"The Angel Makers of Nagyrév" were a group
of women living in the village of Nagyrév, Hungary who between 1914
and 1929 poisoned to death an estimated 300 people (however, Béla Bodó
puts the number of victims at 45-50). They were supplied arsenic and
encouraged to use it for the purpose by a midwife or "wise woman"
named Júlia Fazekas and her accomplice Susi Oláh
(Zsuzsanna Oláh). Their story is the subject of the documentary film
The Angelmakers and the movie Hukkle.
Fazekas was a middle-aged midwife who arrived in
Nagyrév in 1911, with her husband already missing without explanation.
Between 1911 and 1921 she was imprisoned 10 times for performing
illegal abortions, but was consistently acquitted by judges supporting
In Hungarian society at that time, the future
husband of a teenage bride was selected by her family and she was
forced to accept her parents' choice. Divorce was not allowed
socially, even if the husband was an alcoholic or abusive. During
World War I, when able-bodied men were sent to fight for
Austria-Hungary, rural Nagyrév was an ideal location for holding
Allied prisoners of war. With the limited freedom of POWs about the
village, the women living there often had one or more foreign lovers
while their husbands were away. When the men returned, many of them
rejected their wives' affairs and wished to return to their previous
way of life, creating a volatile situation. At this time Fazekas began
secretly persuading women who wished to escape this situation to
poison their husbands using arsenic made by boiling flypaper and
skimming off the lethal residue.
After the initial killing of their husbands, some
of the women went on to poison parents who had become a burden to
them, or to get hold of their inheritance. Others poisoned their
lovers, some even their sons; as the midwife allegedly told the
poisoners, "Why put up with them?".
The first poisoning in Nagyrév took place in 1911;
it was not the work of Fazekas. The deaths of other husbands,
children, and family members soon followed. The poisoning became a
fad, and by the mid 1920s, Nagyrév earned the nickname "the murder
district." There were an estimated 45-50 murders over the 18 years
that Fazekas lived in the district. She was the closest thing to a
doctor the village had and her cousin was the clerk who filed all the
death certificates, allowing the murders to go undetected.
Three conflicting accounts have been cited to
explain how the Angel Makers were eventually detected. In one, Mrs.
Szabó, one of the Angel Makers, was caught in the act by two visitors
who survived her poisoning attempts. She fingered a Mrs. Bukenoveski,
who named Fazekas. In another account, a medical student in a
neighboring town found high arsenic levels in a body that washed up on
the riverbank, leading to an investigation. However, according to Béla
Bodó, a Hungarian-American historian and author of the first scholarly
book on the subject, the murders were finally made public in 1929 when
an anonymous letter to the editor of a small local newspaper accused
women from the Tiszazug region of the country of poisoning family
members. The authorities exhumed dozens of corpses from the local
cemetery. 34 women and one man were indicted.
Afterwards, 26 of the Angel Makers were tried,
among them Susi Oláh. Eight were sentenced to death but only two were
executed. Another 12 received prison sentences.
Murder by Proxy
By Katherine Ramsland - Trutv.com
Nagyrev is a farming village on the River Tisza in
Hungary, about 60 miles southeast of Budapest, near another town
called Tiszakurt. For a time, a community of killers flourished in
these two places... thanks to the midwives. Known as the "wise women",
they inspired and assisted in the murders of an estimated 300 people
over a span of 15 years.
It started during World War I, and since there was
no hospital in Nagyrev, the prominent midwife, Julius Fazekas, took
care of people's medical needs. She'd only been in town for three
years, but in that time had gained a reputation for helping women get
rid of unwanted babies. Her cohort in crime, reputed to be a witch,
was Susanna Olah, a.k.a., "Auntie Susi."
Most of the men had gone to war in 1914, but soon
there were other men around — the Allied prisoners of war in camps
outside town. They apparently had limited freedoms, because a number
of women got involved with these men, and when spouses returned, the
wives were unhappy. They'd gotten used to their sexual freedom, it
seems, and did not wish to have it curtailed. Talk got back to the
midwives about the general discontent. Apparently they saw a way to
Fazekas and Olah began boiling arsenic off strips
of flypaper to sell to these women. They dispensed poison to whoever
wanted it, and there were plenty of takers. It's estimated that around
50 poisoners went into action, calling themselves "The Angel Makers of
Nagyrev," and because of the high death rate, the area eventually
became known as "The Murder District."
