The trial begins: Serial murders of Gypsies

I once listed the atrocities committed against the Roma, including the murder of several people during 2008 and 2009. After a long and arduous manhunt, the police eventually found the alleged culprits. Four are accused of the murders: the brothers Árpád and István Kiss, Zsolt Pető, and István Csontos. The indictment, which is 90 pages long and which was read aloud in the courtroom (a rather peculiar aspect of the Hungarian justice system), outlines how these four men ended up killing six people, including a child.

It was in 2007 that the Kiss brothers began to think about attacking Gypsies in order “to change the course of events.” They were dissatisfied with the government’s attitude toward “Gypsy crime” and were hoping that perhaps as a result of a series of attacks they would be able to spark a general “civil war” against the Roma minority. The brothers first joined the Hungarian Guard and were among those who in 2006 were initiated into the organization right in front of the Sándor Palota, the official residence of the president. However, they soon decided that the Hungarian Guard offered no real solution to the “Roma problem.” They would have to take things into their own hands.

They paid special attention to media reports of clashes between Gypsies and non-Gypsies and decided to target those villages where there was some “trouble.” They needed weapons, and the easiest path to getting hold of guns was burglary. This crime was committed by four men, but the identity of the fourth is still not known. Zsolt Pető then managed to get ammunition through one of his “contacts.” Again, it seems that the police were unable to find the “contact.” Rather poor, I would say, but then I’m no detective.

The initial crew of three decided on the first attack, which took place in Galgagyörk, after they saw on TV news that there was some unpleasantness between one particular Roma family and the rest of the village. The three went to the village to find the house of that particular family, but they couldn’t locate it. So they picked another house in which they suspected Gypsies lived. Several shots were fired but no one was injured and therefore the event didn’t cause the hoped-for results.

The next village was Piricse where they used Molotov cocktails to set a house on fire. When a woman stepped out of the house they shot at her twice. She was injured only in the leg. Then they attacked the house of a large Roma family in Nyíradony, but again no one was injured and the news didn’t hit big. Finally they attacked two houses in Tarnabod but their intelligence was faulty. The inhabitants of the two houses were not Gypsies. Again, no one was injured.

Then came the first murder in Nagycsécs. By that time the three men had changed tactics. It was no longer necessary to have reported clashes in a village. They picked villages where the Roma population lived in blocs that could easily be identified. Here they were “successful.” They killed a man and a woman, both Roma. Then came the “big bang” at Tatárszentgyörgy where they burned down a house with Molotov cocktails and subsequently killed a young man and his five-year-old child.

In Tiszalök the Kiss brothers asked the fourth accused, István Csontos, to assist in their attack on another Gypsy family. István Csontos was supposed to be the driver. Here they killed a young man who was just leaving his house to go to work. He died instantly.

Their last “mission” took place in Kisléta, where all four accused were present: the Kiss brothers, Zsolt Pető, and István Csontos. Here they killed a widow and wounded her young daughter very badly.

The alleged murderers made extensive use of the Internet. For instance, they looked online for a person who might have registered weapons at home. The areas they targeted were thoroughly studied on satellite photos. The plans were executed with military precision (though initially they were not exactly sharpshooters). They were careful not to use their own cell phones. In brief, they knew what they were doing.

While the investigation was going on there was a lot of speculation about the background of István Csontos, who at one point worked for military counter-intelligence. Magyar Nemzet in particular spent time on Csontos’s military background, but the summary of the indictment by Origo says very little about Csontos. It is possible that Magyar Nemzet‘s preoccupation with Csontos’s military background was motivated by political considerations.

In any case, for the time being at least it looks as if the police didn’t make a mistake this time and that the real culprits will be standing trial. The trial will be long. Thirty-four sessions are planned; 160 witnesses will testify and 30 experts will be questioned.

The amazing thing about this whole case is the state of mind of these men. They seemed to have truly believed that a series of murders would spark a general uprising against the Gypsy minority. Admittedly, about 85% of Hungarians have anti-Gypsy prejudices, but very few Hungarians would go so far as to grab weapons and massacre them.

The lawyers for the accused argue that the indictment is not thorough enough and suspect that the police put together a case that is coherent only on the surface under the pressure of public opinion. As always, it is possible that this will not be an open and shut case. For me the fact that the police couldn’t find at least two people who in one way or the other can be connected to the case is troublesome.

March 30, 2011