As children, our families often annoy us and we respond by threatening to run away, but we realize that we may die of hunger without mommy and daddy, making us humble again. One thing is clear: We don’t get to choose our families.
When Judith Barsi, an amazingly talented child, found herself in the most toxic family with a tyrant father, she probably believed she would live to tell her story someday. But when faced with the biggest betrayal a child could deal with, her story changed. This story will move something in you.
The Genesis: Moving Across Countries
Two young people met at a Los Angeles restaurant and fell in love, but they never assumed that their story would be one that the world would never forget. Jozsef Barsi and Maria Virovacz fled the 1956 Soviet occupation of Hungary around the same time.
Maria was able to move on from a terrific past and settled well in her new home country, but Jozsef seemed troubled by a lot of things. Despite the adverse traits in his personality, Maria’s love for Jozsef led the two to marriage.
The Oddities of Jozsef
As mentioned earlier, Jozsef is a man with many “buts.” He had low self-esteem, was ashamed of his Hungarian accent, had a bad temper, often became violent, and on top of all that, he had a drinking problem. People around him often suffered from the result of his weaknesses.
Maria was from a rural town that was home to Southern University in Hungary. Jozsef, on the other hand, was an orphan who grew up in an industrial area and had to navigate life alone on the streets. Does this indicate how lived out his adult life?
Building a New Family
Maria and Jozsef got married despite his shortcomings. One of their friends said Maria loved the idea of Jozsef being a strong “brooding” man who could bring her security. Jozsef worked as a plumber, and she worked as a waitress in the same L.A. restaurant where they met.
Soon after, they welcomed a child, a beautiful baby girl, Judith Barsi, the reason we are now writing this story. The couple welcomed a talented star on June 6, 1978, and Jozsef immediately became incredibly possessive over his family. He wanted to be in charge at all times.
Preparing Judith for Stardom
Jozsef preferred to keep his family around him, and never allowed them to leave his sight. This was the way he felt he could keep his family safe, but he did it in an aggressive way that would pass as abuse and not as love. It was a terrible situation for anyone to be in.
But Judith grew up under these circumstances and somehow her light didn’t burn out. Let’s just say she had a mom who went all out for her. Maria had a passion for the glamour of Hollywood and groomed her girl for a career in acting from early childhood.
A Life-Changing Skating Practice
Most people told Maria she was dreaming too big for her daughter, but she didn’t back down. And luck was on her side. But you know what they say, “Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.” On a normal, fun day of ice skating, something life-changing happened…
As Judith glided gracefully on her ice skates, some crew members from a commercial about the ice-skating rink noticed her and that was the beginning of her career in film and television. Her mother finally got some results after working to make her daughter the next big thing.
Way Up from the Ring
Things only went up for Judith’s career from there. She went on to appear in more than 72 TV commercials, landed big roles in movies, and lent her voice to animated films as well. She appeared in the film Jaws: The Revenge and appeared in many television shows.
TV shows such as Remington Steele, Growing Pains, Cheers, and the television feature Fatal Vision all had a big touch of Judy, and she was on her way to the top, earning so much money she didn’t even know how to spend. Thankfully, her mother was responsible.
The Penny-Wise Manager
Maria did not let her daughter’s $100,000 average yearly earnings go to waste. They purchased a decent three-bedroom home for the family out West. Jozsef also worked around the clock regardless of how much Judith earned or how popular his daughter became.
The Barsi family lived in this beautiful home but still couldn’t have a good life. With the abuse, fear, hatred, tears, and sleepless nights that went down behind closed doors, all the Barsis left behind were haunted memories and no happy moments at all.
Too Close for Comfort
Jozsef was a man who liked to be in control and earning his own money could afford him that. On the other hand, his little daughter had become an actress with a very busy schedule, and she couldn’t live the life of an average kid. Judith didn’t participate in many school activities.
Ruth Hansen, Judith’s agent, mentioned that one of the main contributors to her career success was that she looked younger than her age so she could hold onto many roles for longer. She moved across sets and was predicted to have become a huge name in Hollywood by the time she became a teenager.
Negligence: A New Chapter
However, Judith’s normal life suffered because of it, and she missed school and her friends a lot. Her teachers described her as kind and joyful, but things eventually became dark. The life of the star actress and her “momager” (mom and manager) looked good on the outside, but it was crazy inside.
They lived under extreme abuse and violence from the man in their lives who was supposed to help them feel safer. Jozsef had a temper and got out of control when he was drunk, which was often. He was always angry at his wife.
