The Monster of Hanover

May 7, 2012 - by Mark Pulham

May 7, 2012

Fritz Harrmann

Fritz Harrmann

Over a six-year period, Fritz Haarmann sodomized and murdered up to 50 young men and boys in Hanover, Germany, by clamping his teeth on their throats and biting through their windpipes.  He then drank their blood. 

by Mark Pulham

The Great War was over. After more than four years of hostilities, Germany had been defeated, and there was a hefty price to pay. The Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, ordered that Germany, which was forced to take the entire blame for the war, would also have to repay the entire costs of the war. The total amount was a staggering 132 billion marks, the equivalent today of $442 billion. It was an amount that Germany would not finish paying until 2010.

The result for the people of Germany was disastrous. Money became worthless, and by the 1920’s inflation had gone through the roof. In 1923, hyperinflation caused the price of a loaf of bread to skyrocket from 250 marks in January to 1,500,000 marks in September.

The wealthy suddenly found that their fortunes had vanished almost overnight. People couldn’t provide for their families, and food shortages became normal. Life for the people of Germany had become an enormous struggle, and the black marketers saw an opportunity to profit from the misery.

With the horrors of war still fresh in the minds of the population, could there be anything that made life any worse?

For the people of Hannover, the answer came in 1924.

New town hall of Hanover
New town hall of Hanover

Hannover is an elegant medieval city, the capital of Lower Saxony, and sits on the river Leine, and in that river, horror was lurking. It was Saturday, May 17, and a group of children was playing on the banks of the river, not far from the Herrenhauser Castle. As they played, they noticed something along the bank, something rounded, and they went to have a look at it. As they looked, their curiosity turned to shock as they realized what the object they had discovered was a human skull.

The skull presented a mystery. Where did it come from, and how did it get on to the riverbank? No answers were forthcoming. The mystery deepened when less than two weeks later, on May 29, a second skull was washed up on the riverbank in the same area.

There was a lot of concern among the citizens. Two skulls in the same river, what was going on? Could they be the remains of someone that had been killed in the war? It seemed unlikely after such a long time.

A panic had begun to grow in the city, and on June 13, the panic escalated when, in the sediment in the river, two more skulls were discovered.

An autopsy was performed, and the findings showed that the first two skulls that had been found were those of two young males in their teens, likely between the ages of 18 and 20. The last skull that was found was from a young boy, probably aged around 10 or 12. The forensic report continued with more disturbing news. There were indications that the skulls had been removed from the torso by the use of a sharp instrument, and that the flesh of the skull had been removed entirely.

One theory that was suggested was that the skulls came from the anatomical institute in Göttingen, some 125 kilometers away, but there was no suggestion as to how they had got into the river in Hannover. There were no reports of skulls missing from the institute, so the theory was dismissed.

Another theory was that someone had been robbing graves and had been spotted. They ran, carrying the skulls with them, while others pursued them. The robbers, fearing they would be caught, threw the skulls into the river so they could make their escape. However, there had been no reports of grave robbing, so once again, the theory was dismissed.

It wasn’t very long after when some boys were playing on some marshland and came across a sack that had been partially buried. They pulled it up and opened it. Inside, they saw that it was full of human bones. The authorities wanted to keep this grisly find a secret, hoping to avoid adding to the growing panic that was sweeping the city. But they were having a hard time and the news broke. It soon became known that a sack filled with human bones had been found, and the people of Hannover were terrified.

It was noted that the number of young boys who were reported missing was rising, with almost 600 reported missing just the previous year. It was also noted that most of those that had been reported missing were between the ages of 14 and 18, which fit with the approximate ages of the skulls that had been found.

To add to the fears, there was the rumor that had been spreading for a while, that some of the meat that was for sale in the public markets was actually human flesh. Although there was no proof of this, it fed the panic. The rumors took on a gothic quality with talk of werewolves and man-eaters roaming through the city.

 

Dragging the River Leine

The rumors prompted the people of Hannover to form a search party, and on Pentecost Sunday, hundreds of people from all over the city came down to Old Town to search the pathways and the bridges, looking for more human remains. And they found what they were looking for.

Human bones found in Leine
Human bones found in Leine

The number of bones that were found during the search was enough to justify the authorities making a decision to dam the River Leine so it could be searched. The river was dragged and searched by policemen and municipal workers and whatever they found brought up for examination. What they discovered was beyond imagination.

