This isn't a blog about the living. This is a blog about the dead. I created this site to re-visit those who contributed to Detroit's multi-cultural fabric. The majority will not be famous. Some will be infamous, but their stories will have been lost to time. For a short while, even those who barely made an imprint, live a little bit longer.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Witch of Delray.


This article, along with genealogical information, has been thoroughly researched by me.  If interested, you may link to it but PLEASE, do not steal what you have not researched yourself!  Above photo of Rose Veres c. Wayne State University Archives.

Rose Sebestyen was born in Sarud, Hungary in 1888 to John Sebestyen and Rosa Balogh.  In the 1920 census she states she arrived here in 1911.  In 1930, she states she arrived in 1912.  Whatever the truth in her arrival, at some point she met Joseph Sebestyen (listed in the 1910 census as having arrived in 1909 and states he is single) and married him between 1911 and 1914 (No record found).  Within this time-frame they had a son, William who was listed on both 1920 and 1930 census as being born in 1918 but was actually born in 1914.  On December 3, 1914, Joseph Sebestyn died of cancer of the face at Eloise Hospital.  Rose buries him in Grave 202, Lot 34, Section M.  Joseph is listed as being born in 1878 and is married.


There is a span of two years before Rose marries next; 1914-1916.  How she met Gabor Veres is unknown but he marries her November 8, 1916 at Holy Cross Hungarian Church and William, Rose's son, takes the name Veres.  His parents are listed as Louis Veres and Elizabeth Turka.  Fred E. DeGaw, Justice of the Peace, marries them.  Witnesses are Ernest B. Karl and Emerence (Emory) Czorgo.



Gabor and Rose have their first child, a son, born in 1916 and then follows a daughter, Elizabeth.  Although I have no pertinent proof, I believe the killing spree began at this time.  Elizabeth, age one month, dies of Inantion


Main Entry: in·a·ni·tion 
Pronunciation: \ˌi-nə-ˈni-shən\
Function: noun
Date: 14th century
: the quality or state of being empty: a : the exhausted condition that results from lack of food and water.

Delray of the 1920's lacked nothing.  It was its own self-contained small town.  It had industry, religion, wealth and poverty.  It also had gardens and farm animals.  At this point in time, Gabor and Rose were not considered poor.  They owned a large shotgun-style home with three floors and took in boarders.  A baby dying of starvation was not unheard of at this time.  A baby being purposely denied food is a completely different issue.  If Rose was unable to breast feed, there were cows everywhere.


Rose and Gabor named Elizabeth after Gabor's mother and buried her in Grave 461, Lot 72, Section K.  Rose quickly became pregnant again and gave birth to a healthy son.  When the war broke out, Gabor Veres registers.


The area of Delray that Gabor and Rose lived, Medina and West End Street was, at that time, loaded with boarding houses.  This area catered to male boarders.  Hungarians didn't mix males and females together.  Gabor's section of Medina Street is right near a dead end.  Unfortunately, the house no longer exists, but the vacant lot is there.


The home would have been located between the white car and the white truck.

Before I actually delve into the rest of the story, let me state that I have read over 57 articles on Rose Veres.  I have also traced those who boarded with her, located their graves, and checked every source papers have listed about her, including witnesses (who have been traced to the present day with their descendants).   I have also decided not to release the names of her two sons.  William, on the other hand, was a willing participant in at least one murder (later found innocent).

In 1920, the boarders of Gabor and Rose's home were Joseph Tuza, age 32 and married, John Verisa, age 31 and single, Stephen Sebastian, age 27 and single, Louis Toth, age 45 and married, Gabor Fiesch, age 45 and married.  Articles state that around February 7, 1925, Gabor Veres and Louis Toth were working in Gabor's garage fixing his car when the doors to the garage were quietly closed.  Both Gabor and Louis were found underneath the car expired from carbon monoxide poisoning.  Gabor was buried in Grave 919, Lot 384, Section P.  Life insurance polices were taken out on both of these men by Rose Veres.  Articles also state that funeral home owner, Frank Biczo, a very well known undertaker at the time, had an agreement with Rose that any deaths occurring would be handled by Biczo.   Frank Biczo also lived directly around the block from Rose at 7917 West Jefferson.  

I've seen the original parochial records which were required at the time of burial in a Catholic cemetery. Gabor, according to Biczo, died of Chronic Pancreatitis - impossible when found succumbing to gasoline fumes.  Rose gave a marvelous funeral for her husband.  She even had his photograph taken.  

Between 1925 and 1930 Rose supposedly married two more times.  Articles state a total of three.  I believe she was married at least four times.  Her second husband was Steve Sebestyen, age 72 (Not to be confused with Steve Sebastian, age 27 who is residing with Gabor and Rose in 1920).  According to parochial records, Steve was a member of the Catholic Church and passed away on September 21, 1924.  Frank Biczo stated Steve had died of a Cerebral Hemorrhage (blunt trauma).  Rose, once again, had a huge funeral, attended by many, and had Steve's last photograph taken.  She buried him in Grave 825, Lot 384, Section P.

