Broken Hearted, Bloody Handed: More Lonely Hearts Killers
Just because Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck are the most famous lonely hearts killers doesn’t mean they are the only specimens of their kind. Like them, many people took advantage of lonely hearts ads in order to find companionship and love. Whether it worked out like a fairytale or not is a different story altogether.
Online dating gets a lot of heat because of the risks of meeting a “perfect” stranger. Even with all our access to social media, background checks, and other mentions to verify people, it’s still too easy to deceive men and women desperate for romance. If it’s that easy to fool people today, how easy would it have been over a hundred years ago? Some lesser-known lonely heart killers in this list still gave love a bad name.
Henri Desire Landru
The story of Bluebeard is a folktale of a wealthy man who had a string of wives that would disappear one after the other with no clues as to their whereabouts. Upon marrying his newest bride, he brought her to his fine mansion where she had free roam of the entire place except for the basement. The basement, Bluebeard warned, was dangerous and full of vermin, and his blushing new bride should never venture down there.
Upon leaving for his business trip, Bluebeard’s new wife soon grew bored without her husband and decided to explore her new home. Ignoring his early warning, she opened the door to the basement, traveling all the way down the stairs to find the skeletons of all his previous wives. Terrified of this discovery, she tried to flee her new home, only to come face to face with her angered husband, who had arrived back early. Needless to say, she was never seen again.
As unsettling as this story is, it is sadly the reality for some unfortunate souls who take a chance at love. While the term black widow is normally used to refer to women, it is not out of the ordinary for men to go through many wives, killing them in the process before moving on. Not as well known in the United States, one of these men was France’s Henri Desire Landru.
Landru was a less-than-handsome but charming man later known as the Bluebeard of Gambais. What he lacked in appearance, he made up for in charisma and his silver tongue. Much like Raymond Fernandez, he preyed on single, grieving women who had recently lost their husbands or women who were desperate for love and to empty their pockets in order to get it. It is believed that as many as 283 women responded to his ads. He would spend months with these women, wooing them to gain their trust before slowly draining their assets.
Not only did he use lonely heart ads to get these women, but he also did investment work and would have women give him their husbands’ possessions to invest for them. Of course, the women never saw a dime. Not only would he scam sad women looking for love out of their money, but he would trick soldiers who recently got back from the war out of their pension.
The fraud he committed in his investment work eventually came to light, and Landru went to prison for two years for his crime. After escaping prison, he turned his attention again to using lonely hearts ads as his hunting grounds, and he got another woman into his deceitful web. The unnamed woman came to Landru with open arms and wallet; of course, Landru used this to his advantage to bleed her dry. Unlike other women who let the crimes go unreported, this woman got her justice and turned Landru over to the police. This time for his crime Landru went behind bars for three years.
Tired of jail time, Landru decided to wise up his game. He would continue to swindle women out of their money using ads, but he learned from his past mistakes: he wouldn’t leave behind any witnesses who could report him. It’s unclear how Landru killed his victims, as no bodies were ever found, but he would most likely strangle the women before burning their bodies in the oven. Bone and tooth fragments were found in the fireplace in a garden shed.
While there were no victims to report Landru to the police, there were other people who suspected him of foul play: the sisters of his victims. Madame Buisson had stopped hearing from her sister, and, fearing the worst, went to find her. While she did not know Landru’s name, she knew his face and residence. Working with the police, Landru was originally charged with embezzlement (again). It was not until police searched his home that they saw the trophies of what he kept of his victims.
It is believed that Landru killed up to eleven women. While he had upped his game by not leaving behind a witness, he messed up by taking up their possessions and keeping them in a garage rented in his name. The garage contained identity papers, jewelry, clothes, shoes, and wigs. Not only did he keep items from his victims, but he kept a notebook with a detailed record of the women he conned and when he killed them. With this, police gathered enough evidence to charge him with multiple homicides. While Landru never admitted to his crimes, his list and notebook played the biggest role in the evidence against him, and police were able to prove beyond a doubt that Landru was guilty. Thanks to the persistence of the sisters of these murdered women, Henri Desire Landru was sentenced to the guillotine.
This is one serial killer whose look does not match her ruthless attitude. Also known as the Giggling Granny, Nannie Doss is probably the most interesting person on this list, if only because on the outside, Nannie appears to be a sweet, mild-tempered woman more likely to bake you cookies than murder her husband.
Not much is known about Doss’s early life other than that Nannie and her siblings never went to school. Instead, they worked on their family’s farm, and it was on this farm Nannie suffered a head injury at the age of seven after falling off a horse.
Nannie’s first husband (and the only husband to survive) was a man named Charles Bragg. A pattern that would follow Nannie’s husband is that Braggs was a drunk and not a great man overall. Nannie knew Braggs for four months before marrying him at the age of sixteen. The couple lived with Bragg’s abusive mother, although it is not entirely clear how Nannie’s mother-in-law was abusive. More than likely, the mother-in-law was also as drunk and mentally abusive as Braggs was. The couple had four children together; however, two of those children died mysteriously. It’s said that the children had some food poisoning, although they could have been murdered in a way that appeared like food poisoning.
