How do you handle break-ups? I’m compulsive about trying to maintain friendships. For years. Often with people who I wasn’t nearly that invested in when we were dating. Sometimes this approach is great, but sometimes I feel I just focus on this “friendship” idea to reassure myself that I make good choices about who to date. I have a hard time admitting that my judgement isn’t perfect. I feel a bit fenced in, like Lassie, even though Timmy might not be the brightest person, given that he falls into a well every damn week.

lassie and timmy

Friends forever, GODDAMMIT.

Vera Renczi did not believe in friends forever. Vera just killed the ex-boyfriends. When she was done, she poisoned them and tossed them in her basement.

I’m kind of fascinated by this approach. I mean, on one hand, I suppose if you are over your former boyfriend, poison is a way to insure that you are not going to see him again. I suspect a lot of us have to feel a little death with exes symbolically. However, almost no one does that literally.

I don’t think we are limited because it would be hard to poison them; I think the act of poisoning people would be pretty easy. The Borgias would have gone nuts in a Trader Joe’s. I even suspect poisoning people in a way that would be undetected would be manageable. I think we don’t act like Vera because there are invisible barriers that most people can’t break through when it comes to behaviors like . . . killing people. Even when they are people we might not like very much at the moment.

What kind of person doesn’t have those barriers? Especially concerning people they presumably once cared for?

Well, Black Widows don’t. But what is a black widow? Other than a cool kind of spider that I assume does not live in New York. I’m never going to Google that because if I find out they live in New York  I will never sleep again.

According to TruTV, a go-to source for fun information about female serial killers:

A Black Widow is a woman who kills family members — generally a string of spouses. She’s named after the deadly spider that mates with a male and then eats it, and according to Michael Kellerher in Murder Most Rare, she doesn’t begin her killing until after she’s 25. Her reasons are generally tied to personal gain (money, status) or to being rid of a burden, and she tends to kill for over a decade before she’s finally stopped. She’s not the classic serial killer who feels compelled by sexual or delusional motives, but she may certainly kill enough people in a similar manner to be called a serial killer. She tends not to kill strangers, but doesn’t restrict her murderous activity to family. She’s generally patient and fairly organized in her approach, and favors the use of poison.

The age 25 kind of got me for a second, because that is about the age you stop worrying that you’re going to develop schizophrenia. I thought that you had a window of four years before you had to fret about something else going horribly awry, but no, I guess those are the years in which you might become a black widow.

I now basically worry that at any moment I could wake up and suddenly find myself struck with black widow disease, so, basically this is going to happen:

black widow

Kafka knows what's up.

I photo-shopped my head onto a black widow spider, in case you were wondering.

Wait. I bet that age 25 limit was just because most women weren’t married long enough to tire of their spouses before that time. You don’t just wake up and become the spider woman. Okay, that makes sense.

Now back to Vera. TrueKnowledge reports:

“Vera Renczi was born in Bucharest in 1903. Her current occupation is serial killer. She now lives in Bucharest.”

She doesn’t, she’s dead now, and serial killer is not an occupation you should put on your tax forms.

However, it does seem accurate that she was born in 1903 to a wealthy family in Bucharest, so one part of that is true knowledge. Her father, a banker, moved the family to Berkerekul around the time she was ten. Then she killed her dog.

lassie and timmy

Lassie, you fool.

Or, more specifically, she poisoned it. An account of the event runs:

One day a dog that had been given to Vera was found dead in the garden. Her father asked the girl how it had died.

“Oh,” Vera answered, “I poisoned it.”

The father looked surprised.

“And why did you do that?” he asked.

“Because,” little Vera answered, “it so happens that last night I heard you telling one of the neighbors that you were going to give him my dog because it barked too much at night.”

“So I did. But then, why did you kill it?”

“Because I do not want my dog to belong to anybody else. When he leaves me he leaves this world.”

Her father reportedly responded by beating her to teach her to be less jealous. It didn’t work.

