Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Fritz Haarmann: The Butcher of Hannover

Trial

The trial was conducted at the Hannover Assizes and lasted through 14 days and almost 200 witnesses. The much-publicized opening decree stated that Fritz Haarmann was "accused of killing 27 persons intentionally and deliberately" from September 1918 to June 1924.

Haarmann insisted on conducting his own defense and remained entirely nonchalant throughout the trial, at one point complaining that there were too many women in the courtroom. He was allowed remarkable freedom and was notably immature and irresponsible, frequently interrupting the proceedings. At one stage he demanded indignantly why there were so many women in the court; the judge answered apologetically that he had no power to keep them out. On another occasion, when a mother became too distraught to give evidence about her son with clarity, Haarmann got bored and asked to be allowed to smoke a cigar. Permission was immediately granted.

Nonetheless, the murderer's naive combination of fiction and fact was generally agreed as refreshing in contrast to the legal speak of the jurists and the confused hypocrisy of the authorities. To the journalists he once said reproachfully, "You are not to lie; we know you are all liars," and to the jury, "Keep it short. I want to spend Christmas in heaven with Mother." Haarmann was constantly amused by the proceedings and, remarkably, even brought a smile from the public on more than one occasion.

In contrast, Hans Grans, accused in two cases of instigating murder, appeared as a tough and unbreakable character. The jury subsequently branded him as the more dangerous (yet the more innocent) of the two. Grans was entirely focused on self-preservation, an attitude that was to prove his downfall as Haarmann became concentrated on his devilish desire for revenge; to take the one he loved the most with him to the dark land. Hence, Fritz formed incredible and completely inaccurate accusations of murder against his partner that the court whole-heartedly believed. Once he had achieved his aim of not going to death alone, Haarmann quieted down and let Grans do the talking.

Inevitably, though, the most chilling tale of all came when Haarmann took the stand to explain his murder method in the most graphic of detail.

"I never intended to hurt those youngsters, but I knew that if I got going something would happen and that made me cry... I would throw myself on top of those boys and bite through the Adam's apple, throttling them at the same time."

Haarmann explained the guilt he often felt at this point, regularly collapsing on the dead body and covering the face with a cloth so "it wouldn't be looking at me."

"I'd make two cuts in the abdomen and put the intestines in a bucket, then soak up the blood and crush the bones until the shoulders broke. Now I could get the heart, lungs and kidneys and chop them up and put them in my bucket. I'd take the flesh off the bones and put it in my waxcloth bag. It would take me five or six trips to take everything and throw it down the toilet or into the river. 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."

The skulls were smashed to pieces and thrown in the river or marsh, the clothes given away or sold. The more often this process occurred, the more efficient it became and, whilst the city of Hannover utilized the meat and clothing of its victims, Fritz Haarmann remained out of the authorities' reach.

Some boys he denied killing — for example a boy named Hermann Wolf, whose photograph showed an ugly and ill-dressed youth, Haarmann declared that the boy was far too ugly to have interested him.

The killer repeatedly claimed that he was driven by beauty and sensuality, not the cynical interpretation of sex or profit. In his eyes, it was easier to kill someone you loved — that way you brought them peace.

"Often, after I had killed, I pleaded to be put away in a military asylum, but not a madhouse. If Grans had really loved me he would have been able to save me. Believe me, I'm not ill — it's only that I occasionally have funny turns. I want to be beheaded. It'll only take a moment, then I'll be at peace."

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