: arsenic extracted from boiled fly-paper
Victims: at least 11

1939: USA – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Active: 1932-1938; “Arsenic Incorporated”
Sentencing: 2 executed; 12 life terms; 7 lesser sentences
Leaders: Morris (Evil Eye) Bolber, Paul Petrillo, Herman Petrillo, Horace D. Perlman.
Operatives: Mrs. Rose Carina, Mrs. Carina Favato, Mrs. Josephine Sadita
Method: arsenic
Victims: over 100

Leaders: Mr. & Mrs. Petcovic
Method: poison
Perpetrators: 16 tried
Victims: mostly men (husbands, fathers, nephew)

1995: USA – San Francisco & New York City
Identification: The Tene-Bimbo Gypsy Clan
Leader: Mary Tene Steiner
Others: Sylvia Mitchell (New York City), Angela Tene Bufford (San Francisco)
Victims: 9 elderly men
Method: digitalis poisoning (causing heart attack)

2011: COLOMBIA Medellin
“The Black Widow Gang”
Leader: José Adrián Henao Giraldo
Members: Luz Elena Carvajal Cataño, Suleyma Giraldo de Zapata, Emilse Yulima Emilsen Rojas Castaño, Oliveryen Hincapie López.
Method: includes drowning
Victims: 3 confirmed, 5 under investigationan



Murderers: Rose Veres (from Sarud, Hungary), "THe Witch of Medina Street," and son, William.
Related case: In Detroit Michigan in a neighborhood populated by immigrants from Sarud, Hungary, a woman conducted, along with her son, an insurance murder racket with boarders as her victims. Though she was later released from prison on appeal, there is little doubt she was guilty of the crimes she was originally convicted of.



A note on names: It should be note that names of persons and places from there regions are spelled in numerous different ways since a great many ethnicities resided these and used a great variety of languages. For example, Serbian was spoken in Serbia, but German was the official language of the ruling empire while the following other languages being spoken there include Albanian, Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak, Rusyn, Croatian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Romani, Czech, Bosnian, Vlach, Bunjevac, Macedonian, Montenegrin.

Further, English language transliterations of these names use many different spellings for the same name and vary in their choice of which original language form as the basis for their transliteration. In short, working with English language sources is extremely messy and confusing work.




Important article on Hungarian poison syndicates:

Jánoki Dávid, “Arsenic norms, collective secret, and double roles during the interrogations” (A történelem kérdései; Az írás, amint érvényét veszti, a Recenziók menüpontban található linken elérhető lesz.), Amazing History (website) 2012. November 23., Vác, Hungary 


Explanations for the Hungarian murder syndicates that are commonly found are based on theories that are now being demonstrated to be faulty. Thus we must resist interpreting the phenomenon of the various Eastern European murder syndicates – with all their individual differences and complexities – through the simpleminded theories and claims that have been put forth in the standard literature thus far.

An effort is now being made to take an objective look at the family in Eastern Europe without being hampered by the constraints of old-fashioned “patriarchy” theories and “social constructionist” reductionism, as is indicated by a recent call for papers by The Hungarian Historical Review. Here is an excerpt from that call for papers:

“Historians who studied personal narrative sources that had survived in large numbers (such as correspondences, diaries, and memoirs) fervently disputed the Ariés-Hajnal-Stone thesis, according to which given the extended nature of the family, the role of emotional bonds in family life was negligible in Eastern Europe. The opponents of the thesis argue, however, that behind the image of patriarchal family life that emerges from the wealth of literature on matrimonial and marital counseling, one finds innumerable everyday gestures expressive of loving, amicable, and supportive relationships between spouses.”

[Sándor Horváth, Call for journal articles – “The History of Family, Marriage and Divorce in Eastern Europe,” The Hungarian Historical Review, 2013]


Some motives for murder among the Eastern European murder syndicates::

1886 – Persa Czirin (professional poisoner) – [A] wholesale epidemic of poisoning had broken out among the women of the place who administered arsenic to their husbands whenever they wanted to marry somebody else. The first of the trials came on at Panosova recently, and ended with the conviction of a young pleasant woman, Draga Radovancey, who was sentenced to be hanged. An old peasant woman, Persa Czirin, who supplied the poison, was released for want of sufficient evidence. [“Wholesale Poisoning of Husbands.” The Southland Times (Invercarghill, Southland, N. Z.), Jun. 14, 1886, p. 4]

1889 – Thekla Popov (professional poisoner) – [Serial poisoner] Thekla Popov’s clients were, however, not always married women. Sometimes she had dealing with young girls who quarrelled with their sweethearts, and who, from jealousy or rage, had determined to kill them. [“Secret Poisoning. - Awful Crimes Of Borgias Recalled By Hungary’s Horror.  Murderous Nostrums Of Old. - Terrible Women Who Divorced Themselves By Deadly Potions. - The Evil Worked By Fortune Tellers.” Pittsburgh Post (Pa.), Dec. 14, 1889. p. 12]