In fact, some women decided to be rid of more than
just an inconvenient spouse and began to poison other annoying
relatives and even their own children. Occasionally they poisoned one
another. Marie Kardos murdered her husband, her lover, and her
23-year-old son. Just before he died, she got him to sing for
her. Knowing he was poisoned, she listened to his sweet voice. In the
midst of his song, he clutched his stomach and was soon dead. Giving
testimony years later, she seemed to think this event rather
delightful. Maria Varga killed seven members of her family,
considering the death of her husband in particular a Christmas present
Because Fazekas' cousin filed the death
certificates, when officials poked their noses in to check on the
sudden rise in the death rate, she showed them that everything was in
order. This one was a drowning (a poisoned woman tossed in the river),
and that one was an illness. There were no doctors around to make
examinations, so who was to say differently?
The first death was Peter Hegedus in 1914, and by
some accounts, the poisonings stopped in 1929 only after a medical
student from another town found high levels of arsenic in a body
washed up on the riverbanks. This event inspired officials to exhume
two other bodies in the Nagyrev cemetery, and finding poison, arrested
By another account, the killings stopped because
one woman, Mrs. Szabo, who was acting as a nurse, got caught poisoning
a man's wine. Then another patient complained of the same thing. Under
questioning, Szabo implicated a friend, who admitted that she'd
poisoned her mother. She also told on the midwife, and Fazekas was
brought in for questioning.
She denied it and said they could prove
nothing. However, the authorities set a trap. They let her go and she
went about warning her customers that their game was over. Her arsenic
factory was closing down, and no one had better tell. However, as she
went from house to house, she all but pointed out to the police who
the poisoners were.
That day, they made 38 arrests, with more to
follow, and 26 women actually went to trial. Eight received the death
sentence, seven got life, and the others spent some time in jail.
Among those who died was "Auntie Susi," because it was she who had
gone about town distributing the poison to various customers. Her
sister was also sentenced to death. One account says that Fazekas was
one of those hanged, but another describes her suicide by poison in
her own home, surrounded by pots of boiled flypaper. At any rate, the
woman who'd come in to offer her "medical" services had inspired a
shocking murder spree, and the final tally will never be known.
Authorities considered that theses women had been
gripped by madness for 15 years, brought on by their promiscuity. They
were at a loss to otherwise explain it.
Yet this isn't the only place where female
caretakers have teamed up to kill people.
Unearthing Hungary husband murders
By Jim Fish - BBC News
March 29, 2004
A two-hour drive south-east of Budapest, the village of Nagyrev is
like countless others dotted across the Danubian plain.
Modest single-storey homes line its few muddy
streets. But beneath its pastoral exterior, Nagyrev nurses a dark
Nearly a century ago, with Worl War I raging, the
womenfolk here began to poison their husbands.
Now aged 83, Maria Gunya was a little girl when her
father, a local official, was asked by the police to help investigate
a series of unexplained deaths in the village.
It turned out that the woman behind many of the
deaths was the village midwife, Zsuzsanna Fazekas. At that time, under
the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there was no resident doctor or health
The midwife enjoyed a monopoly of basic medical
"The women used to come to Mrs Fazekas with their
problems," Mrs Gunya recalls.
She said that when they complained about their
drunken or violent husbands, Mrs Fazekas told them: "If there's a
problem with him, I have a simple solution".
That solution was arsenic, distilled by the midwife
by soaking flypaper in water.
Over the years, with the village cemetery filling
up, police suspicions grew. They started to exhume bodies.
Out of 50 bodies examined, 46 contained arsenic.
Fingers pointed towards the midwife.
Mrs Fazekas lived in a typical single-storey house
in the village, with a view from her covered porch down the full
length of the street. It was here that she developed her murderous
skills into a cottage industry of death. She saw the police coming.
