Julia Fazekas settled in the town of Nagyrév, Hungary in 1911. Fazekas worked as a midwife and was already known by locals to perform illegal abortions before WWI had even begun. Once the war hit and many men were sent off to fight, the little town of Nagyrév became home to POW camps. Many women in town took in foreign lovers and when their husbands returned, it was Fazekas they turned to when they no longer wished to be married.
Marriages were arranged according to Hungarian customs back then and divorce was forbidden under any circumstances. Many women were no longer interested in their husbands once they returned from battle, so to take care of the problem Fazekas began boiling arsenic off of fly paper and disguising the toxin in jams and jellies, which a wife would give to her husband.
It wasn’t long before the women in town began turning to Fazekas for help in getting rid of other unwanted relatives. Elderly relatives and children were not exempt from the murderous nature of the townswomen. By 1929, the little town of Nagyrév became known as “the murder district.” More than 50 women were known poisoners and at least 300 people had met their end by Julia Fazekas’ lethal wares, which she was all to eager to sell to the highest bidder.
With Fazekas’ cousin working as the clerk responsible for filing death certificates, nosey outsiders were prevented from thoroughly investigating the cause of the spike in morality rates around town.
Later nicknamed the “Angel Makers of Nagyrév,” there are several different stories on how Fazekas, her accomplice Susanna Olah, and their band of 50 murderesses were finally discovered.
The first theory is that a body had washed up in a neighboring town. A medical student conducted various testing on the body and determined there had been a large amount of arsenic in the man’s system at the time of his death.
A second theory states that one of the Angel Makers, Mrs. Szabó, was caught red-handed by visitors she had attempted to poison. Mrs. Szabó then implicated another woman, Mrs. Bukenoveski, who then implicated Fazekas as the ringleader and source of the poison.
The third theory, presented by Hungarian-American historian Béla Bodó, is that the murders came to light in 1929, when an anonymous letter to a newspaper outed the women of Nagyrév.
Regardless of what happened, what is known is that dozens of corpses were exhumed from the cemetery for further medical examination. 34 women and one man were indicted on grounds of murder, but only 26 of them would make it to trial. 12 would receive prison sentences, while eight more were sentenced to death. Only two would ever follow through with their death sentence.
At a complete loss for how these events were able to transpire for so long without raising any suspicions, authorities explained the poisoning trend that rocked WWI-era Hungary as a form of mass hysteria, brought on by years of promiscuous sex.
The real explanation behind the mass poisonings is more likely a combined result of extreme poverty and a lack of medical supervision required in determining causes of deaths, as well as the network of secrecy developed by Fazekas and her cohorts. These factors all contributed to the frequent murders to go undiscovered and unreported.