The Vampire of Cinkota

The Vampire of Cinkota

December 10, 2019 100 By William Hollis


Other than the fact that he killed at least
24 people, drained them of blood, pickled them in alcohol-filled metal drums and was
never caught, there isn’t a lot to say about Bela Kiss- the Vampire of Cinkota… Kiss’ story begins in the town of Cinkota,
Hungary (at the time about 7 miles or 11 kilometers outside of Budapest) in 1900, where he rented
a house at 9 Kossuth Street. Kiss, who worked as a farrier and tinsmith,
was reportedly well-liked by his neighbors, quite charming, intelligent, well read (despite
no known formal schooling), and handsome, with blond hair and bright blue eyes- the
latter facts seemingly helping him in his murderous exploits. Details of Kiss’ secret life as a serial killer
are, unsurprisingly, difficult to nail down, largely owing to the man himself never being
brought to trial and few primary documents covering the case having survived to today. That caveat noted, it would seem approximately
11 years after arriving in Cinkota, Kiss married a woman named Marie. A year later, in 1912, Marie began an affair
with an artist named Paul Bikari. Soon after, she and Bikari disappeared, with
Kiss claiming the couple immigrated to America. Shortly after his wife’s disappearance, Kiss,
as with many bachelors of his era, is known to have begun frequenting various brothels
(though unlike certain other serial killers, he did not target prostitutes in his murderous
endeavors), as well as was regularly seen entertaining various ladies of better social
repute, most of whom resided in nearby Budapest. As to this latter group, he used his charm,
good looks, and classified ads in newspapers to court various women who were looking for
a husband- targeting those who were particularly affluent and also who had few, if any relatives
nearby. Soon someone in Cinkota noticed that Kiss
was amassing a large collection of metal drums on his property- a fact that was reported
to the police. When the collection was investigated, Kiss
explained that he was storing gasoline in anticipation of upcoming rationing due to
the impending war (World War I). Nobody bothered to look in the barrels. Speaking of the war, in 1914, Kiss was conscripted
to fight in the Great War, assigned to the 40th Honved Infantry Brigade. Before leaving, he entrusted 9 Kossuth Street
to his housekeeper, Mrs. Jakubec. Details of exactly what happened next are
conflicting, but it appears a couple years later his landlord began to believe the rumors
that circulated around town that Kiss had been killed, following heavy casualties his
unit endured fighting in the Carpathian Mountains. Thus, the landlord went to the house to make
preparations to rent it out to another tenant. Upon arriving, he noticed an odd odor coming
from the barrels. Thinking it was suspicious, he called the
police to investigate. (It should be noted here though that another
version of the tale states that the police simply remembered a potential gasoline cache
at Kiss’ home and went to acquire it for the cause.) However the police ended up there, details
become more definitive from here, with the investigation commencing under one Detective
Karoly Nagy. Over the protests of Mrs. Jakubec, the police
arrived on the scene in July of 1916 and began to open the metal drums. Rather than finding gasoline, they discovered
each barrel contained an extremely well preserved nude body; in total, 23 women, including his
former wife Marie, and one man, Paul Bikari- the man Marie was said to have skipped town
with years earlier. Mrs. Jakubec was immediately arrested owing
to suspicions concerning her ardent protest against the opening of the drums combined
with the fact that Kiss had left her money in his Will; from all this, the police thought
she may have been an accomplice in the murders. (She was later cleared, however.) Detective Nagy also began the search for Kiss
himself, if he was still alive at all. Looking for evidence in the house, the police
discovered a room that Jakubec claimed she had been forbidden to enter in her years of
service to Kiss. In the room were various letters (including
175 women writing Kiss with marriage proposals in response to his newspaper ads), an album
with photos of about 70 women, and also books that touched on poisoning and strangulation. The documents found there also seemed to indicate
Kiss had been up to his murderous ways going all the way back to 1903 (eight years before
he married Maria) and that two of Kiss’ ladies had brought court proceedings against him
to recover money; but as both had disappeared, the proceedings were dropped (both women were
found in the drums). These two ladies were widows, and they were
separately reported missing after being seen in the company of a person named Hoffman (a
pseudonym Kiss appears to have frequently used). In all cases, it would seem Kiss would court
various women with an eye towards stealing their money, though it’s isn’t clear whether
he always killed the women he acquired money from or simply the ones who caused him legal
troubles or that he couldn’t get the funds from without agreeing to marry them. Whatever the case, at least in some instances
this appears to have progressed to Kiss convincing said woman to marry him, at which point he’d
kill her, presumably after she gave him access to her money. For instance, one of the women was a seamstress
named Katherine Varga; after being courted by Kiss, she sold her business and left Budapest
with him. She was found by the police in one of his
metal drums. As for why he was subsequently dubbed the
“Vampire of Cinkota,” the police discovered that Kiss had strangled each victim to death,
then punctured their necks to drain their blood. After this, he pickled and sealed them in
the drums. Given the exsanguination, police opined that
he may have been drinking the blood, despite no hard evidence to support this speculation. Whatever the case, after three months of searching,
in October of 1916, Detective Nagy finally tracked Kiss down, though wasn’t able to bring
him to justice. He found that it appeared Kiss had indeed
died, with records indicating he was sent to a Serbian hospital while suffering from
typhoid fever and that he succumbed to the disease. This perhaps really was the end of Kiss, but
unsubstantiated rumors spread that Kiss had swapped his body for another soldier’s in
order to fake his death. Unfortunately, from here we go back to the
land of poorly documented rumors. For instance, Charlotte Greig reports in the
book Evil Serial Killers: In the Minds of Monsters that in 1920 a soldier in the French
Foreign Legion claimed a man named Hoffman- the name Kiss once used- who fit Kiss’ description
bragged one day about his skills at strangling people. When police came to investigate “Hoffman,”
he supposedly fled and ultimately evaded capture. However, whether any of this part of the tale
is true or not isn’t clear. Likewise, in 1932, a New York detective named
Henry Oswald swore he saw Kiss in Times Square in New York City, but nothing came of it. In 1936, there was also a rumor that Kiss,
by this time in his 60s, was working as a janitor in a building on Sixth Avenue in NYC;
but if he really was, police seem to have never investigated.