In July 1916, the Detective Chief of the Budapest Police received a call from a landlord in the little town of Cinkota, who believed he had found evidence of murder on his property. The house was currently rented by a man named Bela Kiss who had been called up to serve in the army in 1914, and was then kept by his housekeeper. Detective Chief Dr. Károly Nagy arrived to investigate and discovered several large metal drums outside the property at 9 Kossuth Street. Despite protestations from the housekeeper, Nagy opened one of the drums and found the decomposing remains of a young woman inside. The other six drums were also opened and each contained the body of a naked young woman, all of whom had been strangled. Even more bodies were found buried on the property, and inside the house were letters of correspondence between Kiss and 74 women. Police immediately notified the army in an effort to apprehend Kiss, but there was little success during the subsequent manhunt except for rumours, near misses and unconfirmed sightings.
In the Hungarian town of Cinkota, located on the outskirts of Budapest, one of the local landlords attended a property he owned on 9 Kossuth Street to see what repairs were needed before he put the house back up for rent. Outside he noticed seven large metal drums, and curiously decided to puncture the side so he could peer inside. He was soon overwhelmed by a nauseating smell which emanated from within. The chemist next door told him that there was no doubt, it was the smell of human decomposition. He then contacted the Detective Chief of the Budapest Police and explained the situation.
The house rented by Bela Kiss
He told Dr. Károly Nagy that the property was rented by a man named Bela Kiss, who had been called up for service in 1914 to fight in the war. In the meantime the lease on the house had lapsed and the landlord heard rumours that Kiss had either been killed in battle or was a prisoner of war. The property was currently under the care of the housekeeper Kiss had employed, the elderly Mrs. Jakubec. He begged Nagy to urgently investigate because he could not rent the house out again until the matter was resolved.
Detective Chief Nagy summoned his two best detectives and together they rushed to Kossuth Street in the little town of Cinkota. Upon arriving, they were greeted by the landlord, however Mrs. Jakubec began shouting at the policemen. She had promised her employer she would safeguard his belongings and she became furious when the they started searching her Master's property. Nagy had his men open one of the drums and what they found inside confirmed the landlord's worst suspicions.
The Seven Metal Drums containing bodies
Placed inside a sack within the drum was the naked body of a young woman who had a full head of long dark-brown hair, along with the rope she had been strangled. There were six other drums, which when examined, were found to each contain the naked body of a young woman, all of whom had been strangled. Because the wood alcohol acted as a preservative, the bodies had not fully decomposed, and each would be easily recognisable.
Under questioning, Mrs. Jakubec denied any knowledge of the bodes, explaining she had been baffled when Kiss had brought the big metal canisters to his house before the war. She recalled how many people would gossip about what they were for, and some suspected he was storing illegal liquor in them. The local Cinkota constable arrived at the property one day to talk with Kiss about the drums. Kiss calmly reassured the policeman that he was not keeping anything illicit, in fact he was stocking up on gasoline because it would soon be rationed with the coming war.
As the bodies of the victims were taken to the mortuary, the police began a thorough search of the property and grounds surrounding it. During this search they found even more bodies buried on the estate, and each victim had been preserved in alcohol. A total of twenty-four bodies were found, but without any identification the detectives could not easily discover who these women were. Detective Chief Nagy acted quickly, and notified the military that Bela Kiss was to be arrested immediately. The order for the manhunt reached the army within the hour.
There remained the possibility that Kiss had an accomplice and so Nagy sent out an order to notify all postal and telegraph companies in the surrounding areas to intercept any messages incoming for Bela Kiss. He wanted to prevent the likelihood that an accomplice might somehow warn Kiss that he was wanted. The investigation faced several hurdles. Firstly the Hungarian army was in disarray because of the conflict and thousands of Hungarian soldiers were either imprisoned or killed. Secondly the names Bela and Kiss were very common Hungarian names, and it was likely there were a large amount of men serving in the army with the name Bela Kiss.
News of the dreadful discovery had already reached the other residents of Cinkota and soon enough the story would be in the newspaper headlines in Budapest. The identity of the victims would be the next priority, however there were very little clues from the metal containers, but police were able to locate several items of clothing with embroidered initials on, such as K.V. and what looked like M.T. on a handkerchief.
The police then focused their attention on Mrs. Jakubec, and the terrified housekeeper was placed under arrest and interrogated in the house she had kept clean for the past two years. She sat at the kitchen table, almost paralysed with fear and begged, "Please, sir, I know nothing of this terrible thing. I knew Bela Kiss only as a man who was kind to me and paid me well." She agreed to cooperate fully with their investigation and showed the detectives the master bedroom used by Kiss.