Jealousy was supposedly the motivating factor in most of Vera’s later crimes. Which is surprising, because female serial killers generally kill for financial gain, not just out of sheer malice. And there was a period in Vera’s life – between the dog killing and the lover killing – where she seemed to be quite normal.

Well, as normal as the most beautiful woman ever can be, I guess.

Though exactly what “most beautiful” constituted is under debate, as there is no definitive picture of Vera (this leads some people to believe that she is made up, though a Pulitzer Prize winner from the New York Times, Otto B. Tolischus, did report on her at the time, and, I guess I really trust Pulitzer winners from the New York Times). Remarkably, this picture is the one commonly said to be of Vera.

IT IS NOT.

Obviously. When I first saw it, I turned to Deputy Editor Ashley and said “it’s really remarkable what a modern beauty Vera was.” I think I was going to say something about the timeless nature of facial symmetry before Ashley, with some flourish-y words, pointed out that I was an idiot as that photo could not possibly be from the 1920’s. I mean, to be fair, it did look . . . really well preserved.

Don’t be fooled like I was!

While it is of a very beautiful model, the model is not Vera Renczi. She’s called Morgana, and you can see that the original photo appears on her DeviantArt pages (before being reprinted on all the Vera stuff, all the time). However, the Daily Mirror used the photo to illustrate its article about Vera Renczi, prompting people to use it to illustrate every article about her forever, from then on. The model wasn’t too happy. I know because she tweeted this:

vera renczi twitterShe was not pleased.

You know, I think I might be pleased. I might, I’d probably get a giggle out of it. They were saying she was beautiful enough to seduce and destroy 35 men! Oh. Morals. Right. People don’t like being likened to killers. That’s not necessarily a good thing. And it’s a really odd error on behalf of the Daily Mirror. Still, a pretty picture. This one, however, is more commonly thought to have been the actual Vera Renczi, so I guess go with that if you need a visual on her, even though she is less strikingly pretty:

There’s a lot to be said for ladies willing to wear bold statement hats, and one of those things is that they are probably cold blooded killers.

Maybe if I wear more hats they will use my picture for something. I don’t know. I’ll work on it. I’d appreciate any ideas you have on flattering hats.

In any event, Vera was very beautiful, in a 1920s way, not a 2010 way, but alright, fine. She was still beautiful. She wore hats well.

She had many suitors, but she was unable to maintain any long-term relationships. Her friends assumed this inability was simply a spoiled rich girl attitude. Whenever one of her suitors developed any interest- however fleeting – in another woman, she would flee. That said, she was supposed to have taken numerous lovers by the time she was 15.

As she grew older, her love life got worse. TruTV claims:

The roots of her problem went much deeper, though, and drilled into a firmly-implanted belief that she could not trust men. Her low self-esteem became dangerous, however, as she grew into adulthood. If she suspected her man was eyeing another woman, she no longer merely dropped him — but dropped him dead.

Hah! That TruTV with their wacky jokes.

She married, in her late teens, a man many years her senior, and they lived happily ever after . . . for approximately 48 hours. He adored her, possibly because of her great beauty, or her good birth, or because they both really liked poison. No. Not really. This mariage wasn’t destined to be nearly as nice as Elizabeth Bathory’s love affair with her weird sociopath husband, who liked the same horrible stuff she did. This was mostly just “Vera is inevitably going to kill this man like a dog.”

The couple moved to a rural chateau, and Vera gave birth to a son, Lorenzo. It’s possible – though unconfirmed – that she was pregnant at the time of her marriage. With the baby, Vera was at home all day and unable to follow her husband around. She soon became convinced that he was unfaithful. Her suspicions ranged from anyone he worked with to women he simply happened upon on the street.

Every biography on the subject makes a great point of talking about how there is no evidence that her husband was ever unfaithful.

However, it really doesn’t matter.  He could well have been unfaithful. Vera’s suspicions might have been absolutely correct. It makes no difference. Even if someone is unfaithful . . . you’re not allowed to kill them.

