Episode 3: Poison
In Episode 3, Brittany and Tyler introduce two female killers who knew their way around toxins: Vera Renczi and Genene Jones. Wine and Episode notes can be found here.
Wine Pick: 19 Crimes, The Uprising
Obvious choice based on our Podcast topic, so it makes sense that it's my first wine pick. A friend actually suggested it to me, I won't say her name, but you know who you are!
I picked one of my new fave wineries, 19 Crimes. 19 Crimes is an interesting winery. It's based in Australia, and they have focused their winery around how Australia became a penal colony. For those who don't know – back in the 1780s, Great Britain was getting overcrowded and sent their criminals who committed one of 19 crimes to live in Australia. In reality, I think there were closer to 200 crimes that could get you sent to the penal colony. Upon conviction, British rogues guilty of a least one of the 19 crimes were sentenced to live in Australia, rather than death. This punishment by "transportation" was rough, and many of the lawless died at sea. For the prisoners who made it to shore, a new world awaited. In all, about 164,000 convicts were transported to the Australian colonies between 1783 and 1868 onboard 806 ships.
As pioneers in a frontier penal colony, they forged a new country and new lives, brick by brick. This wine celebrates the rules they broke and the culture they built.
The men and women on the labels are not those of fiction. They were flesh and blood. Criminals and scholars. In history, they share a bond receiving "punishment by transportation". It could have shattered their spirits. It didn't. Also, you can download an app and find more information on the criminals on each bottle – which is pretty cool!
And for this week I picked one I haven't ever had, The Uprising, which is a Red Blend. I have had their Cab and Hard Chard, which is a Chard that boasts an alcohol content of 16%, so it really has a kick. The Cab is great, very jammy.
But as for The Uprising, I am really excited about this one.
This wine pays homage to Australia's "Rum Rebellion" and so a portion has been aged for 30 days in rum barrels. It is dark with jammy flavors and a smokey finish.
The vintage 2016 is Shiraz dominant lending bright raspberry fruit and plush tannin structure with Cabernet Sauvignon to provide blackberry fruits, palate weight and structure, and then Grenache to provide spice and fruit sweetness on the palate. The nose has intense lifted mocha, caramel and baking spice notes. On the palate the wine is full and mouth coating with brown sugar, jammy blackberry and chocolate notes.
Brittany's Vera Renzi Notes:
Born late 1800s/early 1900s - some say 1903
Active in 1920s and 1930s
Confessed to killing 35 individuals
Poison of choice: arsenic
She is known as Romania's largest serial killer
Her original name is unknown, as Renczi was the last name of her second husband
She was a stunningly beautiful woman and apparently one of the most prolific female serial killers in history, she always wore black
Vera was born in Bucharest in 1903, Her mother died when she was 13 and she moved with her father to what is today known as Northern Yugoslavia where she attended a boarding school.
One day a dog that had been given Vera was found dead in the garden. Her father asked the girl how it had died.
“Oh,” Vera answered, “I poisoned it.”
The father looked surprised.
“And why did you do that?” he asked.
“Because,” little Vera answered, “it so happens that last night I heard you telling one of the neighbors that you were going to give him my dog because it barked too much at night.”
“So I did. But then, why did you kill it?”
“Because I do not want my dog to belong to anybody else. When he leaves me he leaves this world.”
The father did not smile at these last words. He gave his daughter a good thrashing to teach her that one must not be so jealous. He was however unaware that this same merciless jealousy would follow Vera throughout her life – and that in the same emotionless way she had killed her dog, she would murder men who loved her.
By the age of fifteen, she had become increasingly unmanageable by her father and frequently run away from home with numerous boyfriends, many of whom were significantly older than she was. Early childhood friends described Vera as having an almost pathological desire for constant male companionship and possessing a highly jealous and suspicious nature.
Shortly before the age of twenty, her first marriage was to a wealthy Austrian banker named Karl Schick, who was many years her senior. Together they had a son named Lorenzo. Vera was left at home daily while Karl worked, she began to suspect that her husband was being unfaithful. One evening, in a jealous rage, Vera poisoned his dinner wine with arsenic and began to tell family, friends, and neighbors that he had abandoned her and their son. After approximately a year of "mourning", she then declared that she had heard word of her supposedly estranged husband's death in a car accident.
