The career of blood-drinking serial killer Bela Kiss was immortalized in a play called 23, by Antonin Artaud. Certainly his fiction could not have been much stranger than Bela’s own truth. You decide.
Bela Kiss, by all accounts was immensely popular in his little town of Czinkota, in Hungary, where he was something of a local bon vivant, a party-going, garrulous, free-spender whose good looks and sheer charm caught the eye of any number of eligible ladies, who often wondered at the strangeness of such a kindly, generous, and handsome man remaining, all to himself, in a roomy house with not but an elderly housekeeper. It must have seemed to them a regrettable waste of good husbandly material. Indeed, it was not long before Bela began to see the situation in quite the same light. Unbeknownst to his fellow townsfolk, he busily began placing adds in a number of prominent newspapers, seeking the companionship of young ladies as lonely as himself, ladies seekeing to meet a prospective partner for courtship.
Locals were quick to notice the steady stream of attractive young ladies that seemed to flock around the Kiss home. It seemed that every time the villagers of Cinkota turned around, Bela would come to town sporting a lovely woman on his arm. Many were quick to point out that the women he was seen with, most often, were only with him for a very short time.
Sometimes merely a single occasion.
Rumors began to spread in the way that they will, but before anything could come of mounting suspicions, the life of Bela Kiss took an unexpected turn. In June of 1914 a young, Slavic nationalist named Gavrilo Princip stepped into a side-street in Sarajevo, raised his pistol, and fired into a car in which were riding the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie. The Archduke clutched his breast, fell over on his wife, and gasped out her name one last time. He then plunged headfirst into the bitter maelstrom of death. It was this single incident, performed by the unwitting hand of a fed-up Serbian nationalist , which erupted the smoldering “powder keg” of World War 1.
It was only a scant time later that countries began to align themselves to commence what would become the “Great War,” the “War to End All Wars,” and the first real modern war fought in human history. The grueling hell of trench combat, where soldiers spent interminable, maddening hours dug into the mud and filth, shooting at the enemy from behind protective barricades of sandbags, served only to add an increased fillip of personal misery to the duty of doughboys who may have been away from home for the very first times of their (often) short lives. Trenches quickly filled with dead, wounded, and dying. Rodents became a common nuisance, but that was nothing compared to the onslaught of death that might accompany anyone going “over the top.” Men returned— “Men With Broken Faces”— as little more than pathetic, wounded shadows of their former selves. Missing limbs, legs, and faces, they formed a repellent reminder of the devastation wrought by man in the guise of industrialized killing and international conflict.
(At least, sometimes survivors COULD be revived from the dead. Accidents and injuries, weapons that once would have killed rather than maimed, and explosions that, heretofore, had been unknown anywhere and everywhere on Earth, had been unleashed, but could be survived. But at what cost to the physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being of the individual? Some supposed the lucky ones had been those that were shot, blown to hell from artillery fire, or choked to death on “mustard gas.” One supposes this is why an entire new science of false limbs, false noses, and other false body accoutrements was soon developed. But I digress.)
It was to this great conflagration of slaughter that Bela Kiss found himself called, and being a dutiful son of Hungary, was soon departed from his home, leaving the custodial care of his property in the hands of an elderly female servant (whose later professed ignorance in the face of so much appalling evidence is still a subject of great conjecture). Soon however, as the thick of fighting and the catastrophe of battle began to brew heavy in the Hungarian ranks, it became apparent (at the very least, to the landlord that owned his property), that Kiss was going to be considerably in arrears as to the payment of his rent. What said individual could possibly do about this, under the circumstances, is anyone’s guess, but it is highly unlikely that anyone under the circumstances would have the temerity to evict a man that was away busily fighting at the front lines. But, then, there is no reckoning with the strangeness one could witness in the various shadings of human character.
The landlord became distressed when, upon first entering the premises , he found what appeared to be a few drum-sized metal containers, and not much else. Kiss was still off, presumably killing people on the battlefield (as opposed to his usual habit of snuffing them off of it), and he assumed that the house had been vacated. He was wrong about this, but that didn’t at all stop him from attempting to open the metal container. He managed to poke a small hole in the top, from which exuded a noxious odor that quite nearly bowled him over. His suspicions grew, and upon fetching a local chemist, he soon had his worst suspicions confirmed: the smell was, undeniably, that of rotten flesh. Once the canisters were opened (and to the horror of both men, they found several more hidden in a storage shed), it was discovered that within each was crammed the nude body of a young woman, preserved in alcohol, The women had, apparently, each been strangled. The authorities were alerted immediately, a police inspector, Dr. Nagy, departing immediately for the former Kiss residence. By this time, the housekeeper had finally made her terrified appearance, rushing out and commanding the assembled men to leave her master’s property instantly. Of course, pointing out their finding of the canned young corpses, the men assured her that, at this point, that that was quite beyond their ability to do. At which point she launched into frantic protestations of her innocence, as the assembled investigators began to scour the grounds. In short time, they found additional canisters, each offering up another grisly, nude young woman.
