Known variously as the Banat Witch or the Witch of Vladimirovac, but best known as Baba Anujka, Ana di Pištonja was an accomplished amateur chemist and a convicted killer from the village of Vladimirovac, Yugoslavia (in Serbia). She poisoned at least 50 people and possibly as many as 150 in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was apprehended in 1928 at age 90 and sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1929 as an accomplice in two murders. She was released due to old age after spending eight years in prison.
Not a lot is really known about Anujka’s youth as records are incomplete or just missing as many are for that time period. According to some sources, she was born in 1838 in Romania to a rich cattleman and moved to Vladimirovac in the Banat Military Frontier province of the Austrian Empire around 1849. However, she claimed that she was born in 1836. She attended private school in Pančevo with children from rich families, and later lived in her father’s house.
Baba Anujka allegedly became a misanthropist at age 20 after being seduced by a young Austrian military officer; she contracted syphilis from him before he left her broken-hearted. After that, she sought seclusion and started to show interest in medicine and chemistry. She spoke five languages. She later married a landowner named Pistov or di Pištonja with whom she had 11 children, only one of whom survived to adulthood. Her husband was much older than she, and died after 20 years of marriage. She continued to pursue her chemistry studies after his death.
Anujka made a laboratory in one wing of her house after her husband died, and she earned a reputation as a healer and herbalist in the late 19th century. She was popular with wives of farmers who sought her help for health problems, and she earned a respectable income which enabled her to live comfortably. She produced medicines and mixtures which would make soldiers ill enough to escape military service, and she also sold poisonous mixtures which she branded “magic water” or “love potions”. She sold the so-called “magic water” mostly to women with abusive husbands; they would give the concoction to their husbands, who would usually die after about eight days.
Anujka’s “love potion” contained arsenic in small quantities and certain plant toxins that were difficult to detect. When told about a marriage problem, Anujka would ask her client, “How heavy is that problem?”, which meant, “What is the body mass of the victim?” She was then able to calculate the dose needed. Anujka’s victims were usually men, typically young and healthy. Her clients claimed at her trial that they did not know that her “magic water” contained poison, but that they believed that she had some kind of supernatural powers to kill people using magic. Anujka’s potions killed between 50 and 150 people.
In the 1920s, Anujka had her own “sales agent”, a woman named Ljubina Milankov, whose job was to find potential clients and take them to Anujka’s house. The price of Anujka’s “magic water” fluctuated between 2,000 and 10,000 Yugoslav dinars.
Her downfall came through one of her regular clients, a woman named Stana Momirov who had previously killed her husband with one of Anujka’s love potions, as well as frequently purchasing herbal remedies from her. When Momirov remarried and a rich relative of her new husband died in similar circumstances she was arrested and questioned, implicating Anujka in the two killings.
A second death occurred nearly a year later, after Anujka sold a woman a potion with which to murder her husband’s father. After the man’s 16-year-old granddaughter was duped into administering the poison, the man fell ill and died. Nearly 18 months later Anujka was arrested, along with six others involved in the two killings. Her co-defendants turned the blame on her, claiming that they never knew the potions were poison and that they believed the deaths had been caused by Anujka’s supernatural powers. In response, Anujka denied ever selling them potions of any kind, insisting the entire case was an attempt to shift the blame onto her.
Ultimately, Anujka was sentenced to 15 years in prison for her role in the two murders. She was released after serving eight years on compassionate grounds. She died in 1938 in her home in Vladimirovac at the age of 100.