Shortly after allegedly hearing the news of her first husband's "automobile accident" Vera remarried, this time to a man nearer her own age, Joseph Renczi, who was a wealthy businessman. However, the relationship was a tumultuous one and Vera was again plagued by the suspicion that her new husband was cheating on her. After only months of marriage the man vanished and Vera then told friends and family that he had abandoned her. After a year had passed, she then claimed to have received a letter from her husband proclaiming his intentions of leaving her forever. This would be her last marriage, but definitely not her last kill.
Although Vera did not remarry, she spent the next several years carrying out a number of affairs, some hidden with married men, and others openly. Almost every night she would go into town and visit the cafes and night resorts. She’d always be alone. She was known as the “Mysterious Huntress.” Her game, it appears, was always a young man. Her appearance in these places became familiar. The natives of the town knew her well by sight, although few dared to speak to her.
The men Vera would be with came from an array of backgrounds and social positions. All would vanish within months, weeks, and in some cases, even days after becoming romantically involved with her. When connected to men she was openly having an affair with, she would invariably concoct stories of them being "unfaithful" and having "abandoned her".
What became her downfall, was when the wife of one of her lovers followed her husband to Vera's house one evening and the man subsequently never returned home, the police were called to investigate his disappearance.
Being Caught and Sentencing
Upon searching Vera's wine cellar – after exploring long vaulted corridors and breaking through three iron gates, the police discovered 32 unburied, zinc-lined coffins – each with the name and age of its occupant on the outside. Each coffin contained a male corpse in varying stages of decomposition. Vera was arrested and taken into police custody where she confessed to having poisoned the 32 men with arsenic when she suspected they had been unfaithful to her or when she believed their interest in her was waning. She also confessed to the police that on occasion she liked to sit in her armchair amidst the coffins, surrounded by all of her former suitors. She was always afraid of being cheated by men. So she killed them and kept their bodies near her, claiming that the dead men would never abandon her. In fact, she used men as disposable sex objects.
Vera also confessed to murdering her two husbands and her son Lorenzo. She told police that one day when her son had come to pay her a visit, he had accidentally discovered the coffins in her wine cellar and threatened to blackmail her and she subsequently poisoned him and disposed of his body. She also feared he would soon leave her to marry someone so she held him in her arms as he lay dying so she would be the last person to hug him.
“My first husband,” she said, “was the one who made me madly jealous of other women.”
“I couldn’t endure the idea of his ever looking at them! And after a year I felt that he would soon turn away from me, not entirely, but just enough to make me jealous.”
“I swore to myself that he would never belong to another woman. So I killed him.”
"My second husband did not last as long. I was obliged to kill him after four months because he talked to other women."
“From that time on it became a disease with me. I wanted young men. Yet once I possessed them I could not bear the idea that any other woman might come after me.”
“I had the power to tantalize them. They would follow me. Then, perhaps a week after they had remained with me at my house, I would notice that they grew distracted or would say something about having to return home. I would consider these first signs the beginning of the end. And, consequently, my first burst of passion for them would be followed by jealousy, and I would poison them without waiting any further.”
She was convicted of 35 murders and since execution was illegal for women at this time, she was sentenced to life imprisonment, where she subsequently died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
In 2005, The Discovery Channel's three-part series Deadly Women recounted the history of Vera, portrayed through reenactments and commentaries from FBI agents and criminal profiler Candice DeLong and a forensic pathologist. Vera was featured in the series' first episode titled "Obsession", where she is described as having killed her victims in the "1930s in Bucharest, Romania".
Here’s the kicker...
Over time, Vera’s crimes began to seem so unbelievable that today her very existence is debated. Perhaps that is the most terrible of fates for a woman who wanted nothing more than love and attention. The story of Vera Renczi, was first published in the USA in May 1925. After that, the story surfaced repeatedly, without any documentary support about the specific dates of her birth, marriage, arrest or death. However, in 1972, the Guinness Book of World Records found no documentary evidence to support the claim that 35 people were actually killed by Vera in early 20th-century Romania.
One thing to note – the most famous image you'll find of Vera Renczi (pictured above) from a Daily Mirror story about female serial killers is actually not Vera at all. It's fashion model Patricia Belda Martinez. Daily Mirror issued an apology to Martinez for use of her photo, and for accusing her of being a serial killer. Shame, shame, Daily Mirror.
