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Serial Killer - Béla Kiss: The Pickled Kiss of Death
Episode Summary & Notes
In July of 1916, a landlord, wanting to quickly flip one of his rental properties arrived at the home of one of his tenants in Budapest, Hungary.
At the time, World War 1 was raging and the tenant, who was off serving in the war, had stopped writing back home to his neighbors and friends.
In a war that would ultimately take 1.1 to 1.2 million lives from the Austro-Hungarian empire alone, this by no means was a rare event and, it was safe to assume what had happened.
After poking around the house and the tenant’s belongings, the landlord finally made his way into the backyard.
There were unsightly, steel barrels, that looked like 55-gallon drums sitting all over the place.
He hated these things, and one can only assume, didn’t have enough white paint to paint over them before moving the new renters in.
Anyways, walking up to a random barrel, he began pulling and prying at the lid, aggressively trying to get it open, but it was no use. He gave up and walked over to the neighbor’s house to ask for help moving them.
As they started to roll them along, something sharp bashed a hole in one of the sides.
A weird, dark reddish-brown substance started spraying out, filling the air with a putrid scent.
Shocked and confused, it didn’t take long for the landlord and neighbor to identify the smell. It was the smell of death.
Trying not to gag, but committed to figuring out what the hell is going on, the landlord finally manages to open the barrel. Inside, the nearly perfectly preserved body of a woman with 2 small puncture wounds on her neck.
Stepping back, horrified by the sight, it finally dawns on him. He’s surrounded by barrels.
This week, we’re covering the little-known, yet fascinating, Conartist, Serial Killer, and some say, Vampire, Bela Kiss.
Born on July 28th of 1877, in Hungary, Bela Kiss quickly grew up to become an avid reader.
History, poetry, math, science, it didn’t matter what the topic was, he was consumed by any and all literature he could get his hands on. This continued into his teens until finally, Bela was forced by the pressures in life and society to get a job, or more accurately, to pick up a trade.
Through chance or design, Bela became a Tinsmith.
Unsurprisingly for someone with an indiscriminate thirst for gaining knowledge, Bela picked up the trade rapidly, but before being able to finish, was, as all men were at the time, required to serve in the military for a couple of years. Not much is known about this period of time in his life besides the fact he completed his required service.
Once out of the military though, a side of Bela not necessarily noted before his time in the service became more present. He became increasingly motivated to make it rich, by any means necessary. And while not afraid of hard work, and widely regarded as talented at his trade, Bela had one specific talent, or, more so a natural gift, above all others.
You see, Bela was well aware, he was a looker.
A slim, yet muscular man, with blonde hair and striking blue eyes, lookn like a mix between a young Matt Damon & a young George Clooney, Bela Kiss, was a stone-cold fox, who, in line with the fashion at the time, looked like he had a small fox attached to his upper lip. Picture a Mario.
Regardless of the Mustache, the lady folks in the town of (Chin-Koh-Tah) Cinkota, just outside of Budapest, were head over heels for this charming, handsome, smart, young man. Eventually, it would be said by many neighbors and knowers of Bela that he was never seen with the same woman in his arms twice.
But there was more to this than an insatiable lust, Bela was actively becoming an incredibly talented con artist running a very specific scam.
One that, today, we’re constantly warned of yet still hear about on occasion.
Bella Kiss crafted a persona, a Mr.Hoffman, Who was a widower that was depressed, lonely, and looking for his soulmate.
He placed ads in the romance section of local newspapers around Budapest. Women would reach out to him and he would write back, slowly vetting them to see if they would be a good target for his scheme. The #1 qualification, is whether they or their family are rich, and #2, do they have any close relatives. Both in terms of location and inheritance. And #3, how soon would they want to get married?
Through mostly letter writing, he proceeded to love to bomb his victims, make them fall madly in love with him, string them along with promises and fantasies that they’ll be getting married soon, any day now, at any point.
And when the feelings were at their highest, he would always have an excuse, or a reason, that they, or their family, would need to send him a massive amount of money before the marriage could happen.
Once he received the funds, he would pen a letter with any number of excuses to back out of the marriage, often telling his victims he was moving to America to start a new life.
To give you an idea of how prolific he was at running this scam when his letters are eventually found it would be discovered that he received at least 174 marriage proposals, and accepted 74 of them. Keep in mind, this is just the number of proposals in written letters, this doesn’t include all the women that he proposed to face-to-face on dates.
But, we’ll dig into those details a little more later, for now, let’s take our story today, to 1905 when, when Bela was 28 years old.
