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It always surprises me when Aileen Wuornos is referred to as the “first female serial killer.” There were plenty of female serial killers long before Wuornos came along. One of the main differences between serial female murderers and their male counterparts is that few of them kill strangers, as Wuornos did.

Female serial killers tend to target those closest to them: family members, spouses, suitors, children, and patients, which, if you think about it, is even more chilling.

Vera Renczi was one such killer. Born in Romania during the early 1900s, Renczi was what some would call “boy crazy” from a very young age. When she was still in her early teens, she began to run away with numerous lovers, most of whom were many years older.

Her first marriage was to a wealthy Austrian banker named Karl Schick. Renczi soon bore him a son, whom they named Lorenzo. The marriage seemed relatively happy, except for the long hours Schick worked. Renczi grew more and more suspicious that her husband was having an affair, and her assumptions seemed to have the ring of her truth when Schick suddenly abandoned her and Lorenzo. After a year of mourning, Renczi told friends and family that she’d received word that her husband had died in a car accident.

Renczi soon remarried, but this union did not end happily, either. Only months after the marriage, her new husband vanished. Within a year, the grieving woman claimed to have gotten a letter from her wayward spouse which declared his intentions to leave her forever.

She was through with marriage, but not with men. All of her lovers would vanish within months, weeks, and sometimes even days after beginning a relationship with her. Whenever she was questioned in one of her lover’s disappearances, she would claim that the man was unfaithful and had abandoned her.

Who knows how many men might have disappeared if it weren’t for another jealous woman. One wife suspected her husband was cheating, and followed him to Renczi’s home. When her husband never returned, she contacted the police.

The police searched Renczi’s home and found 32 zinc-lined coffins in her basement. Each was the final resting place of one of her lovers, who had been treated to a tasty glass of arsenic-laced wine as soon as Renczi suspected his interest in her was waning. Even her own son had taken his place in her macabre makeshift morgue. Renczi claimed he’d discovered the coffins and had threatened to blackmail her.

Silly boy.

Over time, Renczi’s crimes began to seem so unbelievable that today her very existence is debated. Perhaps that is the most terrible of fates for a woman who wanted nothing more than love and attention.

Why do you think female serial killers tend to target those closest to them, while men go after strangers? What’s the spookiest true story you’ve ever heard? Had you heard of Renczi or her crimes?

PS: If you liked this post, you’ll probably enjoy the creepy true story of serial killer John List.

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26 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This reminds me of a Roald Dahl short story. 😀

    I think women serial killers might target those closest to them because it’s easier to get a drop on them. A stranger might fight back at the wrong time and overpower the woman or something. But not if they “know” the woman and don’t see her murderous intentions.

    Reply
    • JH

      Good theory, Misha. It’s pretty terrible to think of all the victims who trusted these women and never saw them coming. Poison is a popular means of murder for female serial killers, and makes for a brutal, painful death.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    In her basement? Ewww. She was one sick individual. If she existed.

    Reply
    • JH

      I always believed she did exist, Denise. But whoever wrote the Wikipedia entry on her isn’t so sure. That’s the first I heard that her existence is up for debate.

      By keeping them in her basement, Vera ensured her lovers could never leave her.

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    Creepy. Maybe men find it easier to kill those they have no connection with.

    Reply
    • JH

      That could be, Alex. A lot of male serial killers (I’ll go out on a limb and say the vast majority) are sexual sadists. Perhaps it’s easier for them to fantasize about strangers. These same men are often able to have “normal” relationships while they’re on killing sprees.

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    What excuse did she use for her son’s disappearance, I wonder?

    The practical matters of this case do seem kind of off – like how did she manage to get the bodies into the basement by herself? I would think they would be heavy. Did she buy all those coffins from different makers? No one questioned the disappearances of some of these men before the jealous wife? But who knows, right? Stranger things have happened….

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for commenting, Madeline. In those days, it was a lot easier for people to disappear without causing much of a stir. There was no Internet, and police departments didn’t work together.

