Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bait and Switch: The Cannibal Crimes of Joachim Kroll

Satisfying His Curiosity

Ilona Harke
Ilona Harke

Five-year-old Ilona Harke was discovered in the icy water of a small stream in Wuppertal.  An autopsy showed that she had been raped.  About this murder, Kroll said that he'd encountered the child in Essen and decided to use her to satisfy his curiosity about what it would be like to drown someone.  It seemed to him that she would be easy to subdue.  He took her with him by train to Wuppertal, and then found an isolated area on that cold winter day.  He made her walk with him until he found a ditch that had enough water to perform his gruesome act, and then forced her head into the water until she stopped struggling.  From this child, since he anticipated that she would taste sweet, he also removed pieces to take home and cook.  This time, he cut into her shoulder, as if experimenting with the taste of flesh from different areas of the body.

About six months later, Kroll tried again, but this time he was interrupted and nearly caught.  He had moved temporarily to Grafenhausen, and in June 1967, outside town he'd come across ten-year-old Gabriele P.  Some sources indicate that this occurred in a field and some say on a park bench.  Kroll had some pornography with him, and he managed to persuade the girl to accompany him to a meadow, where he promised to show her a rabbit, but instead he flashed his book of erotic pictures.  Alarmed, she tried to leave, but he detained her.  Pulling her into a private area, he choked her.  However, a nearby coal mine sounded its siren for a change in shifts, which startled Kroll, and he saw men streaming out to go home.  Leaving the girl there, he fled, believing that she was dead.  However, she was found and taken to a hospital, where she remained in a coma for more than a week.  Upon reviving, she told her parents what had happened, but they declined to report the incident, perhaps afraid that the man would revisit his deed and try to eliminate the witness. (Martingale indicates that the girl escaped unharmed, which seems more likely, since it would be odd for parents to decline to report an attack of the magnitude that sources such as clubmoral.com describe.) 

Maria Hettgen
Maria Hettgen

In 1969 and 1970, Kroll raped and killed two more victims.  Maria Hettgen was his oldest, at age sixty-one. (This is the one case on which there is significant disagreement.  One source indicates that she was ten years old, and Newton and Martingale both state that she was attacked in the front hallway inside her home).  Clubmoral.com describes the scenario thus: She was out for a walk in a tourist area south of Essen when she encountered Kroll, also out walking (his typical MO, and thus the likelier manner of encounter).  Kroll later reported that he'd experienced a "tickling feeling all over" when he stopped to talk with her.  She had not wished to tarry for conversation, he recalled, so he hit her.  When she went down, he dragged her to some bushes to strangle and rape, leaving her there to be found a day later, on July 13. 

Jutta Rahn
Jutta Rahn

Ten months later, Kroll followed thirteen-year-old Jutta Rahn as she disembarked from a train in Breitscheid and started to walk home through a wooded area.  Like several cases before this, her boyfriend became a suspect and, as a result, even spent some time in a jail cell.  Then, just before the 1976 murder that got him arrested, Kroll raped and strangled ten-year-old Karin Toepfer in another town that same year.

Karin Toepfer
Karin Toepfer

Finally, with his arrest, Kroll's twenty-one-year reign of deviant violence came to an end — and he gained the dubious reputation as the sex killer with the longest period of sadistic crimes in West Germany.  Martingale notes that "it was truly astonishing that in an area less than fifty miles long by twenty miles wide Kroll could get away with his crimes for twenty years."  He wasn't bright, and the crimes had many similar and distinct aspects, but the police had failed to link them to develop leads.  It's true that he selected mostly strangers and that his journeys were unpredictable, so even with a sophisticated linkage analysis, he probably would have remained unidentified. Still, with his confession and supporting evidence, his career as a sexual murderer was over.  However, for the police, the attempt to understand what lay behind his disturbing behavior had just begun.

 

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