NOTE: The Vera Renczi story must at this point be regarded as fiction.
Old notes: The veracity of this case is doubted by some. But it
has now been confirmed to be an authentic case. According to my source in
Romania, Lucian Vâlsan (writing in 2012)
, the Renczi
case is known to be real. Banatul Sârbesc is, if I understand his notes
correctly, the place that English-speaking journalists have called “Berkerkul.”
“Vera Renczi” is the correct spelling for the name, which is Hungarian. She was
born in 1903. She was sentenced to death in Yugoslavia, but the sentence was
commuted and she was sent to a maximum security prison. Official custom papers
exist which show that she left Romania with her parents in 1916 (right before
Romania entered World War I) - so she left Romania at the age of 13 (rather
than 10 as English language sources state). She died in 1939 (a few months
before the beginning of WWII) in a mental institute in Serbia/Yugoslavia. There
are supposed transcripts of the trial which are not to be regarded as accurate.
sources identify their subject as "Madame Renici" or "Madame
Reniel" (such spelling variations almost always occur in English language
reports including Eastern European names that have been anglicized or
UPDATE: As of June 15, 2016, no original source information from the region ("Yugoslavia") has come to our attention as of yet. It seems very likely that Vera Renczi never existed or that if she did the sensational English-language reports of 1925 are wildly inaccurate.
FULL TEXT: Paris – History, literature and ordinary philosophy represent man as the tyrant, the pursuer, the ravisher, slayer, and woman as the gentle, suffering victim.
But investigation shows that many women have been more merciless and heartless than any man could have been, who could have been more merciless and heartless than Queen Margaret of Burgundy, wife of King Louis X. of France? According to the chronicler Brantome, she used to lure the handsomest young officers in the army to her retreat, the Tour de Nesle, and then, “having obtained what she wished of them, caused them to be tied in a sack and thrown into the Seine.”
History swarms with women as cruel as Queen Margaret, if you look for them, Queen Tamyris, Queen of the Massagetae, once gave her enemies the blood of their conquered companions to drink, down to Madame Hera Mirtel, the French authorities recently convicted of cutting her husband to pieces and packing him in a trunk, there have been innumerable cases of utterly merciless, bloodthirsty women.
“There has been a conspiracy to represent the male “as the cruel sex,” said a leading Parisian lawyer. “It should not blind us against the many dangerous, cruel and merciless women by whom are surrounded. Given a man and woman equally devoid of moral character, I believe the woman will usually be found the more cruel of the two.”
An extraordinary case, reported from Kerekul, in Jugo-Slavia, is being widely discussed in Paris, and has given rise to the argument that woman is more cruel in man. A handsome young woman of wealth there is accused of murdering thirty-five husbands and lovers, simply “because she could not bear to think they might love another woman.”
As far as modern conditions permit, Madame Vera Renczi, of Berkereckul, is the reincarnation of merciless Queen Margaret of Burgundy, sitting in her fascinating Tour de Nesle and seeking for beautiful youths to destroy.
The complaint of a young married woman of the town that her husband, a leading banker, had disappeared after visiting Madame Renczi was the final stop that led the investigation of her career. Rumors of strangely missing men had been current for some time, but many persons feared to take action against the rich and distinguished widow, who seemed to exert a mysterious fascination over all who came contact with her. Nearly all the missing men were from distant places, and there was no relation at hand to investigate their disappearance.
At last, came the pointed demand from banker’s wile that the police should search the cellar of Madame Renczi’s home, an ancient chateau.
Realizing that the reputation of the town was at stake, the police acted with great energy. Before Madame Renczi had no idea of the charges against her they surrounded her chateau and broke into the cellar. To get there they had to go through long vaulted stone corridors and break through three iron doors. An old woman servant resisted their entry fiercely, and they were obliged to handcuff her. When at last they reached the vast, vaulted cellar an astounding sight revealed itself beneath the light of their electric torches. Neatly arranged around the cellar were no less than thirty-five zinc coffins, each of them bearing the name and age of the occupant. All the occupants were males.
The police immediately arrested Madame Renczi, who had been trapped in her luxurious boudoir. She was taken before an examining magistrate on charges of causing the death of Leo Pachich, the banker, and other persons.
Careful investigation showed that the coffins in the cellar bore the names of two of her husbands, of her young son [aged 10], and thirty-two men who had been her lovers.
At first she boldly denied her guilt and protested with indignation at her arrest.
“You have brought disgrace upon our town and I will have you all severely punished,” exclaimed the imperious beauty—with flaming eyes.
“Why did you have thirty-five bodies in your cellar?” she was asked.
“They are friends and relations whom I have cared for. Some of them were townspeople who were killed by the Germans when they passed through this place.”