Maria Gunya takes up the story: "When she saw the
gendarmes approaching, she realised that it was all over for her. By
the time they reached the house, she was already dead - she took some
of her own poison."
Ultimately, the woman who had held the power of
life and death over the village could not bear to give it up to
But the midwife was far from the only culprit. At
the nearby county seat of Szolnok, from 1929 onwards, 26 women stood
trial. Eight received the death sentence, the rest went to prison,
seven of them for life. Few admitted guilt, and their motives were
never fully explained.
At the town archives, Doctor Geza Cseh has become
used to pulling out the dusty court records of the trial for visitors
to pore over.
"I'm sure there are still secrets to be unearthed,
here or elsewhere," he said.
There are hundreds of yellowing pages, all
painstakingly transcribed by hand, and some remarkable fading photos
of the accused women, staring impassively at the camera.
As for their motives, theories abound. Poverty,
greed and boredom are just a few. Some reports say that the women had
taken lovers from among the Russian prisoners of war drafted in to
work the farms in the absence of their menfolk at the front.
When the husbands returned, the women resented
their sudden loss of freedom, and, one by one, decided to act.
In the 1950s, historian Ferenc Gyorgyev met an old
villager while in prison under the communists. The peasant claimed
that the women of Nagyrev "had been murdering their menfolk since time
Perhaps they were not the only ones. In the nearby
town of Tiszakurt, other exhumed bodies were found to contain arsenic,
but no-one was convicted of their deaths.
The total death toll in the area may, according to
some estimates, have been as high as 300.
The years have erased most of the painful memories
from Nagyrev. Its name no longer strikes fear among the men of the
And Maria Gunya points out wryly that after the
poisonings the men's behaviour to their wives "improved markedly".
Zsuzsi Fazekas, Hungarian Serial Killer Leader
of Serial Killers – 1929
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
Nov. 24, 1929
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
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.
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 nuzzled 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.
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
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.
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
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
Note: This article gives Fazekas’ first
name as Zsuzsi, while other sources give Susanna or Suzanne
How Wives Gained Power By Mass-Murder of
Husbands - Hungary 1929
How Wives Gained Power By Mass-Murder Of Husbands
Ghastly Widow-Making Syndicate Dealt on the Installment Plan and Cost
More Than 100 Lives Before Its Grisly Career Was Ended by Dramatic
Arrests in a Cemetery
Nov. 7, 1937
Olah was stewing fly-paper for her husband’s dinner. Certainly it was
an unusual dish – but then Susi’s purpose was unusual. Not wifely
love, but deep and bitter hate urged the young girl to her task. A
pretty creature of 18, she had been forced to marry an old and
So now she was preparing her
husband’s dinner – not to feed him, but to kill him.
And so, many long years ago, was sown, the seed of one – of the most
ghastly poison-massacres in history. A slaughter of over 100 men,
women and children – which is now recalled to mind by the recent death
in a Hungarian prison of one of the women involved in the horrible
mass murders in the villages of Nagyrev and Tiszakurt.
For Susi Olah succeeded in poisoning her old husband with arsenic,
soaked out of fly-paper. Not for a moment had this sinister girl
doubted she would succeed. Had she not, a few days before, tried out
this hell’s-brew on a pig? And had not the pig died? Assuredly. And in
just the same way would her husband die.
He did. And Susi Olah, who had committed the
“perfect crime,” had a technique with which she was to help many other
women make widows of themselves. She was to live to dominate two
villages as a feared autocrat. And she was to die in a manner
One day in October, 1929, the
police chief at Szolnok, Hungary, received an anonymous letter. It
told of a mysterious death, which was striking men down in the
villages of Szolnok and Tiszakurt.
The chief called
on two detectives, Bartok and Frieska.
probably written by a practical joker,” he said, “but you’d better
check on it.”
In Nagyrev, the two detectives went
first to the village inn. There were four men at the inn, and Bartok
and Frieska bought them wine, then discreetly questioned them.
Stark fear showed in the villagers’ eyes. They looked at each other.
Only one of them spoke.
“See the padre,” he mumbled.
