Bela Kiss: Vampire of Cinkota
One of the most mysterious serial killers was active during the years leading up to World War I and possibly beyond. He was known as the "Vampire of Cinkota" due to the state in which his victims were eventually found.
This man's name was Bela Kiss.
Bela Kiss was born in 1877. Around 1900, he moved to a nice house in the town of Cinkota, at the time near Budapest, but now located within the city itself.
Not much is actually known about Kiss during this time. He was reportedly handsome, with a prosperous tinsmith business, and rumored to love throwing parties. He was allegedly an amateur astrologer and fond of occult practices.
At this time, he was well liked, and known as the most eligible bachelor in Cinkota. He was also known as a pillar of the community.
In 1912, Kiss married a woman named Marie, who was 15 years younger than he was. It wasn't long before she took a lover, an artist named Paul Bikari. By December of that year, the two had disappeared, and Kiss told anyone who asked that the two had run off to America. After his wife's disappearance, Kiss became much more reclusive.
Drums and War
After Marie's disappearance, Kiss hired a woman named Mrs. Jakubec as a housekeeper. He also began to correspond with several women and occasionally even brought them back to his home. They were never around long enough for Mrs. Jakubec to get to know them.
At some point, people in town noticed that Kiss kept several large metal drums on his property. They alerted the police, who then questioned Kiss. Kiss claimed that these drums were filled with gasoline, which he was keeping in preparation for the rationing that would occur during the coming war in Europe.
When World War I eventually did break out, Kiss was either conscripted or voluntarily enlisted (accounts differ on which). During the days leading up to his departure, Kiss put padlock bars on the windows and doors throughout his house. He left the house in the care of Mrs. Jakubec.
It was also during this period that several women in the surrounding area disappeared. One young woman named Luisa Ruszt reported being attacked by a "wild-eyed monster with fangs," claiming he jumped out at her as she was walking along a street at night.
There are differing accounts of what actually happened next. One says that the village had been notified of Kiss's death six months after he left, and so it was decided his property was to be disposed of. Another says that either a friend of Kiss or his landlord wanted to help out some needy soldiers and led them to the large metal drums Kiss had previously claimed were full of gasoline.
Regardless of how it actually happened, the fact remains that the metal drums were opened, and a gruesome discovery was made.
When the drums were opened, a "smell of death" overwhelmed everyone around. Detective Chief Karoly Nagy took over the investigation and opened one of the drums, discovering the body of a strangled woman. The other drums contained similar discoveries, including the bodies of Marie Kiss and Paul Bikari, who were discovered in separate barrels. A search of the house turned up 24 bodies in total, the only male among them belonging to Bikari.
Interestingly, after the discovery of the bodies, supposedly several young women came forward and claimed that Kiss had attacked them.
Nagy informed the military that Kiss was to be arrested if he was still alive. Unfortunately, his name was quite common, so finding him would be difficult even if he was. He also asked the postal service to hold all of Kiss's letters, just in case he had an accomplice in the area who would try to warn him that he had been discovered.
Mrs. Jakubec was also arrested, though she insisted she was innocent. She even led the police to a secret room that Kiss had instructed her to never enter.
This "secret room" was filled with bookcases and a desk that held letters, Kiss's correspondence with multiple women, and a photo album. Going through these items, Nagy was able to put together a clearer picture of what Kiss had been doing.
From Kiss's letters, it was discovered that he had placed ads in marriage columns in newspapers, which read "lonely widower seeking female companionship." He received replies from about 175 different women. Kiss selected his victims from this pool, choosing women with no nearby relatives and whose disappearance would not be immediately noticed. Based on the dates of his letters, Kiss had been using this technique since at least 1903.
Kiss would often manipulate the women he selected into giving him money. This was the case with Katherine Varga, a widow living in Budapest. She sold her dressmaking business and had been last seen traveling to Cinkota with a handsome stranger. Another such victim was Margaret Toth, killed in 1906, with whom Kiss went an extra step, forcing her to write a letter stating that she was heading to America.
Police also supposedly found court records indicating that two of Kiss's victims had begun court proceedings after he took money from them. It has been claimed that these two women were among those found in the barrels in Kiss's home.
The women that came to Kiss's home were strangled, and then pickled in alcohol and sealed in the large metal drums. Police found puncture marks on their necks and the bodies had been drained of blood, leading them to believe Kiss might be a vampire.
On October 4, 1916, Nagy received a letter that Kiss was in a Serbian hospital. But by the time he got there, Kiss was gone, and he had filled his bed with the body of a dead soldier. Speculation soon arose that Kiss had faked his death by switching identities with the dead soldier.
Kiss was allegedly spotted several times in the following years, and rumors spread about his possible fate. These rumors included being arrested and imprisoned on burglary charges in Romania or dying of yellow fever in Turkey.
In 1920, a soldier in the French Foreign Legion reported a man named Hoffman, which was a name Kiss had used in some of his letters. The mysterious Hoffman boasted of his skill in using a garrote and happened to match Kiss's description. Unfortunately, Hoffman deserted before police were able to arrive and investigate.
The last possible sighting of Kiss occurred in New York in 1932. Homicide detective Henry Oswald thought he saw Kiss coming out of the Times Square subway. Rumors also spread that he was working as a janitor and once again managed to flee before police could investigate, but those were unverified, as much of Kiss's story tends to be.
Trailer for Bela Kiss: Prologue
No one but Kiss himself has any idea what ultimately became of him or even the total number of victims he had. But the fact that he evaded capture every single time anyone came close seems to suggest that he lived for quite some time after he became a wanted man. It's highly likely that his body count was much more than the 24 known victims.
Bela Kiss isn't a particularly widely known serial killer, but his legend does live on in certain circles. The fact that he was thought to have possibly been a vampire at that time, even being dubbed the "Vampire of Cinkota," adds to this longevity. He has been the inspiration for books and horror movies, as well as metal songs (as so many perpetrators of gruesome and horrible crimes are).
Thankfully for the world, in all likelihood, Bela Kiss was not a vampire. He was probably just a man, and he is probably dead, no longer free to inflict further harm on anyone.