Debreczen, Hungary – Old Mrs. Julianna Janos Nagy, the “Angel-Maker,” has been given the death sentence for making ‘‘angels” of more than . twenty-two husbands with the aid of poison fly-paper. This ends the third and latest chapter of Hungary’s strange epidemic of “widow-making.”
Fly-paper is supposed to catch flies. Julianna discovered how it could kill husbands. She became very popular.
Julianna was not only a self-made widow but had first made “angels” of her husband’s previous wife and all his five children. Also she profited by the experience of other Hungarian murderesses. After the first of the modern crop had been rounded up and punished, any wife who bought a quantity of rat-poison became too conspicuous to dare use it on her husband.
An entirely new method had to be devised and it was. The second series of husband-removers, of whom “Smoking Peter,” a female man-hater who disguised herself as a man, was the ringleader, first made the husband helpless, usually by a tap on the back of the head and then hanged him in such a way that it looked like suicide. This worked nicely until one lady tapped a husband with too much zeal, fracturing his skull and causing the coroner to wonder. The subsequent trials and convictions made the “suicide method” even more dangerous than the rat-poison.
Julianna went back fifty years – to the technique of the infamous Marie Jaeger who ran a “baby farm,” killing thirty of her little charges and teaching other women of the vicinity how to get rid of superfluous children. She received, and richly deserved, the death sentence, but old muddle-headed Emperor Franz-Joseph, in one of his sentimental moments, commuted it to life imprisonment.
Like the rat-poison school of murder, Frau Jaeger used arsenic but she obtained it from fly-paper, in common use and which everyone except Julianna seems to have soon forgotten can be made to exterminate husbands as well as flies.
Enterprising Julianna, native of the little village of Csokmo in the Hungarian lowlands, known as “the country behind God’s back,” was an old maid for more than half of her life. The low-lands are only sixty miles from Budapest, the “Paris of the East,’’ but they might as well be six hundred miles or six centuries away as far as many of their beliefs and customs are concerned. Their gravestones look more like carved Indian totem poles and it is customary for a widow to place in the coffin with her lamented husband the bottles of medicine she gave him in his last illness.
No railroads go through this area nor any highways really fit for a motor to travel. This little, isolated pool of population has inbred for centuries until they all belong to one of three families or clans. Rarely are they visited even by the police because if there are crimes, no complaint ever reaches the authorities. The heads of the clans make sure of that.
The “Angel-Maker” started the career for which she is to be hanged, as housekeeper in the home of Janos Nagy, a prosperous fanner who had an invalid wife. Julianna had just one virtue – she was such a good cook that Janos, one day, hardly able to rise from his Sunday dinner, made the fatal mistake of saying, with gratitude in his eyes:
“Julianna, you are no longer young and you never were beautiful. But, if I were free, I would marry you in a minute because I could always shut my eyes and think of your beautiful cooking.”
The old maid realized that he was speaking from the fullness of his heart or of his stomach which sometimes amounts to about the same thing. She cooked with even greater care and as she cooked she thought. The wife was an invalid, a nuisance to her husband, and everyone, even herself. She was forever telling everyone how she yearned to be one of the blessed angels and yet it looked as if she never would become one.
Julianna thought it would be a kindness to all concerned if some one would just place this woman’s other foot in the grave. So she soaked some fly-paper in water and having no idea of the proper dose, experimented on an old horse. Next morning the animal was so thoroughly dead that she decided a half portion would be liberal for a human being.
This she administered to Frau Nagy just at the start of a cloud-burst which prevented the doctor from arriving until it was all over. The over-worked underpaid medical man [illegible] no surprise. His only comment when wrote out the death certificate was:
“You are too good a cook. You will kill them all with overeating.”
“What a delightful death,” said Farmer Nagy, and the children agreed: “Me, too!”
They all got their wish, dying from her food. The old maid induced the old man to marry her by the simple process of threatening to resign as cook. But there were five children to inherit which would not leave much for the widow in case something should happen to Nagy. Therefore Julianna bought more fly-paper with which she made little angels, one after the other of all the five children. There was considerable talk among the clans, about this run of bad luck, even before the farmer himself followed the procession to the cemetery.
To lead everyone’s thoughts astray, the murderers did a shrewd thing. Remembering that many people had called her an old witch, he whispered to me that she had “passed them all out” by the evil eye and other black magic methods. To make a good job of it she claimed to have caused the death of many others who had died from perfectly natural causes and whom she had not been near at all. When a police investigator visited the vicinity he heard such a mass of absurd charges that he reported that there was nothing in it but rank superstition.
Julianna then told the women that if they talked about her any more she would give them the evil eye and they, too, would soon disappear. Pretty soon dissatisfied wives began to ask timidly how much she would charge to “give the eye” to their husbands. Apparently, she accommodated them all, giving them the “magic potion” and instructions for various prices. The average was about $20 down, $100 at the funeral and $100 more when the widow came into her husband’s estate. Some of the fees read like enormous fortunes but these were during the ruinous inflation period when money had almost no value at all.
She was a cautious murderess, insisting that her customers wait until the husband had fallen ill and called the doctor for some natural cause. Then, instead of the medicine he left, the would-be widow would give him the “witch’s potion” and soon there would be another “angel.” Also no money would tempt her to make fickle lovers into angels nor would she trust a husband to do away with his wife.
