The name on the home in the tourist town of Bad Zwischenahn, Germany, read ``Dr. Dr. G. de Kaplany.'' When a reporter knocked on the door, a man in his 70s, gray but fit, stepped out. Yes, he said. He was Dr. Geza de Kaplany.
This was the San Jose doctor who horrified California 40 years ago when he tortured and murdered his new bride, and then ignited a storm of controversy when he received a hush-hush parole after spending only 12 years in prison. Today, de Kaplany remains a fugitive, still wanted by California authorities for jumping parole.
``I have done one mistake in my life,'' de Kaplany, sweaty and shaky, told the reporter. ``I paid enough for it.''
On Aug. 28, 1962, de Kaplany, told that his wife was cheating on him, punished her by binding her and methodically swabbing her face and body with acid. Hajna de Kaplany lingered in misery for 33 days before dying in a hospital room stripped of mirrors so she couldn't see her reflection.
The district attorney who convicted the anesthesiologist pledged he would never be set free. And yet in 1975 ``in the dark of night,'' as one official puts it, he was not only freed but allowed to leave the country.
Then, in 1979, he skipped parole -- but no one appeared to care enough to track him down and bring him back. For violating parole, he could have been returned to prison. But not anymore.
The Mercury News set out to find de Kaplany this year, the 40th anniversary of the murder. After only a few months' search by phone and databases, he was found living quietly with his second wife on this pleasant street.
The Mercury News also learned that almost two years earlier, the doctor had become a German citizen. And Germany will not allow his extradition. After more than 20 years of negligence and bungling by California prison officials and prosecutors, he was beyond American law.
Rumors of an affair lead to use of acid
In his parlor, the doctor pleaded with the reporter not to tell his story. ``It would ruin my life,'' de Kaplany said. He later added, ``I was insane.''
Insane? On the night of the attack, the screams of Hajna de Kaplany could not be heard over the Italian opera blaring from the couple's apartment.
Inflamed with jealousy and determined to destroy her beauty, de Kaplany had made preparations that afternoon. He had three kinds of acids, rubber gloves to protect his hands, and more.
That night, he stripped Hajna, beat her and tied her hands and feet. He cut her left breast with a knife and began bathing her with nitric acid. After three hours, he called the police. They found Hajna writhing on the floor.
Oddball and scholar, misfit and sadist, de Kaplany, the son of a Hungarian nobleman, had arrived in the United States in 1957. Already a doctor, he trained at Harvard and taught at Yale before coming west and meeting Hajna Piller, a model who was a shining beauty among the local community of Hungarian transplants. He was 36, she was 25.
After a quick courtship, they wed. After five weeks of marriage, he was ready to kill her. A mutual friend told de Kaplany that his wife was having an affair.
He was not trying to kill her, the doctor told police that night. The disfigurement, he impassively explained, was only to ensure that no other man would ever desire her.
``It's got to be one of the most horrible ways to murder a person you can think of,'' said Karl Mayer, a state deputy attorney general who was involved in an appeal. ``Thirty-three days of pain and torture, skin turning to leather and falling off your body. It's impossible to imagine anything as savage as that.''
At trial, the defense argued de Kaplany was not guilty by reason of insanity. It was an alter-ego -- a dashing French journalist de Kaplany called Pierre La Roche -- who committed the monstrous crime. The jurors disagreed, but spared him the death penalty because they concluded he was mentally ill, though not insane.
De Kaplany was sentenced to life in prison. The judge and prosecutor said he should never be released. But jurors never knew that De Kaplany's first parole review was just seven years away. There was no such thing as life without parole then.
Plan for parole
Vow to aid needy, until his dying day
De Kaplany did not win parole his first time up, or his second. But by the time he had served 12 years, he had devised a way out that the parole board might buy: go to Taiwan as a medical missionary.
The doctor pledged to ``devote the rest of my life -- however long or short it may be -- to serving the poor in underdeveloped countries, whose pain and suffering I would alleviate.''
No one knew to speak against his plan. All of Hajna's relatives were dead. The local prosecutors and police weren't notified of his next parole hearing, even though the law demanded it.
Meanwhile, his supporters rallied, many organized by the Roman Catholic priest who had married the couple. Letters from prominent Catholics poured in, saying he had been rehabilitated.
The priest called on Archbishop Joseph T. McGucken of San Francisco, and the archbishop called on the chairman of the parole board, Raymond Procunier.
On Nov. 13, 1975, de Kaplany got his wish: Officially listed as a ``widower,'' according to his exit papers, he was put on a plane and paroled to Taiwan. When the news became public, people were outraged. Two legislators called for Procunier's ouster.