The search turned up more than 500 parts from human bodies, which, upon forensic examination, turned out to be from over 22 people. It was further determined that one third of the remains were from people aged between 15 and 20. Half of the bones had been in the water for quite a long time, and on the fresh bones forensic experts found that the surfaces were smoothly cut.

The people of Hannover were convinced that although it may not be a werewolf, there most certainly was a monster roaming the streets of the city.

 

A Deviant Named Fritz

The police began questioning members of the underworld, concentrating on thieves and sexual deviants. One of the deviants was a man named Fritz Haarmann. Fritz was already well known to the police as a dealer in clothing and meat, and he was also a known homosexual. He was a gentle man, friendly and with a courteous nature. He was well built but looked effeminate, with a round and cheerful face with shiny eyes and a small neat mustache. In general, he seemed like a nice man and, as one of Hannover’s policemen remarked, his outward appearance was “far from evil.”

But appearances can be deceptive.

On Saturday, October 25, 1879, 41-year-old Johanna Claudius gave birth to her sixth and final child, a boy whom they named Friedrich Heinrich Karl, known as Fritz. He was born into a family that was clearly dysfunctional, with a father, Olle Haarmann, who was a bitter man, frequently drunk, and a womanizer who seemed to hate women. Most nights he could be found in Hannover’s Old Town, drinking at the sordid bars and picking up women.

Johanna, who was seven years older than her husband, ignored what he did, most likely because she was, as some reports say, a simple minded and stupid woman.

Johanna was quite the opposite of Olle, or “Old Haarmann” as her husband was known. Olle had seemed to take a disliking to everyone in his family, and appeared to hate little Fritz. But Johanna loved all of her children, and Fritz was by far her favorite. She spoiled and pampered him, buying him gifts all the time, even though his birth had left her permanently weakened and she would spend the last 12 years of her life as an invalid.

What drew Johanna and Olle, two opposites, together is not known, though, on Old Haarmann’s part, it was likely that what attracted him to Johanna was that she came from a wealthy family, making the Haarmann’s quite well off.

Fritz, in his turn, disliked most of his family, and hated his father. However, he was devoted to his mother and was very close to his youngest sister, Emma. Fritz and Emma would often play together, usually with Emma’s dolls, which Johanna encouraged rather than have him go out and play rough games with other boys. Johanna also treated Fritz as though he were a girl, and there are reports that he dressed in Emma’s clothes at times for fun. Clearly, this upbringing would make the young boy sexually confused and during his schooling, he showed a clear feminine tendency.

It’s possible that Fritz’s obviously feminine personality was one of the reasons why his father attacked him so much, constantly blaming Fritz for anything he could find and criticizing him at every opportunity.

Fritz wasn’t the only one with problems in the family, his siblings also were troubled. The oldest brother, Alfred, would become almost puritanical in his view of family values, while the other brother, Wilhelm, would later end up in court charged with a sexual offense.

As for the three sisters, they all seemed to suffer from obsessive compulsive disorders and although all of them would eventually marry, their marriages would all fall apart fairly soon after and they would all divorce.

In addition to the femininity that was developing in the young Fritz, there was another, more disturbing development in his character. He began to take great delight in frightening people, telling horrifying ghost stories to his sisters. Frequently, he would hide in wait for his sisters, and when they passed, he would spring out at them, making them jump. He would also tie them up so tight that they could not escape, and then leave them for lengths of time before coming back and scaring them once again.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night when they were in their beds, Fritz would sneak out and start to tap on their windows, terrifying them with their fears of what lurked just outside. There were also stories of how he would dress up a dummy that he had found and then leave it lying at the bottom of the staircase where, in the dark, it looked like a human body lying there.

His school friends remembered Fritz as a “mummy’s boy” who seemed unable to do much by himself, which was not surprising considering that Johanna did everything for him at home. But he was also very popular with the other children, he was an entertaining child and made friends easily, and he found that clowning around was a good way to get people to like him.

Back home, the tension between Fritz and his father escalated. Old Haarmann, with his dark moods and irritable personality, would take it out on Fritz, and Fritz’s hatred of his father was growing. As Fritz got older, the pair began to argue more and more. Old Haarmann would threaten to have Fritz placed in an asylum, something that Fritz had constantly feared. Old Haarmann, knowing of this fear, would frequently refer to Fritz as a lunatic. Fritz, in his turn, would threaten to call the police and have the old man arrested on a charge of murder, after the supposed slaying of a train driver several years before. If Old Haarmann was responsible for any death, no one knows.