It was around this time, he was regularly taking the 3-hour train ride between Budapest and Vienna, where he would meet, and eventually share an apartment with the 20-year-old Juliana Pesheck.
Whether this is one of his earliest recorded actual partners, or, just purely a passionate relationship is hard to tell. Sometimes this is cited as his first marriage, sometimes not. Anyways, Bela and Juliana would go on to have two children together. 2 daughters, named Aranka and Ilonka. The relationship didn’t seem to last long past this though.
At some point after the birth of his second daughter, Kiss decided to stop making those 3-hour trips, and settled down in Cinkota, leaving his young family in Vienna.
There, in Cinkota, he became a socialite. Everyone in town seemed to know and respect this handsome man who on a regular basis would rent out space in a local hotel and throw parties.
He always had money flowing in and never hesitated to spend it on flash, and presentation.
But, his bachelor lifestyle came to a brief halt in 1911, when Kiss, now 34 years old, would meet, marry, and try to settle down with, a 19-year-old named Marie.
Within a year though, Marie would develop a lustful affair with a local musician named Paul Bucarrey, and they would run off together, leaving Bela at home, as they made their way to start a new life in America.
Or, at least that’s what Bela told his friends and neighbors.
In reality, Bela somehow became aware of his wife Marie and her lover Paul.
Unable to handle the same kind of infidelity he was notorious for, he freaked out.
This is when, after somehow tricking both Marie and Paul into the house, assumedly by feigning he didn’t know about the affair.
He proceeded to violently attack them. Using a blunt object to smash them in the head,
Once they were unconscious, he pulled out a noose he’d prepared earlier and, one at a time, wrapped it around their necks, holding it in his hands while he strangled them to death.
At this point, Bela Kiss brought 2 steel barrels into the house and filled them with Methanol, which is a type of Alcohol, made from trees that can be converted into formaldehyde.
It can also be used to preserve bodies almost perfectly, essentially pickling them.
He put the bodies of his wife, and her lover, into individual barrels,
soldered them shut, and moved them to the backyard….
eventually, he would mark the tops of them with the roman numerals, 1, and 2.
Now, basic motivations here and preparation seem obvious. We know he was planning to kill them, he already had a noose prepared and went through the efforts to trick them into the house. He already had the barrels, and enough Methanol to submerge both bodies.
The question here is, why the hell did he want to preserve 2 full bodies in his backyard? Not even in a way that he would be able to ever look at them again. Most of the time when someone is killed and put in a barrel, it’s to dissolve them, hide the evidence, not keep them around forever…….
Nevertheless, after this, it didn’t take long for Bela to get his groove back, and once again begin pursuing his one true passion.
Finding every super hot woman in town, making love to them, and then never calling them again.
You see, with his wife gone, Bela had a social pass to be as lustful and amoral as he wanted. And by gone, I mean, you know, he told everyone that she ditched him and ran away to America with her new lover, not, both of them being pickled in the backyard inside of barrels.
Anyways, to pursue his passion, Bela did 2 things that will influence our timeline of events and come up a lot in this story.
First, he hired an older woman, Mrs. Jakubec, as a housekeeper. She would end up staying at his house in Cinkota and remaining faithful to Bela, long after the discovery of what, or who, he was keeping in the barrels in the backyard.
And Second, after basically burning through the small town of Cinkota, Bela rented an additional apartment in Budapest. One that he could use specifically for his seemingly limitless sex drive, and to eventually carry out his increasingly complex scams.
But before we get into that, I’d like to take a moment to deliver an important PSA,
To you, the American Voter, by asking you a question.
Why are barrels always associated with death?
How many serial killers stored bodies in barrels???
Barrels of oil, gained through war, and literally containing the decomposed death of dinosaurs and plants, now leading to the slow death of the planet?
Barrels of guns,
Barrel Races, which I just found out have nothing to do with Barrels racing each other…
Burn barrels used to destroy evidence of CIA-backed South American death squads.
Bela’s, love, barrel.
The list goes on… Now Look,
I think it’s time we at BCR, and all of you, our incredible listeners, take a firm stance against barells.
- If You See A Berall, Report A Berall, Save a life.
And that’s exactly what the astute neighbors of Bela, back in Cinkota tried to do.
As Bela’s escapades became increasingly more obvious to others, so too was the number of large, steel barrels that began piling up in his backyard. This literally reached a point when his neighbors began taking notice and started to complain.
They eventually reported this to the local police, suspecting him of storing moonshine, or maybe bootleg liquor.
When an officer finally arrived to investigate, he saw the large, firmly sealed beralls and asked Bela the obvious question.
What’s in ’em’?