Dark and Angry Days
If he had a bad day at work — probably related to people making fun of his accent — Jozsef often took out his frustration on his family. During some of those episodes, he hit his wife, and during others, he broke his daughter’s toys.
A neighbor once saw him breaking his daughter’s kite and confronted him about it. Jozsef defended himself saying she was a “spoiled brat.” Friends, colleagues, and extended family were also concerned about how he talked about his family. He always threatened to harm Maria and Judith.
Killing and Telling Friends
Peter Kivlen, Jozsef’s close friend at work, lost count of how many times Jozsef told him he wanted to kill his wife, and this was disturbing. Peter knew how much Jozsef claimed to love Judith, so he often asked who would look after her if Maria was gone.
Jozsef’s answer was shocking and reflected how twisted his thinking was: “I’m going to have to kill her, too.” Other concerned family and friends had advised Maria to move out, but she was a bit too slow about it.
Duty Calls, Father’s Reaction
Later on in Judith’s career, her experienced agent, Ruth, noticed a sort of change in her behavior. She was no longer present in the moment and didn’t resemble the vibrant girl everyone noticed. Rather, she seemed lost, scared, and quick to cry or become sad about little things.
Ruth knew it wasn’t about the movie Judith was working on but something personal. Judith was on the set of Jaws: The Revenge for nearly two months, and this upset Jozsef very much. He believed Maria was trying to take their child away from him.
A Ticket is Not Enough
Before she left for the set one day, her father threatened to cut her throat with a knife if she didn’t return, and she hadn’t recovered from the traumatic experience. As filming dragged on, Judith became more terrified, withdrawn, and distressed.
Jozsef was offered a plane ticket to go visit his daughter on set, but he refused. Right after the shoot, Maria took Judith to visit her brother, Weldon, in New York. When they arrived, Maria placed a call to Jozsef and put Judith on the phone.
Recalling a Dreadful Nightmare
“Do you remember what I told you before you left?” were the first words out of her father’s mouth despite her not having seen or heard from him in well over two months. He made her relive the nightmare, and her reaction told Maria that Jozsef was at it again.
Judith cried and screamed frantically, running out of the room. Maria immediately booked plane tickets for their trip back to California, cutting short their visit with Weldon. Jozsef usually made all sorts of threats, and his threats changed from time to time.
Holding a Father to His Words
As mentioned earlier, when Jozsef became angry, he would often threaten to kill his wife. Other times, he would threaten to kill himself and Judith, leaving Maria behind to suffer. Most of the abuse Jozsef put his family through was verbal, but it was as powerful as physical abuse.
Maria finally took a step and reported her husband’s threat and abuse to law enforcement in December 1986. Her police report referenced all his threats to kill her, choke her, and the one time he had struck her in the face. However, there was no evidence of the assault.
A Testimony is Not Enough
Without evidence or injuries sustained from the abuse, law enforcement did not take the case seriously. Maria decided to take a step back and forget about pressing charges against her husband, choosing instead to put up with living in the toxic situation with their little girl.
Even after Jozsef quit drinking and was sober for about two years, Maria held on to the hurt he had put them through, and he couldn’t work himself onto her good side again. Quitting drinking was not enough to make his family forget: They were still terrified of him.
We All Need Love
This probably hurt Jozsef, and his anger toward his wife grew deeper. He complained about everything, from housekeeping to how she made friends and bought their daughter toys. Jozsef was never on the same page with Maria, and he always showed his disapproval, privately and publicly.
Jozsef went in search of affection, showering another woman with expensive gifts and spending quality time with her. Meanwhile, Judith’s welfare got worse as the years went by. She once went to visit a family friend and spoke like a depressed child.
Scarred, Depressed, and Unlucky
Judith told the couple about her fear to go home, and how she was sure that her dad was going to kill her mom. The little girl also began plucking off her lashes in response to the distress. Having witnessed this, the couple shared their concerns.
Everyone who spent time around the Barsi family could sense something was dangerously off, and they all shared their concerns and offered to help, but Maria always declined. A neighbor once asked Maria and Judith to move in with her.
Is it Too Late for Help?
Maria refused all help. Later in the year, Judith was at an audition with her agent, but she was unable to perform. She was unstable and cried throughout. This is when Ruth decided to take the bull by the horns.
She asked Maria to take the child to a psychologist for therapy, and Maria finally agreed. But Ruth wasn’t going to back off. She tried to keep up with the therapist and learn how the girl was doing. Although the therapist wouldn’t discuss his patient, he did give Ruth some information.
