In 1916, Nagyrev was a small farming town in what is now the country of Hungary. Everybody knew everybody and most people were dirt poor. One of the village's most recognizable residents was a portly woman everyone called Auntie Suzy. There was nothing she wouldn't do to help out her friends and acquaintances. Over the years Auntie Suzy, who was hardly ever without her little vial of liquid, became relatively wealthy by local standards. A number of recent widows repaid her for the kindness she showed them and new mothers were relieved that they didn't have another mouth to feed after all. The future looked bright until a new doctor in Nagyrev began to take a closer look at the people Auntie Suzy had "helped." Ms. McCracken's unnerving, riveting story of Auntie Suzy's unapologetic embrace of pure evil would seem absurdly far-fetched if it was fiction. It is so bleakly horrifying, it just had to be true. — Alden Graves
The Angel Makers is a true-crime story like no other—a 1920s midwife who may have been the century’s most prolific killer leading a murder ring of women responsible for the deaths of at least 160 men.
The horror occurred in a rustic farming enclave in modern-day Hungary. To look at the unlikely lineup of murderesses—village wives, mothers, and daughters—was to come to the shocking realization that this could have happened anywhere, and to anyone. At the center of it all was a sharp-minded village midwife, a “smiling Buddha” known as Auntie Suzy, who distilled arsenic from flypaper and distributed it to the women of Nagyrév. “Why are you bothering with him?” Auntie Suzy would ask, as she produced an arsenic-filled vial from her apron pocket. In the beginning, a great many used the deadly solution to finally be free of cruel and abusive spouses.
But as the number of dead bodies grew without consequence, the killers grew bolder. With each vial of poison emptied, a new reason surfaced to drain yet another. Some women disposed of sickly relatives. Some used arsenic as “inheritance powder” to secure land and houses. For more than fifteen years, the unlikely murderers aided death unfettered and tended to it as if it were simply another chore—spooning doses of arsenic into soup and wine, stirring it into coffee and brandy. By the time their crimes were discovered, hundreds were feared dead.
Anonymous notes brought the crimes to light in 1929. As a skillful prosecutor hungry for justice ran the investigation, newsmen from around the world—including the New York Times—poured in to cover the dramatic events as they unfolded.
The Angel Makers captures in expertly researched detail the entirety of this harrowing story, from the early murders to the final hanging—the story of one of the most sensational and astonishing murder rings in all of modern history.
Patti McCracken was born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in October 1964. At fifteen, she moved with her family to Clearwater, Florida. After college, she worked for a newsmagazine in Washington, D.C., for a decade before moving to Chicago, where she was an assistant editor at the Chicago Tribune. She eventually relocated to Europe, where she was a journalism trainer, free press advocate, and newsroom consultant for the then-emerging democracies of the former Soviet bloc. She was based in an Austrian village, but her work often included long stints in Eastern and Central Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and later North Africa and Southeast Asia. She was twice a Knight International Press Fellow. Over more than twenty years, her articles have appeared in Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Smithsonian magazine, and many more outlets. The Angel Makers is her first book. After seventeen years abroad, McCracken returned to the United States. She now resides on Martha’s Vineyard. For more information, visit the author’s website at PattiMcCracken.com.
"[C]ompulsively readable . . . This is a must for true crime fans." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"[S]imply excellent. The storytelling is dramatic and compassionate; unlike works of crime nonfiction that relate facts at a journalistic remove, this book feels like it was written by someone who cares deeply about the victims of the crimes." — Booklist (starred review)
“In 1929 a small Hungarian village was revealed to have been at the heart of a mass murder spree in which local women got rid of unwanted relatives by poisoning them with arsenic. Patti McCracken brings to life this long-forgotten tale in a grimly gripping narrative.” — Financial Times Best Summer Books of 2023: History
“The Angel Makers carries readers into an era of powerlessness, when women had scant recourse against a daily onslaught of violent men, exhausting poverty, and relentless fecundity. The women's desperate attempts to assert control over their own lives are both understandable and horrifying, the whole stew depicted with compassion and a journalist's eye for detail.”
— Janine Latus, New York Times–bestselling author of If I Am Missing or Dead
"In The Angel Makers, Patti McCracken takes you on a historical ride, rich with velvety description, through 1920s rural Hungary, where women used serial murder by arsenic to solve real-time problems of poverty, sickness, abuse, and sometimes greed. Horrifying yet fascinating." — Caitlin Rother, New York Times–bestselling author of Death on Ocean Boulevard
“When women in the sleepy, remote village of Nagyrév, Hungary, felt overburdened or abused by their husbands, they went to Auntie Suzy for advice. The midwife had a simple solution to every problem—the arsenic-filled vial in her apron pocket. In The Angel Makers, Patti McCracken brings the sights, sounds, and smells of the farming village back to life as she painstakingly reconstructs one of the most infamous mass murders in history.” — Patrick Perry, editor-in-chief of The Saturday Evening Post magazine
“The Angel Makers is a macabre tale told well, in riveting true crime fashion.” — Vineyard Gazette