Bela, laying down his notorious charm proceeded to assure the officer, that, as he must be well aware, tensions were drawing to a boiling point between the countries of Europe, and he, Bella, wanting to be prepared, was stocking up on gas before the war that was obviously on the horizon, a war that would force everyone into rationing, and, he wanted to get a heads up on the inevitable fuel shortages.
Well, happy with his response, the officer never checked inside the barrels and went on his way.
Meanwhile, back in Budapest, charges brought against one mysterious Mr.Hoffman by two different women were forced to be dropped after the women themselves disappeared.
This brings us to another important point in the development of Bela Kiss, and, the legend around him.
His newfound obsession with murder fit well with his thirst for knowledge and, at some point, turned towards studying the occult.
Being the forever ladies’ man, and incubus, he got deep into astrology and was dropping the line “What’s your sign?” to ladies about 50 years before it became cool to say in the 60s.
Unsurprisingly for any gender, when someone you already find charming tells you they can read your future, it’s bound to pique your interest, especially, if it’s coupled with, coming back to their place.
Once there, he had a variety of methods and means to murder his victims, sourced from his library of books he’d already read through.
Poisons, torture, strangulation techniques, he wanted to learn it all, and do it.
This is also around the time it’s commonly speculated he may have read into stories about
Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed, I’m sure I butchered that name.
Anyways, the Countess, who in the late 1500s to 1600s ruled over a large area of land covering modern-day Transylvania and the Kingdom of Hungary was known for a very unique, rumor.
It has been said, denied, and argued over that the Countess would bathe in the blood of Virgins in order to maintain her youth.
Well, this, along with Hungry, and the neighboring country of Romania, having a rich history of folklore and tales around vampires didn’t seem to be non-influential on Bela.
I bring this up, because we know now, after the eventual discovery of all the perfectly preserved bodies that Bela, at some point, did in fact begin draining the blood of his victims, through piercings in their necks.
Criminologists and Psychologists reference this step in his process as a potential sign that he was engaging in Vampirism. While for locals, after hearing about and seeing the puncture wounds in his young victim’s necks, saw this as an obvious sign that Bela Kiss, was a literal vampire.
What’s important now though is, between 1911 and 1914 when he volunteered to go fight on the front lines of WWI, he killed and preserved at least 24 people.
23 women, and, 1 man, Paul.
Now here’s where the story gets crazy.
As I said at the top of the show, events leading up to the assumption of Bela Kiss dying in the war.
When the first body was discovered and the landlord summoned the police, the word was quickly put out that Bela Kiss needed to be arrested immediately.
News of the bodies spread like wildfire in the community, and after a lot of false leads tracking him down. The detective in charge of finding Kiss ended up in a wartime hospital on suspicion that a soldier who had recently received treatment was Bela Kiss.
When the detective arrived, he found the corpse of a man, laying in the bed Kiss was supposed to be in.
Bela had somehow gotten word of the detective’s arrival and put a dead body in his place. Then disappeared.
The hunt for Bela Kiss would end up with detectives trying to track him down around the world, with the most credible sightings of him being at one point in Turkey, at another point, as a member of the French Foreign Legion, serving under the name Hoffman, and magically disappearing before detectives arrived. Lastly, he was seen in the 1930s in New York City. Where there was an instance of him being chased through Times Square by a detective. And, were sightings of him working as a janitor, lead to police showing up to question him, only to find the Janitor was missing.
He was never caught, and no one knows when, where, or if Bela Kiss died.
Stepping back from the standard narrative of Bela Kiss, let’s look at some traits and a few tidbits about events and characters.
First, Vampires are notorious for being able to lure in and seduce women,
Known for having a charismatic charm, being hyper-intelligent due to being alive for 100’s of years, and for having a human helper, aka a Familiar.
Mrs. Jakubec, Bela’s housekeeper, was noted for ignoring all of the comings and goings of Bela Kiss, the strange sounds she would often hear when he would bring home lovers, sounds undoubtedly not related to making love. She never questioned where the lovers went after being brought home, and, she was reported for having tried to stop the police from opening the barrels and pulling out more bodies.
While I don’t personally think Bela Kiss was a literal vampire, I do find the idea that he may have convinced Mrs.Jakubec he was, interesting.
Going out on a limb here, I think his psychopathy was heavily influenced by a fear of abandonment, which is why he was such a notorious womanizer, lying, hurting, and leaving anyone he would get close to, and gaining a sense of comfort from being near the mementos of those he took everything from, forcing them to leave him, by making their life, leave them. This is just a guess, we’ll obviously never really know, just as we’ll never really know, where, when, or if, Bela Kiss, died.