They searched the room thoroughly but found nothing, except for a locked door. Nagy enquired about it, and the housekeeper told him, "That is the secret room of Bela Kiss, he told me never to enter it and never to let anyone in." At Nagy's insistence, the old woman reached inside her apron and produced an old-fashioned key and opened the locked door. Inside they found a small room lined with bookcases filled with books. The only other pieces of furniture were a large desk and desk chair.
When Nagy opened the desk drawer he found a huge amount of personal correspondence between Kiss and numerous women. There was also an album which contained the photographs of hundreds of women. Detective Chief Nagy became worried that there might be more victims than originally thought. He went back and poured over the hundreds of letters sent to Kiss by women, some 74 altogether and each were placed inside individual packets so that the letters from each woman were kept separate.
The letters were all in response to an ad placed by Kiss, and the contents revealed that all the women wanted marriage. It was eventually discovered that Kiss had corresponded and received 174 marriage proposals, of these he accepted 74 and continued to write to them. Nagy noticed a glaring and insidious detail about the letters, it appeared Kiss was defrauding the usually middle-aged women of their savings. In some cases he was taking control of their entire financial situation and it appeared some of the letters were dated as far back as 1903. Nagy examined the books in the secret room used by Kiss. He noticed how most of them were about subjects such as poisoning and methods of strangulation.
When he returned downstairs he looked at Mrs. Jakubec sitting in the kitchen and the housekeeper suddenly screamed at him, "I'm just a simple old woman! Don't send me to prison!". When he finally calmed her down she agreed to tell him about her employer, the mysterious Bela Kiss. She said she began working for him around 1900, when he first arrived at Cinkota. She described him as having blond hair and remarkable, piercing blue eyes. "He was such a good-looking boy of twenty-three. We were so fond of him. He was kind to everyone.", she said. "he wouldn't hurt a living thing. Once a dog had broken its leg, he made splints and nursed the animal to recovery. I am sure it is a mistake — he did not kill those women! Someone else did it!"
Mrs. Jakubec did admit to seeing lots of different women who came to visit Kiss over the period of many years, but she said she didn't know any of their names. She explained, "I scarcely ever said a word to them. I was only a servant and spent the nights in my own home. What Bela Kiss did with these ladies was none of my business. They were all city ladies, not peasants like me. They would come for a day or two and then go away." As the detective pressed for more details, the more hysterical she became and screamed, "I am innocent!". Nagy removed a document from his coat pocket, one that he found amongst the letters in the desk. "Do you see this?", he asked her. It was the will of Bela Kiss. "He leaves you a very substantial sum of money.", he told her. She began to cry and claimed, "I knew nothing of it".
Kiss was born in Izsák, Austria-Hungary around 1877 to János Kiss and Verona Varga, was twice previously married, and had two children, Aranka and Ilonka. He worked as a tinsmith, a trade he had taught himself and was known as hard-working and amiable. When his second wife abandoned him for another lover, he hired Mrs. Jakubec as his housekeeper. He would often throw parties at a local hotel and was known for his generosity. Everyone liked him and he was considered by most women as Cinkota's most eligible bachelor, and as a result he was envied by the married men of the town. Although he had no formal schooling he was highly read, and had an interest in art, literature and history. Indeed he was able to discuss almost any subject with the most educated and intelligent residents of the town.
For all outward appearances, Kiss was not eager to remarry and hired the elderly Mrs. Jakubec to perform the household domestic duties that a wife would normally have performed. Because Cinkota had a very limited number of female companions, Kiss rented an apartment in Budapest from where would take out advertisements in the newspapers. Then women began to correspond with him and over the years and he was known to spend periods of time in the company of a number of young and middle-aged women. But none of the townsfolk, not even Mrs. Jakubec was ever introduced to any of these women, who usually did not stay for long. In any event, they did not think it strange that a handsome bachelor was entertaining so many women.
Detective Nagy was certain he was now in possession of enough information to deduce how Kiss had lured his victims to their deaths. He would place carefully worded advertisements in the matrimonial columns of newspapers, always enquiring about the prospective woman's financial resources. When he received a reply from a woman who lived relatively close, he would visit her and lavish his attention and money on her. In a carefully orchestrated plan, he would enquire about the woman's relatives and then concentrated his attentions on those who did not have any close relatives who lived nearby. In this way he could ensure she would not be missed by anyone.
Then he would enter into correspondence with the woman, and from the letters Dr. Nagy had read, it seemed they would often send him money, sometimes their entire life savings. He was careful however, and never wrote anything incriminating in the letters to his victims. If it appeared there was a chance she would contact the police, he moved quickly and arranged to murder her. During another search of the property, detectives came across more clothing with the name Julianne Paschak stitched into it. One of his subordinates had cross-checked old court records and came across two women who had initiated court proceedings against Kiss, who was being sued for taking their money on the promise of marriage.
