(1877 – ?) was a Hungarian serial killer. He is thought
to have murdered at least 24 young women and attempted
to pickle them in giant metal drums that he kept on his
property. In Hungarian "Kiss" means "Little".
Béla Kiss was a tinsmith who had
lived in Cinkota (nowadays part of Budapest), Hungary
since 1900. His neighbors considered him a pleasant man
to live with. Kiss was an amateur astrologer and
allegedly fond of other occult practices. In 1912 Kiss
hired a housekeeper, begun to correspond with a number
of attractive women and sometimes took them to his home
in Cinkota. However, his housekeeper Mrs Jakubec, never
really got to know any of them.
Townsfolk also noticed that Kiss had
collected a number of metal drums. Kiss had told the
town police who questioned him that he filled them with
gasoline in order to prepare for the rationing of the
oncoming war. When World War I began, he was conscripted
and left his house in the care of Mrs Jakubec.
In July 1916, Budapest police
received a call from a Cinkota landlord who had found
seven large metal drums. The town constable had
remembered Kiss' stockpile of gasoline, and led needy
soldiers to them. Upon attempting to open the drums, a
suspicious odour was noted. Detective Chief Charles Nagy
took over the investigation and opened one of the drums,
against the protests of Mrs Jakubec. There they
discovered the body of a strangled woman. The other
drums yielded similarly gruesome content. A search of
Kiss's house resulted in a total of 24 bodies.
Nagy informed the military that they
should arrest Béla Kiss immediately, if he was still
alive - there was also a possibility that he was a
prisoner of war. The name, unfortunately, was very
common (Kiss means Little in Hungarian). Nagy also
arrested the housekeeper Jakubec and asked the postal
service to hold any possible letters to Kiss, in case he
had an accomplice that could warn him. Nagy initially
suspected that Jakubec might have had something to do
with the murders, especially when Kiss had left her
money in his will.
Jakubec assured police that she knew
absolutely nothing about the murders. She showed them a
secret room Kiss had told her never to enter. The room
was filled with bookcases but also had a desk that held
a number of letters, Kiss' correspondence with 74 women
and a photo album. Many of the books were about poisons
From the letters Nagy discerned
several things. The oldest of the letters were from 1903
and it became clear that Kiss was defrauding the women
who had been looking for marriage. He had placed ads in
the marriage columns of several newspapers and had
selected mainly women who had no relatives living nearby
and knew no one who would quickly notice their
disappearance. He wooed them and convinced them to send
him money. If they proved troublesome for him, he killed
Police also found old court records
that indicated that two of his victims had initiated
court proceedings because he had taken money from them.
Both women had disappeared and the case had been
On October 4th, 1916 Nagy received a
letter that stated that Kiss was recuperating in a
Serbian hospital. Nagy arrived too late — Kiss had fled
and substituted a dead body of another soldier in his
bed. Nagy alerted all the Hungarian police.
Unfortunately, all the sightings police could check
proved to be wrong.
On several later occasions,
speculation arose that Béla Kiss had perhaps faked his
death by exchanging identities with a dead soldier
during the war. He was supposedly sighted numerous times
in following years and there were various rumors about
his fate, including that he had been imprisoned for
burglary in Romania or he had died of yellow fever in
In 1920 a soldier in the French
Foreign Legion reported on another legionnaire named
Hoffman (the name Kiss had used in some letters) who had
boasted how good he was at using a garrote, and who fit
Kiss' description. "Hoffman" deserted before police
could reach him.
In 1932, homicide detective Henry
Oswald was certain he had seen Kiss coming out of Times
Square Subway in New York City. There were also rumors
that Kiss was living in the city and working as a
janitor but they could not be verified.
The fate of Béla Kiss remains unknown.
