A SERIAL KILLER IN DETROIT? How one author unraveled a deadly Motown mystery

By Karen Dybis, author of The Witch of Delray
 

The legal documents still available about Rose and Bill Veres and their 1931 and 1944/1945 retrials at the Archives of Michigan.
The legal documents still available about Rose and Bill Veres and their 1931 and 1944/1945 retrials at the Archives of Michigan.

 
It was a Facebook message I’ll never forget: “Did you know Detroit had a female serial killer?”
 
Talk about getting your attention. A friend of mine had been reading a newspaper article about a local cemetery tour, and a paragraph within that story stood out to him. It mentioned a woman named Rose Veres and how she had killed up to 12 boarders who lived in her Detroit home back in the 1920s and 1930s.
 
Shocked, I wrote back to him with disbelief. How could there be such a horrifying story about Detroit and so few of us knew about it? A serial killer is surprising enough. But a female serial killer during the Great Depression?
 
Granted, I read true-crime books and I am a fan of Detroit history. But the name “Rose Veres” didn’t mean anything to me until that moment. From that first message, I did a quick internet search of this woman and came up with a few blog posts about her alleged crimes. I was intrigued. I agreed with my friend’s message – if there was a suspected serial killer in Detroit, someone needed to write about her.

 
There were more than 300 pages of legal documents in the "Witch of Delray" case to review to try to piece the story together.
There were more than 300 pages of legal documents in the "Witch of Delray" case to review to try to piece the story together.


During my research on Rose Veres, I found out several things immediately. First, she was one of many boarding house owners during that time in Detroit’s history. The city grew rapidly during the first part of the 20th century, and by 1930 the population had increased to 1.5 million people. So many new workers poured into Detroit that they needed places to live, and many single men chose to live in boarding houses to not only find a warm bed but a good meal each night.
 
I also discovered that Rose Veres was a Hungarian immigrant who came to Detroit to make a better life. She followed her husband to the city only to find out he had started a new life here without her. They divorced, and a few years later Rose remarried. That husband, a good man named Gabor, died in 1927 and left Rose a widow with three sons.
 
The research into the "Witch of Delray" case covered three decades and multiple newspapers.
The research into the "Witch of Delray" case covered three decades and multiple newspapers.



Rose was thrust into the local (and later national) spotlight when one of those male boarders sustained fatal injuries in August 1931 after falling from a second-story window. Did he fall of his own accord? Or did Rose and her son push him from that window to collect on the insurance money he had on his life? Police arrested Rose and Bill Veres, and they were put on trial for first-degree murder when that boarder died in Detroit’s Receiving Hospital.

I looked for police records – there were none to be found. I tried to track down hospital records – another dead end. I looked for anything I could find on Delray, Rose Veres, Bill Veres, that boarder named Steve Mak. I came up with some leads, but I knew there had to be more out there.
 
The story got even more interesting when I found out there were some legal documents on file at the Archives of Michigan. I called to the Lansing offices, and one of the archivists was kind enough to help me track down her case number. You’d expect legal documents from 1931 to be lost to either offices moving, closing or natural disasters. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in Lansing, the state capital, to see what papers remained.
 
Dybis focused her story by telling it through the eyes of one observer -- Lt. John Whitman, a Detroit detective.
Dybis focused her story by telling it through the eyes of one observer -- Lt. John Whitman, a Detroit detective.



When the archivist arrived with a banker’s box, I held my breath. Maybe I’d get a small file folder and it could contain an interesting document or two. I watched as he lifted the lid off of the box. That is when he gave an audible gasp. In a panic, I asked: “What is it? Is it empty?”
 
He paused. “No,” he said, turning to smile at me. “I was surprised because there’s so much here. I’ve never seen such a large file.”

There were 300 pages of documents there from Detroit Recorder’s Court, and I was able to make copies of every sheet. Those pages told the story of what happened to Rose Veres, how her 1931 trial was mismanaged and how a crusading female attorney named Alean B. Clutts found justice for the Veres family during a 1945 retrial.
 
The documents took time to unravel and to understand what I had before me. But as I studied them, took them to legal experts and pieced the story together, I came to not only respect Clutts as a master attorney, but to understand Rose Veres, her life in Delray and the history of Detroit a little better.

The result is “The Witch of Delray,” a book about a legal case that changed Detroit – and me, in many ways. It is a true-crime book. It is a political thriller. It is a historical study of Detroit during Prohibition and the Great Depression. It tells a tale of how immigrants were treated in Detroit during the Industrial Revolution. It features a cast of characters who were heroes, villains and everything in between.
 
Was Rose Veres a serial killer? I don’t think so. Based on my research, interviews and documentation of this case, I think she was a woman who mistakenly became part of a legal system that was doing its best to protect Detroit’s citizens in a time when crime was rampant. But I leave it to the reader to decide that for themselves. 





Author Karen Dybis:


 
Karen Dybis, a former Detroit News reporter and longtime Metro Detroit freelance writer, is the author of The Ford-Wyoming Drive-In: Cars, Candy and Canoodling in the Motor City and Better Made in Michigan: The Salty Story of Detroit's Best Chip, and most recently, The Witch of Delray.
Posted: 11/28/2017 12:00:00 AM| with 0 comments


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