In 1926, a waiter committed suicide in Budapest, Hungary. Supposedly, all he left behind was an empty crossword as an explanation.
I first heard about this story a couple years ago and decided to follow this up by examining the 1926 editions of Az Est (a prevalent Hungarian newspaper at the time). While I found that the year’s headlines were dominated by the counterfeit franc scandal, I did find a brief report of the suicide case.
According to Az Est, at midnight on the 3rd of March, a young man visited Café Emke in Budapest and ordered a coffee. After he had been served, he went to the nearest payphone and attempted to call a number multiple times, unsuccessfully. Around 1 a.m., the cloakroom attendant heard a strange sound from the toilet. When she opened the door, the young man laid on the ground, bathed in blood with a gun in his hand. The cloakroom attendant quickly called the police and the ambulance, who were unable to save him.
Upon further investigation, the police managed to establish the young man’s identity. His name was Gyula Antal; he worked as a waiter. Besides his ID papers, another notable item on his person was an envelope, which had “The reason for my suicide” written on it. When they opened the envelope, they found an empty crossword. According to Az Est, the police started working on it, although “the complicated crossword was yet to be solved”.
According to the newspaper the young man had been living in poverty for a while, and he was forced to move out of his apartment a couple days earlier, because he couldn’t pay the rent. His landlord said that when moving out, Gyula had to leave his clothes behind to settle his debts.
Knowing the precise date of the suicide, I decided to look at other newspapers (Pesti Hírlap, Pesti Napló, Budapesti Hírlap, 8 Órai Újság, Kis Újság, Világ, Népszava, Újság) and police magazines (Közbiztonság, and Csendőrségi Lapok) as well in a local microfilm archive. Despite my efforts, I didn’t find out whether the crossword was ever solved. Közbiztonság, a monthly police magazine reported in April 1926:
“First it was thought that the young man killed himself because he couldn’t solve the crossword. Then, it came to light that the he made this crossword and hid his reason for the suicide within it. Our policemen and detectives are hard at work at solving this, although this may not be necessary. The reasons for someone committing suicide are pretty apparent. Joblessness, famine, hopelessness. Although these reasons seem pretty mundane without being hidden in a crossword”.
As Közbiztonság suggests, suicides weren’t very newsworthy at the time in Budapest. Nicknamed the “City of Suicides”, in 1926 its suicide rates were astonishingly high. On March 4th for instance (so the day after the suicide in question), 10 people attempted to take their own lives.