Possible Appearance in Popular Culture
The story of Kiss has never been used
under his character's name in any American film of any
note. However the incident from 1932 involving detective
Henry Oswald has appeared (with one or two significant
changes) in a "B feature" starring Basil Rathbone. In
the film The Mad Doctor from 1940. Rathbone plays a
middle European doctor who marries and murders wealthy
women, with the assistance of his friend (perhaps lover)
Martin Kosleck. Having moved to New York City, Rathbone
is continuing his operations here when he runs into a
suspicious elderly man played by Ralph Morgan. Morgan
finds (at the 42nd Street Public Library) the proof that
would identify Rathbone with his earlier European
killings. Rathbone and Kosleck follow Morgan into a
subway station and (while Kosleck opens up a large
newspaper to keep possible onlookers from viewing the
scene) Rathbone confronts Morgan and throws him into the
tracks as a train enters the station. At this point
Rathbone and Kosleck both quietly exit by a staircase,
when Kosleck is called by his name and sees a familiar
face from Europe. They are chatting, while Rathbone
leaves the area, and then Kosleck realizes that the man
who stopped him was a police detective in Europe and has
become one in New York City now. Kosleck panics and
starts running, and the officer (noting the confusion
from what happened in the station) shoots and kills him.
Not exactly what detective Oswald had a chance to do to
Kiss, but an interesting variant on the event.
A family man and amateur astrologer, Hungarian Bela
Kiss began his career as a serial murderer relatively late in life. In
February 1912, at forty years of age, Kiss moved to the village of
Czinkota with his wife Marie, some fifteen years his junior. Within a
matter of weeks, Marie had found herself a lover, one Paul Bikari, and
in December 1912, Kiss sadly told his neighbors that the couple had run
off together, leaving him alone. In place of his wife, Kiss hired an
elderly housekeeper. She, in turn, learned to ignore the parade of women
who came to spend time with Czinkota's newly-eligible bachelor.
Around this same time, Kiss began collecting large
metal drums, informing the curious village constable that they were
filled with gasoline, expected to be scarce with the approach of war in
Europe. Budapest authorities, meanwhile, were seeking information on the
disappearance of two widows, named Schmeidak and Varga, who had not made
contact with their friends or relatives for several weeks. Both women
had been last seen in the company of a man named Hoffmann, dwelling near
the Margaret Bridge in Budapest, but he had also disappeared without a
trace. Czinkota's constable was generally aware of the investigation,
but he saw no reason to connect Herr Hoffmann with the quiet, unassuming
Bela Kiss. In November 1914, Kiss was drafted into military service,
leaving for the front as soon as he was sworn into the ranks and issued
gear. Another eighteen months would pass before officials in Czinkota
were informed that Kiss had died in combat, one more grim statistic for
the casualty rosters in that bloody spring of 1916. He was forgotten by
the townsfolk until June, when soldiers visited Czinkota in a search for
stockpiled gasoline. The village constable remembered Kiss, his cache of
metal drums, and led a squad of soldiers to the dead man's home. Inside
the house, the searchers turned up seven drums... but they contained no
gasoline. Instead, each drum contained the naked body of a woman,
strangled and preserved in alcohol. The drawers of Kiss's bureau
overflowed with cards and letters from women responding to newspaper
advertisements, purchased by Kiss in the name of Hoffmann, a self-described
"lonely widower seeking female companionship." Czinkota's
constable recalled that there had been more drums -- and many more, at
that. A search of the surrounding countryside revealed another seventeen,
each with a pickled corpse inside. Authorities from Budapest identified
the missing widows, and Marie Kiss occupied another drum; her lover,
Paul Bikari, was the only male among the twenty-four recovered victims.
Homicide detectives theorized that Bela Kiss had slain
his wife and her clandestine lover in a jealous rage, disposing of their
bodies in a fashion that -- he thought -- eliminated any possibility of
subsequent discovery. The crime apparently unleashed some hidden mania,
and Kiss had spent the next two years pursuing lonely women with a
passion, bilking several of their savings prior to strangling them and
sealing them inside of makeshift funeral vaults. It was a grisly case,
but Kiss had gone to face a higher court.
Or had he?
In the spring of 1919, Kiss was sighted on the
Margaret Bridge in Budapest, "Herr Hoffmann's" prewar stomping
grounds. Police investigation proved that Kiss had switched his papers
with a battlefield fatality, assuming the dead man's identity to make
good his escape. That knowledge brought detectives no closer to their
man, however, for Kiss had slipped the net again.
