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S1 / EP06: Geza de Kaplany "The Acid Doctor"

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

This was a crime story that I read years ago and will stick with you simply due to its sheer brutality. What's interesting about this case, is that de Kaplany had no criminal history or history of prior violent behavior, nor did he commit any further crimes after this particular incident. Was this a case of momentary psychosis, or an extreme reaction to jealousy and insecurity?


Transcribed EP06: Geza de Kaplany "The Acid Doctor"

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Content on this podcast may contain elements that are not suitable for some listeners. Listener discretion is advised.


Hey, everyone! And welcome to Episode six of The Crime Shack! In today's episode will be telling you about a crime that happened almost 60 years ago in a town in northern California called San Jose. For those of you not familiar with the California layout, San Jose is a city synonymous with Silicon Valley, roughly 50 miles south of San Francisco. The crime occurred in the year 1962, when the Cuban missile crisis almost caused a full scale nuclear war, when beautiful Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her Los Angeles home, when astronaut John Glen became the first American to orbit the Earth, and when our American lives were enriched by the very first WalMart opening up in Rogers, Arkansas. Veteran crime writer Carl Sifakis said this crime was the most horrendous single murder in American history. So let's take a step back in time and dive into the insane mind of Dr Geza de Kaplany.


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Dr. Geza de Kaplany was born on June 27th,1926 and was of Hungarian descent. He had studied to be a heart specialist in Hungary, but decided to immigrate to the United States in 1957. When he arrived in the States, he decided to retrain as an anesthetist at Harvard and Yale before moving west to California, where he worked at a hospital in San Jose, California.

Five years later, in June of 1962, when Gaza was 36 years old, he met another Hungarian immigrant, 25 year old Hajna Piller who was a former model, beauty contestant and dancer. They married only a month later and moved into a new apartment in San Jose. During a discussion with a mutual friend, Geza was told that his new wife may be having an affair. Although there was no evidence to prove this allegation, the rumor was enough to enrage Geza.

Approximately two months after their marriage, on the morning of August 28 1962, loud classical music emanated from the apartment of Geza and Hajna disturbing the neighbors of the apartment complex. Neighbors could hear wailing noises coming from Geza and Hajna’s apartment, but the cries were partly covered by the loud music. Accounts differ, but either a neighbor or Geza himself finally called the local police.

When police arrived and knocked on Geza’s apartment door, the doctor answered the door in his underwear and allowed the officers to enter the apartment. They quickly discovered the reason for the loud music. The officers found the naked body of Geza's wife Hajna writhing on the floor. Geza had stripped her of her clothing, beat her, had bound her previously to their bed by her hands and feet and had tortured her for up to three hours. The officers had Hajna rushed by ambulance to the hospital, where it was discovered that she had suffered third degree burns over 60% of her body, and her genitals were almost completely obliterated. One of the ambulance attendants who assisted Hajna actually burned their hands from the acid that she was drenched in when they attempted to handle the body.

Upon inspection of the apartment. The acid, unknown at this point which chemicals were actually present, had reduced the bed sheets to rags and had burned a large hole in the mattress. There was a case containing several bottles of hydrochloric, sulfuric and nitric acid, along with rubber gloves next to the bed. Detectives found a note in the apartment written on a prescription form, which was assumed to have been written instructions to Geza’s wife, where the following was written in Hungarian. "If you want to live, do not shout. Do as I say, but also die!"

Geza told the officers who arrived at his apartment that night that he was not trying to kill his wife. The disfigurement, he explained, was only to make sure that no other man would ever desire her. The reason behind Geza choosing those particular types of acids is unknown, but I'll explain the three types of acids that the doctor chose to use to torture his wife, to provide you with some context.

Hydrochloric acid is naturally produced by cells in our bodies to help digest food in the stomach. It's a strong, corrosive acid that can be used to make steel for bridges and cars. It's used in the chemical industry in a large scale production of vinyl chloride for PVC plastic and is one of the chemicals that produces polyurethane foam and calcium chloride. Hydrochloric acid in its concentrated liquid form is very corrosive and can cause damage, such as chemical burns upon contact. Hydrochloric acid can cause eye damage, even blindness if splashed in the eyes. Ingestion of concentrated hydrochloric acid can cause severe injury to the mouth, throat, esophagus and stomach.