But these were idle threats on both sides, neither would actually carry out the threat. There was one area in which they were both in unison, when one of them was in trouble. Old Haarmann was, by trade, a locomotive stoker, but he was also a con man, and Fritz had learned to be a con man as well. Whenever there was a scam that needed two people to make it work, they both joined forces and worked together. If one of them was caught, the other would turn up in court and speak in their defense.

 

Fritz Joins the Army

At the age of sixteen, Fritz decided to get a career as a locksmith and got an apprenticeship. However, when he failed the apprenticeship, he joined the military instead, and so, in April, 1895, he was sent to Neu-Breisach and the training school for non-commissioned officers. Fritz, it turned out, was very good at gymnastics, and even better at being a soldier. It seemed that Fritz had found his calling. However, he began to suffer from blackouts and epileptic fits, which were probably due to an accident he’d had during an army exercise when he was performing some bar exercises and was concussed for a while.

He was sent to the military sick bay, which he hated, knowing that there was nothing wrong with his brain, and fearing that the medical staff would label him a “loony.” Fritz felt that he had to get away and, in November, 1895, he discharged himself, no only from the sick bay, but from the army as well. Instead, despite knowing that there would be arguments, he began working with his father.

The army would have provided Fritz with some structure in his life and instilled some discipline and stability. However, once he left, he fell back into his natural ways. He was lazy and inefficient, and wanted the easy way of life.

 

Sexual Perversion: Pedophilia

One part of Fritz was developing rapidly, and that was his hunger for sexual perversion. Fritz’s homosexuality was known to him since he was a child, but now his interests had deepened and had taken on the extra dimension of pedophilia. It wasn’t long before Fritz began to molest young boys, and the accusations began to come in, a trickle at first, but soon there was a steady flow of them.

Eventually, and inevitably, in 1898, Fritz was arrested on charges of child molestation, but a psychologist examined him and found him to be mentally unfit to stand trial. Instead, he was sent to a mental institution, the one thing Fritz feared. The mental institution lacked any real security, and so, six months after he was sent there, Fritz escaped and ran away to Switzerland

What he did in Switzerland is not known, but he returned to Hannover in 1900 when he was 20 years old. In what may have been an attempt to suppress his homosexuality, he met and became engaged, and some sources say married, to a young woman named Erna Loewert, and it was hoped that this would lead to Fritz living a normal life. Erna became pregnant, but Fritz, after deciding that a happy married life with kids was not for him, abandoned her before the baby was born.

Fritz, likely remembering that his time in the military was happy, re-enlisted in the army, possibly under an assumed name. Once again, he was happy and as before, he was an excellent soldier. But it was not to last. Although he had assured everyone, when he’d returned from Switzerland, that his problems were gone, he was lying. He may have been able to control them, but that was only temporary. He lasted for a year, which he referred to as the happiest time of his life, but in 1901, his beloved mother Johanna died, and Fritz was heartbroken. Whether it was the loss of his mother, or something else, Fritz’s control was broken, and in October, 1901, he collapsed while on a training exercise. He was admitted to the military hospital where he remained for four months, and after an examination declared him to be mentally deficient, the army decided he was unfit to continue in the military. He was discharged with a full military pension and returned to his family.

Back with his father, the emotional abuse restarted, with Old Haarmann threatening to have his, now officially, loony son committed to an asylum. After one particularly nasty fight, he attempted to do just that. But the town doctor, who examined Fritz, declared that he was just morally inferior, and the court discharged him.

He now turned to a life of crime, and took part in a varying number of offenses, including pick pocketing which he was good at, though his main crime was as a con man, and he’d learned his trade well. As a result, Fritz would periodically get sent to jail for short terms of imprisonment. He also built up a record for petty theft and burglary, and would spend the whole of World War I in prison after he was caught burglarizing a warehouse.

 

A Monster with a Police Badge

After his time in prison for the warehouse burglary, Fritz began working for a smuggling ring. He was stunned by war had done to Germany. The country was bankrupt and food shortages were rampant. Although horrified by the situation, Fritz also found it ideal as not only was there poverty driven crime which he could take advantage of, he could also thin out the number of criminal rivals by becoming a police informer, which would also redirect their attention from his own criminal activities.

Fritz was such an important informer that the Hannover police actually gave him a police badge.

