Tragically Explosive – Szilvestre Matuschka: A Fetish For Disaster (Part Three)

Twenty minutes after midnight on September 13, 1931 Szilvestre Matuschka stood in the cool autumn air close to the Biatorbagy viaduct just outside of Budapest. His nerves were on edge as he waited in worried anticipation to see if his bomb would detonate just as the Budapest-Vienna Express made its way across the viaduct. Matuschka was primed and ready for the potential calamity, an unnatural disaster that could wreak havoc on hundreds of innocent lives. This was the only thing that could bring him back to that state of demented euphoria he had felt just a couple of weeks earlier. That was when Matschuka had done the same thing, standing close to another viaduct west of Berlin in nervous anticipation of an explosion. Now standing in central Hungary, Matuschka could barely contain his emotions as the Express came into view. At that moment, he was the very definition of a madman, so nervous as to be almost at the point of collapse. A deeply disturbed man could no longer control his psychotic impulses.

Rails on top of Viaduct Memorial - Recalling the Biatorbagy tragedy

Rails on top of Viaduct Memorial – Recalling the Biatorbagy tragedy (Credit: fabiolah)

Terrible To Contemplate – The End Of A Line
As the Express began to pass over the viaduct, Matuschka’s bomb detonated between the second and third cars, ripping them apart. Several of the cars went crashing down into the ravine. Several were engulfed in flames. A scene of violent chaos unfolded below the viaduct. While almost anyone would have been horrified at this scene, Szilvestre Matuschka was not one of them. He had reached a point of emotional euphoria, and as investigators would later state, perhaps even deviant gratification. The worst nightmares of everyone aboard that train, were the fantasies dreams of Matuschka. If anyone ever wondered just how insane Matschuka had become, they only needed to consider what he did next. Rather than flee from the scene of hell on earth he had just created, Matuschka could not resist the urge to go help rescuers try to save the lives of those he had just tried to destroy. His act of crazed mania would turn out to be a massive misjudgment.

There were people screaming, burning, dying. Then there was Szilvestre Matuschka reputedly laughing and crying.  Matuschka made his way down into the fiery cauldron to witness his demonic work up close and personal. 24 people would die, while another 14 were severely injured and over a hundred required medical treatment. It was a miracle that anyone survived at all. The locomotive and five cars that crashed into the ravine had fallen 25 meters (75 feet). In the immediate aftermath, it was a scene too terrible to contemplate. Passengers, who minutes earlier had been napping, reading or settling in for a midnight train ride to Vienna, were now suffering through unimaginable torment. Intently watching this horror was Matuschka. He would claim to the authorities to have been a passenger onboard the train. To add insult to incendiaries, “passenger” Matsuchka made a claim for compensation due to losses he incurred because of the crash. This brought him to the attention of those investigating the explosion. Matuschka had overplayed his hand.

A Nightmare Scenario - Biatorbagy after the blast

A Nightmare Scenario – Biatorbagy after the blast (Credit: fortepan.hu)

A Life Derailed – Off The Tracks
It was not long before investigators closed in on Matuschka. Their investigation revealed that not only had Matsuchka blown up the Biatorbagy Viaduct, but that he was also responsible for the two failed derailment attempts in Austria, as well as the bombing west of Berlin. He was apprehended in Austria and first put on trial for his two failed attempts there. A sensational trial followed that garnered a great deal of media attention throughout Europe and North America. Correspondents from London and New York provided eyewitness accounts of Matuschka’s increasingly bizarre behavior. The upstanding businessman who had seemed relatively normal up to this point in his life became something altogether different before a courtroom audience. Matuschka began to reveal elements of himself that he had hidden for years. He talked about his possession by a carnival hypnotist years before and how it led to a demonic character named Leo the Ghost controlling him. At times he would begin weeping uncontrollably or start shouting at no one in particular. Other times, he got down on his hands and knees. Some commentators compared his behavior to that of an ape.

Matuschka claimed, among other things, that spirits caused his actions. Depending on the day, these ranged from God to his old nemesis Leo the Ghost. He also made the spurious claim that he was a radical socialist revolutionary who was providing an example that would somehow lead to worldwide liberation for the masses. This was patently ridiculous, since Matuschka had been a businessman most of his life. He tried comparing himself to Leon Trotsky, likely an attempt to gain credibility. His stories were as changeable as his emotions, everyday brought more strange revelations. Matuschka even offered up the suggestion that he had been infuriated into violent action because no one would take his invention to improve train signals seriously. It goes without saying that Matuschka’s defense was doomed by his own words and actions.

