The Angel Makers of Nagyrév
"The Angel Makers of Nagyrév" were a group of women living in the village of Nagyrév, Hungary who between 1914 and 1929 poisoned to death an estimated 300 people (however, Béla Bodó puts the number of victims at 45-50). They were supplied arsenic and encouraged to use it for the purpose by a midwife or "wise woman" named Júlia Fazekas and her accomplice Susi Oláh (Zsuzsanna Oláh). Their story is the subject of the documentary film The Angelmakers.
Fazekas was a middle-aged midwife who arrived in Nagyrév in 1911, with her husband already inexplicably missing. Between 1911 and 1921 she was imprisoned 10 times for performing illegal abortions, but was consistently acquitted by judges supporting abortion.
In Hungarian society at that time, the future husband of a teenage bride was selected by her family and she was forced to accept her parents' choice. Divorce was not allowed socially, even if the husband was an alcoholic or abusive. During World War I, when able-bodied men were sent to fight for Austria-Hungary, rural Nagyrév was an ideal location for holding Allied prisoners of war. With the limited freedom of POWs about the village, the women living there often had one or more foreign lovers while their husbands were away. When the men returned, many of them rejected their wives' affairs and wished to return to their previous way of life, creating a volatile situation. At this time Fazekas began secretly persuading women who wished to escape this situation to poison their husbands using arsenic made by boiling flypaper and skimming off the lethal residue.
After the initial killing of their husbands, some of the women went on to poison their parents who became a burden for them, or wanted to get ahold of their inheritance. Others poisoned their lovers, some even their sons, as the midwife allegedly told them "Why put up with them?".
The first poisoning in Nagyrév took place in 1911; it was not the work of Fazekas. The deaths of other husbands, children, and family members soon followed. The poisoning became a fad, and by the mid 1920s, Nagyrév earned the nickname "the murder district." There were an estimated 45-50 murders over the 18 years that Fazekas lived in the district. She was the closest thing to a doctor the village had and her cousin was the clerk who filed all the death certificates, allowing the murders to go undetected.
Two conflicting accounts have been cited to explain how the Angel Makers were eventually detected. In one, Mrs. Szabó, one of the Angel Makers, was caught in the act by two visitors who survived her poisoning attempts. She fingered a Mrs. Bukenoveski, who named Fazekas. In another account, a medical student in a neighboring town found high arsenic levels in a body that washed up on the riverbank, leading to an investigation. According to Béla Bodó, a Hungarian-American historian and author of the first scholarly book on the subject, however, the murders were finally made public in 1929 when an anonymous letter to the editor of a small local newspaper accused women from the Tiszazug region of the country of poisoning family members. The authorities exhumed dozens of corpses from the local cemetery. Thirty-four peasant women and one man were indicted.
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- Gregson, Jessica. The Angel Makers. PaperBooks Ltd. 2007. ISBN 0-9551094-6-9.
- Newton, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. 2nd edition. Checkmark Books. 2006. ISBN 0-8160-6196-3. pp. 1–2.
- Bodó, Béla. Tiszazug: A Social History of a Murder Epidemic. Columbia University Press East European Monographs, 2003. ISBN 0880334878.