      While the disappearances might have been questioned, no one would necessarily link those men to Vera, and if they did, she always had a good excuse. As for her son, Lorenzo wasn’t married, so probably his employers were the only ones to notice he was missing. All Vera had to say was that her son ran away with a woman, and boom–problem solved.

      In one documentary I watched, whoever she bought the coffins from had workmen who moved them into the basement. That doesn’t explain how she moved the bodies, but for a woman that determined, I’m sure there were ways.

      Reply
  5. Avatar

    It is scary to think that female serial killers target those closest to them.

    32 coffins in her bracelet? Sheesh. That’s a lot!

    I always enjoy your spooky blog posts, J.H.! 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Chrys. The coffins were actually what made me think this story was worth telling. It’s such a creepy image, to imagine this woman hanging out and having meals among her former lovers.

      Vera apparently spent a fair bit of time in her basement.

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    She lived in the 1900s, right? So you would think there would be evidence . . . police records, death / birth records – or not – to either validate or refute her existence. Although, I’m not familiar with 1900-era Romania. Perhaps it was possible she was born without record, as well as some of her suitors. But you’d think there would be police records of a 32 (filled) coffin find. And maybe newspaper accounts. Maybe? This is an interesting read. I enjoy your posts!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the kind words, Caris. I did find English-language newspaper accounts of the story, but they were of the sensationalistic, Enquirer-type, so I’m not sure how reputable they are.

      I didn’t think there was any question of her existence until I read that bit on Wikipedia, so I’m not sure where the author is getting his or her suspicions from. I’m visiting Romania this summer, so it will be interesting to see if anyone there has ever heard of her!

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    This is an interesting story, and one I’ve never heard before. I mean, 32 zinc lined coffins? Ugh! If it is true, that is insane, and if it is made up, kudos to the person who thought it up! 🙂 Although, I have learned that truth is often far stranger than anything we can dream up.

    It does seem interesting that women serial killers tend to off their SO’s or their children. In the partner scenario, I imagine many people at first feel sorry for this woman who keeps having people she “loves” die on her, and then I imagine everyone gets suspicious if it happens more than once or twice. I would suspect this sympathy/victim dynamic is what drives some women to do this?

    It’s the killing of their own kids that I can’t stomach. How a person can look at the little innocent face of the person they helped create and end their life is far beyond me! And, as evidenced by the news stories we see all the time, it happens more often than any of us could comprehend. I don’t know what would drive that . . . mental illness, maybe.

    This was a fascinating read!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Jaime! I’m not sure about modern times, but back in the day, women were given few options but to be wives and mothers, whether they wanted to be or not. Birth control was in its infancy (ha!) and everyone ended up with kids, even if they had no desire for them. I’m sure that drove a lot of child deaths.

      Another factor was greed. Many women killed their partners and children to collect the insurance payout. Usually a second death was looked upon with suspicion, but in some cases, it’s amazing how many murders women were able to get away with! Disease was so rife at that time that multiple people dying of food poisoning wasn’t considered unusual.

      And you’re right, the sympathy/attention factor plays a role with some women as well. That’s when we get Munchausen by Proxy syndrome, when mothers will make their own children sick as a way of getting attention. That still happens today.

      Reply
  8. Avatar

    Arsenic and Old Lace. I also wonder how she moved the bodies. Were they kept as trophies?

    Reply
    • JH

      From all I’ve heard, the corpses were kept to keep her company. Vera didn’t inspire Arsenic and Old Lace, although this is a common misconception. The real inspiration for the play was Amy Archer-Gilligan, another sweetheart.

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    I hadn’t heard of her, but female serial killers are scary. Dying by poison is supposed to be a pretty painful way to go.

    Reply
    • JH

      Especially arsenic. That’s supposed to cause one of the worst possible deaths, and yet some women can watch their loved ones go through this terrible agony again and again.

      Scary, indeed.

      Reply
  10. Avatar

    Interesting and yet so, so creepy. I am wondering why women tend to kill those close to them rather than strangers. I think Misha has a good theory, but I’m also wondering if it doesn’t have something to do with emotion. As twisted as it sounds, I wonder if they need that emotional connection somehow to drive them to kill. It’s interesting to think about, anyway.