Fritz also continued his sexual offenses, though nothing was done about them as the victims were usually too ashamed to report the incident to the police. Then Fritz crossed a line, and there was no turning back.

Friedel Rothe was a 17-year-old runaway when he went missing on September 25, 1918. Friedel had written to his mother and told her that he would not return home until “she was nice again.” What she had done to make her son run away is not known, but she was desperate to find him again and began searching through Hannover.

It became known through friends of Friedel that the missing youth was last seen with Fritz Haarmann. Friedel’s family began to pressure the police into following up on this report, and finally, they raided Fritz’s apartment.

When they burst in, the caught Fritz in bed with a semi-naked teenage boy. But it was not Friedel.

Haarmann was charged with sexual assault and he was taken into custody. He was found guilty and sentenced to nine months in prison. But it would be a year before he would serve his sentence, which he did between March and December, 1920. In the period between sentencing and jail time, he carried on with life as normal, informing on others, petty thieving, and molesting young boys. Then, in late 1919, Haarmann was at the Hannover Central railway station, a favorite hunting ground, when he was approached by a young man. His name was Hans Grans.

Hans Grans
Hans Grans

Grans was 24 years old, a runaway who had been living on the streets and making a living as best he could. Like Fritz, Grans was a petty thief, and at this point was making money by selling old clothes, possibly stolen, at the railway station. Needing more cash, he spotted the openly homosexual Haarmann and came over to him, hoping to make a little extra cash by prostituting himself.

But something clicked between the two men, and Hans became Haarmann’s lover. When Haarmann finished his nine month jail time in December, 1920, Grans and Haarmann moved in together.

Both men were well dressed and seemed like decent people, an advantage when you were a con man. But despite their outward appearance, they were making their living by stealing laundry from the washing lines and selling it in the markets, and sometimes they made money just by begging.

 

Stalking the Railway Station

With Haarmann also informing on just about every criminal activity that was taking place, other than his and Grans’s illicit dealings, Haarmann was making a fair amount of money, and along with his social security payments due to his status as an invalid, Haarmann’s life was relatively comfortable.

But the urges that drove Haarmann were still there, possibly dormant during the last couple of years, but waiting to be revived. And in 1923, they were.

On February 12, 1923, two youths were sitting in the waiting room at the Hannover railway station when a man entered. He identified himself as a police officer and that he was inspecting the waiting rooms. One of the youths was sent on his way, but the other one was detained by the officer. The youth was named Fritz Franke, a 16 year old from Berlin. Unsuspecting, Franke was led away by the officer, not realizing that the policeman was not real, but was Haarmann. Fritz Franke was never seen again.

Haarmann had taken Franke back to his apartment and killed him. According to Haarmann, Grans came home unexpectedly and caught Haarmann by surprise. In the room was the naked body of Fritz Franke. Grans was shocked, but all he did was look at Haarmann and say, “When shall I come back again?”

For the next several months, the pattern was basically the same. Haarmann would stalk the railway station pretending to be a policeman, a ruse made easy thanks to the police badge that the Hannover police had given him for being such a good informant. Spotting a stray youth, Haarmann would take him into custody.

So used were they to seeing Haarmann there that one railway station official, when asked about Haarmann, replied that he was a police detective.

Another trick he used was to watch the incoming trains and wait for a youth to get off. Haarmann would then approach him, pretending to be someone on the lookout for workers. Haarmann would offer employment, and also food and lodging.

Grateful and feeling fortunate to find work immediately, these young men would go back to Haarmann’s apartment. Many young men passed through the station, either as runaways, transient workers, commuters, and quite often, young male prostitutes.

Their fate was always the same. Once back at the apartment Haarmann would sodomize his victim, in some cases, if it was a homosexual or a male prostitute, probably with consent. But as he committed this act, Haarmann would clamp his teeth on their throats and bite through the windpipe. Death would rapidly follow.

 

The Victims Begin to Pile Up

The bodies would be dismembered and then thrown into the river. The possessions that were taken from the victims were either sold through the markets, or some were kept as mementoes, trophies of what he had done. Many items of clothing passed through the hands of Haarmann and Grans, and both men were looked upon as great supporters of the homeless who wandered through the streets of Hannover wearing the clothes that once belonged to the recently departed youths.