This distrust of men was well-founded, because it was a man who brought her and all the other merry widows to book, Imre Papp, one of the largest land-owners, led his pretty eighteen-year-old niece astray. Fraulein Papp’s name happened to be Julianna, too, and she was related to the “Angel-Maker.”
There would have been no great local resentment at Imre had he paid the girl the customary damages, due in such cases. But the land-owner pleaded that the taxes had taken every penge he had and he put the settlement off until the baby was born. A bus line had recently penetrated “the country behind God’s back,” bringing in new ideas, such as lawsuits and the niece actually sued her uncle in court.
This unheard of act so infuriated Imre that he sent an anonymous letter to the authorities, informing them that young Julianna had killed her baby with the aid of old Julianna. The authorities sent several sleuths who found not only that this was true but exhumed more than twenty-two other bodies, heavily impregnated with arsenic.
The widows and others involved all confessed, implicating the fly-paper murderess. Julianna Nagy, though now seventy-two years old, was not ready to become an angel herself, so she stolidly denied everything. The eight other widows, no longer merry, wept and wrung their hands as did Julianna Papp, telling the three judges who, in Huncary, sit without a jury, that they had no idea they were breaking the law. Their excuse was that old Julianna had assured them that her “medicine” contained no poison, but was deadly only because it had been made so by magic. Since there is no law against magic, it could not be unlawful to get rid of an undesirable husband that way. Nor could it be a sin, because why would God allow the magic to work, if it was bad?
The judges did not follow this ingenious reasoning, sentencing Mrs. Balint Nagy and most of the others to life imprisonment though Mrs. Lajos Kikis got off with only 15 years due to her age and young Julianna because more sinned against than sinning, received a suspended sentence. Imre Papp, the informer, only man involved, except as victims, wished he had not written that letter. The investigation revealed that he had aided and abetted in the murder of his own baby, for which he will also spend his life behind the bars.
Mrs. Andreas Gyori saw the officer arresting her neighbor the widow Balint Nagy and realized that her turn would come soon. So she tied a rope to one of the rafters of her house, put a noose around her neck and jumped from a high stool. When the police broke in the door, she. was already an “angel” beyond their powers to arrest because though angels have wings, like flies, nobody has invented an angel paper that will catch them.
Mrs. Lajos Eikis, besides removing a husband who talked and ate too much, also “abated” the nuisance of a thirteen-year-old, unruly daughter. Ransacking of the cemeteries revealed that many earlier husbands had gone the arsenic way but that nothing could be done about it. Some of these poisonings had been done as. much as 12 years ago and the widow who had perpetrated them were already sleeping placidly beside their victims.
True to custom, most of the coffins contained bottles supposed to bold samples of the medicine last taken by the deceased. These were analyzed but in no case was any trace of arsenic detected. The widows swore that they had no idea Julianna’s medicine was poisonous but somehow they forgot to put any of it in the coffins.
Those queer, carved, wooden tombstones, suggestive of American Indian totem poles, are believed to be not without significance. There seems to be little doubt that the Red Man is of Asiatic stock and so also are the husband- killers of Hungary. Hungary has been the gateway for so many invasions of Europe by Asiatic hordes that the nation is full of Oriental blood and traditions. Since long before history, husband-poisoning seems, to have been one of the most popular feminine indoor sports of the Far East.
Tradition relates that this was the cause of Suttee, the custom in India for widows to commit suicide on their husband’s funeral pyre. The ruling caste of India at the beginnings of history decided that the best and perhaps only way to insure a husband’s life against his wife’s adding something special to his food, was to insure that no widow would be permitted to survive her husband by more than twenty-four hours. This may not have made the Indian mania love papa any more but it increased that gentleman’s expectation of life.
This Oriental husband-removing habit, without the corrective of Suttee, seems to have asserted itself repeatedly among the fair sex of Hungary.
“Aunt” Szuzsi Fazekas of the Village of Nagyrev was a midwife who found that though her patients would pay only a pittance for bringing a new life into the world, some would reward handsomely anyone who could push a husband out of it in such a way that the police would not ask questions. Her first victim was Lajos Varga who happened to be Austro-Hungary’s first soldier to be blinded in the war.
When the police first suspected Frau Fazckas, they located her customers by a neat little trick. After questioning her, in a vague way, as if they really had nothing on her, they let her go.
She promptly ran around to a dozen widows and told them to keep their mouths shut. A detective, quietly following, thus obtained a dozen names and addresses in one evening. “Aunt” Zsuzsi used arsenic though its source has been disputed.
She was not arrested until more than a dozen of her “liberated widows” had been gathered in. When they came for “Auntie,” it was too late. She had taken her own medicine.
[“Used Fly-Paper to Kill Husbands – Dissatisfied Wives Affectionately Called Julianna Nagy the ‘Angel Maker’ when She Showed Them How to Become Widows – But Now Julianna Is to Be an Angel of Some Kind Herself by Way of the Hangman’s Rope,” The American Weekly (San Antonio Light) (Tx.), May 12, 1935, p. 8]
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible. -- Lawrence of Arabia