Book looks back at Detroit’s ‘Witch of Delray’
One of the most infamous figures in Detroit crime history got a raw deal, according to a new book by a former Detroit News reporter.
Rose Veres — known as “The Witch of Delray” — is featured in many crime and “spooky” tours of Detroit. Veres, a Hungarian immigrant who ran a boarding house on Medina Street in the Delray section of southwest Detroit, was arrested in 1931 for the death of boarder Steven Mak, who fell from a ladder outside a second-story window in the house.
While Veres is known for being convicted of murder in connection with Mak’s death, few realize she was eventually acquitted, said Karen Dybis, author of “The Witch of Delray: Rose Veres & Detroit’s Infamous 1930s Murder Mystery.”
“I don’t think she got a fair trial in 1931,” said Dybis, a former News business reporter. “A lot of the things said in the trial didn’t make sense. The prosecutor (Duncan McCrea) was a showman, and people thought if Duncan said she did it, she did it.”
McCrea would later be convicted of corruption in office after he was found to have taken bribes to protect gambling and prostitution operations.
Witnesses testified that Veres had the “evil eye,” and that she was feared throughout her neighborhood as a witch. Local newspapers gobbled up the witch angle.
Prosecutors said it was suspicious that 10 men had died in Veres’ house in the 10 years before her arrest; and that she had taken out several life insurance policies on Mak. But Dybis points out it was common in the immigrant community for boarding house owners to take out insurance policies on their boarders.
“A lot of (Veres’) conviction was based on the story of a guy named John Walker, who rented the other half of Rose’s duplex,” Dybis said. “He owed her rent money, and my theory is if he could get rid of her, he wouldn’t have to pay what he owed her. But the whole story of what happened doesn’t make sense. People claimed (Veres) beat (Mak) and carried him up the stairs, but she couldn’t have done that.”
Veres was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Her oldest son, 18-year-old William, also was convicted as an accomplice.
“The son got out of jail in 1944, after the prosecutor basically admitted they’d screwed up,” Dybis said. “Everyone agreed, and he was released on a technicality. Then, the next year, Rose got a new trial, but this time she had a good attorney, Alean Clutts, a female who was a crusader against the unfair treatment of women.
“She showed evidence that Rose couldn’t have done as alleged, and she was released from prison.”
Veres died Aug. 14, 1960, leaving behind what Dybis said is an unfair legacy.
“As much as I respect people who practice witchcraft, I don’t like how she was held up as a witch in court, and being tried for hexing people,” she said. “It was the 1930s, I get it. I hope my book can help demystify her, and make her human. People were alleging she could shape-shift, and all kinds of crazy things. She didn’t get a fair shake.
“Ultimately, I’d like to see her removed from these tours that talk about her as the Witch of Delray,” Dybis said. “There are bars that have ‘Witch of Delray’ drinks, and I think it’s unfair.
“This was just a human being who got thrown into the court system. She was a mom, and a widow who couldn’t speak English very well. She probably didn’t know what was going on. You see a lot of Innocence Project cases nowadays; I think Rose would fit right in there.”