Stealing Away – Repulos Gizi (Airplane Gizi): Hungary’s Queen Of Thieves

Theft is something I often think about when traveling in Europe. Perhaps that is why I have managed to avoid it. I am extremely cautious at public transport stations, always keeping a close eye on my belongings. The same logic goes for when I am onboard either a bus or train. One of my travel mantras is that you can never be too careful. This mindset does not apply to air travel. I usually stow my bags in the overhead compartment without a second thought. This has caused me few problems. I figure if someone can afford to take a flight, then they have little reason to steal a few of my travel guides, an IPod or old laptop.  I had never given much thought to thieves and airplanes until I read about the extraordinary exploits of a Hungarian woman who is best known by her nickname of Repulos Gizi (“Airplane Gizi”). Gizi’s preferred method of travel was by airplane while carrying out numerous thefts that brought her fame and infamy. There is no telling how many passengers sat beside Gizi on planes, unaware that they were traveling with one of the world’s most prolific kleptomaniacs. Even more fascinating is the fact that the woman known as “Airplane Gizi” had little interest in stealing while airborne, that was because she had already done her dirty work beforehand.

Gizella Bodnar - also known as Airplane Gizi

Gizella Bodnar – also known as Airplane Gizi, explains her extraordinary story

The Business Of Theft – Gizi Takes Flight
A few years ago I flew on the now defunct national carrier, MALEV Hungarian Airlines, from Bucharest to Sarajevo by way of Budapest. I have trouble remembering anyone onboard or anything that happened, other than I had to borrow the flight stewardess’ pen to fill out a customs declaration and almost forgot to give it back. She politely reminded me of this as I exited the plane. Both flights were pleasant to the point of being unmemorable. I am quite certain that thousands of passengers had the same experience on MALEV’s short hop flights around Hungary over the years. It is doubtful that they ever suspected or even noticed an unprepossessing lady onboard some of these flights. She would have looked like any other ordinary passenger traveling to see family or conduct business in a provincial city. The latter reason would have been closer to the truth, but the business she conducted was theft and the getaway vehicle was a MALEV airplane.

MALEV - the now defunct Hungarian National Airline

MALEV – the now defunct Hungarian National Airline

The history of Hungary during the 1950’s usually has to do with one of two things, either Stalinist terror or revolutionary upheaval. Overlooked is the fact that the people, with all their flaws, ambitions and impulses continued to act as they always have. Life went on, with all of its banalities, eccentricities and abnormalities. It was during this time that a woman by the name of Gizella Bodnar first came to notice as she began a sixty year career in crime with her first reported robbery. There were two things that made Gizella’s criminal activity so unique. For one thing, she did not commit theft in the pursuit of material wealth or personal gain, but because she felt an uncontrollable urge to do so. In other words she was a kleptomaniac. Secondly, she carried out a remarkable number of thefts by using the domestic flight service of MALEV to fly from one city to another in Hungary. Upon arrival she would break into several residences, steal whatever valuables she could get her hands on before taking a return flight back home, with her booty in tow. Later on she would do this with international flights to cities in Western Europe. It might be said that the flights provided her with “cloud cover” as no one would suspect a woman using domestic flights to abet in habitual theft. Thus, she was given the nickname of Repulos Gizi for her exploits.

Gizella Bodnar (Repulos Gizi -Airlane Gizi)

A legend in her own time – Gizella Bodnar (Repulos Gizi – Airplane Gizi)

Collecting Your Belongings – “Airplane Gizi” Rides The Rails
It could be said that for Gizi the steal was the thrill. She just could not help herself despite being apprehended on multiple occasions and put on trial over twenty times. She ended up serving 16 of the 40 years for which she was sentenced. Gizi said she had developed kleptomania after suffering meningitis as a young child. No scientific link has been proven to exist between the two. She also claimed that her behavior was stress induced. She was a student living in Kassa, Hungary (Kosice, Slovakia), when the city was bombed, precipitating Hungary’s entry into the Second World War. This supposedly set her on a binge of thievery. Whatever the case may be, there is little doubt that Gizi was a chronic thief. Long periods of confinement did nothing to dissuade her from stealing again and again. She became quite famous for her criminal impulses, even penning a memoir, in which she referred to herself as the “Queen of Thieves.”

As she grew older, Airplane Gizi was grounded, more due to her notoriety than infirmity. This did nothing to stop her from engaging in unlawful activities. She was still physically able to carry out larcenous escapades. A couple of years ago, she was apprehended by police at a train station in the town of Bicske, 35 kilometers west of Budapest. The officers found her in possession of 15,000 forints. She was suspected of taking the money from a wallet, sitting on the living room table of a home she had broken into. In the first half of 2015, Gizi was caught robbing a residence in the Burgenland region of eastern Austria, two weeks after disappearing from a nursing home. Later that same year, she was caught hiding inside a closet in the eastern Hungarian town of Hajdúszoboszló. Gizi claimed she was taking shelter from a rainstorm. At the time of her arrest she was a sprightly 89 years old. Airplane Gizi is still alive today, though it is highly unlikely she will take to the air again for another round of breaking, entering and stealing. What is not beyond the realm of possibility, Gizella Bodnar (Repulos Gizi) might get caught once again, making a last grasp to satisfy her urge for theft.


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