Béla Kiss

Béla Kiss

Sketch of Béla Kiss

Béla Kiss (1877 – ?) was a Hungarian serial killer. He is thought to have murdered at least 24 young women and attempted to pickle them in giant metal drums that he kept on his property.


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Béla Kiss was a tinsmith who had lived in Cinkota (a town near Budapest) since 1900. He was an amateur astrologer and allegedly fond of other occult practices. In 1912 Kiss hired a housekeeper, began to correspond with a number of attractive women and sometimes took them to his home in Cinkota. However, his housekeeper, a Mrs. Jakubec, never really got to know any of them.

Townsfolk also noticed that Kiss had collected a number of metal drums. He had told the town police who questioned him that he filled them with gasoline in order to prepare for the rationing of the oncoming war. When World War I began, he was conscripted and left his house in Jakubec’s care.


In July 1916, Budapest police received a call from a Cinkota landlord who had found seven large metal drums. The town constable had remembered Kiss’ stockpile of gasoline, and led needy soldiers to them. Upon attempting to open the drums, a suspicious odour was noted. Detective Chief Charles Nagy took over the investigation and opened one of the drums, against the protests of Mrs. Jakubec. There they discovered the body of a strangled woman. The other drums yielded similarly gruesome content. A search of Kiss’ house resulted in a total of 24 bodies.

Nagy informed the military that they should arrest Béla Kiss immediately, if he was still alive – there was also a possibility that he was a prisoner of war. The name, unfortunately, was very common. Nagy also arrested the housekeeper Jakubec and asked the postal service to hold any possible letters to Kiss, in case he had an accomplice that could warn him. Nagy initially suspected that Jakubec might have had something to do with the murders, especially when Kiss had left her money in his will.

Jakubec assured police that she knew absolutely nothing about the murders. She showed them a secret room Kiss had told her never to enter. The room was filled with bookcases but also had a desk that held a number of letters, Kiss’ correspondence with 74 women and a photo album. Many of the books were about poisons or strangulation.

From the letters Nagy discerned several things. The oldest of the letters were from 1903 and it became clear that Kiss was defrauding the women who had been looking for marriage. He had placed ads in the marriage columns of several newspapers and had selected mainly women who had no relatives living nearby and knew no one who would quickly notice their disappearance. He wooed them and convinced them to send him money. If they proved troublesome for him, he killed them.

Police also found old court records that indicated that two of his victims had initiated court proceedings because he had taken money from them. Both women had disappeared and the case had been dismissed.


On October 4, 1916 Nagy received a letter that stated that Kiss was recuperating in a Serbian hospital. Nagy arrived too late — Kiss had fled and substituted a dead body of another soldier in his bed. Nagy alerted all the Hungarian police. However, all the sightings police could check proved to be wrong.

On several later occasions, speculation arose that Kiss had perhaps faked his death by exchanging identities with a dead soldier during the war. He was supposedly sighted numerous times in following years and there were various rumors about his fate, including that he had been imprisoned for burglary in Romania or he had died of yellow fever in Turkey.


In 1920 a soldier in the French Foreign Legion reported on another legionnaire named Hoffman (the name Kiss had been used in some letters) who had boasted how good he was at using a garrote, and who fit Kiss’ description. “Hoffman” deserted before police could reach him.

In 1932, homicide detective Henry Oswald was certain he had seen Kiss coming out of Times Square Subway in New York City. There were also rumors that Kiss was living in the city and working as a janitor but they could not be verified.

Kiss’ eventual fate remains unknown.


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