DEADLIER THAN THE MALE: THE ANGEL-MAKERS OF NAGYREV
Posted March 8, 2012on:
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Flicking through a bumper book of true crime once I came across a picture of a bunch of rather sinister-looking women in aprons and headscarves. Reading on I found a truly bizarre tale from a rural district of Hungary nearly a century ago. The small village of Nagyrev was prey to a band of serial-killers operating in the district from 1914 to 1929.
It all began in World War One. The village had no hospital, and the local midwife, Mrs Julius Fazekas, fulfilled all the medical needs of the village, assisted by her friend Susanna Olah. Mrs Fazekas was a bit of a sinister character from the start. She had arrived in the village in 1911, minus her husband, who had disappeared in mysterious circumstances. She was jailed a total of 10 times between 1911 and 1921, for performing illegal abortions.
The menfolk of the village were all away fighting, but some of the women became involved with the men at a local prisoner-of-war camp. It has to be said that rarely would the marriages of the women have been love-matches. Marriages at that time and place would have been business arrangements, duly arranged between families. The brides would have had little (if any) say in the matter. It’s not really surprising that they felt little allegiance to their missing husbands, and formed attachments to the POWs.
This state of affairs continued until the end of the war. Instead of being delighted to find their menfolk returning home alive, the women of Nagyrev were … well a bit miffed. Suddenly the sexual freedom they had enjoyed during the war years came to an end. Fazekas and Olah thought of a solution to this problem, and began to sell the disgruntled women arsenic, which they collected from strips of flypaper (a common domestic item sourced by many a murderer in bygone times).
The gruesome pair soon had a thriving clientele. It is thought that about 50 women purchased arsenic from them. They called themselves the Angel-Makers Of Nagyrev! It wasn’t just unwanted husbands who fell victim to the Angel-Makers, surplus relatives and children were also disposed of in this manner. A compliant cousin of Mrs Fazekas signed the death certificates. The area became known as The Murder District.
Things only came to a head when a Mrs Ladislaus Szabo poisoned the wine of one man in July 1929, who detected it and informed the police. (Although some say it was because of an anonymous letter sent to a local newspaper). When arrested Mrs Szabo promptly pointed the finger at her friend, Mrs Bukenoveski, who had killed her elderly mother and put her remains in the Tisza river. Clearly there is no honour amongst poisoners, because Mrs Bukenoveski immediately informed on Mrs Fazekas.
The terrible old woman denied everything, and was released. When she returned to the village she told the women that the game was up. Mrs F must’ve thought she’d got away with it, but the police had discreetly followed her home. A mass-arrest then took place. Thirty-eight women were arrested in all. Twenty-six were tried. Eight were sentenced to death, including Susannah Olah, although only two were subsequently executed. Seven were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mrs Fazekas only escaped the full penalty of the law by killing herself first.