Marek, Martha Lowenstein (1904–1938)

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Marek, Martha Lowenstein (1904–1938)

Austrian murderer . Born Martha Lowenstein in Vienna, Austria, in 1904; died by beheading in Vienna on December 6, 1938; educated at finishing schools in France and England; married Emil Marek, in 1924 (died 1932); children: one daughter and one son.

Born in Vienna in 1904, Martha Lowenstein Marek grew up in poverty. Orphaned at an early age, she came into the care of a poor Viennese family. In 1919, she began working in a dress shop, where her youthful beauty caught the attention of Moritz Fritsch, a wealthy 74-year-old department-store owner. In the early 1920s, Martha became a ward of Fritsch, who soon made his young charge his lover. He also sent her to expensive finishing schools in France and England, where she was surrounded by wealth and opulence.

When she finished school, Martha returned to live with Fritsch and began a secret affair with a young engineer, Emil Marek. Upon Fritsch's death, Martha inherited his entire estate. In 1924, the two young lovers married and lived lavishly upon the inheritance money; the funds were soon exhausted and the couple was forced to sell Fritsch's impressive mansion. They then devised a bizarre scheme to obtain money. Marek took out an insurance policy on her husband which covered accidents for £10,000. The Mareks then carried out a staged accident which called for Emil to actually lop off his own leg, supposedly while chopping wood. The plan went awry when he failed to fully sever his leg, although he inflicted injuries serious enough finally to result in hospitalization and amputation.

Their attempt to collect the insurance money went equally awry. Insurance agents were suspicious, and their misgivings were confirmed when doctors noted the presence of three separate cuts and decided that the accident had been deliberate. The Mareks were charged with attempted fraud. In a last attempt to save herself and her husband, Martha tried to bribe a nurse to say that her husband's doctor had himself been bribed by insurance agents to make the multiple cuts on Emil's leg. Ultimately, the fraud charges were dismissed, but the Mareks were convicted of bribery and served four months in prison. (They did eventually receive £3,000 from the insurance company, which barely covered the court costs.)

Released from prison, the Mareks moved to Algiers for a time, where they had two children and met with no financial success. Upon their return to Vienna, they were so impoverished that Martha was forced to sell vegetables on the street. Desperate for money, she turned to murder. In July 1932, Emil had difficulty swallowing and suffered numb limbs before dying of what was presumed to be tuberculosis. Just weeks later, their seven-year-old daughter died. Both deaths put insurance money in Martha Marek's pocket. Her next source of funds was a wealthy, aging aunt, Susanne Lowenstein . Marek moved in with her to care for her and, within months, Lowenstein was suffering symptoms akin to those of Emil. Lowenstein too soon died, and Martha inherited her aunt's small fortune, which she immediately spent.

Again desperate for money, Marek opened the Lowenstein house to two boarders, a man named Neumann and an elderly woman named Kittenberger. Soon after, Kittenberger was dead and Martha was the beneficiary of a small insurance policy, worth only $300. As this was not nearly enough to maintain her extravagant lifestyle, Marek devised another insurance fraud scheme whereby she had expensive paintings that still hung in her deceased aunt's house removed and hidden in a warehouse. The following

morning she reported them stolen to the police and entered a claim with the company that had insured the paintings.

This proved to be Martha Marek's last deception, for Ignatz Peters, the detective assigned to investigate her claim, had also investigated the mishandled leg amputation years earlier. Instantly suspicious, Peters searched warehouses across Vienna until he uncovered the paintings. Marek was arrested and once again charged with insurance fraud. When Kittenberger's son learned of the arrest, he acted on his own suspicions and approached police with his belief that Marek had killed his mother.

As a result, Kittenberger's body was ordered exhumed, along with the bodies of Marek's deceased husband, daughter, and aunt. The police discovered that each body contained thallium, a rare and poisonous chemical compound. Peters then sought out Marek's son, and found him in a poor district of Vienna, suffering from the effects of thallium poisoning; he recovered after being hospitalized. Not surprisingly, Marek had recently taken out an insurance policy on her son.

Martha Marek maintained her innocence to the end of her trial, which was held in 1938. The prosecution, however, sealed its case by proving that she had been a steady customer of a Viennese chemist who sold thallium to her. Martha Marek received the death penalty, which had been reintroduced to Austria by the controlling Nazi Party, and was beheaded by a single blow of the executioner's axe on December 6, 1938.


Nash, Jay Robert. Look for the Woman. M. Evans, 1981.

Kari Bethel , freelance writer, Columbia, Missouri