In 1990, the first freely elected government had barely taken office when a brutal murder took place, the absurdity and complexity of which recalled Jenő Rejtő’s novel Cyclone of Blondes. This was the infamous Ernő Fried murder.

The domestic organised crime groups that became institutionalised during the socialist era mainly committed crimes against property, specifically burglary. The assets stolen from the “aristocracy” of the Kádár era (entrepreneurs, art dealers, boutique owners, industrialists) were sold in 1956 through a network of foreign fences with the help of their fellow criminals who had defected or later fled to the West, and thus also hidden from the eyes of the Hungarian justice system. But after the regime change, legal “loopholes” opened up new opportunities for organised crime. The criminal consequence of this process was the murder of Ernő Fried, which brought foreign criminal networks within touching distance.

The doctor opens the door

On the morning of 15-16 May, the second week after the formation of the Antall government, one of the country’s most prolific art collectors was found dead. The Budapest Police Headquarters’ Criminal Investigation Department’s Life Safety and Robbery Subdivision ordered an investigation against an unknown perpetrator, which was conducted by the Homicide Unit. 44/a Szondi utca, Szondi Street, Erzsébetváros. The pensioner, who was found dead under the number …, was known as a respected art dealer in the capital and in the art market. On the morning of 16 May, between 7:45 and 7:50, the victim’s doctor visited his patient because he saw his Audi 90 on the street on his way to work, which led him to believe that his patient was at home. He went up to the II. upstairs, rang the bell, and when no one answered, pressed the doorknob: the door was open. Upon entering the apartment, he passed through the hallway and found the victim, whose head was fully wrapped, tied up on the floor to the left of the inner room door. Dr. Tihamér Kiss then went to the kitchen, where he knew his patient had a large amount of Western European currency. Meanwhile, another person arrived at the apartment, a certain Yuri Kostyuchenko, who was also looking for Fried. According to his later testimony, he came to Hungary to offer his valuable Carlo Bergonzi violin for sale. The man, already referred to as Yura by police officers during the investigation, was known by his underworld nickname Doszko. When the doorbell rang, the doctor opened the door and showed the Russian man the victim, then went to the kitchen again, claiming that the sight of the dead man made him drink.

He then took 98 West German marks from under the sink and tried to leave immediately, but before he did, he called the police after Kostyushenko warned him, and left the apartment, citing his bush business. The district police and then the metropolitan police carried out the initial measures, and the on-site inspection was soon started.

It was clear to the authorities that Ernő Fried had been the victim of a cruel and brutal murder, as his head had been wrapped in duct tape and strangled, which had never been done before in Hungarian criminal history. The Russian authorities, however, confirmed that this was a typical method of assassination in their country, which suggested the work of a foreign assassin. The Hungarian police investigators also concluded that they were dealing with an execution carried out by a professional perpetrator who left almost no trace.

Russians, Uzbeks and Azeris

The next day, a witness, Nyina Nagy, better known by her stage name Belfegor, came forward. He allegedly wanted to meet the art dealer the night before the murder, but found the door of the old man’s apartment locked and was forced to leave. Later, it was plausibly suggested that it was no coincidence that the assassin(s) responsible for the cruel treatment of Fried may have been walking by, perhaps staking out the area in case they were disturbed. The question arises as to why Belfegor, the woman with this euphemistic name, would choose to testify voluntarily. In all likelihood, it was motivated by fear of the Soviet mafioso known as Dosk, as the informal power of the criminal from the Ukrainian territory in the period immediately following the regime changes in Eastern Europe was likely to have increased compared to the previously dominant Moscow criminal groups with which Nina the Great was associated. The aforementioned Yuri Kostyushchenko was in Szondi Street at the time of Fried’s death to see if he could get his instrument back from the old art dealer. A career criminal socialising in a crumbling Soviet world, Fried himself found his door locked on the evening of 15 May, so there was nothing to do but go home. On the night in question, however, at the time of Fried’s death, Nyina could not clearly judge whether Doszko, a member of a rival criminal group, had brushed him up. The resulting dilemma of whether or not he needed an alibi, whether or not his compatriot had seen him, led him to try to play it safe and report to the police as a witness. Later, the police also discovered that Nyina was linked to a Russian diamond-trafficking criminal organisation. Surprisingly, a few cans of motor oil had to be abandoned on a train from Nyugati station on the night of the 15th to the 16th. They were probably used to smuggle out of the country the diamonds stolen from Erno Fried.

Nyina was reportedly released by the police and left the country, accompanied by an Uzbek and an Azeri assassin. According to Russian authorities, one of them later died and Nina and her other companion disappeared. However, it should also be remembered that such a large-scale operation could not have been carried out without help, as investigators estimated that the assets in the apartment were worth at least a billion euros, which was an incredibly large sum at the time.