In Perspective - The Biatorbagy viaduct today

In Perspective – The Biatorbagy viaduct today (Credit: battabikee)

Missing In Action – A Prison Break
It was not a surprise to anyone when the Austrian court found Matuschka guilty and ordered him to serve six years in prison. In Hungary, Matuschka was sentenced to death for the viaduct explosion. After serving time in Austria, Matsuchka was transferred to Hungary when his death sentence was commuted to life in prison. It was imperative that Matuschka stay imprisoned. He had claimed during the trial that however long his sentence might be, he planned on blowing up more trains as soon as he was free. He would be confined to a prison at Vac (40 kilometers north of Budapest) until the waning days of World War II. Matuschka most likely wrecked trains to fulfill his disaster fetish.

It is interesting to note that several sources state that Matuschka was sprung from prison by the Germans at the end of 1944, providing knowledge and services on how to rig explosions. Matuschka was back to blasting away in another World War. A strange code to a very strange life. The First World War may have provided Matuschka with the initial impetus to follow his nightmarish fantasies. The second one, likely provided him a last horrific hurrah. Matuschka went missing at the end of the war and no one is certain what happened to him. It is safe to assume that whatever did happen, the details were much like his life, tragically explosive.

Unnatural Disasters – Szilveszter Matuschka: On The Brink of Insanity (Part Two)

Often the most fascinating and terrifying people are those that we would never suspect of committing violent crimes. Those rare individuals who outwardly portray normalcy, who are upstanding citizens in their community, who always conduct themselves in a professional manner, who focus on their family or faith and who keep their deepest, darkest secrets submerged until suddenly they unleash the demons that have driven them to the point of insanity. Szilveszter Matuschka was that kind of person. He was a good man with a fine family. To those around him, he seemed to be entirely dedicated to his wife and daughter along with his many business endeavors. A decorated war veteran, Matuschka was a smart, clever man. He could speak Hungarian, Serbian and German fluently. His mind tended towards the scientific. Unfortunately, he would eventually turn his intellect to evil designs.

Family Man - Szilvester Matuschka with his wife and daughter

Family Man – Szilvester Matuschka with his wife and daughter

Changing Trajectories – A Fine Man With Flaws
By the late 1920’s Matuschka was working on patenting several different inventions. He had an entrepreneurial spirit and a knack for business, but there were also hints that Matschuka may have had a less than savory character, such as accusations concerning arson on a home that he managed through one of his companies. A lawsuit inferred that he had set the house on fire to get insurance money. It was never proven though. There were also problems at home, but these were beyond Matuschka’s control. His wife suffered from pulmonary problems. Searching to find a cure for her had cost the family dearly. Speaking of costs, there was also the cost of several failed businesses. Life was not easy for Szilveszter Matuschka, but this was not out of the ordinary for Hungarians or Austrians or Serbians between the World Wars.

Most of those living in East-Central Europe during this time had grown used to hardship. Whether it was Subotica, Budapest or Vienna, those places Matuschka had called home most often up to this point in his life, each one of them had been changed irreparably by the Great War. The war had also changed the trajectory of Matuschka’s life. It had brought him into close contact with high powered munitions and advanced weaponry. The kind that could inflict human carnage on an unprecedented scale. What impression these had made on Matuschka we have no way of knowing, but because of the crimes he would later commit, it has led to rampant speculation. A deadly secret lurked inside Szilveszter Matuschka, until one day it exploded outward. He had been waiting for just such a moment several months before his fantasy became reality.

The Biatorbagy Viaduct in 1931

The Biatorbagy Viaduct in 1931 (Credit: fortepan.hu)

An Ominous Obsession – Imagining The Unimaginable
During the Christmas holiday of 1930, Matuschka returned home to the town of his childhood, Csantvar, which was now located in Yugoslavia. He brought his family with him, but on Christmas Eve he left them to spend some time by himself walking along the railway tracks that ran through the town. The idea of train wrecks now possessed him. He found this demonic idea so enthralling that he would soon no longer be able to hide his urge to cause one. Other clues to his sinister obsession would later become apparent. There was the time he gave his young daughter a toy train for Christmas. An odd gift for someone to give their daughter during that era. There was his invention of a signaling system to alert trains when an obstacle was blocking the tracks.