“He’ll tell you.”
The local clergyman was as
frightened as everyone else seemed to be. He ushered the officers into
his study, pulled down the blinds and then said:
“Gentlemen, you have come none too soon. Here we live in the constant
shadow of death. For no apparent reason, healthy and robust men
suddenly sicken and die. This spring when Frau Szabo’s old father died
it was rumored that she and Susi Olah had poisoned him. I called on
Frau Szabo and questioned her. Of course she denied the rumor but
before I left she gave me a cup of tea. Within an hour I was violently
ill. A medical friend who was staying with me believed she had
The two detectives looked at each
other. Was the padre crazy?
“You see, gentlemen,” he
went on to explain, “in these villages we nave neither doctor nor
policeman. All death certificates are signed by our coroner, who
happens to be Susi Olah’s son-in-law.”
mused Bartok. “That’s the woman named in the letter to our chief.”
“You’ll find her a formidable opponent, gentlemen. And if she
discovers the rea for your visit you will be dead men. The
superstitious peasants are terrified of her. They believe she has
supernatural powers and as her official capacity as nurse and midwife
gives her access to every family, she dominates the entire district.”
“But why—” objected Bartok. ‘What’s behind it all?”
“I believe,” said the priest gravely, “that these murders were
originally caused by the grinding poverty of our unfortunate
peasantry. The aged, the crippled and unwanted children have sometimes
proved too heavy a burden for our poor. Then there were men who drank
and beat their wives. These men have gradually disappeared. And in
their place the women, under Susi Olah, have gained the upper hand.
“These villages, gentlemen, are utterly dominated by women. And the
men are all afraid for their lives!”
Frieska. “they needn’t be while we’re here.”
Dramatically – almost, it seemed, magically – the detective was given
the lie. For as they stepped out of the priest’s house the darkness
suddenly quivered with a terrible howl of anguish.
Drawing their guns, the two detectives ran towards the inn. Suddenly
Frieska tripped and sprawled to the ground.
fallen over the body of one of the four men with whom they had talked
in the inn — the very man who had told them to visit the padre. This
man was the uncle of Frau Szabo, the woman whom the priest suspected
of trying to murder him.
The uncle had talked too
much! And, to punish him and warn the rest, the poisoner had shown the
audacity to strike him down almost under the very noses of
investigating police. True, the death certificate said the man had
died of alcoholism – but the detectives, though they said nothing,
knew better. By now they were completely convinced that murder indeed
was stalking those two quiet little villages.
Detective Frieska decided on a bold move.
head of a body of police, he marched to Frau Szabo’s house.
Thunderously, he accused her of murdering her uncle. Taken unawares,
the woman broke down and confessed not only to this but to the murder
of her father as well She named Susi Olah and several other women as
man-slayers. As a result she, Susi Olah and six others were arrested
and taken to Ezolnok for questioning.
Szabo calmly retracted her confession. She had been bullied into
making it, she said. What evidence had the police other than the false
admissions that a poor frightened old woman had been forced to make?
Bartok and Frieska scratched their heads They had no further evidence
whatever. A search of the houses of all the women concerned revealed
So Susi Olah and all the other
women – except Frau Szabo – were released.
And Susi played right into the hands of the police.
On the night of her return to Nagyrev, she stole out of her house –
apparently unaware that detectives were hidden all around. From one
neighbor’s house to another she went – to warn her associates not to
talk to the police. And Bartok calmly noted the name of each family
He felt certain that now he had a list
of women involved in the poisonings. Now, he decided, was the time to
start digging up the Nagyrev graveyard – exhuming the bodies of all
men who had died during recent years. If he could find traces of
poison in the remains, his case would be complete.
And so that very night Bartok went to the graveyard to look it over.
And there he received a shock.
sleuth approached through the darkness quietly, and without showing a
light. But there was a dim light in the graveyard. It gleamed on
polished tombstone, and on the heads of a huddled group of women.
