Well it takes my breath away!
I never think of Funke and the Two Tone Baby as an overt story-teller in his songs – obviously there are stories in there, but the lyrics are obtuse – they don’t spell things out (that for me combined with the masterclass in multi-instrumental multi-tasking is a big part of the appeal!). So you could be forgiven for mistaking Bella’s Kiss as being a passionate tribute to the breathtakingly good kissing technique of a lass called Bella.
It’s certainly something I fell foul of, with Bella rhyming with Ella it even took on a degree of soppy significance. It was at Deerstock that before playing it Funke casually introduced it like this: ‘here’s a song about a Hungarian serial killer’ – at the time I was looking forward to a new song, only to be faced with the confusion of a familiar tune that I thought I already knew well. Being a song-story geek I took to Google almost immediately – and unearthed, well, a pretty disturbing tale.
Bella’s Kiss is about Béla Kiss. Born in 1877, he was a tinsmith who lived in Czinkota (then it would’ve been a town in its own right, now part of Budapest) since 1900. In 1912 – according to some reports after his wife Marie, fifteen years his junior, left him for another man called Paul Bikari. Kiss, well thought of in the local community, probably illicited great sympathy from friends and neighbours when he confessed they’d run away together.
He began corresponding and being visited by numerous different women – this is known thanks to the housekeeper he hired after his wife left, called Mrs Jakubec. He’d begun collecting metal drums, when questioned about them he explained they were to stockpile gasoline with the threat of war looming and the likely rationing of the fuel. In 1914 at the outbreak of the first world war he was conscripted, and left his house in the care of his housekeeper.
By July 1916 rumours that Kiss had been killed in the war were circulating, whilst the need for gasoline in the area was grave – the town constable recalled Kiss’ plan to stockpile it in his metal drums. Soldiers in need of fuel set to opening a drum, but were stayed by a suspicious smell when they attempted it. An investigation was mounted led by Chief Károly Nagy and a drum was opened – amidst protest from Mrs Jakubec. Inside was the naked body of a woman who’d died through strangulation – preserved in alcohol.
They found seven drums, all with the same gruesome contents. Upon searching the house his bureau – contained in a secret locked room – overflowed with correspondance he’d had with women, responding to newspaper advertisements he’d placed under the name of Hoffman. He positioned himself as a lonely widower seeking female companionship, and well-off female companionship at that!
Further searches unearthed 17 more drums – disappeared widows were identified, along with the bodies of his wife Marie and her lover Paul Bikari – the latter being the only male victim discovered by the police searches. The police theorised his wife’s betrayal triggered a grisly revenge perpetrated by Kiss, who developed a taste for murder – preying on lonely widows from whom he’d acquire money before condemning them to the same fate as his wife and her lover.
Since Kiss had perished at war that looked to be the end of the investigation – until evidence that he’d switched identity papers with another soldier, a battlefield casualty. Nagy had attempted to apprehend him where he’d been recuperating in a Serbian hospital but was too late to capture his target. There were numerous sightings of Kiss after this – in Budapest in 1919, in 1924 a member of the French Foreign Legion claimed a legionnaire matching Kiss’ description going by the name of Hoffman had served with him.
By 1932 he’d even been supposed sighted in New York City by a homicide detective, Henry Oswald. He was unable to pursue him through the pressing crowds in Times Square – rumours persisted until 1936 that he was working as a janitor in an apartment building on Sixth Avenue. Police investigations were unable to root him out – and the faltering trail grew cold in trying to track down Béla Kiss – the one that got away as far as the Hungarians were concerned.
A mysterious and gruesome figure – whether the 24 known victims of him were the full extent of his murderous escapades will never be known. Meanwhile as well as inspiring Funke into writing a song about him, there’s a Swedish metal band named after him too. A grim tale indeed – and certainly not at all in-line with my original half-arsed interpretation of the song – which if you listen to now knowing the tale, becomes a lot more obvious of subject matter!
I bet you’ll never listen to that song in the same way again!