The futile search went on. In 1924, a deserter from
the French Foreign Legion told officers of the Surete about a fellow
legionnaire who entertained the troops with tales of his proficiency
with the garrote. The soldier's name was Hofman, and he matched
descriptions of Bela Kiss, but the lead was another dead end. By the
time Hungarian police were informed, Legionnaire "Hofman" had
also deserted, vanishing without a trace.
In 1932, a New York homicide detective, Henry Oswald,
was convinced that he had sighted Bela Kiss, emerging from the Times
Square subway station. Nicknamed "Camera Eye" by colleagues,
after his uncanny memory for faces, Oswald was unshakable in his belief
that Kiss -- who would have been approaching 70 -- was living somewhere
in New York. Unfortunately, Times Square crowds prevented Oswald from
pursuing Kiss, and he could only watch in helpless rage as his intended
In 1936, a rumor spread that Kiss was working as a
janitor, in some apartment buildings on Sixth Avenue. Again, he managed
to evade police, and there the trail grew cold. Whatever finally became
of Bela Kiss, if he was ever in New York at all, remains a mystery,
beyond solution with the passage of a full half-century. In Hungary, he
is remembered as the one who got away.
Bela Kiss was a pretty ordinary bloke. He lived in
Czinkota, Hungary with his wife, and seemed nothing but devoted to her.
This all ended in February 1912, when the bitch found herself a
boyfriend. She was practically fucking him, Paul Bikari, right under
poor Bela's nose. Since his wife was 15 years younger than himself, it's
safe to assume she never married him for love anyway. Well it seems Bela
didn't like the fact she was screwing around, and some time around
December 1912, she disappeared along with her boyfriend. Bela told the
neighbors that she had ran away with him, and most took pity on poor
It was not long after his wife's disappearance that
Kiss began collecting big metal drums. He told those that asked that
they were filled with gasoline. With a war coming petrol would be a
valuable commodity, so no one questioned why he needed so much.
Also around this time a few women had been reporting
missing in Budapest. The only clues the police had were that they had
been going to meet a man named Hoffmann. Police had trouble finding this
Hoffmann, and it seemed he had vanished. The Czinkota law enforcement
were well aware of the search for Hoffmann, but never for a moment
linked Kiss with him.
In November 1914, Bela Kiss was drafted into the army.
He was sent to the front to kill for his country. 18 months later Kiss
went missing, and was presumed dead. Word was sent back to his town that
he was dead.
In June 1916, the army came through Czinkota looking
for stockpiled gasoline. The local constable remembered Kiss telling him
about the contents of his drums and led the soldiers to the abandoned
house of the dead man. Once inside the house they located seven drums,
luckily for them, it seemed, all were full. But it was what they were
full of that was to shock.
Each of the drums contained a naked body of a woman.
All seven had been strangled, then place in the drums with alcohol,
preserving the bodies. When the soldiers searched Kiss's house they
found shitloads of letters and cards addressed to Mr. Hoffmann. It
seemed that Kiss had placed ads in papers, under the name Hoffmann,
wanting to meet with ladies. The ad read -
"lonely widower seeking female companionship."
The constable remembered that there were heaps more
drums the last time he had been to the house visiting Kiss, and a search
was organized. Over the next few days 17 more drums were found dumped
around the town. And each of these drums contained a nicely pickled
human. All were female except one, and not surprisingly that was the
body of Paul Bikari, the guy who had been shagging his wife. Also among
the pickled corpses was Kiss's wife and those that had gone missing
earlier, last seen going to meet Hoffmann. It was also discovered that
Kiss had duped some of the victims into giving him their savings.
Since Kiss had been killed in battle, the case was
closed on the 24 murders.
In the spring of 1919, Bela Kiss was seen walking
through his old hunting ground in Budapest. Once police began looking
into Bela Kiss's death, it was discovered that he had actually switched
identities with a man killed near him in battle, allowing him to start a
new life after the war, with no one knowing about any past crimes.
