Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Artist and the Killer: Frank Bender and Hans Vorhauer

Almost Supernatural

Vorhauer, age 31
Vorhauer, age 31

On November 17, 1983, methamphetamine dealer and vicious career criminal Hans Vorhauer escaped from Pennsylvania's Graterford Prison, a state maximum-security facility 15 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Vorhauer reputedly had the highest IQ of any prisoner ever to have entered the Pennsylvania corrections system. Vorhauer and fellow inmate Robert Nauss escaped together. Nauss, a leader of the outlaw biker gang the Warlocks, had been convicted of strangling his beauty-queen girlfriend in 1977. Vorhauer had come up with the escape plan after he and Nauss had begun working together in the prison wood shop where inmates constructed made-to-order furniture. Vorhauer arranged to have a friend on the outside order a large breakfront, which Vorhauer and Nauss volunteered to make. They made it out of lightweight pine but stained to look like oak. When it was finished, the two men crammed themselves into the base of the breakfront and had another prisoner nail them in.

Breakfront, similar piece used in escape
Breakfront, similar piece used in escape

When the breakfront was carried out of the prison and loaded on the back of a pickup truck for delivery, no one questioned its cumbersome weight, assuming that it was made of heavy oak. Though Vorhauer was never convicted of murder, police believed he was responsible for 17 contract killings. He was unusually good at covering his tracks, never leaving evidence that could bring charges against him.

Besides being a freelance hitman, Vorhauer had been involved in armed burglaries, extortion plots, and large-scale drug deals. He had an innate taste for bloodshed. His father was a Nazi SS officer, and apparently the apple hadn't fallen far from the tree. Vorhauer once rigged a .22 pistol with a homemade silencer inside an attaché case. A ring trigger on the hand fired the weapon. He allegedly tested this devise inside a crowded supermarket, riddling a display of Wheaties boxes with repeated gunfire. No one heard a thing.

Robert Nauss
Robert Nauss

Vorhauer and Nauss soon split up after they escaped from Graterford, and three years later Vorhauer was still at large. In the winter of 1986, law enforcement officials believed Vorhauer was in Philadelphia where his wife, Phyllis, lived. Knowing how deadly he was, they were determined to get him off the streets. But Vorhauer was slippery. Whenever police followed up on a tip regarding his whereabouts, Vorhauer was long gone by the time they got there. Several informers swore that they'd seen him around town, but to police he was invisible. His ability to disappear was almost supernatural.

Bust of Robert Nauss
Bust of Robert Nauss

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