1889 – Draga Kukin – Amongst other things he overheard was Kukin’s widow [Draga Kukin] saying to her accomplice, “Well, I am young and pretty. He was old and ugly. Why should he not die?” [“Secret Poisoning. - Awful Crimes Of Borgias Recalled By Hungary’s Horror.  Murderous Nostrums Of Old. - Terrible Women Who Divorced Themselves By Deadly Potions. - The Evil Worked By Fortune Tellers.” Pittsburgh Post (Pa.), Dec. 14, 1889. p. 12]

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

1900 – Nikola Bettuz (professional poisoner)  – In some instances it was found that the object of the women was to obtain the insurance on the lives of their husbands. [“Slay Their Husbands - In Hungary Wives Tired of  Their Spouses Kill Them by Using a Mysterious Poison.” (Buda-Pesth Cor. Chicago Chronicle.) Fort Wayne Sentinel (In.), Oct. 20, 1900, p. 1]

1901 – Kissoda, Romania[Note: not just husbands, but “lovers” as well] Instances in which wives rid themselves of inconvenient husbands and girls did away with lovers whom they no longer wanted increased there appallingly.  [“Epidemic Of Poisoning In Hungary. - Eighteen Men Killed.” The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia), Jan. 12, 1901, p. 38]

1907 – Julia Wunicsitch – Julia Wuicsitch poisoned her husband because he could not buy her a new dress. [“Town Poisoned - And Wiped Out of Existence by Modern Lucretia Borgia. - Fair Young Fiend - Poisoned Her Rich Old Husband So She Could Marry a Young Lawyer, Whom She Also Poisoned. - Then With Another Woman She Went Into the Wholesale Poisoning Business.” The Manning Times (S. C.), Mar. 20, 1907, p. 6]

1907 – Marthas Petromany (professional poisoner)  – She married a wealthy farmer some five years ago solely on account of his possessions. A young man of talents and good prospects who was the leading local lawyer became her ardent admirer. Mme. Petrubany’s highest desire was to see her old husband out of the way to marry the lawyer and combine his superior social station and the old man’s property. [“Town Poisoned - And Wiped Out of Existence by Modern Lucretia Borgia. - Fair Young Fiend - Poisoned Her Rich Old Husband So She Could Marry a Young Lawyer, Whom She Also Poisoned. Then With Another Woman She Went Into the Wholesale Poisoning Business.” The Manning Times (S. C.), Mar. 20, 1907, p. 6]

1929 – Anyuka, Dee (AKA Anna Pistova, etc.) – A murder trial has begun at Panchova, Jugo-Slavia, where 93-year-old Anyuka, Dee is charged with having murdered more than fifty men. She is known throughout the district as the “Banat Witch.” Legends throw a veil of mystery around her lonely life, and as the wives of wealthy farmers liked to go to her for help in cases of illness and also to consult her on other difficulties, she drew a large income, which enabled her to lead a life of comfort. Recently it was said that Anyuka Dee, in addition to saving lives with herbs, also destroyed them with arsenic if she were paid to do so. [“A Jugo-Slavian ‘Witch’ - Faces Murder Trial,” The Advertiser (Adelaide, Australia), Aug. 12, 1929, p. 17]

1929 – Suzie Olah (professional poisoner)  – Not wishing to risk another trial [for performing abortions], Aunt Suzie apparently decided to supplement her earnings in a new fashion. She began a series of child poisonings. There would be a discreet dosing, a little funeral, a tiny grave – and a mouth less to feed. Aunt Suzie worked exclusively with arsenic extracted from flypaper. It seemed effective. She decided to enlarge her sphere. She found wives who had grown tired of their husbands, children who coveted the property of their elders, mothers with ailing sons. Aunt Suzie would whisper that she knew a way. [John MacCormac, “Murder By Wholesale: A Tale From Hungary,” New York Times (N.Y.), Mar 16, 1930, p. XX3]

1929 – Maria Kardos – After marrying and divorcing two husbands she found herself at the age of forty with a 23-year-old son, whose health had made him a burden. Moreover, she had fast taken a young lover and did not wish to have this constant reminder of her own age. She consulted Aunt Suzie. The first dose of arsenic only made the boy ill. One fine Autumn day she had his bed moved outside in the courtyard. “I gave him some more poison in his medicine,” she told the police. “And then, suddenly, I remembered how beautifully my boy used to sing in church and I thought I would like to hear him once more. So I said: ‘Sing, my boy. Sing me my favorite song.’ He sang it in his lovely, clear voice.” The song ended in agony. The poison had done its work. [John MacCormac, “Murder By Wholesale: A Tale From Hungary,” New York Times (N.Y.), Mar 16, 1930, p. XX3]

1935 – Julianna Nagy (professional poisoner)  – They all got their wish, dying from her food. The old maid induced the old man to marry her by the simple process of threatening to resign as cook. But there were five children to inherit which would not leave much for the widow in case something should happen to Nagy. Therefore Julianna bought more fly-paper with which she made little angels, one after the other of all the five children.