Unfortunately for police by the time they had figured out Kiss was still
alive he had vanished again.
In 1924 a member of the French Foreign Legion went to
police about a fellow legionnaire who continuously bragged about his
expertise with the garrote. The soldiers name was Hoffmann, and the
description fitted Bela Kiss perfectly. But once again luck was with
Kiss. By the time police decided to act Hoffmann had deserted, vanishing
without a trace.
In 1932 it was believed that Kiss was in New York. He
was apparently spotted by a cop leaving Times Square Station. The fact
that Bela Kiss would have been 60 at the time, and probably looking
quite different from the last description of him, led most to believe
that this siteing was bullshit.
In 1936 there was a strong rumour that Kiss was
working in New York as a janitor. This rumour finally made it's way to
police who went to check out the janitor, but, again, he had disappeared.
It's not known whether or not this guy was Kiss or not, but it doesn't
matter because he was never caught either way.
And since he was never caught we are left to wonder
about the exact number of lives he actually claimed. Obviously it's more
than the 24 they found, and since he evaded the police for such a long
time, it would be fair to assume that he didn't stop at 24.
The crimes of Bela Kiss
by Marilyn Bardsley and Denise Noe
The Tinsmith Cometh
In Hungary in the early 1900s, young Bela Kiss moved
into a house at 9 Kossuth Street that he rented on the outskirts of
Cinkota, a quiet little town just of outside of Budapest.
Kiss was a rather handsome man with blond hair and
remarkable, vibrant blue eyes. He earned his living as a tinsmith and
was 37 years old when he was called into the armed services in 1914.
Not only had Kiss taught himself his trade as a
tinsmith, but he was a voracious reader and was highly conversant on art,
literature and history. With no formal schooling at all, he was able to
discuss virtually any subject with the most intelligent and educated of
the town's people.
He struck his fellow villagers as an amiable and
hard-working fellow with a penchant for throwing parties at a local
hotel. He was known as a generous person. Everybody liked Bela Kiss and
he was considered by the women of the town to be its most eligible
Not particularly eager to marry quickly, Kiss hired
an elderly woman, Mrs. John Jakubec, as a housekeeper to perform the
domestic duties that a wife would normally do.
Cinkota had a limited choice of female companions, so
Kiss kept an apartment in Budapest and took out advertisements in
newspapers there. Women began corresponding with Kiss.
Town gossips noted that over the years a steady
stream of lovelies from Budapest spent short periods of time at Kiss's
home in Cinkota, but no one in the town, not even Mrs. Jakubec, was
introduced to these young women who came and went so quickly.
Reservoir of Rage
Dr. Charles Nagy, Detective Chief of the Budapest
Police, received an alarming call in July of 1916 from a landlord in
Cinkota who believed that he had discovered the evidence of a murder on
The landlord explained that a soldier named Bela Kiss
had rented the house he owned on Kossuth Street, but had let the lease
lapse and was rumored to be a prisoner of war or possibly even killed in
battle. The landlord had gone to the house to see what repairs were
needed before he put the house up for rent again.
Outside the house, he found several large metal drums.
When he punctured one of the drums, a nauseating smell overwhelmed him.
The chemist next door told him that it was the unmistakable smell of
human decomposition. The landlord begged Dr. Nagy to urgently
investigate. He could not rent out the house again until this matter was
Nagy grabbed two of his best detectives and sped to
the quiet little town of Cinkota. When they reached the house on Kossuth
Street, the landlord rushed to greet them. However, the aged Mrs.
Jakubec, who had promised to safeguard the belongings of her employer,
was furious and shouted at the policemen to leave her master's property
Nagy had one of the metal drums opened and confirmed
the landlord's worst suspicions. Inside was a sack and the preserved
body of a young woman with a full head of long dark-brown hair. Also
inside the metal drum was the rope with which she had been strangled.
The wood alcohol in the drum was the preservative.