Tyler's Genene Jones Notes:
The adopted daughter of a nightclub owner and his wife, Genene married her high school sweetheart, James H. DeLany Jr., in June 1968 and went to work as a beautician. The couple had a son, Richard Michael, in 1972. The DeLanys were divorced in 1974, but a brief reconciliation resulted in 1977 in the birth of their second child, 6-year-old Heather. Genene entered vocational nursing school in 1977 in San Antonio and went to work at a local hospital. She was asked to resign only eight months later because of what she described as a conflict with a doctor.
After another brief stint in another hospital, she got a job on Oct. 30, 1978, in the pediatric intensive care unit at bexar county hospital in San Antonio. While working at the Bexar County Hospital (now The University Hospital of San Antonio) in the Pediatric Intensive care unit, it was determined that a statistically inordinate number of children Genene worked with were dying. On top of that, they were dying during a single nursing shift, the 3 to 11 evening shift. And they were dying under the care of a single nurse: Genene Jones. The ICU nurses had been trading such talk for weeks, maybe even months, but it was considered it vicious gossip. The ICU’s census book, the listing of patients and their condition during their stay in the unit, was studied. Suzanna Maldonado, another ICU nurse, found out how many children had died during sudden emergencies and on which nursing shift the deaths had occurred. She told her boss, Pat Belko (head ICU nurse) that it did not look good.
The hospital decided to start a long internal investigation into what was going on and all the while, the children are continuing to die under mysterious circumstances. Always on the 3 to 11 shift and always under the care of Genene Jones.
Between May and December of 1981, the last of the hospital’s internal inquiries found ten children in the ICU had died after “sudden and unexplained” complications. In all ten cases, Genene Jones was present at the child’s bedside during what the report gently terms “the final events.” The report concludes: “This association of Nurse Jones with the deaths of the ten children could be coincidental. However, negligence or wrongdoing cannot be excluded.”
But by the time that report was written, Genene was long gone from Bexar County Hospital. Lacking definitive proof of wrongdoing, fearful of a lawsuit and bad publicity, the hospital administrators and the deans of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, which trains its medical students in the hospital, were unwilling to fire Genene, unwilling to call the police, or tip off the district attorney. But the doctors who cared for patients in the pediatric ICU would not let her remain there, there was simply too much going on that medical science couldn’t explain. The administrators did not confront the problem directly; instead, they considered shutting down the ICU altogether. But they finally decided to move out all the licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), Genene among them, under the cover of upgrading the nursing staff to consist only of registered nurses, who have more training than LVNs. Genene and the others were given good recommendations and offered jobs in other parts of the hospital. Genene turned down the offer, and on March 17, 1982, she quit working at Bexar County Hospital. The “unexplained events” stopped.
Her method of killing was to use injections of digoxin, heparin and later succinylcholine to induce medical crises in her patients, with the intention of reviving them afterward in order to receive praise and attention. Digoxin is used to treat heart conditions like atrial fibrillation (rapid and irregular beating of the atriums) and can stop the heart in high doses. Heparin is a blood thinner used for things like pulmonary embolisms and deep vein blood clots and can cause you to bleed to death from the inside. Succinylcholine causes short term paralysis and is used as part of general anesthesia. It can paralyze the heart or diaphragm and cause you to be unable to breathe.
She then took a position at a pediatric physician's clinic in Kerrville, Texas, which is near San Antonio. In a period of 31 days, seven of Genene's patients had eight separate medical emergencies. It was here that she was charged with poisoning six children. The doctor in the office discovered puncture marks in a bottle of succinylcholine in the drug storage, where only she and Genene had access. Contents of the apparently full bottle were later found to be diluted. Genene claimed to have been acting in the best interests of her patients, as she was trying to justify the need for a pediatric intensive-care unit in Kerrville. This act was not a successful means of achieving her goal.
In 1985, Genene was sentenced to 99 years in prison for killing 15 month-old Chelsea McClellan with succinylcholine. Later that year, she was sentenced to a concurrent term of 60 years in prison for nearly killing Rolando Jones with heparin. However, she will serve only one-third of her sentence because of a law in place at the time to deal with prison overcrowding. Jones is scheduled to receive automatic parole in 2017. She is eligible for early parole every two to three years, but has been denied six times so far.
However, from May to October in 2017, Genene was indicted of five additional murders. The trial is currently ongoing. She pled not guilty, and if convicted, she could face life in prison. Instead of being released on her March 1, 2018 release date, she is instead being held in Bexar County while facing these new charges.
She is responsible for the deaths of over 60 infants.
Fun fact: Genene Jones inspired the famous Stephen King character, Annie Wilkes in Misery.
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