Braggs and Nannie divorced, and Nannie moved on to terrible husband number two, who was another abusive drunk. Nannie met the man through a lonely hearts column, and the marriage lasted sixteen years. While married to this husband, two of Nannie’s grandchildren died “mysteriously” while in her care. One of her granddaughters died while in Nannie’s care when Nannie used a hairpin to stab her brain. Another grandson, Robert, died of asphyxiation while in her care.
Her second husband was the next to die. Nannie added an extra ingredient to her husband’s moonshine, and he died a week later. People thought he had died due to food poisoning, which also seemed to be a running pattern around Nannie.
Nannie also met her third husband, Arlie Lanning, through a lonely hearts ad. They were not together for very long before Nannie started adding poison to Lanning’s meals. Lanning died shortly after, and since he was a heavy drinker, the doctors attributed the heart attack that came from being poisoned to alcohol.
Not much is known about Nannie’s fourth husband other than he was a serial cheater who, like many others around Nannie, died under “mysterious” circumstances. It’s unclear why Nannie would murder so many around her, as she didn’t have much to gain from all these deaths. It seems that Nannie would just kill them randomly without a second thought or motive. The most likely reason for this irrational behavior is probably due to the head injury she sustained in her youth.
Nannie didn’t only turn her murderous tendencies to her husbands and children. When her mother fell ill, Nannie came to her aid to care for her, only to kill her mother instead. Not only did Nannie kill her mother, but Nannie also killed her sister when she became suspicious of Nannie’s involvement in their mother’s death.
Nannie’s final husband was Samuel Doss. While he was not abusive or an alcoholic, Samuel was no Prince Charming either. Samuel was controlling and wanted Nannie only to read and watch things that were educational. Not really caring for this, Nannie turned to her preferred method of choice and used poison in a pound cake she made for him. Samuel became violently ill and spent a month in the hospital. Impatient, Nannie finished Samuel off with a coffee laced with poison, and Samuel finally died.
The doctor who treated Nannie’s final husband suspected foul play in Samuel’s death and convinced Nannie to perform an autopsy on Samuel’s body. Of course, based on autopsy, doctors were able to fill an alarming amount of arsenic that motivated them to contact the police.
Once contacted by the police, Nannie confessed to killing four of her five husbands. Police exhumed her previous victims and found high amounts of arsenic or rat poison in their bodies. Nannie Doss is believed to have killed at least twelve people before her arrest.
The final killer was one who was never brought to justice. Bela Kiss was a handsome gentleman and an eligible bachelor. Virtually nothing is known about this man’s early life, but it is believed that Kiss killed as many as twenty-three women and disposed of their bodies in his apartment.
In 1903 Bela Kiss started placing lonely hearts ads in the papers. As many as twenty women came to Conkota, Hungary, to meet with Kiss and, ultimately, their end. It is believed that Kiss received as many as one hundred and seventy-four marriage proposals, and he accepted around seventy-four of them.
It’s known that Kiss married at least one of his victims, a young woman fifteen years his junior. The young woman was not fully committed to Kiss and was having an affair. Once Kiss found out about the infidelity, he murdered the couple. These two were the first of his many victims, with the young man being the only male he murdered. He told friends and family that his bride had run off to America when he had strangled her.
From there, Kiss continued to lure in women through the lonely hearts ads, wooing them before draining them of all their money and killing them. Based on the bodies found on his property, all victims were strangled to death with either a rope or by hand.
Kiss went to fight during WWll, and while he was away, it was believed that he was killed in action. Not wishing to waste time, Kiss’s landlord went to the property to clean it up for a new tenant. During that cleanup, his landlord noticed metal drums littered around the property, and believing that it was illegally stored whiskey, he opened it up only to find the pickled bodies of women. At least twenty-four dismembered bodies were found pickled in large metal drums and preserved in alcohol around the property. Among Kiss’s possessions left behind at his home was also correspondence between him and his victims over the years. Kiss carefully selected women with no close family nearby and convinced them to send him money, sometimes all of their savings.
One of the letters found was written to Kiss by Julianne Paschak. She was trying to sue Kiss for defrauding her of the promise of marriage. The case was thrown out of court because Paschak never showed up to court for the case hearing, most likely because she was dead in one of the large drums in Kiss’s apartment.
Police put out an order to arrest Bela Kiss; however, the name was super common in Hungary then, and the war had thrown Europe on its head. Authorities were close to arresting Kiss in a hospital in Serbia, but Kiss stayed one step ahead of them by placing a dead body in his hospital bed and sneaking out. Kiss was never found and brought to justice.
Even with Valentine’s Day being over, the game of love is never done for some. To find romance is a need that almost everyone wants to achieve, but for some, like the killers on our list, to love and grow old together is not their final goal.