Upon questioning, Mrs. Jakubec said that she had been
perplexed by the big metal canisters that Bela Kiss had brought to his
house before the war. People had begun to talk. He could be storing
illegal liquor in them, some had speculated. The Cinkota constable had
gone to have a chat with Kiss on the subject of the metal drums. Calmly
Kiss had reassured the constable that he was not keeping any illicit
liquor. War was on its way, he said, so he was stocking up on gasoline.
When the detectives examined the other six metal
drums, they found that each contained the body of a naked young woman.
All of the victims had been strangled.
After the detectives arranged for a mortician to
collect the victims found in the metal drums, they began a search of
Kiss's home and the grounds around it, finding even more bodies that had
been buried. Each victim, even those that had been buried, had been
preserved in alcohol. The bodies were still recognizable and could be
easily identified if they had some names with which to work.
The Secret Room
Faced with the biggest case of his career, Det. Chief
Charles Nagy took some immediate steps. First, he notified the military
that Bela Kiss, if he were still on the front, was to be arrested
immediately. Within an hour, the orders for the manhunt had reached the
army. Next, he detained and interrogated the terrified housekeeper. Then,
concerned that Kiss might have had an accomplice, he notified postal and
telegraph authorities in the surrounding area that they were to hold up
any messages destined for Bela Kiss. News of the gruesome discovery was
spreading rapidly throughout Cinkota and would soon hit the newspapers
in Budapest. Nagy wanted to be sure that any accomplice could not get a
warning to Kiss.
Several facts made the investigation even harder than
normal. Thousands of Hungarian soldiers were imprisoned and the army was
scattered and disorganized. Worse, the names Bela and Kiss were
extremely common Hungarian names. It was likely that there were many,
many men in the army named Bela Kiss.
Finally, Dr. Nagy focused on the identity of the
victims. The clues from the metal containers were very sparse. Nagy was
able to locate the embroidered initials K.V. on one piece of clothing
and what he thought was a faint M.T. on a handkerchief.
Inside the house that Mrs. Jakubec had kept
immaculate for two years, he found her sitting in the kitchen almost
paralyzed with fear. "Please, sir," she begged him, "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 showed Nagy and his detectives Bela Kiss's
bedroom which they thoroughly searched but found nothing of relevance to
the investigation. Nagy noticed another door that was locked.
"That is the secret room of Bela Kiss," she told Dr.
Nagy. "He told me never to enter it and never to let anyone in."
Mrs. Jakubec reached in her apron and pulled out an
old-fashioned key to open the locked door. Nagy noticed immediately
that the room was lined with bookcases filled with books. The only
furniture was a large desk and desk chair.
Inside the desk, Dr. Nagy found a huge volume of
correspondence between Kiss and various women. He also found an album
with photographs of more than a hundred ladies.
At this point, Dr. Nagy began to worry that the
victims might number more than the victims they had already uncovered.
Then Dr. Nagy went back to the hundreds of letters,
most of which were filed in some 74 packets so that mail from the same
woman was kept together. These women wrote to him after seeing his ad
in the newspapers. All wanted marriage. Later it was revealed that Kiss
had received 174 marriage proposals. To 74 of these women, he offered
marriage and kept up his correspondence with them.
Something else became quite clear as he read the many
letters. Bela Kiss was defrauding these women of their savings, in many
cases their entire financial resources. Some of the letters went back as
far as 1903.
Nagy took a break in his reading to examine the many
books in the room. He was amazed to see how many related to poisons and
methods of strangulation.
Nagy wondered how it was possible that Kiss could
correspond with so many women and bring many of them to his home with
nobody becoming suspicious about his intentions.
Surely someone had an inkling of what was going on.
An Amiable Young Man
Dr. Nagy began with Mrs. Jakubec. He stared at her as
she sat in the kitchen. Then suddenly she screamed at him. "I'm just a
simple old woman! Don't send me to prison!"
When Nagy calmed her down, she told him that she had
looked after Bela Kiss since 1900 when he came to Cinkota. "He was such
a good-looking boy of twenty-three. We were so fond of him. He was kind
to everyone; 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!"
