Monday 9 November 2015

Romanian serial murderess Vera Renczi was a hoax by a future Pulitzer prize winner

Romanian women can be dangerous but the two most dangerous were in fact ethnic Hungarians. 

So it is said at least.

I have blogged before about female psychopaths and Romania, like every country, has plenty of them. 

Many know about the beautiful Transylvanian Countess Bathory, an ethnic Hungarian, who bathed, literally, in the blood of murdered virgins, but I had forgotten Vera Renczi, until I stumbled across a reference to her. She too was a stunningly beautiful woman and apparently one of the most prolific female serial killers in history. The usual account goes like this.

She was born in 1903 in Bucharest into a rich family. She left Romania at the age of 13, however, for the Serbian Banat (Voivodina) and she committed her murders there. Her family was ethnic Hungarian landed gentry. 

If she suspected her lovers, of whom there were many, were being unfaithful, which she regularly did, she gave them a dose of arsenic. Vera Renczi was convicted of murdering 35 men, including both her husbands and her son. who was ten and, she said, had discovered her murders. She is quoted as explaining that her son 

“had threatened to betray me. He was a man, too. Soon he would have held another woman in his arms.”
Otto B. Tolischus, an American journalist based in Berlin, who later won the Pulitzer prize, wrote that 
The victims were all between the ages of 23 and 30, except the boy. Fourteen of them were Roumanians.
He reported:
The complaint of a young married woman of the town that her husband, a leading banker, had disappeared after visiting Madame Renczi was the final stop that led the investigation of her career. Rumors of strangely missing men had been current for some time, but many persons feared to take action against the rich and distinguished widow, who seemed to exert a mysterious fascination over all who came contact with her. Nearly all the missing men were from distant places, and there was no relation at hand to investigate their disappearance. At last, came the pointed demand from banker’s wife that the police should search the cellar of Madame Renczi’s home, an ancient chateau. Realizing that the reputation of the town was at stake, the police acted with great energy. Before Madame Renczi had no idea of the charges against her they surrounded her chateau and broke into the cellar. To get there they had to go through long vaulted stone corridors and break through three iron doors. An old woman servant resisted their entry fiercely, and they were obliged to handcuff her. When at last they reached the vast, vaulted cellar an astounding sight revealed itself beneath the light of their electric torches. Neatly arranged around the cellar were no less than thirty-five zinc coffins, each of them bearing the name and age of the occupant. All the occupants were males. 
The police immediately arrested Madame Renczi, who had been trapped in her luxurious boudoir. She was taken before an examining magistrate on charges of causing the death of Leo Pachich, the banker, and other persons. Careful investigation showed that the coffins in the cellar bore the names of two of her husbands, of her young son [aged 10], and thirty-two men who had been her lovers. At first she boldly denied her guilt and protested with indignation at her arrest. “You have brought disgrace upon our town and I will have you all severely punished,” exclaimed the imperious beauty—with flaming eyes.

A full account is here. Very interesting but I am indebted to Douglas Muir for pointing out that it seems to have been an elaborate hoax. The existence of Madame Renczi has never been proven. Examination of contemporary Serbian news archives shows nothing about herThe online archive of the country's leading daily newspaper Politika, going back to 1904, does not seem to mention her nor do any other Serbian sources.

I presume it was made up by  the future Pulitzer prize winner, Tolischus.

This is journalistic behaviour worse than that of Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, who got out of the train in the wrong Balkan capital, went to his hotel and filed copy about a revolution from the wrong country, leading to a revolution really breaking out there. 
It was Hitchcock's greatest scoop.
At least Hitchcock was merely drunk.

Interestingly Tolischus in a 1940 book quoted Hitler as saying 
Whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner
and this quotation has no evidence to support it any more than Madame Renczi has.


  1. Well, old abandoned chateaux of Romania should be on shortage, though, this is the lesson?

  2. ,, Romanian women can be dangerous '' - that made me laugh . Simona R

  3. She was a born Bucharester, so she was ours.

  4. Lying is bad - but much less bad that a mass murderer existing. The creator of the story might have said "It was not a lie - it was a STORY, an effort to make the world more interesting".

  5. Completely ridiculous ! The proofs - photographs, newspapers articles, prison and asylum records, etc. are legion to ascertain that it is fact, not fiction ! There is even a wacko who claim that the photos of Vera's stunning beauty were in fact photos of her which were stolen !

    I am writing a movie script about the story. I am at the stage of the Trail? NO documents anywhere. Would you be king enough to give me the email address of the Serbian Ministry of Justice or of the National Archives ?. The trials minutes must be somewhere.