Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Crimes of Bela Kiss

A Monster's Mythology

Antonin Artaud
Antonin Artaud

Many of the facts about Bela Kiss will never be known. He has to a large extent passed into myth and, in some imaginations, has grown into a figure larger than life. A Swedish metal band is called Bela Kiss and another metal band called PUS recorded a songs about him.

The famous, enormously talented but deeply troubled French surrealist poet, actor, and playwright Antonin Artaud wrote a scenario for a silent movie inspired by Kiss. Never actually made into a film, it is called "Thirty-two" and appears in Volume 3 of Artaud's Collected Works. In "Thirty-two," the Kiss figure is a medical professor. A distressed young woman approaches him after attending one of his lectures. She pours out a tale of woe. She has foolishly become involved with a man who has left her. 

The professor appears sympathetic to the poor lady. He invites her to his home. She notices that he has 32 large canisters. She is understandably baffled, then frightened. She makes a quick getaway.

Later, the Great War breaks out and the instructor of medicine is called away to do his patriotic duty. People hear that the young professor has lost his life in that bloody conflict. They also remember that the deceased man was said to have hoarded paraffin in his home. Authorities go to his house to open the canisters. They pull the top off of one and discover a dead woman, strangled with a silken cord.

The old radio program "Unsolved Mysteries" (not to be confused with the contemporary television program of the same title) did a dramatization of the Kiss story. It was titled "Bela Kiss: Mystery Man of Europe." All the broadcasts began with the disclaimer, "Out of deference to persons who may still be living, character names in some of these true Unsolved Mysteries have been changed." However, at least in its rendition of the Bela Kiss case, much more than names were altered.

Jay Stephens wrote a lively comic book called The Land of Nod: Rockabye Book, which includes an evil character named Bela Kiss. A reviewer for The Comics Journal praised Stephens' work, writing, "If Hanna-Barbara dealt with existential angst and deconstructionalism, the end result would probably resemble The Land of Nod, the new comic from Jay Stephens."

The story of the comic is about a group of villains recruiting new members to their Jetcat Haters Society. Jetcat in the book is a superhero who is really a child named Melanie McCay. Like Clark Kent becoming Superman, she turns into Jetcat in order to fight evil. One of the new recruits to the Jetcat Haters Society is a fellow calling himself Bela Kiss. Stephens' cartoon Kiss looks little like the original. He is a pint-sized monster with a Frankenstein-like flathead wearing a Dracula-like cloak.

And so, Bela Kiss lives on in one incarnation after another. Fortunately, the artistic renderings, even the silly and tasteless ones, are preferable to the original Bela Kiss.

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