She admitted seeing lots of different women who came
to visit Bela Kiss over the years, but she claimed that she did not know
their names. "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."
The more Nagy pressed her for details, the more
hysterical she became. "I am innocent!" she screamed at him.
Nagy pulled out a document from his pocket that he
had found in Bela Kiss's desk. "Do you see this?" He showed her Kiss's
will. "He leaves you a very substantial sum of money."
"I knew nothing of it," she insisted and began to cry.
Nagy and his colleagues questioned all of Kiss's
neighbors and everybody in the town who knew him. Everybody liked Bela
Kiss and didn't think it was particularly unusual for a handsome,
amiable bachelor to entertain a number of women. The married men of the
town envied him.
The Monster of Cinkota
Nagy contacted the police departments in every place
that he found a woman who had corresponded with Bela Kiss. Eventually,
he felt certain that he understood the technique that Kiss used to
safely snare his victims. As Nagy had guessed, Kiss did not write any
incriminating letters to his victims. Rather, he placed carefully worded
advertisements in newspaper matrimonial columns, always requiring
information about the woman's financial resources.
When a letter arrived from a not-too-distant woman,
Kiss would visit the prospective victim and lavish money and attention
on her. At that same time, he would inquire about her relatives. He
only concentrated on women who did not have close relatives nearby and
who would not be immediately missed if they disappeared.
Most of the letters that Kiss received after he had
initiated a relationship indicated that the woman had sent him money,
sometimes everything she had. If he thought there was any chance that
she would contact the police, he immediately arranged to eliminate her.
Eventually, Dr. Nagy traced the K.V. initials he had
found on a victim's clothing to Madame Katherine Varga, a good-looking,
young Budapest widow with considerable means. She had a very profitable
dressmaking business, which she sold when she went to be with her
prospective husband, Bela Kiss, in Cinkota.
When Katherine Varga disappeared, she had no
relatives who would miss her.
Then there was another breakthrough. Nagy had located
in Kiss's house some clothing with the name Julianne Paschak stitched in
it. One of Nagy's detectives had gone through old court records and
found that two women, Julianne Paschak and Elizabeth Komeromi had each
sued Bela Kiss for taking their money on the promise of marriage. The
suits lapsed when neither woman appeared in court and could not be found.
By that time, Nagy had enough evidence to prove that
Kiss had murdered 30 women, but there was still only one woman of the
seven victims in the metal containers that had been identified.
Then one day, two women came to visit Dr. Nagy: Mrs.
Stephen Toth and her daughter-in-law. Mrs. Toth told the detective about
her daughter Margaret, who had gone to Budapest to work. On one of her
visits, Margaret introduced her mother to Bela Kiss who persuaded the
mother to give him some money on the promise that he would marry
Margaret. But afterwards, Margaret accused Kiss of reneging on his
promise. When Mrs. Toth went to Cinkota to confront Kiss, he claimed
that he just wanted to delay the marriage and that Margaret had become
angry and left for America.
Eventually, Dr. Nagy pieced together what had
happened. In 1906, when Margaret Toth came to visit Bela Kiss at his
home, he forced her to write a letter to her mother claiming that she
could not bear the shame of rejection by Bela Kiss and that she was
going to look for a new love in America. After she had written the
letter, Kiss strangled her, hid her body in the metal container and
mailed the letter to her mother.
On October 4, 1916, Dr. Nagy received a message from
a Serbian hospital claiming that a solider named Bela Kiss died of
typhoid in 1915. It was followed by another message that said that Kiss
was alive and a patient at the hospital. Dr. Nagy traveled immediately
to the hospital, which was then in Hungarian hands.
"I think we have your man," the military commander
told Dr. Nagy. Nagy was overcome with excitement. They did not reach
the hospital until dark and when the reached the ward where Bela Kiss
was recuperating, they were in for a shock. The man in Kiss's bed was
dead, but it was not Bela Kiss.
Somehow, Kiss had been warned and had substituted the
body of another soldier in his bed.