Over the next few months following Franke’s murder, several more innocent victims fell into Haarmann’s trap. On March 20, Wilhelm Schulze, aged 17, disappeared, and on May 23, a 15-year-old student named Roland Huch disappeared. Huch was last seen at the railway station. Hans Sonnenfeld, an 18-year-old runaway from Limmer, disappeared that same month. On June 25, 13-year-old Ernst Ehrenberg was asked by his parents to run an errand. He never came back.

And so the disappearances continued. By the end of 1923, 13 boys had crossed the path of Fritz Haarmann and had suffered the consequences.

On many occasions, Haarmann was seen with the victim shortly before the disappearance, but Haarmann’s reputation in Hannover was good; he was viewed as a kind man who was helping the poor and the needy by supplying clothing and food. He was an effeminate man who was well liked and charming, no one would think him responsible for the disappearance of so many, and certainly he could not be capable of killing them.

With many of Haarmann’s victims being runaways or transients, it was a while before anyone realized they were missing and reported it to the police, if they did at all. By the time they did report the disappearance, it was far too late. The body would have been disposed of, and the clothing and personal belongings would have vanished, scattered among the people of Hannover who had purchased them from Haarmann and Grans. There would be nothing to connect the victim to the two men, and with no hard evidence, the police would be unable to take the investigation any further.

Haarmann was confident that he would not be caught. According to some sources, he was so confident that he answered an announcement in the newspaper that was asking for information on one of his victims. Haarmann, posing as a criminologist, listened to the grieving relatives, and apparently spent the time giggling and laughing at their pain before callously asking for payment for his services.

The role that Hans Grans played in these atrocities is unclear. It is obvious that he knew what was going on – you cannot live with someone such as Haarmann and not notice the copious amounts of blood. But did he actually take part in the murders? Some sources have him as an active participant in the gruesome killings, holding the victim down while Haarmann rips at their throat with his teeth. Other sources have Grans as purely someone who helps to lure in the victim if Haarmann was having any difficulty.

Whatever his role, he was certainly involved in the selling of the clothing and property afterward.

 

Twelve More Victims

On January 5, 1924, Ernst Speiker was on his way to the courthouse, where he was to be a witness in a trial. The 17 year old never made it. Somewhere along his journey, he crossed paths with Fritz Haarmann, and Ernst became the first victim of the New Year. Between Speiker’s murder and June 14, 12 more would die at the hands, or more precisely, the teeth of Fritz Haarmann, including two murdered in one day, May 26, when Haarmann killed 17-year-old Fritz Wittig, and his youngest victim, 11-year-old Friedrich Abeling.

The last victim was 17 year old Erich de Vries.

By this time, the monster that was roaming the streets of Hannover had slaughtered 27 young men and boys, and the people of Hannover were living in absolute terror.

 

Finally, the Police Begin to Focus in on Fritz

Along with other sex offenders, Haarmann was rounded up and questioned, but with no firm evidence linking anyone to the crimes, they were let go. But Haarmann became a prime suspect when it was recalled that, in 1918, his name was linked to the disappearance of Friedel Rothe. Haarmann now became the focal point of the investigation and the police placed him under surveillance. As all of the victims were young men, and with no clear evidence, the police decided set a trap for Haarmann.

As Haarmann was known to be a homosexual predator, the plan would be to have a couple of young policemen hang around the railway station pretending to be homeless and in need of a bath and food. They would be just the bait that the killer would go for. The only snag was that, as a police informer, Haarmann knew just about all of the policemen in Hannover. The police decided to bring in two fresh faces, young policemen from Berlin.

If Haarmann fell into the trap, he would take one of the policemen home with him, and hopefully, the other policemen who were keeping watch on Haarmann would catch him in the act.

But the trap was not sprung. Instead, on Sunday, June 22, the police watching Haarmann saw him at the train station with a young man named Karl Fromm, a 15 year old who had spent some days with Haarmann at his apartment. The pair was having a heated argument, and to the policemen’s surprise, Haarmann went over to a member of the railway police and reported Fromm for travelling on false papers.

Fromm protested that it was Haarmann who should be arrested, telling them that Haarmann had attacked him while he was staying at his apartment.

By coincidence, a vice squad policeman was at the station and knowing that the other policemen were hoping to catch their killer, decided to arrest Haarmann immediately.

While Haarmann was being held in custody, the police made a search of his apartment. They came away with several hundred items of clothing and personal effects, which the police believed belonged to the missing youths. They were correct. The confiscated items were shown to relatives of the missing, who identified it as belong to those who had disappeared. Some of the clothing found in the apartment belonged to Willi Senger, a 19 year old who vanished on February 2, 1924, and a violin case found during the search belonged to Heinrich Strauss, an 18 year old who was last seen on August 24, 1923.