In retrospect, Matschuka’s associations with trains or train related items seems deeply disturbing. At the time, no one suspected what he might be planning. He was a man quietly compelling himself towards an unimaginable crime. Matuschka could not control his personal demons any longer. They manifested themselves in what is known as a disaster fetish. In other words, Matuschka longed to cause a major disaster that would provide him emotional and sexual gratification. In his case, the disaster would involve his fascination with trains. Matuschka decided to target a train for derailment that was traveling along a line near the village of Aschbach, Austria on New Year’s Eve. He tampered with the track, loosening bolts on a section of rail so it was no longer secure.

Matschuka then waited in a suspended state of angst. Caught somewhere between hope, nervousness and euphoria. His planned disaster turned out to be nothing of the sort. The train passed over the rails without a problem. Matuschka went home disappointed and deeply depressed. The only evidence he left behind was a three word note that said, “Assault! Revolution! Victory! This was a paltry attempt by Matsuchka to fool the authorities into believing that his sabotage was the work of radical revolutionaries.  It turned out to be a non-event as the note baffled Austrian authorities and Matuschka decided to try again elsewhere.

Trial by fire - Szilvester Matuschka in court

Trial by fire – Szilvester Matuschka in court

Murderous Intent – Points of Attack
A month later, during the dead of winter, Matuschka made his second attempt to derail a train when he affixed an iron bar across the rails. The obstruction was spotted by a keen-eyed train engineer who braked just in time to prevent an accident. This second failure made Matuschka realize that he was going to need something much more powerful to derail a train. It did not take long for him to devise a clever ruse to procure the necessary equipment to carry out his diabolical plan. Matuschka, the erstwhile businessman, arranged to purchase a disused quarry. This front allowed him to acquire explosives, not for mining minerals, but to wreck trains. Matuschka had realized that causing a disaster took more than spur of the moment, deviant spontaneity, it called for a great deal of planning and forethought. This included procuring explosives and selecting a target to terrorize.

By the summer of 1931, Matuschka’s preparation and planning for his next attack were complete. It would occur in Germany, just 60 kilometers (40 miles) west of Berlin. A bomb Matuschka planted exploded beneath a train near the town of Juterborg just as it was crossing a viaduct. The engine, dining car and seven passenger cars tumbled into a ravine. Incredibly, not a single person was killed though over a hundred were injured. Matuschka was able to escape from the area without anyone noticing him. The success spurred him on to attempt yet another attack. He looked towards the east for his next target. He found one on a line he had traveled many times before. The Vienna-Budapest express crossed the Biatorbagy viaduct just west of the Hungarian capital. This was where Matuschka looked to reenact his most recent success with murderous intent.

Click here for: Tragically Explosive – Szilvestre Matuschka: A Fetish For Disaster (Part Three)

A Train Wreck Of A Man – Sinister Speculations: Szilvestre Matuschka (Part One)

The aftermath of World War I brought many things to Hungary and most of them were not good. Economic depression, governmental dissolution, communism, fascism, revolution and counter-revolution were among the more notable ills that the war brought home to Hungarians. The legacy of the war was felt most acutely in the postwar Treaty of Trianon where the Kingdom of Hungary lost two-thirds of its population and territory. Tens of thousands of ethnic Hungarian refugees fleeing the partitioned lands arrived in Budapest, many of whom spent months or even years living in railroad boxcars. There were other more hidden maladies that the war brought which would take many years to manifest themselves. Soldiers who had managed to survive the maelstrom of conflict, now tried to somehow readjust to civilian society while suffering from what is today known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many Hungarian combat veterans had been witness to unspeakable events. Others had experienced the effects of industrialized weaponry and saw the mass violence it caused for the first time in their lives. Fortunately, most were able to compartmentalize their battlefield experiences. There were a few eerie outliers from those who learned some very bad lessons during the war. Lessons they applied many years later to create mayhem. No one can say exactly how much the war affected such men, but it must have served to further destabilize their fragile psyches. For one man, the experience would have profound implications that are as good an explanation as any for the mass murder he committed in Hungary on one horrific night on the outskirts of Budapest during the autumn of 1931.

