If you return home tonight to find your house has been burgled and your prize watch collection missing, you can no longer pin the blame on Gizella Bodnár. Known as the Queen of Thieves, she died yesterday at the age of 92.

While she had nothing to do with the creation or design of high-end watches and never served as a brand ambassador; in her long career as a highly capable cat burglar, she stole hundreds of them, along with a host of other shiny objects. Indeed, her love for shiny objects was unquenchable until her dying day.

The fourth of six children born to a railroad engineer father and a housewife mother, Gizella, or Gizi for short, started to steal small things while still a child. She attributed her kleptomania to meningitis which she survived at the age of six. Later she studied in Kassa, but when World War II broke out the stress of it brought her kleptomania to the fore again.

In the early 1950s, Malév, the national Hungarian airline, used to provide domestic flights between cities throughout Hungary. Bodnar’s clever ploy was to fly from Budapest to Miskolc, Debrecen, Szeged, Pécs, and Szombathely where she would break into houses and then fly back home to the capital on the evening flight; although she always denied ever having flown in a plane.

Hungary was not the only country in which she practiced her purloining ways. Among other watch loving capitals, she also committed regular break-ins in Amsterdam, London, and Paris. Part of her modus operandi was to knock on a neighbor’s door in the morning to borrow some condiments for cooking, which she would then return in the evening, thereby providing herself with an alibi for two distinct parts of the day.

During her long career, she was arrested twenty-one times between 1948 and 2006 and stood trial over 20 times. Ultimately, she was convicted to a total of 40 years in jail of which she served a total of 16 years and 7 months in prison.

Gizella Bodnár: Entire watch collections gone in 60 seconds

She moved to the town of Komárom, where she was arrested in January 2009, at the age of 82, for breaking into a house. Late in her life, she was diagnosed with kleptomania: she admitted to liking “shiny things” and claimed that she mostly gave away all her loot to other people rather than selling it, a claim supported by the fact that at the time of her death she had no possessions to her name.

In 2007, Gizella published her memoirs – Repülős Gizi – A tolvajok királynője (Airplane Gizi, Queen of Thieves). Her book details her love of the many watches she stole.

In 2015, at the age of 89, incorrigible Gizella was arrested twice, once in June and again in September. In the latter instance, she was found in a cupboard, where she claimed she was hiding from the rain outside. She was arrested again in February 2016 in Sukoró, and again in August 2017 in Tatabánya. Right to the end, her love of shiny watches and jewelry remained insatiable. In this age of digital crime, we are unlikely to see her like again.

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