John Gulacs aka John Kulacs and John Sulacs, was residing at 9 Medina Street when he died of Acute Nephritis on June 9, 1925 at age 53.  Once again, the information came from Frank Biczo Funeral Home.  Parochial records show that John is a member of Rose's church and I believe he and Rose were married. Articles state that Rose had a cellar in which casks of wine lined the walls.  Those who imbibed, died - whether by poison or physical assault is unknown, but poison will cause the kidneys to break down.  

At this point, Rose decides to disinter Joseph Sebestyen, Steven Sebastian, Elizabeth Veres, and Gabor Veres.  She purchases one large plot in Section L and lays them there.  This is in June of 1925.  She now has over 50 life insurance policies in her possession and cash in the bank.  The cost to hand-shovel all the bodies was about $100.  Not much now but a small fortune back then.  

On October 15, 1925, John Nardai succumbed (according to Biczo) to Acute Dilatation of  the Heart at age 30.  Parochial records show that John is a member of Rose's church and he's given a large funeral.  Photographer on hand.  John is laid to rest in Rose's Section L.  There are now six people buried in her plot. 

Parochial records show that Albert Kalo aka Beni Kale was a member of Rose's church.  According to Biczo, 48 year-old Albert died of Myocarditis on March 28, 1926.  He is also buried in Rose's plot in Section L.  

In 1920, Balint Peterman, age 56 and a widow is residing on Green Street with owner Fred Harcas and family.  By 1926, he decides to move in to Rose's home.  He sleeps on a cot in her cellar.  In between each cot are her casks of wine.  Her boarders are also hearing that she's telling the neighbors she's a witch and has magical powers.  Being superstitious Hungarians, they believe her and refuse to look her in the eye.  Rose tells the neighborhood that she'll never be caught and they'll never be able to prove she's ever done anything to anyone.  Balint leaves her home and dies within days at another boarding house.

Steven Faish, Alex Porezio, John Sokivan and John Coccardi are next to succumb at Rose's boarding house.  They are the residents of Rose's cellar and work at Solvay's ash plant.  Coming home to nothing, they are welcomed by wine.  These graves I have not been able to locate.  They are not part of Rose's "family" and therefore, not in Section L or any part of the cemetery.

By 1930, Rose has begun to tell residents that she can turn into a wolf at night and that she was born with a full set of teeth and a caul.  She is truly feared by her neighbors.  Stephen Mak, age 68 and a widow, decides to move in with Rose and her sons.  He helps her around the house.  In 1931, Rose asks Stephen to help her repair an attic window.  He climbs the ladder while Rose Chevela, age 11, watches from directly across the street.  Rose Chevela sees Stephen's ladder is wobbly and then she sees Rose and William appear in the little attic window above and push the ladder away from the house.  Stephen dies of a fractured skull but thankfully, Rose took out life insurance.

Only when Stephen Mak died did police begin to see a pattern.  Searching Rose's home, police found 78 life insurance policies and the impossible task of trying to locate every person she'd taken insurance out on.  At the time Stephen died, which was August, 1931, Rose had accumulated over $68,000.  Witness, John Walker said that before Stephen climbed the ladder, Rose had asked John to water the ground under it and that if he said nothing to anyone, Rose would give him $500.  Whether this is true or not is unknown.  What is known is that Medina Street in 1931 was no longer completely Hungarian.  Black families had moved in and their religion, although Christian, was Hoodoo.  Rose's witchcraft had no effect on them and for the most part, they played a key role in her prosecution by not fearing Rose's evil eye and testifying against her.

One week after Rose's conviction former boarder, John Kampfl went to the police and insisted that Rose had put a spell on him.  Police laughed it off and told the man to go home.  Found later with his neck slit, doctors stated it was a superficial wound and that he'd heal.  John Kampfl died the next day.

Rose and William were arrested and charged with the murder of Stephen Mak in 1931.  Both were convicted by Recorder's Judge, John J. Maher.  Rose's attorney, William J. Kenney immediately filed an appeal which was denied.

Every year, Rose and William re-appealed.  Not until 1945 were they granted a re-trial.  William was found innocent after 12 years and released first.  He worked for Chrysler.  His life ended early in 1962.  He was married.  He is buried nowhere near his mother.

Rose was found innocent after serving 12 years and lived out the rest of her life with her second eldest son.  She died in 1960.  None of her children are buried near her and she is not buried in the "family" plot.  She isn't even buried in the same cemetery.

Little Rose Chevela grew up to live the rest of her life with a wonderful man away from Delray and had four children.  Her parents lived the rest of their lives on Medina Street and died there in the 1950's before witnessing the complete decimation of the little city that had everything.

Of all of the men Rose (allegedly) murdered, none received gravestones.  Joseph Sebestyen, who died in 1914 of cancer has the only stone - purchased on the day all of the graves were moved to one spot.  Was Joseph the love of her life?  Why not purchase stones for all buried there?  Not even her daughter was worth marking.

