Béla Kiss, also known in the world of criminology as the Vampire of Cinkota, is one of the most prolific serial killers in the history of Hungary. The exact number of his victims is still unknown to this day, and he was never caught.
He was born in the countryside in 1877, but no record of his childhood has survived, and as we shall see later, the investigation did not succeed in learning anything about his early years. Thus, we cannot be sure that he produced the early warning signs characteristic of serial killers, we can only deduce his background from his later deeds. Serial killers who only take female victims usually have a particularly bad relationship with their mother, and in the case of Béla Kiss, some experts have even raised the possibility of an incestuous relationship. He was very likely impotent, which can be inferred not only from the murders but also from the fact that, despite pursuing the lifestyle of a notorious womanizer, there is no evidence that he ever fathered a child.
Béla Kiss was a respected citizen of Cinkota who lived a luxurious life, although it was not clear which source of income made this possible for him. Not only did he pursue the tinsmith’s profession conscientiously, he trained himself in a self-taught manner in literary and historical studies, and although he sometimes failed to pay his rent on time, he treated money quite generously. He was known for his gentry-like appearance and his light-hearted, amusing lifestyle, and over time he began a relatively lasting relationship with a woman named Mária. We do not know her exact identity, as the testimonies referred to her only as the wife of Béla Kiss, but during my research, I found no official documents of marriage. Mária soon began to cheat on Béla in secret and later openly, and this may have been the trigger for him that brought to the surface the suppressed emotions since childhood. Mária and her lover disappeared, Kiss told her relatives that they had fled to America. The villagers felt sorry for the cuckolded and abandoned man, so they overlooked him regularly bringing young women home from Pest.
When World War I broke out, he volunteered to enlist as a soldier, although he was no longer required to do so because of his age. In 1916, due to the increasingly scarce economic situation, his property was searched by officials in his absence, as the war machine could only be kept operating from requisite resources, and Kiss was known to store valuable tin barrels in his garden. However, what they find there instead of fuel pushed the war off the front pages of newspapers for weeks.
In each barrel, the body of a strangled woman was discovered, for a total of seven victims. Among them, the villagers immediately identified the wife and her lover who disappeared four years earlier, the latter being the only male victim.
In the house they discovered a locked door that the housekeeper had no access to, a kind of study. Here, in addition to a wealth of novels about murders, correspondence was found with 174 women (which meant about five hundred letters, all neatly labeled in folders) about money and marriage proposals, and a photo album with pictures of 74 different women, many of whom have disappeared since the correspondence, but no more corpses were found even after digging up almost the entire village. Secondary sources also mention bodies 9, 23, and 32, but these are probably already incantations, the original articles all mentioned 7 found corpses, but investigators have identified at least 24 possible victims.
It didn’t take much time for the investigators to link this discovery to a case that has been preoccupying the public for some time, of young girls disappearing without a trace after responding to a marriage advertisement posted in a newspaper by a man called “Hofmann”.
From here on, it was no longer hard to put together Kiss’s method: he posted ads under a pseudonym, extorting money from women applying for marriage, thus financing a luxurious lifestyle that his immediate surroundings knew nothing about. Those who had voiced their worries or who he knew for sure would not be looked for (such as widows or girls from the countryside who had no family), were lured to and strangled at Cinkota. He preserved the corpses in wood spirit (methyl alcohol) and hid them in the welded barrels.
It is interesting that the famous writer Frigyes Karinthy, who was working for the newspaper Újság at the time, also reported on the case, with his characteristic black humor:
“One man collects crested pipes, the other insects, the third postage stamps. Béla Kiss collected female corpses. I stood there in the cemetery of Cinkota in front of the tin barrels, watching in turn as the contents of the opened barrels were tipped over to the autopsy table. Tin barrels of different heights: equally galvanized, precisely, with conscientious work. Those who opened the first barrel did not doubt for a moment that the contents of the others were the same, though this assumption was unimaginable awfulness. And those of us who stood there at the inspection all took it quite natural for a small woman to fall to the ground from the smaller barrel and a larger one from the larger one. And after the second barrel, we already knew how to turn the barrel, how deep to reach, and where to grab the twine around the neck of the emerging female head, where the loop is, where it leads down to the legs, and how they are knotted together. An ordinary, accurate collector works like this, one who understands his craft and loves order. ”
Although the arrest warrant was issued immediately after the discovery, the collapsing Hungarian administration was unable to reach Kiss. According to the army records, a soldier named Béla Kiss died in captivity in 1915, but the body could not be identified. However, his psychological profile precludes Kiss from voluntarily giving up his life in a war, even his enrollment was part of the escape, meaning the most likely scenario was that at some point during the fighting he exchanged his papers with a fellow soldier and escaped. From this point on, we know nothing for sure, but several witnesses claimed to have seen him in Pest, Reichenberg, the French Foreign Legion, Moscow, or in New York. We can only be sure about the fact that serial killers with a psychological profile similar to Kiss will not stop, meaning, that if he really survived the war, we can be sure that he continued to kill.
Small wonder that this story, blurred with the legends circulating about Hungary and customs from that age, with the added a curiosity of the English meaning of Béla Kiss’s name reached an amazing success in the West; it inspired crime novels, plays, and musicals about the Vampire of Cinkota, who literally a devoured women.
Written by: Annie
Translated by: Zoltán Szabó “Zoo_Lee”