To say that Rose Veres was not revered in the small Hungarian enclave of Delray on Detroit's south side in the 1930s would be an understatement. The fact that she was considered a witch by her neighbors on Medina Street was less a testament to her affability than her disregard for human souls. Not that she wasn't eager to help her fellow man--taking many of the area downtrodden into her house as boarders--but that her motives were spun from animus and self-serving greed cancelled out any exhibited perception of goodwill. So when she was arrested for the murder of Steve Mak, a tenant in her "house of funerals", who was reported to have accidentally fallen while doing home repairs, witnesses came forward in droves to accuse her of much worse than simple manslaughter.
Detroit of the 1930s was a cauldron of mass immigration (black migration included), industrial bloom in wilt and riches to rags stories. With the Depression in its early churning and unemployment skyrocketing the working man was sent into a spiral of hopeless searching for unattainable answers. As was the norm in many immigrant neighborhoods already, boarding tenants in extra rooms was one of the ways to sustain financial stability on the home front as jobless men and lower wage earners flocked to ramshackle rooms in unkempt boarding houses. Mrs. Veres's home was one such dosshouse in the grimy industrial part of the city.
Also contributing to her malfeasance was the fact that the neighbors were terrified of the so-called witch and refused to testify against her, "We are afraid to catch her eye. She can make our children sick and our husbands lose their jobs. She knows all kinds of magic." So that when it came time to give depositions the Hungarians would cringe and proclaim in feigned ignorance, "I don't verstek" or "me no talk." However, with the changing demographics of the neighborhood--five black families had settled there--her luck was about to expire.
On August 25, 1931, Steve Mak 68, fell off a ladder while working near the 3rd floor attic window. A witness named George Halasz claimed that Mak was pushed by a "pair of arms" and then moments later Veres peered from the window. The incident had followed loud quarreling from the attic area Halasz added. Furthering the claim was the testimony of a "negro" named John Walker who claimed to have also seen the fall. He told police that Veres had admitted to killing Mak but under completely different circumstances than were first suspected. Walker said that Veres, her son William and another tenant had beaten and poisoned Mak and when he failed to succumb to death they tossed him from the attic window, where a ladder had been stationed outside to dress up the appearance of an accidental fall. Giving credence to Walker's claims were medical examiner's finds of skull fractures which pointed to multiple injuries not consistent with trauma from a simple fall as well as the discovery of a blood-stained gas pipe found in the cellar of the home. Walker added that Veres had promised him $500 if he kept quiet about the incident.
The other black families living in the neighborhood also gave depositions as did a little girl named Marie Chevalia. She lived directly across the street from the Veres home and on the morning of the incident she sat making mud pies in her front yard. She had heard stories about the witch prowling the alleys in the middle of the night in long flowing garments and a cape, in search of "victims." So when Veres appeared at the front door and descended down the steps she commanded the 11-year-old's full attention. Marie recalled that Veres had stopped to give instructions to John Walker, a tenant at her house of horrors as well as a handyman, who was watering the lawn to cease his operation. He did so, retiring to the basement to switch off the spigot.
|Detroit Free Press, August 27, 1931 (enlarge)|
|Detroit Free Press, October 28, 1931|
John Toth, carbon monoxide poisoning
Steve Fiasch, alcoholism
John Kolachi, intestinal ailment
Gabor Veres, carbon monoxide poisoning
John Norvay, undetermined
Louis Kulacs, undetermined
Alex Porczios, undetermined
John Skrivan, supposed hanging
Steve Sevastian, supposed alcoholism
(this finely researched blog states different names and gives some brief biographical information on the men along with a detailed genealogy of Rose Veres, as well as further evidence that there might be more victims, including Veres's own children.)
Added to the list after the extradition and interrogation of former tenant Sam Denyen from West Virginia, was the name of John Coccardi, who was named in letters by Denyen to have died under mysterious circumstances shortly after he moved from the Veres home.
After a short trial the following October, Veres and her son William were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, Rose at the Detroit House of Corrections and William at Jackson State Prison. In December of 1945, after many denied requests for a re-trial, Rose Veres was retried and exonerated of the murder. She fainted upon hearing the verdict.
|Detroit Free Press, October 15, 1931|
Hurled Man To His Death; The San Jose News, August 25, 1931
To Exhume Bodies Of Nine Believed Murder Victims; The Grape Belt, August 25, 1931
Woman Is Held As Blurbeard; The Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, August 25, 1931
Woman Killed For Insurance, Is Allegation; The San Jose News, August 25, 1931
Detroit Woman Held In Mystery Deaths Of 10 Men; The North Tonawanda Evening News, August 26, 1931
Say Man's Fall Not Accidental; The Spokane Daily Chronicle, August 26, 1931
May Exhume Bodies To Reveal Murder Plot; The Indiana Evening Gazette, August 27, 1931
Police To Probe Deaths Of Nine; The Daily Times, August 27, 1931
Spectre Of 9 Strange Deaths Stalk Woman; The Daily News, August 27, 1931
May Exhume Nine Men's Bodies To Determine Deaths; The Daily News, August 28, 1931
Woman Says She Killed One Man; The Greensburg Daily Tribune, August 28, 1931
Witness May Help Clear Up Mystery Of Twelve Deaths; The Owosso Argus-Press, August 29, 1931
Alleged Witch Admits Killing Aged Roomer; The Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, August 30, 1931
|Deroit Free Press, October 1, 1931|
Detroit Woman Admits Killing One of 12 Men To Collect Insurance; The Southeast Missourian, August 31, 1931
Killed Mak, Says; The North Tonawanda Evening News, August 31, 1931
Mrs. Veres Confessed To Killing Roomer; The Constitution-Tribune, August 31, 1931
Pushed Victim Out The Window; The Nevada Daily Mail, August 31, 1931
'Witch' Held; The Oelwein Daily Register, August 31, 1931
Confesses; The Washington Reporter, September 2, 1931
Widow Quizzed In 10 Deaths; The Newburgh News, September 2, 1931
Detroit 'Witch' Held In Deaths; The Daily News, September 3, 1931
Says 'Pair Of Arms' Shoved Steve Mak In Fall To Death; The Ludington Daily News, September 3, 1931
'Witch,' Son Facing Life For Murder; The Pittsburgh Press, October 6, 1931
Woman And Her Son Are Convicted Of Murder Of Roomer; The Niagara Falls Gazette, October 6, 1931
Life Sentences For Detroit Mother, Son; The Lewiston Daily Sun, October 15, 1931
Mrs. Veres And Son Sentenced To Life; The Ludington Daily News, October 15, 1931
|Detroit Free Press, September 16, 1944|
Acquittal Follows 13 Years In Prison; The Pittsburgh Press, December 11, 1945
'Witch' Acquitted; The Middlesboro Daily News, December 17, 1945
|Deroit Free Press, December 5, 1945 (enlarge)|