The police went to work, patiently investigate every act of her life for years past, and soon found overwhelming evidence of her guilt. Every man whose name appeared on her coffins was traced to her house. From that moment his appearance in the outside world ceased.
In a secret compartment behind the wall of her boudoir was found enough arsenic to kill a hundred men. This poison is very common in Jugo-Slavia, being found in combination with metals in several mines there.
Madame Renczi had apparently used this poison on nearly all her victims. She gave it to them in the choice wines with which she lured them to their destruction. She fed it to them in the dishes of the delightful dinners she served them.
Arsenic, as most people know, can be given in carefully measured quantities so as to cause death as slowly as may be desired. Given in this way, it does not immediately produce sickness, but makes its victims feel unusually well.
It was a strange end her victims met. Lured on by a beautiful and fascinating woman, entertained with banquets and wines insidiously poisoned, they were like men bewitched. Sometimes, apparently, they knew that death was coming upon them, but, like the knights in the Venusberg, they were powerless to flee.
In face of the overwhelming proof, Madame Renczi at last broke down and confessed her crimes. The police magistrate, a hardened official, was nearly overcome as he went through the terrible list of crimes with which this young woman had afflicted the world almost since childhood.
“Why did you kill all these human beings?” he asked.
“They were men,” she answered. “I could not endure the thought that they would ever put their arms around another woman after they had embraced me.”
It was shown that the woman was possessed by the passion of jealousy to a degree never before recorded.
“But,” the judge stammered, “you also murdered your own son.”
“He had threatened to betray me,” said Madame Renczi. “He was a man, too. Soon he would have held another woman in his arms.”
Madame Renczi was born in Bucharest, Roumania, and remained there till the age of ten. At about that period her father decided to go to Jugo-Slavia, then called Serbia, where a property inherited from an uncle who had recently died offered him an opportunity to build up a home. So Vera followed her father to Berkereckul.
One day a dog that had been given Vera was found dead in the garden. Her father asked the girl how it had died.
“Oh,” Vera answered, “I poisoned it.”
The father looked surprised.
“And why did you do that?” he asked.
“Because,” little Vera answered, “it so happens that last night I heard you telling one of the neighbors that you were going to give him my dog because it barked too much at night.”
“So I did. But then, why did you kill it?”
“Because I do not want my dog to belong to anybody else. When he leaves me he leaves this world.”
The father did not smile at these last words. He gave his daughter a good thrashing to teach her that one must not be so jealous.
Little did he suspect that the same merciless jealousy would follow Vera all her life through – and that in the same cool way she had killed her dog she would murder men who had loved her.
She was married early to a wealthy business man in Berkereckul. At that time she decided that city life was too much of a strain for her and compelled her husband to live out in the chateau outside the town.
About one year later a child was born. Shortly after that it was announced that her husband had gone away on a very long journey from which he was only to return in a year’s time.
The days passed, and then the months, and finally two years. Then Vera said that her husband had deserted her.
Shortly after that she was married again, this time to a younger man. He remained with her for four months, and one fine day Vera came into the city to tell everybody that her second husband had also deserted her and had gone away – whither she did not know.
After that her life became more mysterious and rather that of a declassee. Nearly every night she would go into town and visit the cafes and night resorts.
To the one or two better class cafes of Berkerckul Vera would come alone. She was known as the “Mysterious Huntress.” Her game, it appears, was always a young man.
Her appearance in these places became familiar. The natives of the town knew her well by sight, although few dared to speak to her.
At a certain hour, when entertaining friends from out of town, they would look at their watches and say:
“Now, look. It is 10:30. At 11 o’clock the ‘Mysterious Huntress’ comes in.”
The friends from out of town would immediately ask:
“And who can the ‘Mysterious Huntress’ be?”
The explanation would always be the same:
“Let me tell you: The ‘Mysterious Huntress’ is a Roumanian widow, a perfect beauty, and very rich. She has been deceived in love twice, each time by a husband, one who stayed with her a year, another for about half that time.
“Since those days she seems very strange. She comes into town looking for young men. When she finds one she takes him to her house. And after a while she comes in looking for another.”
“Some men remain with her for a week – some less than that and some more. She has never picked out any boy who comes from this town. They are all men from out of town.
“And they never come here again after she has had them. I am told she tells them to leave the country and to never come near her again – and they obey.”
That is the impression that Vera would give. Night after night she would come into the night places at a fixed hour. Her eyes would wander around the room. Every once in a while she would catch sight of a young man whose looks would strike her fancy.
Her face would remain impassive. Once every five minutes she would allow her eyes to rest on the young man she had marked.
Finally the glare of her brown eyes would fix him. He could no longer resist her. When she would arise to leave lie would feel that he simply had to follow her. Her last look toward him had condemned him to this.
Outside she would turn to him and say:
“You are a stranger here ?”