A New Discovery – A New Course of Action
The Doctor informed Ruth about the severity of the case and his decision to report Judith’s case to child protective services. This was a relief: Perhaps Judith would finally get a breath of fresh air. But that wasn’t the case. Maria wanted to manage the situation by herself.
Child services called Maria in, and she told them her “plan” was under control. She also said she believed she felt “safe” with this plan. Child services allowed her to carry on with its execution since it involved her moving the child away from the abuser (Jozsef).
A Different Account of the Events
Child services spokesman Ray La Motte, who addressed the press, claimed they offered Maria help but that she wanted to ride solo. Maria said they didn’t act on the information given to them and she decided to protect herself and Judith by moving out slowly.
This was a terrible idea! The moment Jozsef smelled that Maria did not spend as much time at home as she used to, he knew something was wrong. No one was going to take his family from him, especially not his “little one.”
Taking the Wrong Turn
It took a lot of courage for Maria to find another apartment as a daytime refuge because she was always too scared of the consequences of leaving Jozsef. Daly, a neighbor, once asked her to move out completely but said she wouldn’t dare to do such a thing.
“I can’t, because he’ll come after us and kill us, and he’s threatened to burn the house down,” Maria said to Daly. Other times, she made excuses about how she wanted to keep her family together or protect her daughter’s career and keep her from bad press.
Finally Making the Move
This time, Maria knew there was no saving the relationship, and she was either out or dead. She also mentioned to Daly that she considered filing for divorce and was also going to cash Judith’s $12,000 tax return check so Jozsef wouldn’t lay hands on it.
Clearly, Maria suspected things were about to take a new turn but did not alert the neighbors or law enforcement. The entire nation came to reject Maria’s decision of handling things on her own. The most unspeakable thing happened next to Maria and Judith who had spent her days making history.
Fire and a Tragic Call
Judith and Maria often went to the Panorama City apartment in the mornings and returned at night. However, on a certain Wednesday, around 8:30 a.m. Daly got the shock of her life as she watered her garden. There was a loud bang from the Barsi home.
The loud bang was accompanied by a heavy cloud of smoke, and Daly’s first instinct was to do what any rational human being would do: Call 911. She knew the worst had happened, and that Jozsef had finally carried out his threats. Other neighbors trooped out of their homes.
Revelations From the Barsi home
Before firefighters and medics arrived, one of the neighbors, Michael Cutt, took Daly’s garden hose and tried to make his way into the house, but the smoke was too thick. The interior of the home was severely damaged, and it had burned down everything in it.
Tragically, Judith’s body was found in her bed and Maria’s body was found in the hallway. Both were severely burned. Jozsef’s body was also found in the garage, but the fire didn’t get there, and he wasn’t burned.
Law Enforcement Takes Action
Jozsef had shot himself in the head with a 32-caliber pistol. The police and child services were now interested in investigating and it uncovered shocking results. Jozsef had shot his wife and daughter in the head once each, but that was still not enough.
His rage was still not quenched. Jozsef already had the perfect murder plan. He poured gasoline all over the house and set it on fire before going to the garage to take his own life. How tragic! An entire family was gone within minutes.
How Jozsef Murdered His Family
The police did not make assumptions, but all evidence was right beside Jozsef. The pistol was in his hand and a can of gas was about 4 feet away from his body. This was a sad end for Judith Barsi, who died at only 10 years old.
Yet the world had much to say about her. She had made incredible strides in her career before her death on July 27, 1988, and she is still talked about in this century. After her murder, neighbors and family friends spoke of her as a polite, adorable, beautiful blonde.
Neighborhood, Family, and Friends Shocked
Everyone wondered why a father figure, a man, and a person with a heart would do this to his family. Perhaps, Jozsef, who died at 55, didn’t let his rage be subdued by love. It was a twisted ending to see Judith still beside her father’s gift.
He had bought her a pink television one time as an apology for dragging her by the hair. Then, big questions arose in the media. How did child services miss all this abuse that went on in the Barsi home even though their attention had been brought to it?
Pointing Fingers or Taking Responsibility
Was this a case of negligence? The spokesperson for child services in California admitted that the situation was mismanaged because concerned individuals reported the case, but it wasn’t given utmost priority. However, it was also revealed that Maria requested the file to be closed.
It was unacceptable that the file was closed at Maria’s request since Judith was the client. Too late to cry over spilled milk now, but it could help to adjust the systems in the future. Soon enough, history was made for Judith’s case.
