Monster Of Cinkota: The Murders Of Béla Kiss

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

If Love Were All: Noël Coward And Prince George

In 1923, during the West End run of his musical revue London Calling, the 24 year-old Noël Coward encountered another young man, who was to play a significant role in his life. With sexual relations between men remaining a criminal offence in Britain, until 1967, the truth about their relationship could never become public knowledge in either of their lifetimes. The dashing fellow who had caught Coward’s eye was none other than His Royal Highness Prince George, the fourth son of the reigning monarch, King George V.

A voracious bisexual who dabbled in the use of both cocaine and morphine, the Prince was instantly drawn to the urbane playwright, who had already made a name for himself through such credits as The Better Half and The Queen Was in the Parlour. They began a clandestine affair, one which resumed intermittently over the two decades which followed their first meeting.

While Prince George maintained a career in the Royal Navy until 1929, Coward became an international celebrity, his popular songs and light-hearted comic plays like Hay Fever and Easy Virtue, as well as more serious works such as The Vortex, which touched upon the taboo subjects of drug-use and repressed homosexuality, earning him the title ‘The Master,’ from his many adoring fans. At the same time, both men continued to have other lovers.

Coward was linked to several young actors including Louis Hayward and Alan Webb, and Prince George to numerous women including the cabaret star Florence Mills, who died of tuberculosis in 1927 at the age of 32, banking heiress Poppy Baring, and American socialite Kiki Preston, the latter such a heavy drug user that that she was dubbed the ‘girl with the silver syringe.’ Rumours abounded that the prince also fathered an illegitimate son with the daughter of a Canadian coal-merchant. By 1932, Prince George’s indiscretions had caught up with him, forcing his elder brother the Prince of Wales to deal with a blackmail plot hatched against his sibling, by a French architect with whom he was engaged in an affair. Continue reading

Tiger-Woman: Betty May And The Abbey of Thelema

In 1922, a young Oxford graduate, Frederick Charles Loveday, published his poem, A Song of Town in Oxford Poetry. Comparing the dark and bleak London he knew to a dragonfly, an ephemeral creature whose life was drawing to a close, Loveday was undoubtedly talented, but he struggled to find a way in which to use his intellect and settle upon a career. Less than a year later, having found himself increasingly drawn to the occult, he adopted the name ‘Raoul’ and accepted a job as a secretary to the occultist Aleister Crowley. The position necessitated his move to Cefalù, on the north coast of Sicily. There, he would live and work at the Abbey of Thelema, which Crowley and his lover, Leah Hirsig had founded in 1920.

The town itself was seeped in legend, its coastline dominated by an imposing mountain known as La Rocca, a mountain believed to be sacred by the town’s early inhabitants. According to a local myth, La Rocca had once been the handsome young shepherd, Daphnis, the product of a liaison between the god Hermes and a local nymph. Daphnis fell in love with a naiad, but betrayed her with a  princess after drinking too much wine. In return for his betrayal, the naiad blinded him and then turned him into the giant rock, where he would be left to rue his actions for all eternity. Centuries later, Cefalù would be the site of another betrayal and the Abbey of Thelema a lasting monument to the ensuing tragedy.

Raoul Loveday did not travel to Cefalù alone. He had recently married Betty May, a noted beauty and a woman far more worldly than her husband. She had been born into a life of poverty in the East End of London, and strove to escape from it as soon as she was able; Loveday was her third husband (or possibly fourth, she could never remember). Her stunning looks enabled her to become a sought after artist’s model, having sat for the likes of Augustus John and being hailed as his muse by the celebrated sculptor Jacob Epstein. However, there were also rumours that she was a heavy user of both cocaine and morphine and occasionally worked as a prostitute. Crowley later stated that, in his view, ‘Raoul should not have married her. It meant the sterilization of the genius of success in life.’ Furthermore, Crowley believed that by inviting the couple to Cefalù he had offered them a chance to escape their miserable existence back in London, which had seen them, ‘living from hand to mouth, with disaster eternally looming ahead, and the whisper of hope more faint and feeble as each effort ended in failure.’ Continue reading