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s hard to say, Sara, but I do know that a lot of women who kill their loved ones are very cold and unemotional about it. In a lot of cases, they’re doing it for the money. It’s really hard to fathom.

      Welcome back! 🙂

      Reply
  11. Avatar

    Women are craftier then men. Our corpus collosum is bigger so we can access emotions easier and quicker. That means we also can combine them faster. Love and hate are not opposites, they are neighbors on passion street. The opposite of love is apathy. I think that is one of the reasons women kill close to them while men go to strangers. It is not odd for us to feel more than one emotion and of course the productive ones like fear or rage usually outshine the softer ones that done require an innate physical change in the body. Men on the other hand have a hard time distinguishing emotions so they usually just go with the strongest one they can name. Unfortunately that is usually anger or lust. They simply don’t associate those feelings first with those theyve been taught to protect. Of course this isnt always the case, but my opinion on the difference between men and women serial killers.

    Reply
  12. Avatar

    Hi I am a university student and I am writing a short paper on Vera Renczi but there are discrepancies. A very interesting read and well written. helped me with a few details thank you although there is a lot of confusion between sources. Do you know if there were 32 or 35 bodies in the cellar and where I could find this information as I am finding some sources saying it was the 32 lovers which makes me question where were the first 2 victims, her husbands and her son’s body? I have also see sources that suggest all 35 bodies were in the cellar and her son was in the 12th coffin which again is confusing as that then asks the question how old was her son when she killed him? I was under the impression he found the bodies in the cellar and this was the beginning of Vera’s lies being revealed. but this indicates it could have been rather a long time after n many men after her son. obviously including the one she killed last whose wife sought her out. I have read these blogs and you state there was probably only his employer that would maybe notice Vera’s son was no longer around again that indicates he would have been a young adult but I read one source which said he was only 10 years old. Could you clarify any of this for me please?

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Lian,

      Welcome! I seem to recall having some of the same issues when I researched this post.

      Have you watched the “Deadly Women” episode about her? I’d try that, if not. Maybe it could help clear some of this up. But I agree, there’s a ton of conflicting information.

      Reply
  13. Avatar

    As a teacher, who teaches Criminology, this case is one I find most fascinating, the real mystery is whether there is any truth in it at all! All current articles on the case seem to stem from some tabloid reports in the more sensationalist elements of the US press and a Dutch article that seems to have been derived from these.
    The problem is that there seems to be no evidence in local records of her existence. No birth certificate, no trial records, no local anecdotal evidence. The town where she lived appears to have never existed and research of the “Politika” newspaper archives, local to the region, by those who can read the lingo have produced nothing.
    The enticing question is what actually underpins this rather interesting story?, is it the figment of a tabloid journalist’s imagination?, Did these events happen somewhere else in Eastern Europe and places got transposed in the telling?, or by some conspiracy did the records get expunged or lost in the political turmoil the region went through?
    It would be really interesting to learn if you discovered anything on your visit to the region, I would imagine even if all paper records have gone local folklore would still be passing on such an extraordinary tale.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for your insightful comment, Tony. I had an extremely difficult time finding a photograph of Vera, and this may be why, beyond just the mere age of the story. It’s difficult to imagine someone making up such a horrible tale, but perhaps it was exaggerated over time.

      Reply
  14. Avatar

    It’s called Munchausen by Proxy for those of you wondering why or how a woman could kill her own children. It’s a narcissistic condition (whether it’s a mental illness or not is akin to asking whether a male serial killer is mentally ill or not based solely on his desire or reasons for killing). Anyway, the mother gets the attention she craves by dutifully taking care of her terribly sick child (oh, that poor mother) only to have the die die (“oh, that poor mother tormented even further! The child dies! How much pain can one woman endure!” Is the thought process of the killer, they get their identity and fulfillment from the way the community views them, as dutiful, loving, yet tragic mothers, kind of the archetype of the ultimate mother: painstakingly carting for their sick child to then lose them).

    Reply

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