And what happened to Dr. Ernő Kiss? He explained that he had taken the money from the apartment because Fried owed him a few tens of thousands of forints from earlier, but as he could only find a brand, he took it. He was eventually sentenced to more than three years in prison, but was released after four months with a presidential pardon.

Witnesses or potential suspects

The forensic technicians who conducted the crime scene investigation and the officer in charge of the investigation were unanimous in their opinion that the Fried murder had multiple perpetrators: the victim was held down and tied up by a partner, and his head was wrapped completely with a Swiss advertising tape. In a discussion about the possibility of resistance, police later suggested that the victim may have been given some kind of an unconsciousness-inducing substance, which could have allowed a single person to carry out the crime.

Investigators revealed that the victim was one of the capital’s leading art collectors, with an extensive network of contacts from Vladivostok to Los Angeles. The research found that he also dealt in paintings, miniatures, coins, gold, gems, sculptures and sculptures, among other things, as well as antiques whose sale required a specialised network of fences. Prior to his retirement, Ernő Fried worked at the Clockmakers’ Cooperative at 71 Rákóczi út in Józsefváros. as the manager of the shop located at. During the procedure, it became clear that they had stolen from him an IIT VMC 385 VHS-C video camera, a gold men’s watch “Eterna”, a signet ring with the initials “FE” and ruby stones, an unknown amount of West German marks and US dollars, as well as other gold jewellery, icons and brilliant stones.

The investigation of the victim’s circle of acquaintances revealed people who had both considerable informal power and considerable working capital, such as Pál Kriskó, a former police officer who, after his retirement, worked informally as Ernő Fried’s all-rounder, At the same time, Imre Wandorfel, a renowned Budapest prosecutor, and his family were a very useful business partner, while the former foreign legionnaire György Topolovszki, representing the isomer force, could be counted on for a transaction of any size. They were happy to meet each other at Fried’s apartment. But this is where the story gets really confusing, because we don’t know exactly who was trying to kill who, why, and how the Russians came into the picture.

According to Topolovsky, on the day of the murder, he also got into trouble, as Wandorfel shot him several times while chasing him in his car. Topolovsky then took refuge at Mrs Wandorfelné’s farmhouse, where he terrorised the woman and her mother, severely abusing, blackmailing and threatening them with death on several occasions. So she reported the incident to the police: the violent man was arrested, but was released from the BRFK, and a few days later he reappeared at Wandorfelné’s house, who did not understand what had happened. Topolovsky took out his ID card and confirmed that there was nothing to worry about, that he was a respectable citizen, József Szabó, and then gave the lady a good beating, letting her know that the name was only temporary.

In addition to the suspicious conflicts, investigators discovered a significant art cache in the house next to the Wandolfers, which was linked to Fried’s death. It is likely that the neighbour was a fence, or even more likely a steward, for who would have been looking for the Wandolfers’ treasures at his place. But it is also possible that there was some sort of settlement dispute between Ernő Fried, the detective, the prosecutor and the legionnaire, which could have led to Fried’s death.

Questions without answers

Let’s go back to Topolovsky, who escaped from the legion after five years and returned to his homeland, where he then blabbed about the murder, for example that his men had killed the art dealer, or that he was involved with the “company”. That is, an organisation with which you could contract to kill a person. The Anglo-Saxon terminus technicus for this is contract killing, or more commonly known as contract murder. These quasi-companies operate like job agencies: there is a job for which a person is sought for a certain amount of money, known in professional circles as a “hitman”. Topolovsky was later remanded in custody for forgery of public documents at the BV Institute on Markó Street. There are indications (quick release from the BRFK, new identity) that the former legionnaire was an informer for the criminal police, who were trying to “protect” him from further trouble.

It was not by chance that the trade in and smuggling of works of art attracted so many threads, since huge sums of money were involved. However, we must also remember that, after real estate, works of art are the most stable movable assets, as they follow the depreciation of money and have retained their value even in a harsh economic environment. So it is not surprising that their importance grew even more during the turbulent period of regime change. Of course, there are further questions about the abuses and the agents, for example, that the murderers, robbers and others who acted fraudulently were all released in a very short time or were able to leave the country without hindrance. All of these certainly played a role in the fact that the specific perpetrator or perpetrators of the Ernő Fried murder are still unknown. Perhaps the VHS tapes stolen during the murder, which included the audiovisual catalogue of the elderly man’s collection, artifacts whose absence the investigators may not have noticed, could have provided a clue. Who knows?