Recoiling in horror, the terrified man ran to police station – believing a large tin drum in the yard of Béla Kiss’s house to contain gasoline, he had punctured it, but it hid a dark secret, one which were it not for the harsh realities of war, might never have come to light. As soon as he had pierced the tin, the overpowering stench of decaying flesh hit him and he recognised it at once as the scent of death.
Detective Chief Károly Nagy was the first senior police officer to arrive at the scene, and would take charge of the ensuing investigation. Tentatively, he removed the drum’s lid and his fears were realised as soon as he saw the partially preserved naked body of a young women, her long dark hair wrapped around her face as a shroud. There were six more drums – each one containing the corpse of another woman whose life had been violently ended. Forensic evidence showed that they had been strangled with a rope and, even more disturbingly, not only had their bodies been drained of blood, puncture wounds were found on their necks, a fact that evoked fears of vampirism.
A further search of the house and garden uncovered another seventeen bodies, all young women. For Nagy it was a now a question of finding out why and more importantly, who was responsible for these appalling murders. After alerting the military and issuing a warrant for an arrest, Nagy was told that Béla Kiss, had recently died of typhoid in a Serbian military hospital. Whether Kiss really had succumbed to the illness was the subject of much speculation and rumours of his true whereabouts continued for the next twenty years. What is certain is that he was never brought to justice for the shocking crimes of which he was accused.
Four years earlier in 1912, Kiss, a strikingly handsome man of about forty with piercing blue eyes that all those who recalled him commented upon, had moved to Cinkota then a separate town which eventually became a suburb of Budapest in the 1950s. Kiss worked as a tinsmith, and there are conflicting reports as to whether he arrived in Cinkota alone or accompanied by his much younger wife, Marie. Some say his wife soon left him, for a local man named Paul Bikari, and that Kiss reported her as missing in December 1912. Others claimed that he was a bachelor who enjoyed the company of a string of glamorous women, either way it seems that Kiss’s personal life remains as much a mystery as what finally became of him. By all accounts Kiss was a remarkably intelligent and cultured man who was well liked in Cinkota, yet gossips claimed that his frequent trips to Budapest were to visit the city’s brothels. Continue reading