But although this was highly suspicious, there was still nothing that said that Haarmann had actually been responsible for the deaths of the youths. Haarmann claimed that everything that had been found during the search he had obtained legitimately in his dealings as a trader in used clothes.

There was blood found in the apartment as well, but once again, Haarmann had a logical explanation. Haarmann was well known as a meat trader in the markets, and he usually butchered the animals in his apartment. Haarmann admitted to being a homosexual, secure in the knowledge that, thanks to the distasteful view of homosexuality, the living victims and their families would not be forthcoming against him.

Haarmann's room where the killings took place
Haarmann's room where the killings took place

In fact, that there were living victims was in his favor, and that although he may be a pedophile and homosexual predator, the fact that there were living victims said he wasn’t a murderer, otherwise he would have surely killed them as well. And Karl Fromm had been with Haarmann for days, yet he was still alive. Haarmann felt he was safe.

But things were about to change.

Earlier that year, on April 26, 18-year-old Robert Witzel had disappeared. Nothing much was known other than he had visited the circus that night along with his friend, an effeminate boy, who had told the family after Robert vanished that they went along with a police official from the railway station.

When the bones and skulls were discovered, Robert’s father was asked by the police to take a look at them, though it would be hard. Robert had an irregular jawbone and the police hoped that Herr Witzel would be able to identify his son’s remains. Sure enough, Herr Witzel picked out one skull that had the same irregular jaw as his son. Robert Witzel had been identified.

At the time that Haarmann was being interrogated, the Witzel family happened to be sitting outside the Chief Commissioner’s office. They had been constantly harassing the police since their son’s disappearance, and their persistence was about to pay off, thanks to a coincidence.

As they sat waiting outside the office, a couple walked into the police station. The woman was Frau Engel, Haarmann’s landlady, who had come to the police station to make enquiries about her tenants’ military pension. The man who was accompanying her caught the attention of Roberts’ mother. The clothing that the man was wearing was familiar to her; the jacket was the one her son was wearing on the night he vanished.

She got some of the nearby officers and confronted the man, asking where he got the jacket. He told them he got it from Fritz Haarmann. From the pocket of the trousers, the man pulled out an identification card that he had found inside but as yet, had not thrown away. On it was the name “Witzel.”

 

Grilling Fritz

Fritz Haarmann with detectives, November 1924
Fritz Haarmann with detectives, November 1924

The police were now convinced they had the right man in custody, and increased the pressure on him. For seven days the interrogation continued, with Haarmann breaking into uncontrollable emotional rages and hysterics. Strong and confident at first, Haarmann started to crack and finally it was too much for him. He broke down and asked to see the examining magistrate and the superintendent. He wanted to make a full confession.

Haarmann took the magistrates on a murderous tour around Hannover, where they were shown more body parts hidden in bushes, and skeletal remains hidden around the city. More bones were dredged up from a lake after Haarmann pointed it out.

More and more people came forward and the evidence against Haarmann began to grow. And one disturbing question came up, one that had been raised some time before. Haarmann was well known as a trader in used clothing, but he was also a man who traded meat on the black market. The question was, where did he get the meat that he was selling?

There had been rumors that some of the meat being sold on the black market was actually human flesh, and one person even took the meat to the police, where it was examined and pronounced to be pork. There is no actual evidence that Haarmann sold the meat from his victims, but no one knows what happened to the flesh either.

Asked how many victims he had killed, Haarmann said that it was somewhere between fifty and seventy, and that included Friedel Rothe, who he confessed he murdered in 1918. Haarmann said that on the day his apartment was raided and they found him in bed with the teenager, Rothe’s head was wrapped in newspaper and hidden behind the stove. Had the police done a search instead of just arresting him for the sexual assault, Haarmann’s killing spree would never have taken place. Although only charged with 27 deaths, it is likely that the actual figure is about 50.

On the strength of Haarmann’s confession, Hans Grans was arrested on July 8, though his part in the murders was unclear. Haarmann was sent to the Göttingen Institute for a psychiatric evaluation on August 16, and then held for his trial.

 

Haarmann on Trial

The trial began on December 4, 1924, at the Hannover Assizes, and lasted just two weeks. Haarmann was charged with the murders of 27 young men between September, 1918 and June, 1924.