Bartok slunk behind a massive headstone, and watched. Nearer he dared
not approach and so he couldn’t overhear the muttered conversation of
these crouching, beshawled crones. There were thirteen women in that
graveyard, and when a beam of light fell upon her witch’s face, Bartok
recognized the sinister Susi Olah as the ringleader. Apparently her
visits had been to summon this meeting – and after returning home she
had crept out again herself.
Surely, Bartok thought,
these women can’t intend to dig up the bodies themselves, and thus
forestall police action? It would be a terrific task.
Then Susi Olah picked up a spade. She stuck it into the turf, and
began to pry up a small headstone.
headstone came loose, four of those huddled figures gripped it in
their gnarled hands and moved it away—to another grave.
Puzzled, Bartok watched while the headstone from this second grave was
removed, and lugged back to the first grave.
then, in a flash, Bartok realized what they were up to. They were not
digging up the bodies of poisoned victims. Their plan was far subtler
and easier to execute than that.
They were shuffling
up the headstones!
If Bartok hadn’t caught them at
it, he would have been utterly baffled, when toxicologists later
analyzed the remains found in the graves. For, of course, the thirteen
witches were putting the headstones of their victims and placing them
upon graves containing: the bodies of men who had died naturally.
Consequently the police scientists, when they came to examine the
bodies, would find no traces of poison whatever.
Thanks to Susi Olah’s scheme the investigation, instead of convicting
the poisoners, would give them an absolutely clean bill of health! And
if Bartok hadn’t happened to visit the graveyard that night, Susi
would have got away with it.
But Bartok was there.
Revolver in hand, his police whistle at his lips, the detective leaped
out from behind the stone. A shrill blast of the whistle split the
night, frightening the women into immobility, wakening the village,
summoning the other police officers. And Bartok’s gun kept them
standing there, huddled together with their shawls over their heads,
until help came to arrest them.
Next day the
grave-digger and ten grim men of the village set to work in the grisly
task of bringing back their dead friends from the grave, in order that
their mute and tragic testimony might serve to protect the living from
a like fate.
The receiving vault of the cemetery was
turned into a temporary morgue. There doctors and laboratory
technicians from Szolnok worked far into the night testing the bodies
for traces of arsenic.
There seemed to be no end to
that horrid procession of bodies. And – each one contained arsenic,
including the corpse of a little child. In the coffin of one of Susi
Olah’s husbands (she had had two, and both had died mysteriously) a
bottle of thick syrup was found. It contained a deadly poison.
More than 100 bodies contained arsenic!
As a result
of these horrible discoveries, 80 widows and two men were arrested.
Five were hanged, ten went to jail for life. And Susi Olah cheated the
gallows by taking some of her own “medicine.” One of her principal
assistants, another was named Balint Czordas, hanged herself with a
rope of bedding.
But before she killed herself, Susi
confessed. Her first murder, back in 1911, had been to rid herself of
her unpleasant old husband. Later, while coming into contact with her
neighbor women as midwife and nurse, it occurred to her that there
were many women who were fed up with their current husbands. So she
began to sell poison, with careful directions how it should be used.
She accepted her money in three equal payments—120 penges (about $20)
down, another $20 after the funeral and a third payment when the
estate was settled. But not always did Susi murder for money. There
was her second husband, for example – a handsome Don Juan who carried
on with the younger and prettier women of the village. Susi stood that
for a very little while. Then, gleefully, she slipped him a dose of
“medicine” that effectively removed such ideas – and all other ideas –
from his mind forever.
HUNGARY, for some strange
reason, seems to have occasional epidemics of husband slaying. Similar
to Susi’s profitable murder-business was the brisk trade in death done
by a 70- year-old widow Juliana Janos Nagy, native of the little
village of Csokmo in the Hungarian lowlands. In 1935 she was hanged
for murdering twenty husbands. She had started by poisoning her own
husband’s first wife so she could marry him. Then she poisoned him,
and also their five children, one by one, so that she would inherit
all the dead man’s estate.
Then there was “Smoking
Peter,” a big, man-hating woman who disguised herself as a man. She
taught disgruntled wives how to make their husbands helpless by a
peculiar tap on the back of the head then how to hang them up by the
neck, to make it appear suicide. But when one extra-husky and zealous
wife fractured her husband’s skull with the peculiar tap, the coroner
investigated. “Smoking Peter” went to the rope she had uncoiled for
many a husband; two widows were sentenced to life imprisonment and the
rest to various shorter terms.”
