Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Fritz Haarmann: The Butcher of Hannover

The Making of a Killer

Friedrich Heinrich Karl Haarmann was born the youngest of six children on October 25th 1879. His mother, 41 at the time of his birth, spoiled and pampered him as a child and encouraged young Fritz to play with dolls instead of more masculine games. Most crucial to the interests of a psychologist, Fritz disliked his father from an early age and was to continue this loathing throughout his life.

The parents were indeed an ill-assorted couple. 'Old Haarmann' was a morose and cantankerous locomotive stoker who was to be found at night rampaging his way around the seedy bars of the Old Town. His wife, Johanna Claudius, was seven years his senior and provided him with a dowry of several houses and a small fortune, making him a wealthy citizen in this time of rapid economic expansion. Johanna was a simple-minded, slightly stupid woman and managed to ignore her husband's continuous drunkenness and womanizing. The birth of her sixth child left her sick and she spent much of her remaining twelve years in bed.

As for Haarmann's siblings, the eldest son, Alfred, became a lower-middle class factory foreman with upright Philistine and family values. The second son, Wilhelm, was sentenced at an early age for a sexual offence and the three sisters, all of whom divorced their husbands early in married life, proved to be particularly obsessive and compulsive characters. Frau Rudiger was to meet a premature death in the Great War and Haarmann never got on with the fourth child, Frau Erfurdt. It was therefore left to the youngest sister, Emma, to provide Fritz's sole family connection.

From a young age Haarmann and his father argued and constantly threatened each other, the father to have his son put in an asylum and Fritz to have his father thrown in jail for the supposed murder of a train driver. The only occasions of unity were exhibited when the men would combine to either carry out a swindle or to appear in court to exonerate the other. In contrast, Haarmann always felt a deep bond with his mother and she remained the only person he spoke of with warmth and sentimentality.

The anecdotes relating to Haarmann's childhood show two distinct traits. The first is the notable feminine (possibly transvestite) tendencies that were exhibited throughout his school life. The second is the pleasure in causing fear and horror. Haarmann enjoyed tying up his sisters and regularly tapped on windows in the dead of night, awakening a dormant fear of ghosts and werewolves. The child was spoilt and easily led, yet lively and popular amongst his peers.

The boy failed his locksmith apprenticeship and so was sent to the training school for non-commissioned officers at Neu-Breisach in April 1895. Fritz was a good gymnast and an obedient soldier, but soon began suffering from periodic lapses in consciousness and epileptic fits. This was blamed on a concussion contracted whilst performing bar exercises or sunstroke suffered during the exercise. Haarmann dismissed himself from the sick bay in November 1895, saying that he "didn't like it there any more" and soon began working for his father.

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