Dr. Nagy made sure that all of Hungary knew that the
Monster of Cinkota was still alive. Tips poured in from every part of
the country. Then followed many sightings of Bela Kiss in disparate
places around the world. Someone claimed to have seen the serial killer
walking down a Budapest street in 1919.
Five years later, in 1920, a suspicious member of the
French Foreign Legion went to a police station to report a fellow
Legionnaire that he believed could be Kiss. The man, who gave his name
as Hoffman, an alias that Kiss used, bragged about how good he was with
a garrote. The police went to the unit to question Hoffman only to
find that he had deserted without warning.
A Hungarian soldier claimed that Bela Kiss was
imprisoned in Romania for burglary. Another said he died of yellow fever
A New York City homicide detective named Henry Oswald
felt certain he saw Bela Kiss walking out of the Times Square subway
station in 1932. Oswald was nicknamed "Camera Eye" by other detectives
for his extraordinary memory for faces, so many people gave credence to
his report. The enormous crowd in Times Square prevented Oswald from
pursuing the suspect. However, after the detective's report, some
people became convinced that Kiss, who would have been in his late 60s
at the time, was living in New York.
In 1936, gossip had it that Kiss was working as an
apartment building janitor. The police went to the building to
interview this janitor, but he had taken off and left no information
As noted by David Everitt in Human Monsters, "Despite
all this alleged globetrotting by Kiss, no other murders were ever
attributed to him." Unfortunately, that does not necessarily mean that
Bela Kiss stopped killing, only that, if he did, they were not traced to
A Monster's Mythology
Many of the facts about Bela Kiss will never be known.
He has to a large extent passed into myth and, in some imaginations, has
grown into a figure larger than life. A Swedish metal band is called
Bela Kiss and another metal band called PUS recorded a songs about him.
The famous, enormously talented but deeply troubled
French surrealist poet, actor, and playwright Antonin Artaud wrote a
scenario for a silent movie inspired by Kiss. Never actually made into
a film, it is called "Thirty-two" and appears in Volume 3 of Artaud's
Collected Works. In "Thirty-two," the Kiss figure is a medical
professor. A distressed young woman approaches him after attending one
of his lectures. She pours out a tale of woe. She has foolishly become
involved with a man who has left her.
The professor appears sympathetic to the poor lady.
He invites her to his home. She notices that he has 32 large canisters.
She is understandably baffled, then frightened. She makes a quick
Later, the Great War breaks out and the instructor of
medicine is called away to do his patriotic duty. People hear that the
young professor has lost his life in that bloody conflict. They also
remember that the deceased man was said to have hoarded paraffin in his
home. Authorities go to his house to open the canisters. They pull the
top off of one and discover a dead woman, strangled with a silken cord.
The old radio program Unsolved Mysteries (not to be
confused with the contemporary television program of the same title) did
a dramatization of the Kiss story. It was titled "Bela Kiss: Mystery
Man of Europe." All the broadcasts began with the disclaimer, "Out of
deference to persons who may still be living, character names in some of
these true Unsolved Mysteries have been changed." However, at least in
its rendition of the Bela Kiss case, much more than names were altered.
Jay Stephens wrote a lively comic book called The
Land of Nod: Rockabye Book, which includes an evil character named Bela
Kiss. A reviewer for The Comics Journal praised Stephens' work, writing,
"If Hanna-Barbara dealt with existential angst and deconstructionalism,
the end result would probably resemble The Land of Nod, the new comic
from Jay Stephens."
The story of the comic is about a group of villains
recruiting new members to their Jetcat Haters Society. Jetcat in the
book is a superhero who is really a child named Melanie McCay. Like
Clark Kent becoming Superman, she turns into Jetcat in order to fight
evil. One of the new recruits to the Jetcat Haters Society is a fellow
calling himself Bela Kiss. Stephens' cartoon Kiss looks little like the
original. He is a pint-sized monster with a Frankenstein-like flathead
wearing a Dracula-like cloak.
And so, Bela Kiss lives on in one incarnation after
another. Fortunately, the artistic renderings, even the silly and
tasteless ones, are preferable to the original Bela Kiss.