Sulfuric acid is another corrosive irritating acid and can cause direct local effects on the skin, eyes, respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, when there is direct exposure to sufficient concentrations. If you touch sulfuric acid, it will burn your skin. If you get sulfuric acid in your eyes, it will burn your eyes and cause them to water. The term burn refers to a chemical burn, not a physical burn resulting from contacting a hot object. People have been blinded by sulfuric acid when it was thrown in their faces. Sulfuric acid is commonly also found in car battery acid, certain detergents, some fertilizers and some toilet bowl cleaners.

And lastly, nitric acid, which is also known as engravers acid, is a corrosive acid that can cause severe burns. Its vapor is corrosive to the respiratory tract and may cause pulmonary edema that can prove fatal. On contact with skin liquid splashes with nitric acid may produce severe burns.

There's no doubt that Dr. de Kaplany knew exactly what he was doing and how the use of each of those acids would result in the maximum amount of pain to his wife's body When being treated for her multiple wounds at the hospital, Hajna's extensive and horrendous injuries became known. Geza had made numerous small incisions with a scalpel all over his wife's body, paying particular attention to her eyes, breasts and genitals, and then poured the various acids into the wounds.

Hajna, unfortunately, did not die right away, but lived for 33 days in the hospital. Hajna's mother prayed for her death, and Hajna eventually succumbed to her injuries, dying on September 30th,1962. Dr. de Kaplany was soon arrested and charged with the murder of his wife.

Geza's trial began in January of 1963, and his defense argued and Geza pled that he was not guilty by reason of insanity. They claim that he had an alter ego or multiple personality syndrome, where he became a dashing French journalist called Pierre de la Roche. And it was this other personality who committed the monstrous crime. This alter ego went between caring and cruel modes of behavior, depending on external stimuli. The idea behind the crime was that when Geza had heard the rumors of his wife's infidelity, he reacted via this alternate personality, in a cruel and irrational way.

Geza was calm in court, saying that he never intended to kill his wife only to disfigure her so that other men wouldn't find her attractive. In court, when the prosecution showed postmortem photos of Hajna's mutilated face and body when she lay in the San Francisco morgue, Geza shouted hysterically in the courtroom, "I am a doctor! I loved her. If I did this, and I must have done this, then I'm guilty!" Geza unexpectedly pled guilty on the seventh day of his trial.

Geza's attorney admitted that Geza was driven to insanity because of frustration over his own impotence, her inattentiveness to him both emotionally and sexually, and an unfounded rumor that his wife was having an affair. During the trial, he claimed he never meant to kill her, but only wanted to destroy her beauty. Three months later, on March 1st, 1963 the jury returned a guilty verdict and sentenced Geza to life in prison. The jurors did not agree with his insanity claim, but they spared him the death penalty because they concluded he was mentally ill, though not insane.

At that time, the state of California did not have life in prison with no chance of parole. The jury was assured that if they sentenced him to life in prison, he would be classified a special interest prisoner and would never be released. But this turned out not to be true, and the country was surprised to discover that Dr. de Kaplany was quietly paroled in 1975 having served only 13 years of his sentence.

I don't know what's more shocking, the fact that he tortured and killed his wife with acid, or the fact that he only served 13 years for her murder. And just wait this gets even better. Forced to defend their actions to an angry public, the California Adult Authority, which was the state's parole board, reported that a missionary hospital in Taiwan desperately needed a cardiologist with Dr. de Kaplany’s skills. Apparently Geza’s parole was contingent on leaving the United States and that he served in the missionary hospital in Taiwan, which he did, but that only lasted for a few years. As it turned out, Geza had found the Taiwan missionary himself by reading news accounts, then told the parole board, and I quote, "I will live out the rest of my life. however long or short it may be, to serving the poor in undeveloped countries whose pain and suffering I would alleviate."

That pledge only lasted four years, and in 1979 Geza jumped bail and flew to Germany, where he found work using his Hungarian credentials. In 1980, Geza was fired from a Munich hospital he was working at when a magazine article recounting his crimes was made known to administrators. In 2002, reporters for the San Jose Mercury News tracked Geza de Kaplany down to a small home on a pleasant street in Bad Zwischenahn Germany, where he lived with his second wife - yes, you heard that right, he got married AGAIN - whom he met in Taiwan.

Geza became a German citizen in 2000, which placed him permanently out of reach of California authorities, who could have returned him to the states for violating his parole. When the reporter interviewed Geza, the doctor, by the way he insisted on being called doctor because he had both medical and philosophical doctorate degrees, stated the following:

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"I have done one mistake in my life," Geza said, "I paid enough for it." He then begged the reporter not to publish his story, telling the reporter that "it would ruin my life. I was insane." If Geza de Kaplany is still alive today, he would be 94 years old.

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