This advice is for any lady bloggers who think Vera is sassy.

In any event, in a possibly jealous rage, Vera slipped arsenic into her first husband’s wine. Arsenic sounds so antiquated that it almost doesn’t sound like a horrible way to die. However, despite its portrayal in movies, poisoning does not usually result in a person just bending at the waist and flopping his head on a dinner table, dead (sometimes with blood pouring out of the eyes or someplace). This is what you should expect from arsenic poisoning:

Symptoms of arsenic poisoning begin with headaches, confusion, severe diarrhea, and drowsiness. As the poisoning develops, convulsions and changes in fingernail pigmentation called leukonychia may occur. When the poisoning becomes acute, symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, blood in the urine, cramping muscles, hair loss, stomach pain, and more convulsions. The organs of the body that are usually affected by arsenic poisoning are the lungs, skin, kidneys, and liver. The final result of arsenic poisoning is coma to death.

This is how it manifests on the skin:

arsenic poisoning

Ewww. Ewww. Ewwwwwwwww.

THIS IS WHY TRYPOPHOBIA IS A THING. 

Vera wept as she told her family that her husband had run off. In reality, she supposedly carried his body away and disposed of it. She later claimed that she discovered he had been killed in a car accident. It appears that Vera spent a year earnestly mourning him.

And then, she married again.

If you think there is going to be a happy part of the story where Vera changes her ways and loves her new husband, you are mistaken. Deeply mistaken.

Though this time Vera did marry a man closer to her own age. How did she find these guys? Do you think men just want women who seem dangerous? Did she purr kittenishly, “I looooove arsenic?” Again, was it the hats?

This marriage, if possible, was even worse than her first one. It lasted only 4 months. In part because of his comparative youth and good looks, Vera was even more convinced that he was having an affair. Supposedly, Vera claimed “my second husband did not last long. I was obligated to kill him because he talked to other women.”

No. No, no, no, that is not an obligation. It is nowhere in the Rule Book of “Things You Have to Do.” It’s not in between “holding the door for people” and “tipping 20%.” It’s just not.

It worked for her the last time so she poisoned his wine, too. After 4 months. Of all the things about this story that are remarkable, I find that fact that the effect of arsenic on human skin didn’t turn Vera off that notion most amazing.

If it makes you feel any better, Vera supposedly served the poison accompanied by “delightful dinners”, so, well, that was probably nice, but I bet given the option he would have skipped the roast chicken.

After killing her second husband, it must have become obvious to Vera that it would look suspicious were she to marry again. However, that didn’t mean she was prepared to give up men.  Her life became more mysterious and rather that of a declassee She began frequenting cafes and night resorts in town, where, according to The American Weekly in 1925, she became known as “The Mysterious Huntress.” The paper claims:

To the one or two better class cafes of Berkerekul Vera would come alone. She was known as the “Mysterious Huntress.” Her game, it appears, was always a young man.

Her appearance in these places became familiar. The natives of the town knew her well by sight, although few dared to speak to her.

At a certain hour, when entertaining friends from out of town, they would look at their watches and say:

“Now, look. It is 10:30. At 11 o’clock the ‘Mysterious Huntress’ comes in.”

The friends from out of town would immediately ask:

“And who can the ‘Mysterious Huntress’ be?”

The explanation would always be the same:

“Let me tell you: The ‘Mysterious Huntress’ is a Roumanian widow, a perfect beauty, and very rich. She has been deceived in love twice, each time by a husband, one who stayed with her a year, another for about half that time.

“Since those days she seems very strange. She comes into town looking for young men. When she finds one she takes him to her house. And after a while she comes in looking for another.”

“Some men remain with her for a week – some less than that and some more. She has never picked out any boy who comes from this town. They are all men from out of town.

“And they never come here again after she has had them. I am told she tells them to leave the country and to never come near her again – and they obey.”

