The Kiss Of Death – Bela Kiss: Austro-Hungarian Soldier, Ladies Man & Serial Killer

Many a man who went off to the battlefields and trenches in World War I was never the same again. Some were radicalized, others brutalized and all had seared into their consciousness the ultra-violent nature of modern warfare. Those who survived the war came back home transformed, nothing about life was ever the same again. Coming into contact with such forces of violence altered their lives forever. Yet in one soldier’s extreme and exceptional case going off to war was an escape from home. The battlefront was the perfect place to hide from the dark deeds he had committed in the years leading up to the outbreak of war. It may have also given him a chance to use the war as an outlet for his violent tendencies. One thing is for certain, no army ever had to train the Hungarian soldier Bela Kiss on how to kill. He already had plenty of experience by the time he joined the Austro-Hungarian army.

Bela Kiss - Sketch of a deranged killer

Bela Kiss – Sketch of a deranged killer

Looks That Kill With Hands That Strangle
There is a picture, not quite a photo, but a detailed sketch of the man thought to be Bela Kiss. The picture portrays a man from his shoulders up. He is dressed in an army uniform and sports a soldier’s cap. On the left is the upper half of a rifle barrel, which he must be clutching in his right hand. He has a broad face, solid chin and a dark mustache, waxed to perfection, sharply pointed on both ends. This is a good looking man, except for one very disconcerting feature. The look in his eyes is deranged with a dark, piercing quality to his stare. An intense, fanatical amusement can be detected in his expression. This is the look of a man who kills for pleasure. The artist who put together this depiction may have infused it with what was already known about Kiss.

He was handsome, charming and suave, a ladies man through and through. These qualities must have been useful in helping him procure his first and only known wife. The marriage did not last, which seems a bit unlikely. After all, they had a stable income, from Kiss’ work as a prosperous tinsmith in the village of Czinkota close to Budapest. They rented a nice cottage in a quiet area, surrounded by neighbor’s who suspected nothing. Perhaps it was their age difference which made their marriage difficult, than again maybe it was his madness. Kiss was 15 years older than his wife. The young wife soon found a new love and then they disappeared together. Only later would they be found dead.

The bodies of Kiss’ wife and her lover were discovered in 1916, two years after Kiss went off to fight in the First World War. While he was away at the front a deadly secret Kiss had been hiding was discovered in a cache of metal barrels he had been using, ostensibly to store gasoline. At least that is what his landlord had been told a few years before. One day the landlord grew curious and decided to see for himself. When he made a small opening in one barrel, the landlord recoiled at the horrible odor which emanated forth. Soon the police were called. Barrel after barrel contained human remains, twenty-four bodies in all, only one of which was a male, the lover of Kiss’ wife. Each of the bodies had been pickled in wood alcohol. The women were naked with ropes still fastened around their necks. Puncture wounds were also found on the bodies which had been entirely drained of blood. No one would ever figure out what had been done with the blood.

Sinister Secrets Of Deadly Intent – Demented Pleasures
Twenty-three of the dead were females, other than his wife Kiss had lured love seeking women in search of a husband to his home. Before being murdered, the women had been talked into turning over any money or valuables to Kiss. He then strangled them to death. For over a decade prior to the war he had been storing one body after another in the barrels at the cottage. One can only speculate as to why he kept the bodies pickled. Perhaps Kiss gained some kind of demented pleasure by having his victims close to him. Or maybe he did not want to chance taking them off-site where they might be discovered. His cover-up worked long enough. When the war arrived Kiss disappeared into the maelstrom of the Eastern Front. All he left behind was the grisly remains and destroyed lives of the naïve women he had seduced with deadly intent.

The only person who might have shared Kiss’ sinister secret was a hired housekeeper who had spent years working for him. She pled ignorance to the police, but Kiss had left her money in his will. She could receive the compensation if he was killed in the war. Her main contribution to the resulting investigation was showing police a locked, secret room that Kiss had forbade her to enter. Inside the police found thick files with letters from 175 women who had responded to an advertisement for a “lonely widower seeking female companionship.” Those unfortunates who answered the call in person received a date with death.

Missing Person – In Search Of A Fatal Kiss
After the discovery, police in Budapest put out a call for Kiss to be arrested. He was thought either to be in a military hospital convalescing in Serbia or to have been killed in battle on the Eastern Front. When the authorities went to arrest him in Serbia they found another soldier’s dead body in the bed where Kiss was said to recovering. This was just the kind of ghoulish ruse that had all the hallmarks of Kiss. Not only had Kiss stolen away, but he also may have stolen the dead man’s identity. He would use this identity to evade law enforcement or so it was said. No one really one if Kiss was dead or alive.

Over the next decade and a half there were various reports from people claiming to have seen Kiss, including in Budapest. One of the more chilling post-war claims came from a French Foreign Legion soldier who told of a fellow legionnaire named “Hoffman” – an alias that had often been used by Kiss – who bragged about his skill strangling with a garrote. The last purported sighting of Kiss was just as improbable as his crimes. In 1932, a homicide detective in New York City swore that he had seen a man fitting the exact description of Kiss exiting the subway at Times Square. Unfortunately, the potential suspect was never apprehended. This was the last time anyone may or may not have seen Bela Kiss. He disappeared just like his victims. The only difference was that no one knew how, when or where he died.

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