Later, some digging revealed bodies that had been buried in the earth behind the house.
Although accounts vary, the final grisly body count attributed to Bela Kiss has been recorded as anywhere between seventeen and twenty-four. Each victim had been strangled, and, perhaps most horribly, there was evidence of puncture marks on the side of the throat. The only conclusion that could be drawn from this was that Kiss, in his heated, fetishistic passion, had drawn out the blood from his victims, in order to bathe or drink it.
Most probably, he drank it.
The military was alerted quickly, and Kiss was eagerly sought after in the field. Meanwhile, the frantic housemaid was fervently protesting her innocence concerning ANY knowledge of her employer’s homicidal habits. Sensing that, perhaps, she could be primed for more information, Dr. Nagy pressed her emotionally on certain points, but she remained consistent enough in her protestations that he began to believe in her utter ignorance.
One thing that her hysterics did reveal however was her knowledge of a key that led to a secret room, always locked, which she had been instructed never to open under any circumstances. Shades of Bluebeard aside, Dr. Nagy must have thought it singularly odd that, given the long absence of her employer, Mrs. Jakubec had never once decided to simply peep inside, out of even curiosity. Perhaps it just proved how wise she was. Inside, Dr. Nagy found, to his surprise, a room covered completely in dusty old volumes, most of them relating, in some way, to murder, poisoning, criminal detection, or forensic pathology. He further discovered a massive ledger, the chronicle of Kiss’ correspondence with hundreds of different women across Hungary.
Kiss had, apparently, been writing women for years, seeking them out by placing adds in newspapers and classified columns of Budapest papers. When he found, eventually, a prospect that seemed promising, he would romance, wine, dine, defraud, and destroy the young woman utterly. Then, he would drain her corpse, and drink her blood. Lastly, of course, he canned his virginal victims like so much processed meat, capping them off with a lid, and leaving the corpses to ferment in wood alcohol. One supposes that, eventually, he may have hit upon the idea of cannibalism as a way of ridding himself of the growing cemetery he was tending.
One of the most amazing discoveries made by Dr. Nagy was that Kiss had apparently been married. He had courted, and defrauded, a young woman fifteen years his junior, under an assumed name. Apparently, he had an actual fancy for this one, as he went to the considerable trouble and took the risk of meeting her parents. Or perhaps it was only for the sake of securing the dowry, but, at any rate, the parents were supremely satisfied that their daughter had managed to secure such a prosperous, handsome husband. After the young woman returned with him to Cinkota, Kiss decided that she no longer amused him. She was coldly dispatched in a short period of time, and joined the rest of his paramours, a human pickle in a giant metal drum. Amazingly enough, the parents became concerned when, after a considerable amount of time had passed, they had still heard nothing from their newly wedded daughter. In mounting anxiety they traveled to Cinkota to confront Kiss, who did his best job of appearing distraught, explaining that his new bride had run away to America, supposedly to pursue a career on the stage. He even produced a letter to this effect, penned in her unmistakable hand. Dr. Nagy could only suppose under what pretence or threat he had forced her to compose it; possibly, he gave her no explanation at all, save that she was his wife. Then,afterwards, he had simply killed her, now content that he could use this letter as a convenient piece of evidence should he ever be questioned.
The military, which had under the most precarious of circumstances put out a general call to the front to apprehend Infantryman Kiss, finally decided it had located him in a field hospital, where reposed, in critical condition, a soldier named “Bela Kiss,” who answered to the same, general description as Dr. Nagy’s man. Rushing to the field hospital, Nagy and other detectives found themselves in an unenviable situation. To begin with, the man had expired just hours before they reached him, dying from injuries received in combat. Also, he wasn’t the right size. The fact that “Bela Kiss” was a fairly common name in Hungary wasn’t lost on them, either.
Bela Kiss was never apprehended or seen again.
However, he became a kind of murderous “Flying Dutchman,” with Bela Kiss sightings cropping up as frequently in the subsequent years and decades as sightings of Elvis or Bigfoot. He was rumored to be in Romania, France, Great Britain, rumored to have booked passage to the States; some said he was in Hong Kong. It was surrealist Antonin Artaud who gave to Kiss a kind of lasting fame, with his short, experimental play 32 , which replaced the character of Kiss with that of a brilliant, well-loved doctor. The play ends with the discovery of several large canisters. Upon one being opened, the body of a naked woman is found inside. But Bela Kiss walked away into the twilight of infamy, another footnote in the long history of horrors. Like Jack the Ripper, he was never captured. Unlike Jack the Ripper, few people still care.