Bill Hoffman, a former Santa Clara County chief assistant district attorney, said, ``Nobody knew in our office, as I recall, until he was out of the country. Once he was in Taiwan, it was bye-bye birdie.''
When called at his home in Grass Valley, Procunier refused to talk about de Kaplany's parole. He also would not discuss a news report at the time that he had helped de Kaplany by removing the gruesome autopsy photos of Hajna from the convict's file, at his request. The district attorney had wanted the photos for every parole board to see.
``I don't care what was said, or what you say,'' Procunier said. ``It makes no difference to me.''
Threat of a lawsuit, then flight Germany
De Kaplany's ``rest of my life'' devotion to the poor lasted four years.
Parole checks angered him. In 1978 he wrote to the state, complaining that its agents had ``neither a legal nor -- least of all -- a moral right to harass me in any shape or form.'' Later he said any other ``amoral persecution'' of him would result in a $1 million lawsuit.
Then in late 1979, still several months from ending parole, he left Taiwan without telling authorities. He was a fugitive. When the corrections department learned he was missing, a warrant was issued for his arrest, and his name was submitted to Interpol.
But from that point on, California officials appeared to go through the motions, never acting on the information they received.
State records show that de Kaplany's whereabouts became known in little more than a year.
He was in West Germany, where in December 1980 a women's magazine happened to publish an article on infamous crimes that included the so-called ``acid killer.'' Exposed, de Kaplany was fired from the hospital where he worked.
The records also include an Interpol report that in December 1981 a woman de Kaplany had married in Taiwan, Tswei-Yi de Kaplany, had joined him in West Germany. Again, the state did nothing.
Someone else also knew where de Kaplany was: Hoffman, the chief assistant district attorney. In November 1981, an anonymous caller to the district attorney's office had threatened to kill de Kaplany. By law, the office was obligated to warn him. Hoffman, through the state, asked Interpol for de Kaplany's address and obtained it after eight months.
De Kaplany wrote back, complaining that Hoffman had taken so long to warn him.
``I simply could not locate you,'' Hoffman replied, ``nor could your California state parole officer. . . . You really should keep in touch with your parole officer.''
And he assured de Kaplany: ``Believe me, the time and trouble it took me to find you cannot be duplicated by someone else.''
Even though it was his office that had prosecuted de Kaplany and pledged to keep him in prison for life, Hoffman did nothing else.
Asked about this recently, Hoffman responded that it wasn't his job to follow up with the California Department of Corrections. Decisions to find somebody are ``made by the parole board, not us,'' he said.
Lack of action
Case grows colder as file changes hands
In 1982, a parole agent reviewed the case and recommended the state find de Kaplany and return him to prison. ``De Kaplany is essentially the same person that committed a homicide in August of 1962,'' wrote the agent, Linda Cooper. ``Under stress, he presents a danger to others.'' The state didn't act.
For a time in 1983, according to one document obtained from the Department of Corrections, the escapee worked in the U.S. Army Health Clinic Grafenwoehr in Bavaria.
The records show no more discussion of de Kaplany until 1994, when another parole agent reviewed the case. The agent, Murdoch Smith, wrote that de Kaplany's release from prison was considered a ``huge blunder'' and that the state was willing to extradite him if apprehended.
``The division has a history of extraditing individuals even though costs are prohibitive,'' he wrote.
Murdoch, who still works for the department, refused to comment.
By 1995, parole agent John Rayford wrote that the wrong unit had been handling de Kaplany's case all along.
Now retired, Rayford said the case was so old and neglected by the time it reached his desk that he didn't remember paying it much mind.
``These cases are assigned to you, and basically, it's a cold case,'' he said. ``It just sits there. It's not something you even look at.''
Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said tracking parolees, in large part, comes down to money.
He said his department has an average of about 21,000 parolees at large at any time, and each parole agent is always juggling 40 to 80 cases. Although the number of parolees was smaller in the late 1970s, he said, the ratio was about the same.
Heimerich said the department cannot be concerned about the message sent to other parolees by such a high-profile killer jumping parole and getting away.
There are more dangerous parole jumpers than de Kaplany, he said. And they're in the state.
The current district attorney, George Kennedy, said he wouldn't have hesitated to go get de Kaplany if it were possible. ``I'm disappointed,'' he said, after learning that de Kaplany's German citizenship put him out of reach.
He added that since 1990, his office has independently tracked convicts with life sentences and the possibility of parole, ``so this should never happen again.''
But Geza de Kaplany -- who in retirement still prefers to be known as Dr. Dr. Geza de Kaplany, because he has medical and doctorate degrees -- maintains that California authorities have never had cause to bring him back.
``If I stayed in California,'' said De Kaplany, who is 76, ``I would be on parole. But they gave up the authority with kicking me out of the country.
``You can't eat your chicken and have it too.''