A forty-five-year-old widow was killed in her sleep late Sunday night or early Monday morning in Kisléta, a village of 2,000 in northeastern Hungary. Her daughter, who was sleeping in another room, was shot several times with a shotgun but escaped death. The bodies were found when the woman's sister arrived by car to pick her up. They were supposed to go to work at a farm harvesting tobacco. The girl was unconscious and was taken to a nearby hospital where she subsequently underwent a six-hour operation. This X-ray gives an idea of the extent of her injuries. Approximately 100 pieces of shrapnel were found in her body. Some of them were removed, others will most likely remain in her body forever. She is still sedated. Two policemen are sitting in front of her room in the intensive care unit in case the perpetrators try to finish her off in order to silence her. Some of the investigators figure that leaving her alive was the serial killers' first mistake. Others (as it turned out, contrary to crime scene evidence) came to the conclusion that these perpetrators were not "professionals" like the others because of this "slip-up."
The police are piecing things together. At least this is what I gathered from an interview with József Bencze, chief of the national police force. They have identified four distinct sets of footprints, and they are certain that the bullets came from two different weapons. Moreover, they know that these weapons were used at least twice before in cases previously investigated. Thus four or perhaps more people are responsible for at least seven deaths. Out of the nine attacks six were committed on Sunday night or early Monday morning. The Hungarian police have asked for help from the FBI and Interpol. They are hoping to receive information from the police of the neighboring countries as well. Bencze, a man of quiet manners, sounded outright frantic today. He spoke a mile a minute and the reporter had difficulty asking him any questions. One has the feeling that the man is under incredible pressure. Certainly it doesn't help that Fidesz is accusing the police of incompetence. An opposition party official announced that "Fidesz expects results and soon." According to Fidesz, the police must be reinforced "morally" and, of course, a new minister is needed "who doesn't falsify evidence." The reference here is to the unfortunate mishap of misidentifying a video as depicting the handiwork of the Arrows of Hungarians, a terrorist group.
Let's look at the "record" to date. Here is a list of murders or attempted murders: July 21, 2008 in Galgagyörk, August 8 in Piricse, September 5 in Nyíradony, November 3 in Nagycsécse, December 15 in Alsózsolca, February 24, 2009 in Tatárszentgyörgy, April 23 inTiszalök and now in Kisléta. This map appeared in Népszabadság on March 10, so it's a little out of date. Tiszalök and Kisléta, which are not marked on the map, are also in the northeast corner of the country.
There are of course those, especially on the right side of the political spectrum, who simply can't believe that serial killers are responsible for the murders and attempted murders. They are especially loath to entertain the possibility of a racial motivation for these crimes, though it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that the victims are Gypsies. According to these people "good Hungarians" are incapable of such crimes. They must be foreigners. Very often they talk about some Slovak mafia that wants to "destabilize" the country. They point to the bombings in downtown Budapest in 1998 when different mafioso types were killing each other, and indeed then there was a Slovak thread in this international gang warfare. One of the criminals was a Slovak, Jozef Roháč, recently extradicted from Slovakia and now sitting in a Hungarian jail awaiting trial. However, a Slovak thread in this case would be really far-fetched. There is another right-wing explanation: MSZP is behind all these murders in order to discredit the far-right. Well, that is equally unlikely.
Remains the serial killer theory. Serial killers who hate Gypsies. Or hired hands of some extreme political group. József Bencze often talks about the Hungarian police's inexperience with serial killers. Naturally, they are not as common in Hungary as in the United States. After all, there is a huge difference in the size of the population. However, Hungary has had its share of them. Lajos Soós and his accomplices killed five people in the sixties and seventies. In the nineties László Bene and Aladár Donászi finished off four men. Even in the "good old days" there were serial killers in Hungary. In 1916 the police found the bodies of seven women buried in the yard of Béla Kis; some people suspect that he may have killed between fifty and sixty people. In the 1950s a mother and daughter killed at least five young girls. Between 1957 and 1967 Péter Kovács killed at least five women. In the 1980s a man killed several children. He was caught and put into a psychiatric ward; he killed again after being released. So serial murder is not unknown in Hungary. But serial killers are notoriously difficult to catch. Often the police can only hope that they trip up, that they become careless and cocky.
The police and Bencze cannot get rattled because then will be a repetition of the mistakes I talked about in the last few days. And that would be very unfortunate.