That wasn’t what she was doing. She actually poisoned them. All of them. It’s amazing that no one thought about that, but, well, maybe being really, really, really good looking does keep you in a safe little bubble. In other news – would The Mysterious Huntress be a good name for a band, or the kind of book that is written entirely in the second person future tense? I think it would.

So, this lifestyle continues for a very long time. Vera finds men – hunts them rather – seduces them, takes them back to her castle, and then poisons them. She’s basically the villainess in any fairy story. Vera supposedly explained:

“I had the power to tantalize them. They would follow me. Then, perhaps a week after they had remained with me at my house, I would notice that they grew either distracted or would say something about having to return home. I would consider these first signs the beginning of the end. And, consequently, my first burst of passion for them would be followed by jealousy, and I would poison them without waiting any further.”

Somewhere in the process, Vera also killed her own son. Surely he was not losing interest in her because he was a child – only 10 years old when Vera poisoned him! That seemed to have been Vera’s only practical murder as Lorenzo discovered the contents of her cellar, and she was afraid he might turn her in.

Vera also claimed that her son tried to blackmail her, but for what? Really, for what? The kid was ten. What can a ten year old blackmail someone for?

lassie and timmy

I guess that kid really wanted a puppy dog

At her trial, she claimed ““He was a man, too. Soon he would have held another woman in his arms.” Or . . . a puppy dog.

Vera’s bizarre reign of arsenic-y terror came to an end when the young wife of one of the husbands Vera lured back to her lair demanded to know his whereabouts. Good job, lady! Even though your husband was probably (certainly, in this case) cheating on you, you did not want him to actually die!

When the police came to her home to investigate, they happened upon 35 coffins in the basement, each one labeled with a different man’s name. When they approached Vera, the following exchange was said to occur:

“You have brought disgrace upon our town and I will have you all severely punished,” exclaimed the imperious beauty—with flaming eyes.

“Why did you have thirty-five bodies in your cellar?” she was asked.

“They are friends and relations whom I have cared for. Some of them were townspeople who were killed by the Germans when they passed through this place.”

This was quickly disproved given that Vera put the men’s names on all of the coffins. Why? Why would that be a good idea, ever? Did she just love carving names into stuff? This might be the greatest mystery of this entire story.

vera renczi

It’s actually considered to be a possibility that she liked to go down and visit with them. She liked to sit in an armchair surrounded by the bodies of all her former suitors. I suppose, in the afterlife, at long last, they could keep company with no one but her. Which, really, was what she wanted all along.

Vera ultimately confessed her crimes, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. At her trial, the judge asked:

“Why did you kill all these human beings?”

“They were men,” she answered. “I could not endure the thought that they would ever put their arms around another woman after they had embraced me.”

Good news. Whatever you have done to your exes in the past – prank calling them, keying their cars, whatever – you’re more sane than Vera Renczi. And that’s a good thing. Partly because it means you will not spend the rest of your life in jail after wrecking havoc on absolutely everyone in your vicinity. But, also, because I can’t imagine any of this was much fun for Vera. I mean, sure, picking up men in cafes is fun. But it seemed as soon as she got them, she was beset by anxiety and misery such as you and I cannot imagine.

She wasn’t killing men for cheap thrills, she was killing men because she viewed them as the source of all her unhappiness.

Fortunately, we live in an age where you can just de-friend your exes on Facebook and never have to worry about seeing them again. Or, you can try to be friends. You just can’t use arsenic on anybody. I mean, honestly, the skin thing would freak you out, anyway.

 

Additional Reading:

“A Real Female Bluebeard – Strange Tragedy of the  Jealous Beauty and Her Thirty-five Unlucky Sweethearts,” American Weekly, 1925

“Woman Held For Killing 35 Persons – Slew Lovers and Preserved Bodies In Cans In Her Cellar,” syndicated

The Encylclopedia of Serial Killers, by Michael Newton

TruTV, The Innovators

Discover Channel, Deadly Women