But none of these
lesser man-slayers even approached Susi Olah in the magnitude of her
businesslike, large-scale widow-making – which entitles her to go down
in history as the only murderer to ever peddle death on the
100 Husband Poisoners Trapped Tell-Tale Finger Nails
How an Unfailing Microscopic Test Led to Wholesale Arrests of Much
Surprised Widows Charged With Getting Rid of Husbands They Didn’t Want
Feb. 9, 1930
Budapest: A little knowledge of chemistry -
recently unlocked the secret to one of the most atrocious and
astounding wholesale murder plots of modern times.
It revealed for the first time how 100 unwanted husbands, in the
little Hungarian village of Nagyrev, not far from here, have been
fatally poisoned by their own wives.
murder-crazed wives fed their husbands a solution containing arsenic,
dissolved from flypaper. The sudden deaths of men of rugged health
caused no suspicion, chiefly because of the lack of proper medical
But one day a strange, fantastic rumor
reached the authorities. Their investigation resulted in the bodies of
several of the husbands being removed from their graves. Even then the
murderous wives felt safe. The bodies had been buried so long that the
flesh had disappeared and they believed that traces of the arsenic
solution would not be found.
The poison was
discovered, however, another baby would be reported dead by a simple
test. For arsenic can be found on the finger nails of those who die
from its poisonous influence!
Thus began a series of
wholesale arrests of many widows of Nagyrev. And out of the hitherto
peaceful village came a story of sinister proportions seldom equaled
in the criminal history of the world. It was unfolded in the Szolnok
courthouse and the penalties imposed upon the 100 wives ranged from
hanging to at least fifteen years in prison.
a story of post-war greed for land, of family intrigues of a strange
called Mrs. Suzanne Fazekas, who moved through the village like a
veritable she-devil. According to the court testimony, it was she,
who, for years, had instigated murder, by selling the flypaper poison
solution to wives who wanted to get rid of their husbands. And, in the
end, just as she was about to be arrested, she swallowed a big dose of
the fatal poison herself and died.
Perhaps the most
striking explanation of the fiendish blight that had fallen upon the
village was given during one of the trials by the attorney for the
defense, Dr. J. Viragy. After picturing the smiling villages of
Hungary in the long dead post-war days, he said:
“Nagyrev was Eden then. Then the war came, the peace came; poverty
followed. Instead of plenty there was bareness, instead of joy –
despair. No priest ever visited them, no doctor came to cure their
sick. In Nagyrev – where most people could not read or write –
desperation was breeding greed.”
“And then comes
into their midst the spirit of evil, re-born in Suzanne Fazekas – an
unlicensed village doctor, but known far and wide as the ‘white
Devil.’ She tempted them, as perhaps no women have ever been tempted.”
Suzanne Fazekas was, indeed, respected everywhere in the village by
the dumb, red-cheeked peasants. She was a good doctor, an expert in
the sickroom. They spoke of her, in that superstitious village, as a
wise woman. It was the practice of many parents in the little village
to have only one child – so that the land would not be divided after
their death. Often, when an additional baby was born Mrs. Fazekas was
called in. Soon after another baby would be reported dead.
Mrs. Fazekas’ first husband, died after a short illness, but she did
not mourn him for a long time. She married Fazekas, a well-to-do
peasant, who owned a house and. several acres of land. Less than two
years later he contracted a mysterious “disease” and died, leaving her
his little fortune.
There were many women in the
village who envied the Widow Fazekas. She now owned her own property,
and had no husband to bother her or dictate to her. There was one
woman, whose disabled husband was a burden on her shoulders; another,
whose husband came home from the war blind, while she had to care for
the small farm; another, whose husband could not work; another, who
liked to have a good time, but could not because of her husband’s
objections. And another – and another – and another.