Protecting More Children from Abuse
The watchdog committee of children’s services had to review a case file, something that hadn’t happened in four years because the department was displeased with how the case was handled when questioned about it. Helen Kleinberg, a member of the committee, said that she was very upset.
However, they had to acknowledge that they can’t save every child, but that measures should be put in place to ensure such negligence doesn’t reoccur. Another child abuse expert added that child services and law enforcement were more efficient in dealing with physical abuse than emotional abuse.
Setbacks and Loopholes Identified
The lack of physical evidence was one of the issues that slowed down the Barsi’s abuse case. When a child and mother live with a man who leads forcefully and threatens to harm them every day but doesn’t actually hit them, it becomes their word against his.
Jozsef Barsi died at 55 and Maria Barsi died at 48, but 10-year-old Judith’s legacy lives on through her works and even in her home as new tenants who occupied their Canoga Park house cried out that Judith’s presence haunts the home.
Good Works and a Spooky Ghost
Before her death, Judith’s last acting credit voicing the little dinosaur Ducky in the animated movie The Land Before Time, which was released after she died. The character’s signature line “Yep! Yep! Yep!” was written on her gravestone, but that didn’t mean the little girl truly found rest.
Truth be told, after living a disturbing life and dying a horrible death, resting probably wouldn’t be her specialty. From the account of the new homeowners, Judith’s ghost seemed to be strolling actively in the house. A normal family bought this home and made discoveries.
Catching Up With the Owners of a Haunted House
The Bernal family had no idea what they were getting into when they bought and moved into Judith’s old home. They were also unaware that an entire family had been put to death by one of its members in this home. However, it didn’t take long to figure it out.
They moved into the property in 1999 and not long after, they realized something was off. The family was featured on the fourth episode of a television show called Murder House Flip and they shared how scary and daunting the experience has been in the house.
Experiencing a Troubled Judith
The family noticed movements initiated by no one, like hung portraits falling, doors opening and shutting, and the garage door repeatedly going up and down. It seemed unreal, like they had been cast in a horror movie only they were experiencing it in real life.
They also experienced unexplained breezes, cold drafts in the house, and a general dark presence that seemed to be hovering endlessly around the house. As expected, the new occupant of Judith’s old room, Gaby Bernal, suffered the most as she always had crazy nightmares.
Time to Haunt the Haunter
Gaby’s family had had enough of the fear and haunting and decided to take action. They wanted a home makeover to get rid of any memories or items that might be causing the ghost to keep lurking around, and the Bernals landed on a TV show.
Murder House’s interior designers Joelle Uzyel and Mikel Welch got the invitation to make this happen.
The TV show is made up of a team of designers, mediums, psychics, and homicide detectives. They help owners deal with terrible things that have happened in their homes.
Makeovers and New Beginnings
The house didn’t just get a physical makeover but a spiritual one. With systems to renew the atmosphere of good vibes, they started with the hallway where Maria was found dead and progressed to the rest of the house. After the spiritual refreshing, the hallway was repainted.
Everywhere was retouched with bright colors that allowed more light to enter the house. The walls of Gaby’s room were totally redone and replaced with new French doors. An amethyst crystal was also placed in her room. The idea was to rebrand the home.
Rebranded Structures and Sentiments
The kitchen, dining area, and every other room in the house also got a facelift. When old furniture leaves, the stories and emotions attached to it leave as well. At the end of the makeover, the house not only looked stunning but felt new and filled with light.
Light and darkness have nothing in common. The expected outcome of the makeover is that the ghost and the fear would all go away. These expectations were met, and the Bernal family could have some peace again. From this account, we see that Judith was a fighter.
Who was Judith Eva Barsi?
Judith was a little girl who still wanted to experience the world and all it offered. She didn’t leave earth without a fight. Hopefully, she’s resting as we remember her beautiful works. Judith was cast in another animated film, All Dogs Go to Heaven, which was released after her death.
She played Anne-Marie, an orphan who could talk to animals. The song “Love Survives” is dedicated to Judith’s memory and was used in the background toward the end of the film. Judith worked on-screen effortlessly. Everyone attested to how big of a star she could have become.
Remembering Judith for Who She Was
Judith can’t do more work, but everyone still has great things to say about her. Her agents believed Judith would have risen to the top of her career. “She had all it takes and even added advantages; what a tragedy,” Ruth said.
The spokesman for her agency said, “There’s no telling how far she would have gone.” Hopefully, humanity can forgive her father. Judith’s life and legacy continue to live on through her films, movies, and commercials. It was a short but well-lived life. Rest in power, Judith Barsi!