The man would answer: “Yes.” The woman always knew anyhow.
She would then ask:
“I live outside the city here. Do you want to visit my home?”
This would naturally perturb the youth, who had already been very deeply upset by the strange, penetrating way she had looked at him. Nine times out of ten he would say “Yes.”
Then she would take him back to her home. Sometimes she told her neighbors that she had sent him back to his country after she had grown tired of him. Little did the people in the cafes suspect how tragically these little affairs would end.
Some of the people whose sons or husbands or brothers had disappeared in mysterious circumstances in Berkereckul sent complaints to the police and investigation followed. Then came her affair with the local banker which trapped her.
The female Bluebeard confessed that tin motive for the killing was the same throughout.
“My first husband,” she said, “was the one who made me madly jealous of other women.”
“I couldn’t endure the idea of his ever looking at them! And after a year I felt that he would soon turn away from me, not entirely, but just enough to make me jealous.”
“I swore to myself that he would never belong to another woman. So I killed him.”
My second husband did not last as long. I was obliged to kill him after four months because he talked to other women.
“From that time on it became a disease with me. I wanted young men. Yet once I possessed them I could not bear the idea that any other woman might come after me.”
“I had the power to tantalize them. They would follow me. Then, perhaps a week after they had remained with me at my house, I would notice that they grew cither distracted or would say something about having to return home. I would consider these first signs the beginning of the end. And, consequently, my first burst of passion for them would be followed by jealousy, and I would poison them without waiting any further.”
The Serbians are filled with horror at Madame Renczi’s crimes. In America and some European countries, notably France, it would be argued that, she was insane. In Jugo-Slavia they do not spend money hiring experts to prove that murderers are insane, and there is a general eagerness, among the public to see the beautiful monster of jealousy and passion sent promptly to the gallows.
[“A Real Female Bluebeard - Strange Tragedy of the Jealous Beauty and Her Thirty-five Unlucky Sweethearts,” American Weekly (San Antonio Light Sunday magazine section), Aug. 22, 1925, p. 5]
FULL TEXT: Berlin, May 20. — Roumania Servia, and in fact the entire Balkans are excited over the preliminary hearings of the greatest female bluebeard of modern times. Madame Renici, a Roumanian, aged 30, described as “beautiful as a picture,” charged with killing her two husbands, her ten-year-old son and thirty-two lovers.
The preliminary hearing, which have begun at Berkerkul, Servia, reveals that the prosecution alleges, she killed her 35 victims with arsenic and other poisons in their food. The bodies it is stated, she preserved by hermetically sealing them in zinc cans which she stored in her cellar. Each big can has the name and age of the victim and the length of time he was her lover. The average period which each remained favorite of the beautiful Roumanian was from six to seven months during which they lived in the greatest harmony and happiness, until the loved one would suddenly disappear.
The victims were all between the ages of 23 and 30, except the boy. Fourteen of them were Roumanians.
It is stated that the woman confesses to all 35 murders and in her replies to questions reveals an appalling cynicism.
Asked why she killed so many innocent persons, she replied:
“Out of jealousy, for I know that tomorrow they would run after another woman. So I said to myself they had better sleep quietly in my cellar without having to excite themselves.”
She said she killed her son because he knew about the contents of the cellar and she was in constant danger of discovery.
[O. B. Tolischus, “Woman Held For Killing 35 Persons - Slew Lovers and Preserved Bodies In Cans In Her Cellar,” syndicated (Universal Service), The Bee (Danville, Va.), May 22, 1925, p. 6]
Vera confessed to the police that on occasion she liked to
sit in her armchair amidst the coffins, surrounded by all of her former
[Newton, Michael. The
Encylclopedia of Serial Killers, Checkmark Books. 2000, p. 198]
articles give the name as “Madame Renici” [“A Modern Borgia Found – Remorseless
Woman Calmly Admits Slaying Two Husbands, Her Son and 32 Suitors, All with
Arsenic,” syndicated (INS), Indiana Evening Gazette (Pa.), May 19, 1925, p. 1],
[O. [Otto] B. Tolischus,
Held For Killing 35 Persons - Slew
Lovers and Preserved Bodies In
Cans In Her Cellar,”
syndicated (Universal Service), The Bee (Danville, Va.), May 22, 1925, p. 6].
The latter bears the byline of Otto B. Tolischus,
a Pulitzer Prize-winning (1940) journalist, who was correspondent for the
Universal Service in Berlin between 1923 and 1931. Tolischus reports that “
victims were all between the ages of 23 and 30, except the boy. Fourteen of
them were Roumanians.” Yet another spelling
variation is “Madame Reniel”
[“Another Lucretia Borgia, Olean Evening
Times (N.Y.), May 19, 1925, p. 1]