She showed the women how to soak the poisonous paper in water – she
sold them the arsenic-imbued liquid, half a tumblerful of which would
suffice to kill five horses – or an unfortunate, trusting husband, or
brother. If a doctor were called in from a neighboring town, and he
prescribed any medicine, the best thing to do was to pour the fly-tox
arsenic into it. Whose fault if the prescription didn’t agree with the
patient and he died half an hour after taking it or maybe several days
But the doctors seldom came. Like many other parts
of Hungary since the war, this area has been poverty stricken, and has
practiced the strictest economy in government and private endeavors.
Proper medical supervision was impossible, and the few, overworked,
underpaid doctors seldom visited Nagyrev. They thought that Suzanne
Fazekas was competent enough to attend to the medical needs of the
And thus it was that year after year
more mysterious deaths of more robust husbands were reported. For
twenty years this horrible nightmare continued. The ignorant,
hard-hearted, greedy peasant women were the tools of Suzanne Fazekas,
and paid her in land, in money and in grain.
grew lip an almost incredible widow-making syndicate. The men of die
village trembled when robust friends they knew so well, suddenly died.
But they did not understand. They did not understand, perhaps, until
the last few moments of life, when, writhing in agony, the awful
realization of what had happened dawned upon them, and they saw the
fiendish glitter in the eyes of their wives.
the secret remained. The authorities did not suspect. There was not
even a rumor to disturb the merry widows of Nagyrev. Then one day the
ten-yearly census was taken in Hungary. The authorities, examining the
statistics, were struck by the fact that at Nagyrev, where in 1919 the
population was 3,700, the birth-rate exceeded the death rate by only
36, instead of at least 340, as it should have been on the usual
An investigation was started. It revealed the
sudden deaths of young and middle-aged men in good health. The causes
of their illnesses were vaguely explained.
Fazekas was arrested. She denied knowing anything extraordinary about
the deaths of the husbands. When she was allowed to go home free,
under the impression that she had outwitted the authorities. Meanwhile
her me was searched. In the attic was found a large supply of the
arsenic fly-paper. Neatly arranged, on shelves were bottles filled
with water, in which the flypaper was soaking. Other bottles contained
the arsenic-saturated solution from which the been removed.
The moment Mrs. Fazekas returned from Budapest to Nagyrev she was
followed, though she did not know it. Detectives observed that she
made hasty visits to many women in the village. They heard words of
warning to the merry – but now rather startled – widows.
Hoping to steal a march on the widows, the authorities went to the
village cemetery. Grave diggers were put to work to disinter several
bodies of men who had died mysteriously, so that they might be
But they found some of the widows had been
ahead of them. They had visited the cemetery and changed around the
tombstones to confuse the authorities. The latter, however, succeeded
in removing the bodies of some of the poisoned husbands.
The widows went to Suzanne Fazekas in fear. But she assured them that
arsenic, in solution, could not be traced in a disintegrated body. But
the authorities, meanwhile, had learned about a telltale finger nail
test. They looked for dark splotches under the finger nails which
conclusively proved the presence of arsenic poisoning.
With this evidence they went first to the home of Suzanne Fazekas. She
saw them come in. She looked wildly about her for a chance to escape.
There was none. But on the table was a bottle containing the arsenic
solution – intended for another unwanted husband. The “wise woman” of
Nagyrev seized it and poured part of the contents down her throat.
Then from her came a wild scream. Her death was as agonizing as those
of her victims.
After that the authorities checked
up on additional rumors, on records strangely kept in Suzanne’s room
and within a short time 100 widows were arrested – charged with
murdering their husbands! Some of them were even accused of poisoning
their fathers and brothers.
With the word of
Suzanne’s suicide the other widows became panic stricken. Four of them
committed suicide in jail while awaiting trial of the first batch of
prisoners brought to trial one was sentenced to death and four to life
imprisonment. All were ordered to pay the costs of the prosecution,
with the result that the little cottages, the small patches of land,
which were their incentives to commit murder, were sold.
This was not the first time, however, that a nightmarish orgy of
murders, instigated by women, has descended upon the peasants of
Hungary. The nation has known cases similar in every detail; the same
horror, inhuman purpose and indifferent disregard for human life.