These women were Elizabeth Komeromi and Julianne Paschak, and both the suits lapsed when neither of them appeared at court. A subsequent search could find no trace of either woman and the charges against Kiss were dropped. From the letters found in his possession, and the bodies located on the property, Detective Chief Nagy was confident that Kiss was responsible for the murders of approximately 30 women. Some of the bodies had not been found, but of those twenty-four who had, they would attempt to discover who they were and how they came to be placed inside the metal drum containers.
The almost impossibly grim task of identifying the victims began immediately, and Dr. Nagy made enquiries to every police department from every area that a woman had made contact with Bela Kiss. Eventually he was able to trace the K.V. initials he found on one of the victims clothing to a Madame Katherine Varga, a young Budapest widow. Ms Varga had been a good-looking young woman of considerable means, just the type of victim Kiss would attempt to ensnare. She owned a profitable dressmaking business, and once she met Kiss, she sold it and moved to live with her prospective husband in Cinkota. There were no relatives who missed Katherine Varga when she disappeared.
Another victim was identified when her family came to visit D.r Nagy. Mrs. Stephen Toth and her daughter-in-law arrived at Cinkota and told the detective how her daughter Margaret had gone to Budapest for work around 1906. When Mrs. Toth visited Margaret one day she was introduced to Bela Kiss, and was persuaded by her daughter to give him money on the promise that he would marry Margaret. However, soon afterwards Margaret had accused Kiss of reneging on his promise. After receiving a letter from her daughter, Mrs. Toth went to confront Kiss and he told her that he merely wanted to postpone the wedding and that Margaret had become angry and travelled to America.
The reality was much different. It seemed that when Margaret Toth came to visit Kiss at his home, he forced her to write a letter to her mother, claiming that she was looking for another love interest in America because she could no bear the rejection by Kiss. Once she finished composing the letter, he strangled her and placed her body inside one of the metal drums. He then mailed the letter to her mother.
On 4 October 1916 there appeared a significant development in the case. Nagy received a message from a Serbian Hospital, where the doctors claimed there was a soldier by the name of Bela Kiss who had died of typhoid in 1915. Almost immediately it was followed by another message which said that Kiss was alive and a patient there. The hospital was under Hungarian occupation, and Nagy made his way there at the first opportunity. When he arrived the military commander told him, "I think we have your man".
The Detective Chief was overjoyed, but he did not arrive at the hospital until after dark. When he reached the ward where Kiss was recuperating they discovered that a dead man was lying in his bed, and it was not Bela Kiss. Impossibly, Kiss had somehow discovered he was about to be arrested and swapped his bed with another soldier and escaped. Nagy was now certain that his prey was still alive, and he made sure every police department in Hungary knew that Bela Kiss was a fugitive from justice.
Over the following years, the detectives working under Nagy soon began to receive tips from all over the country concerning Bela Kiss. Someone claimed they saw him walking down a street in Budapest in 1919. There was also numerous sightings from around the world. A Hungarian soldier said that Kiss had died of yellow fever in Turkey, whilst another claimed he had been imprisoned for burglary in Romania. In 1920 a member of the French Foreign Legion went to the police with his suspicions about a fellow legionnaire whom he suspected could be Kiss. He said the man, who went by the name Hoffman, would boast about how adept he was with a garrote. Hoffman was an alias often used by Kiss, and when the police went question the man, they discovered he had deserted without warning.
Several years later in 1932, Henry Oswald, a New York City homicide detective was certain he had seen Kiss walking out of the Times Square subway station. Oswald was known for his extraordinary ability to remember faces, and was nicknamed "Camera Eye", because of this unusual gift. However, due to the large crowds in Times Square he was unable to pursue the suspect. Kiss would have been in his 60's by that time and many people came to believe that he was living in New York.
The rumours persisted, and in 1936, word had reached investigators that Kiss was working as an apartment building janitor. But when police went to the building to speak with the man, they found he had disappeared and left no information on his whereabouts. Despite his escape from justice, no other murders have ever been attributed to Bela Kiss, and none of the sightings of him were ever confirmed. In the years since his disappearance there haven been unconfirmed reports that the bodies found at his home displayed puncture wounds to the necks and were drained of blood. This has led some to believe that Bela Kiss was a vampire. If the Monster of Cinkota did continue his murderous ways, then he was never linked to any other murders and no trace of this mysterious serial killer has ever been found.
Written by Nucleus
Written by Nucleus