Szilveszter Matuska

Szilveszter Matuska

A Mad Spirit – Hypnotically Haunting
The other day I asked my Hungarian wife if she had ever heard of Szilvestre Matuschka. She replied in a matter of fact manner, “Of course.” When I mentioned that he was a famously bizarre serial killer, she looked at me a bit puzzled. A man who blows up a viaduct in order to cause a train wreck is not the usual definition of a serial killer. When my wife reminded me that the Police Museum in Budapest had exhibit materials about Matuschka I was a bit surprised. I remembered many things from our visit to the museum a couple of years ago, but Matuschka was not one of them. Today Matuschka would be labelled a mass murderer, a terrorist or a mentally deranged deviant and serial killer. He was also many other things, a successful businessman, mechanical engineer, an Austro-Hungarian officer, a loving husband and devoted father. He lived a normal, upwardly mobile life until one day he succumbed to the silent demons that had insidiously stalked him for years. It was then that Matuschka became something unimaginable to everyone but himself.

Szilvestre Matuschka was born in Csantaver (present day Cantavir), a town now located in northern Serbia, but at the time of his birth part of the Hungarian Kingdom. Matschuka’s father died while he was a child, but his mother soon remarried. His upbringing seems to have been relatively normal. Matuschka’s stepfather insisted that he take up the same trade as his birth father, manufacturing slippers, but the teenager wanted to join the priesthood. He would eventually focus on becoming a teacher. It was also during his teenage years that Matuschka had an experience that he later said haunted him throughout his life. Supposedly, at the age of fourteen he underwent hypnosis at a carnival. During the session, a demonic spirit by the name of “Leo” was inserted into his mind. The spirit could make him do unimaginable things. Matsuchka also claimed that this was when he started becoming obsessed with train wrecks. Of course, no one learned any of this until after he committed mass murder thirty years later.

The Golden Age - Szabadka (Subotica) in 1914 before World War I

The Golden Age – Szabadka (Subotica) in 1914 before World War I

A Change In Plans– From Battlefront to Homefront
Nine months before the First World War broke out, Matuschka joined the Hungarian military, enlisting in a regiment formed in the nearby city of Szabadka (Subotica, Serbia). This gave him a head start on a military career. The training and education would come in useful after war broke out. Matuschka, like tens of thousands of other Hungarian soldiers, was wounded in combat in the early months of fighting. This proved strangely advantageous as he soon found himself teaching at an officer’s school. He was also trained to lead a machine gun squadron in battle on the Eastern Front. Though Matuschka avoided getting wounded again, the question arises of how combat might have affected his mental stability.

World War I was the first time that Matuschka saw firsthand the effects of industrialized weaponry. He would have witnessed up close and personal its use on the battlefield. Whether this fascinated Matuschka, we have no way of knowing, but the effects must have been considerable. He would have gained valuable knowledge of how munitions and explosive devices were utilized. By war’s end, Matuschka was a decorated veteran, gaining two medals for his exploits at the front. As with so many, the First World War was a formative experience in Matuschka’s life. Unlike his fellow soldiers, he go on to commit acts of mass murder during peacetime.

One of the more interesting aspects of Matuschka’s life is how he seemingly slipped back into civil society without any discernable problems. While many soldiers suffered from debilitating mental and physical issues, Matuschka set about building himself a career. First, he returned to his old job of teaching, then transitioned into agriculture and commercial services by selling goods imported from the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In 1922, business interests brought Matuschka and his wife to Budapest with their newborn daughter Gabriella. During this time, Matuschka was involved in a range of enterprises, everything from running a spice shop to managing housing units to the natural resource trade. Then only four years after moving to Budapest, he uprooted his family once again when he started speculating in Viennese property.

Proving ground - Austro-Hungarian soldiers at the battlefront during World War I

Proving ground – Austro-Hungarian soldiers at the battlefront during World War I (Credit: National Museum of the U.S. Navy)

Wild Fantasies – Waking Up To A Nightmare
The fact that Matuschka moved so often in his postwar life – at least five times in the first six years of the 1920’s – raises questions on whether he had reason to be on the run so much. Perhaps he was trying to run away from the demons that plagued him, perhaps not. One thing is for certain, Matuschka could not run escape from his mental problems. Soon they would overwhelm him to the point that he felt compelled to act out his wildest fantasies. For society, Matuschka’s fantasies turned out to be a terrible nightmare.

Click here for: Unnatural Disasters – Szilveszter Matuschka: On The Brink of Insanity (Part Two)

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.