So it is not entirely surprising that these horrible tales should have
fired a spark in the distorted mind of Suzanne Fazekas. Where she came
from, when first she entered Nagyrev twenty years ago, no one knew.
She appeared to have many high recommendations from physicians and,
because of the inaccessibility of the village, authorities were glad
there was someone to minister to the need? of the populace.
With the passing of the wise woman and the arrests
of the murderers, peace is settling once more upon the village of
Nagyrev. The peasants gather in clusters in the dusk and speak with
awe of the “White Devil,” and of the “she-devils,” for they are
superstitious and many of them fear the Evil Eye.
They say now that an evil, spread over twenty years, at last has been
banished. And they are happy, like children are in the broad daylight,
when they, think back on some fantastic nightmare.
Many Husbands Poison Victims
Scores of Women in Hungary Accused of Murder of Spouses
Nov. 11, 1929
Budapest.—Further details of the wholesale poisoning of husbands In
the Hungarian province of Satolnok, on the Theiss, 54 miles southeast
of here, are causing a sensation.
In this country.
More than fifty exhumations in Nagyren and Tiszakurt and neighboring
villages have brought the number of husbands known to have been
poisoned to death up to an even hundred, while scores of widows have
been arrested charged with murder, or held as suspects, until the
causes of the demise of their husbands can be Investigated.
So far the police have traced these murders back over a period of 15
years – and suspect several of an earlier date. According to the
national police. It has been proved that in the winter of 1914-15,
after all able-bodied men had departed for the World war, some of
their wives, being lonely, begun to go about with young men below
military age, and, first in jest and then seriously, organized a “war
widow cult,” which devised means to get rid of the husbands who
returned from the war.
Used Toadstools, Rat
The “cult” has been talked about jokingly
ever since the war, until three of the second husbands riled
mysterious deaths and a fourth, feeling that he had been poisoned,
told the police.
They received his information with
incredulity, but an investigation was started, and recently the first
arrests were made, confessions of some were recorded, and the series
of exhumations began. According to the confessions the principal
poisons used were toadstools served as mushrooms, and rat poison
The founders of the “cult,”
according to the police, are three widows who disposed of their
husbands In 1918, although before the existence of the organization
other husbands had died from poison, as their exhumed bodies revealed.
Apparently envious of the facility of the trio in exchanging old mates
for new, other women from time to time followed their example with
great success. Only when the alarming percentage of deaths among
supposedly healthy land owners of the province of Szolnok became the
subject of general gossip did the police step in.
98 Women Arrested
official investigation quickly spread from Tiszakurt and Nagyren to
Nagy-Nev and Ujecske. Of the 98 women arrested the evidence resulting
from exhumations is overwhelming against 51. These and the remainder
under suspicion have been transferred to the prison at Szolnok,
capital of the province, lest the men in the region storm the village
jail to revenge their brothers and friends who have been done to
“In the present instance,” the police report
says, “gossip at Tizakurt pointed it finger to two midwives, Mmes.
Fazekas and Papal who in the last ten years were reported to have
amassed sizable fortunes; gossip also said they were addicted to
blackmail, and whenever in need of cash knew how to raise a hundred of
pengoes from widows and others.”
The two midwives
fled before the police could arrest them and hanged themselves from
the rafers of a kitchen in a house where they sought asylum.
Midwives Offer Services
From the accusations
which followed these dramatic deaths, which also amounted to
confessions in the ease of almost every person who made them, the
police learned that the two women, as early as 1911 had visited
various households where the husbands were either blind, in their
dotage or otherwise troublesome, and offered their services. One of
the accused widows, who has been more frequently blackmailed by the
pair, made use of them an seven occasions.
mental attitude of the wives of Szolnok is thus analyzed by Father
Laszlo Toth, pastor of Tiszakurt, the whole community of which is
“The peasants hereabouts are mean and
grasping, and think only of money and comfort. All the women, who
somehow seem stronger than the men, are married two or three times.
Spiritually they have no existence, nor yearning for spirituality. My
church is empty although I must admit that among the accused are
several of my few faithful – women who have been active in all kinds
of parish work.”