Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Fritz Haarmann: The Butcher of Hannover


Throughout the panic that engulfed Hannover in 1924, Fritz Haarmann remained a definite suspect. Along with every other local sex offender, he was investigated repeatedly during May and June, yet no conclusive evidence could be found. Meanwhile, press announcements appeared giving details of the skulls in the hope of obtaining clues from the general public. The quantity of skulls and corpses still being discovered was generating a nationwide furor and a general lack of confidence in the German police force.

With the pressure mounting, the following course of action was agreed upon: as Haarmann already knew the town officials, two young policemen would arrive from Berlin at Hannover train station, pretending to be homeless and looking for a place to stay. They would then focus on the suspect's activities and hope to catch him in the act. Once again, however, the killer's incredible luck conspired against them as Fritz was found arguing with 15-year-old Karl Fromm, a boy who had spent several days at Haarmann's apartment. Fromm was being particularly "cheeky and supercilious" on this evening and, amazingly, Haarmann had the audacity to report him to the railway police, claiming that he was traveling on false papers. Once at the police station, though, Fromm turned the tables on the older man by accusing him of sexual harassment during his stay. Coincidentally, a member of the vice squad was at the station at this time and, in the knowledge that the police were hoping to arrest Haarmann, the officer decided to apprehend the suspect immediately. Before any unnecessary suspicions could be aroused, Haarmann was taken to prison on the morning of 23rd June.

The killer later claimed that he had only arranged to have Fromm taken into custody because he knew he was going to murder the boy and was afraid he would not be able to resist the urge for much longer. If this statement is to be believed, here was the first time that Haarmann's actions were motivated by any moral scruples and these alleged feelings of guilt were to prove his downfall.

Yet the case was not nearly as clear-cut as the substantial evidence would imply. Several hundred items of clothing found in Haarmann's room or confiscated from his acquaintances were collected and identified as the property of the missing children, but there was no evidence to declare he had been responsible for even one of the deaths. Haarmann inevitably claimed that the property in his possession was due to his business of trading and dealing in used clothes. He admitted having sexual relations with some of the children, yet denied any knowledge of the victims' current whereabouts and gave plausible explanations for the traces of blood present in the garments.

The suspect once again displayed considerable skill at avoiding taxing questions and prolonging the inquisition. Haarmann was an astute man and, understanding the rather secretive nature of homosexuality at the time, subsequently knew it would be difficult for the police to obtain incriminating evidence from his victims and their families.

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