Why did she (allegedly) murder?  Was it greed?  Could she have been sick to death of living paycheck-to-paycheck?  Was she insane?  No one was able to convict her of all of the deaths that occurred within her residence.  Did she (allegedly) murder 12 people or were there 78 (alleged) murders?  Perhaps she did have a bit of old Hungarian witchcraft in her.   Or perhaps it was just dumb luck and really good poison.

Thanks for reading!

* Number 7 Medina became Number 9.  In 1928, the address became 7894 Medina.
* In 1920, Gabor owns his home free and clear.  In 1930, Rose owns the home free and clear.  Very few immigrants arriving in 1910 own their home by 1920.
* Parochial records were all signed by Rev. Louis Kovacs asserting that all men were Roman Catholic.  Rose Veres signed her name as next of kin.  Reverend Kovacs was head clergy for Holy Cross Hungarian Church.  At the time, Catholic cemeteries required absolute proof that the person being buried was a Catholic in good standing.  Parochial records are supposed to be stamped with the name of the church they attended.  A few of Rose's "people" have no stamp but do have Kovac's signature.  This would mean they were not members of Holy Cross.
* This is a work in progress.  

12 comments:

grampi said...

This is a brilliant well written, well researched story. I remember as a kid, my mother telling us kids about the witch of Delray, but I always thought it was just a story made up to scare us kids. WOW! Mom was right! The way my mother told it was that she ran a butcher market, and she butchered her many husbands and sold them as meat in the butcher market. Gruesome story!
Will the author please contact me as I would like to give her credit as the author, and include this story in my tribute to Delray at www.Old-Delray.com

Joseph said...

Before moving to South Street my father's family lived on Medina next door to the "Witch." Years ago my Dad told me the story of Stephen Mak and the ladder. Unfortunately he has passed away and I can't verify it.

Joe Soter

Sarai said...

Louis Toth was my cousin.

Michael Edwartowski said...

I have an interesting addendum to this story . I would like to contact the author ... ( sorry I'm not sure if it's evident here...) to pass along my information . In summary ,as a young boy, my Grandmother use to tell me stories about "The Witch of Delray" . At the time they meant nothing to me . But I never forgot. Now that I'm 58 , I did some searching and found this . It turns out that Rose lived on a farm in Huron County - prior to my granparents taking ownership . ( My initial investigation places this sometime before 1941.) And , she returned to visit that farm , and my grandmother and aunts , somrtime AFTER her conviction was overturned . Anyway , I'd love to communicate with the author to share more of the information I have ... if interested ! Many Thanks !

Steve Frey said...

Rose and Gabor are buried next to each other at Woodmere Cemetery. Eastlawn section, Lot 775.

I don't have a photo of Gabor's marker, but it is a mirror image of Rose's: http://www.nightmarecruisers.com/DSC02815.JPG

My guess is that one of their sons moved Gabor when they buried their mother, and had both markers made at the same time.

zoe villegas said...

Hi, my name is Zoe. I'm a freelance writer and I have been doing some research about Rose Veres. I have found some information that I've found conflicting, and a friend linked me this blog and said that perhaps I could get ahold of you for an interview or just to answer some simple questions. Great article! So thorough. The piece I'm writing is just a blurb, but I was wondering if you could contact me. my e-mail address is villegaszoe@gmail.com Thanks so much!

Mike said...

Hello....my name is Mike and I have been looking into some of the information written here. Rose Veres headstone says she was born on Dec, 26 1877. The story says she was born in Sarud Hungry in 1888? Also, I found out that Gabor Verses was moved around a few times after his death. The story says he was buried in Grave 919, Lot 384, Section P. Then in June of 1925 he was moved to a family plot in section L. I was at Woodmere Cemetery and found out that he was buried in Secton 5in 1927 and later moved to Eastlawn lot 775 grave #1 by a · Gabriel Alexander Veres. Rose's grave is #4 in lot 775 of Eastlawn.

EvilEd96 said...

I notice that you do not display a death certificate for Rose Veres nor any specific date of death. Do you have any evidence to back up your statement?

Steve Frey said...

EvilEd96, Rose Veres died August 14, 1960, as indicated on her grave marker: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSmcid=48497248&GRid=152252557&

Mike said...

All I said is that in the story it says,Rose Sebestyen was born in Sarud, Hungary in 1888 to John Sebestyen and Rosa Balogh. I went to Woodmere Cemetery and seen the headstones. The birth year on her headstone says 1877. There is an eleven year difference. Which is correct, the story or the headstone?

Steve Frey said...

Mike, I believe EvilEd96 was directing his comment to the original author of the article.

Also, if the 1916 marriage record is correct, and Rose was 32 in 1916, her birth year would be 1884. So there is another discrepancy.

Considering Rose immigrated, there is probably no way to find her birth certificate.

BabalonMoon said...

first off it looks like she lived behind my grandparents who lived on Barnes street. I remember her being mentioned but I was born long after. Sarud was and still is an extremely small village. I even think my grandmothers mother was a Sebestyen. She probably wasn't married to the first man= that was pretty common.They just would live together as husband and wife and keep the fact quiet.