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The banks of the Torrens river, scene of one of the assaults perpetrated by The Romanian Maniac

In Paris in 1946 on a warm spring day a young Hungarian beauty, Riva Kwas. was on her way home from work she spotted an attractive neatly suited man on the subway.  He came over after making eye contact and introduced himself as John Balaban, a Romanian industrial chemist looking to immigrate to Australia or possibly Canada.

They had one of those rare afternoons like you see in the movies, walking the streets of paris, talking and laughing.  John turned on the charm and as the sun was setting the couple shared their first kiss on a bench in a public park.

John begins to casually undress Riva and she starts to struggle and protest.  The man leans in, puts his hand over her mouth and brutally rapes and strangles her, leaving the young woman’s naked body behind the bench.

What did you expect, here we talk murder.

This is the first know victim of the Romanian maniac, john Balaban, little know South Australian serial killer and rapist whose rampage in the early nineteen fifties is almost forgotten to history.

The Romanian Maniac

John Balaban at trial for four

counts of 1st degree murder

He crossed the ocean with a sea of immigrants and Balaban settles in Adelaide South Australia.

On the afternoon of December 5th 1952  witnesses at a hotel later report seeing a drunken John Balaban leaving arm in arm with a well know local sex worker Zora Kusic. 

Later that evening her defacto and pimp would wander back to the squat they shared in Torrensiville to discover Zora’s horribly mutilated remains.

Zora had her throat slashed from ear to ear, nearly decapitating her, had been disembowelled and had a reported 81 knife wounds to her upper body and torso.  Congealed blood hung from the roof like stalactites.  Hardened police officers referred to the scene as resembling an abattoir. 

After a full examination of Zora’s body it became evident that her killer had removed parts of her body and taken them with him.  A butchers knife later confirmed to be the murder weapon laid next to her naked body, wiped clean of prints.

The police launched a massive investigation rounding up all the usual suspects and it didn’t take long to come up with a name and a description of the man last seen in Zora’s company, John Balaban. 

The local sex workers decided to stay off the streets for a time and the local newspapers were screaming about the jack the ripper slayer who was bound to strike again at anytime, gripping the small city in fear.

Balaban was soon picked up by police and had no alibi denying he ever met Zora or with any of the local sex workers. 

At a committal hearing that determines weather or not the police have sufficient evidence to charge Balaban with her murder, the era which the crime was committed played a huge role in the denial of charges being laide.  

All of the states witnesses are deemed to be women of ill repute as testimony of sex workers, their clients and people who were at the pub drinking in the middle of a work day were not seen as reliable statements.

Balaban on the other hand was a married professional in the scientific field and a responsible family man.  His wife and mother in law were hard working, well respected women who ran the sunshine café in Gouger street in the Adelaide CBD. The location of the cafe is now a part of the Adelaide central markets.

In the hearing Balaban is a suited, shaved dashing figure of a new Australian.  His alabi was not ever corobirated.

 He convinced the court that his biggest crime was hiding a bit of a drinking problem from his wife and step son, Thelma and Philip.  No charges were laid after the hearing.

Balaban gave the impression to police that the old school detectives labeled him as untrustrworthy and a really good candidate for Zora’s murder.

The lead investigator followed on Balaban for two weeks,using uniform and plain clothes police.  After a while they were pulled off of this duty as the case went cold and resources were stretched. 

At the same time Adelaide’s CBD was also in the grip of a spate of random stranger on stranger attacks, the rarest of crimes. 

First 16 year old girl was assaulted on the banks of the Torrens River when walking from a bus stop. A week later a man was beaten badly only a five minute walk away.  Then a teenager was hit with a blunt instrument in the heart of the city, possibly a lead pipe. 

A 20 year old man was hospitalised with head injuries in another attack and several other people were randomly beaten.  Adelaide was in the grips of a city based crime wave.

Three months after the murder of Zora, police were called to the sunshine café in the CBD where a pedestrians on gouger street  that evening witnessed a woman fall four meters to the pavement after a from the second floor, home of the Balaban family. 

The victim of the fall was Verna Maine who was conscious when first responders arrived.  She was a waitress who worked for Thelma Balaban, Johns wife and had been living with the family above the café at the time.

Vera told police at the scene that she had thrown herself out of the window after a life and death struggle with John Balaban.  Vera had awoken with a man of a man on top of her. He was covered in blood and attacking her with a claw hammer. 

The 24 year old waitress, fought him off and jumped two stories to the pavement below, where she was lay broken into pieces and she had sustained several injuries to the head in the attack.

Police surrounded a bloodstained John Balaban cowardly hiding in an alley behind the Café where he surrendered.

Police enter the home and in the master bedroom the find Thelma Balaban , John’s wife dead in her bed.  She had been beaten in the head so badly she no longer had a face. In the room next door they found Thema’s mother, Mrs Susan Ackland barely clinging to life with severe head injuries.

In the room adjacent the badly beaten beaten body of Philip Ackland, Themas son and John’s stepson was found on the floor next to his little single bed.  He too was barley alive.  Sadly within hours of arriving at the hospital both Susan and Philip were dead from their head injuries.

Verna was the only survivor of the sunshine cafe murder spree

The court case starts in July 1953 in the Adelaide criminal court with one suspect, John Balaban. He was also charged with Zora’s murder.

There was a packed courthouse and lineups around the block everyday of the trial.  Balaban pleaded not guilty for reason of insanity.  Balaban presented a case of schizophrenia and told of hearing voices telling him to kill everyone in the house.

His explanation for the murder of Zora much more straightforward. Balaban had hired her for sex and suddenly became very disgusted with her and just killed her. He does not say why his used such brutal force or why he took parts of her with him.

In the fashion of many serial killers Balaban took the stand in his defence, even against their legal advice . 

In a court room moment of Hollywood standards, Balaban shocked everyone when unasked he confessed, unasked to the murder of Riva Kwas in Paris in 1946, a crime no one had really even been aware of.

He also confessed to the spree of assaults in the CBD that had the police busy between the first and second murders in Adelaide. Bang jury found him guilty.

He was no a calm or model prisoner, Balaban’s stay in Adelaide goal was marked with violence and disturbing other prisoners and guards. 

Old Adelaide Goal, the last place that Balaban resided. His body lides in an unmarked grave on the sight, now a tourist destination.

The morning of the 26th of august that same year john Balaban, family annihilator readied himself in front of the mirror and was led out at dawn and dropped from gallows. No one claimed his body.


“Man On Murder Count: Two women killed in cafe attack”The Courier-Mail 

Kidd, Paul B. (2000). Australia’s Serial KillersSydneyMacmillan Publishers

“Balaban Remanded on Murder Charges”The Advertiser

“John Balaban”True Crime Library

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