Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Fritz Haarmann: The Butcher of Hannover

The First Finds

The experts then submitted their reports to the effect that, although the killer had a "pathological personality," he had not been devoid of free will and responsibility and therefore bore no manic depressive insanity. Grans and Haarmann continued their petty squabbles throughout the summing up, their behavior towards each other remaining the same until the bitter end.

Fritz Haarman after being sentenced
Fritz Haarman after being sentenced

At 10am on 19th December 1924, Haarmann received 24 death sentences in 24 cases and Grans one death sentence for his supposed incitement to murder in the Hannappel case. Upon announcement of the verdict, Haarmann proclaimed,

"I want to be executed on the marketplace. On the tombstone must be put this inscription: 'Here Lies Mass-Murderer Haarmann'." The court acceded to neither request and Haarmann was duly decapitated within the walls of Hannover Prison. Grans's appeal was rejected and the death sentence pronounced correct and final.

Yet this story contains one final twist. A Hannover messenger named Lueters found a letter addressed to Albert Grans, father of the man under sentence of death, lying on the street. He made sure the letter was passed on to the addressee, who in turn passed it on to the court. The note was a four-page confession from Fritz Haarmann, written whilst being taken by car to the police station.

The letter summarized the relationship of Grans and himself and, most importantly, professed the innocence of the younger man.

"Hans Grans has been sentenced unjustly and that's the fault of the police and also because I wanted revenge... Put yourself in Grans's position: he will question the existence of the Lord and justice just because of me... May Hans Grans forgive me for my revenge and humanity."

The exact intention of this letter has never fully been understood. Was Haarmann truly troubled by his conscience, or was this simply a devious attempt to delay his own execution? It is now the common view of experts that the verdict of the Hannover court is an unsatisfactory one in the sense that Haarmann was undoubtedly put under pressure by certain authorities throughout the trial. It is most probably the case that a neglected and innocent young man has been sentenced to death solely as a result of statements made by a man pronounced mentally ill by five different psychiatrists. In this sense, as said by Theodor Lessing, a commentator on the Haarmann affair, "a judicial murder was committed." Like his other victims, Fritz Haarmann killed the one he loved, this time by using the German legal system as his weapon.

After the two men's deaths, another letter from Haarmann was found, this one explaining his actions purely as an attempt to take revenge against the police. The statement concludes,

"You won't kill me; I'll be back — yes, I shall be amongst you for all eternity. And now you yourselves have also killed. You should know it: Hans Grans was innocent! Well? How's your conscience now?"

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