Corpse in a Basket-Trunk

Budapest History Museum

The "Elza the Magnate" Mystery

The exhibition displays the story of a mysterious murder case that took place in Budapest in the winter of the year 1914. Based on the temporary exhibition shown at Museum Kiscell.

Animation made for the temporary exhibition "Corpse in a Basket-Trunk. The Elza the Magnet Mystery" at Museum Kiscell. Video Artist: Judit Wunder

The Life of "Elza the Magnate"
The unique career of a simple countrygirl in fin- de-siécle Budapest

In 1896 Budapest celebrated the 1000th anniversary of Hungarian statehood. The amusement center "Ős-Budavára" was built in the City Park and it became the favourite place for the smart society.

"Elza the Magnate" was born as Emília Turcsányi in 1880 in a small village in Northern Hungary. She came in 1896 to Budapest as a maid servant but soon made a career as a well-known démimonde.

For many women from the country who came to Budapest, the only way to achieve social mobility was to make a living using their body.

Elza became a well-known person in the wordly life, she was a frequent guest of the famous Budapest night clubs and music halls.

Emília Turcsányi got her nickname because of the jewelry she was donated by her wealthy "friends". Although Elza was never a registered prostitute, she built up a career as a cocotte.

Sometime before 1908 Elza met the Viennese furniture maker Max Schmidt at the palace of Count Pálffy. After that she became the mistress of Schmidt.

Schmidt rented an apartment for his mistress in this Buda house. He furnished the apartment and decorated it with paintings from his own art collection. Elza was no lack of anything...

Max Schmidt purchased the old monastery of Kiscell in Óbuda in 1910. He installed interior decoration showrooms and a private museum in the baroque building.

Max and Elza often made an excursion to the so-called Schmidt-castle situated on the top of a hill.

Corpse in a Basket-Trunk
An unknown woman's body found at the Danube.The story of the exciting police investigation.

In the morning of 10th January 1914 two carriage drivers found a basket-trunk on the Buda embankment of the River Danube. The drivers were pretty surprised to find a female corpse inside.

This sensational case was picked up by the tabloids which meant it remained a front page story for many days causing a real mass hysteria in the Hungarian capital.

Policemen, detectives and a crowd of spectators gathered at the crime scene.

A police photographer took a snapshot of the body. The police didn't have a clue about the identity of the woman. On site the detectives could only determine that she was probably victim of a crime.

Authorities turned to the public for help in identifying the woman. The body was put on public display in the morgue and newspapers published a call for eyewitnesses.

Even a film was made to help people recognize the body. The movie made by the Apolló Projectograph film company established by crime reporter János Fröhlich. It was presented in every Budapest cinema.

After two days the police managed to identify the corpse: it was the well-known démimonde Emília Turcsányi alias "Elza the Magnate".

The victim having been identified the perpetrators of the crime were soon found. The murder was committed by the unemployed baker's man Gusztáv Nick.

Nick was instigated to commit the crime by his lover, Rózsi Kóbori who was the housekeeper of "Elza the Magnate". Their motive was to rob Elza's valuables and sell them.

Media Sensation
Mass media and the murder case. The role of newspapers in the investigation.

The Elza the Magnate’s murder case was a great sensation in its time. Especially the tabloid press - like the best selling "Az Est" - dealt with the case extensively and in minute details.

The crime story was covered by foreign newspapers as well — from Vienna through New York to Australia.

Besides well-known police reporters of the time belletrists like Dezső Kosztolányi and Gyula Krúdy also dealt with this case in a number of their writings.

The sensational case even benefited the second edition of Krúdy's novel "The Crimson Coach": readers had the false notion that the novel is covering the murder case, so the book became a bestseller.

Funeral and Mass Hysteria
The burial ceremony of "Elza the Magnate" as a Budapest mass event.Elza's tomb and the memorial chapel at Kiscell Mansion.

The funeral of "Elza the Magnate" on 16th January 1914 was a mass spectacle. Some press releases suggested it was attended by no less than 30,000 people, others were speaking about 100,000 spectators.

The catafalque of the famous démimonde was raised in the chapel of the new Saint John's Hospital in Buda.

This drawing is to be found in the Schmidt Archive of the Kiscell Museum. It was presumably Schmidt himself who made the sketch at Elza's catafalque.

The funeral procession proceeded from the hospital to the old Óbuda Cemetery near Kiscell Castle. The cemetery wasn't used since 1910 but Schmidt managed to rent a burial ground here.

Urban legend says that Schmidt wanted to bury Elza in the unused cemetery to always have a sight with his telescope on her grave from the Kiscell Mansion.

Schmidt furnished a chapel in memory of his murdered mistress in 1914-1915 at the foot of the churchtower of the monastery-mansion.

Only two objects still remain from the "Elza the Magnate" memorial chapel at the Kiscell Mansion. Both silver objects were part of the artifact collection of Max Schmidt.

Afterlife of the Case
What happened to the perpetrators of the so-called Buda murder? Rózsi Kóbori and Gusztáv Nick in prison.

The housekeeper of Emília Turcsányi and instigator of the murder was sentenced to lifetime prison. She was transfered to women's prison in Márianosztra where she died in 1926.

Gusztáv Nick, the murderer was also sentenced to lifetime prison, though he was released from prison after 15 years. He lived under poor circumstances well into the 1970's.

Credits: Story

Curator: Roland Perényi
Photo: Judit Fáryné Szalatnyay

Kiscell Museum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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