Haarmann acted as his own defense and seemed completely indifferent throughout the proceedings, as opposed to Grans who appeared tough and seemed the more dangerous of the two, though he was also thought less guilty than Haarmann. Grans had been charged with two counts of instigating a murder and came across as someone willing to do anything for money. The only emotion Grans was showing was anger toward Haarmann as it was he who had got him into this trouble in the first place. Haarmann did his best to implicate Grans in the murders, and the court believed it all.

Despite what he had done, Haarmann came across as the more likeable of the two, and he joked with the jury and the members of the press.

When Haarman took the stand, he was questioned about how he had killed his victims. He explained that he never wanted the young men to die, but once he got going, it was inevitable that he would kill them. He had already explained to the police that as he became aroused by his victims, he would begin to bite their necks. He made efforts to control his urge to bite deep and cause their deaths, but the compulsion to kill was too strong and his teeth bit deep. Did he really try to control his urges? The likely answer is yes. It would explain why there were victims of his lust who were still living, and how Karl Fromm managed to survive a few days in the company of Haarmann without joining the dead.

But, for the most part, the compulsion to kill was overwhelming. In the trial he described how he bit into the neck, severing the arteries and biting through the Adam’s apple, then drinking their blood. Asked what he did to get rid of the bodies, his answer was gruesome.

I’d put the body on the floor and cover the face with a cloth so it wouldn’t be looking at me. I’d make two cuts into the abdomen and put the intestines in a bucket. I’d dip a towel in the blood collecting in the abdominal cavity and keep doing that until it had all been soaked up. Then I’d make three cuts from the ribs towards the shoulders, take hold of the ribs and push until the bones around the shoulders broke. I’d then cut through that area. Now I could get the heart, lungs and kidneys and chop them up and put them in my bucket. Then I’d take the legs off, then the arms. I’d take the flesh off the bones and put it in my wax cloth bag. The rest of the flesh went under the bed or in the cubby-hole. It would take me five or six trips to take everything out and throw it down the toilet or into the river. I’d cut the penis off after I had emptied and cleaned the stomach cavities. I would cut it into lots of little pieces. I always hated doing this, but I couldn’t help it - my passion was so much stronger than the horror of the cutting and chopping.

I’d take the heads off last. I used the little kitchen knife to cut around the scalp and cut it up into little strips and squares. I’d put the skull, face down, on a straw mat and cover it with rags so that you wouldn’t hear the banging so much. I’d hit it with the blunt edge of an axe until the joins on the skull split apart. The brain went in the bucket and the chopped up bones in the river opposite the castle.

On December 19, 1924, Haarmann was found guilty of the murder of 24 out of the 27 he was charged with, and acquitted of the other three. He was sentenced to death by guillotine. Haarmann did not appeal the sentence.

Grans was also found guilty of incitement to murder in the case of missing youth Adolf Hannapel, a 15 year old who went missing on November 11, 1923. Grans was also sentenced to death, and his appeal was rejected.

However, a letter was found lying in the street addressed to Grans’s father, who eventually received it and then gave it to the police. Inside was a confession written by Haarmann while in the car on the way to the police station after the trial. The letter contained a summary of his relationship with Grans and also claimed that Grans was innocent of the murders. Haarmann confessed in the letter that he implicated Grans out of revenge and hoped for his forgiveness.

What happened to Grans is not certain. Some sources say he was executed, others say that on the strength of Haarmann’s writing his sentence was reduced to 12 years and he was then released to live out his life in Hannover where he died in either 1975 or 1980.

Haarmann's head
Haarmann's head

In February, 1925, Haarmann’s victims were all buried together in a communal grave in the Stöckener Cemetery where, in April, 1928, a large memorial made of granite was placed over it. Inscribed into the granite are the names and ages of all the victims.

On April 15, 1925, Haarmann spoke his last words, “I repent, but I do not fear death.” The blade of the guillotine dropped and Haarmann was beheaded.

Scientists wished to examine Haarmann’s brain, and so his decapitated head was placed in a jar. It is now kept at the Göttingen Medical School.

Whether Haarmann or Grans were selling the meat of their victims has never been established, though the general consensus is that they were. But they were probably not the only ones. During World War One, Carl Grossman was selling sausages in Berlin that were almost certainly made from the meat of around fifty women that he had murdered. Like Haarmann, he threw the bones in the river.

 

The grave of Haarmann's victims

The grave of Haarmann's victims

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