Speaking of Halloween: One of History’s First Serial Killers


Poster of Fritz Lang’s 1931 film M; Credit: Wikipedia Commons



A Real Case of Macabre Mentality: Fritz Haarmann (1879-1925)



Friedrich Heinrich Karl Haarmann; Alias: Fritz The Butcher of Hanover;

The Vampire of Hanover; The Wolf Man; The Werewolf



“Often, after I had killed, I pleaded to be put away in a military asylum, but not a madhouse. If [Hans] 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.“


One of history’s first serial killers, Friedrich Heinrich Karl Haarmann, better known by his nickname of Fritz Haarmann and also referred to as “The Butcher of Hanover“ or “The Vampire of Hanover“, was a German serial killer responsible for at least 24 murders of young males. Born in Hanover on October 25, 1879, during the German Empire, Fritz was the sixth child of a poor couple, Ollie and Johanna. He was motivated by his sickly mother to play with his sisters’ dolls instead of boys’ activities. As a result, Fritz seemed to have a bit of a feminine personality; he also had sadistic tendencies in which he would tie up his sisters and also tap windows during the nighttime to cause rumors of supernatural creatures that roam about in the middle of the night. He also harbored a dislike for his father, whom he would threaten to throw in jail as Ollie supposedly murdered a train driver. Performing terribly in school, Fritz was sent to attend a military academy at Neu Breisach. Though he did well, Fritz was eventually discharged for medical reasons after having a series of seizures. Returning to Hanover, he found employment at a local cigar factory. Sometime in 1898, he was arrested for molesting several children, but was deemed psychologically unfit to stand trial and was sentenced to a mental institution. Six months into his stay, Fritz escaped and sought shelter in Switzerland before returning to Germany at the age of 20. Around 1900, he was able to seduce and marry a woman named Erna Loewert, later impregnating her with their child. Fritz then abandoned Erna in favor of a life in the military. While becoming a soldier, Fritz, much like the serial killer William Burke, led a successful life under the occupation. However, on October of 1901, all of that abruptly ended when he collapsed during an exercise and was diagnosed as having an unspecified mental deficiency. As a result, he was discharged and sent back to live with his family. His father Ollie made at least one attempt at putting Fritz in an asylum, but the local doctors merely deemed him as “morally inferior“. Fritz attempted to open up a small business of his own, but it went bankrupt immediately and was closed down. Sometime after this, he started a series of petty burglaries and con jobs to easily gain money and spent about one-third of the following two decades being incarcerated for such crimes. Because of his frequent arrests, he became well-known with the Hanover police, even becoming one of their informers after his latest release in 1918, just to redirect police attention from himself. Simultaneously, World War 1 began and he was hit hard by the inflicted national poverty. Fritz also started a number of misdemeanor sexual offenses that went unnoticed by authorities mostly because his partners were too ashamed to file reports.


“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.



Some of the many bones of Haarmann’s victims that were recovered from the Leine River. Credit: Wikipedia Commons


Finally, Fritz suddenly snapped and murdered a 17-year-old youth named Friedel Rothe on September 25, 1918. Following from eyewitness accounts provided by Rothe’s friends and the pressure from Rothe’s family, authorities raided Fritz’s residence and found him with a teenage boy in bed, having been seduced by him for about nine months. Fritz was arrested for sexual assault, but the police, for some unknown reason, never searched his house and, as a result, he was cleared of any suspicion of Rothe’s murder. Eventually released, Fritz later met Hans Grans at the Hanover central station, and the two became fast friends and, eventually, lovers. In early 1922, they moved to an apartment, number 27 Cellerstrasse, which was located in the “haunted area“ of Hanover. Fritz then started murdering young men again, this time by luring them in by pretending to be a police officer. Hans became his accomplice after unexpectedly returning home to witness Fritz murder his second victim, 17-year-old Fritz Franke. In the following nine months, twelve men were murdered this way, with their dismembered remains being dumped in the Leine River and their valuables used to provide Fritz and Hans with money. The killings went unnoticed, until in May 1924, when over 500 human bones belonging to Fritz’s victims started washing up downstream in the Leine River. Sheer terror gripped Hanover and citizens dubbed the killer as The Butcher of Hanover.



Haarmann’s Apartment. Credit: Wikipedia Commons



Fritz’s last murdered victim was 17-year-old Erich de Vries; at this time, police had begun an enormous manhunt for the serial killer. Suspicion quickly fell on him due to knowledge of his 1898 molestation crimes and the disappearance of Friedel Rothe years ago. Police silently observed Fritz, and on June 22, they apprehended him after he attempted to lure in a would-be victim, Karl Fromm, from Hanover’s central station; Fromm had spent several days in Fritz’s apartment before, during which he was assaulted by him. Fritz would later confess to his intention of killing Fromm, marking the first time that he was guided by moral principles, although it ironically proved to be his downfall. Police searched Fritz’s home and found the walls sporting bloodstains, with Fritz alleging it to be an unhandy result of the illegal meat-trade business he ran there. However, officers found clothing and belongings of his victims and arrested him on suspicion of the Hanover murders. Fritz quickly confessed to being the perpetrator and claimed that the amount of lives he took ranged from “somewhere between 50 and 70“, though police made it official that the true body count was measured to 24-27 victims. He then aided officers in finding undiscovered parts of his victims and the dump sites at the Leine River. He proved overall to become extremely cooperative in the investigation, save for instances in which he was confronted by families of his victims or conversing about decapitation, to which he would become withdrawn.



Haarmann (middle) with police detectives.

Credit: By Bundesarchiv, Bild; Wikipedia Commons


Fritz’s trial began on December 4, 1924, and was conducted at the Hannover Assizes. As the term “serial killer“ had not been coined yet, there were no words to describe Fritz other than “werewolf“ or “vampire“. Hoping to take Hans with him to execution, he resorted to accusing him of some of the murders, which the court actually came to believe. A notable aspect of the case was the shock that came to the public after the discovery that Fritz was a police informant, and therefore, the police never came to suspect him of the murders even though witnesses pointed him out as being with his last victims. Fritz’s trial lasted for two weeks and required 200 witnesses to explain their accounts. He was found guilty of murdering all but three of the victims tied to him and sentenced to death by guillotine. On April 15, 1925, he was beheaded by guillotine, but not before he said as his last words, “I repent, but I do not fear death.“ The remains of his victims were buried together in a grave at Stockener Cemetery months before his execution, with a large, granite, triptych-style memorial inscribed with the victims’ names and ages being erected on April 1928. Fritz’s head was preserved in a jar by scientists, who used it in their studies to examine the structure of his brain. It was being kept at the Gottingen medical school until 2014, when it was cremated.



Haarmann (seated in front of chalkboard sketch of his apartment), during his trial in 1924.

Credit: Bundesarchiv_Bild; Wikipedia Commons



Hans Grans spent his early years as a petty thief before running away from his home, making his living by selling old clothes. He soon met Fritz Haarmann at Hanover’s central station after offering to prostitute himself in exchange for money. The two soon became friends, and then lovers. From March 1920 to December of the same year, Hans traveled through Germany, committing petty robberies before returning to Hanover and reuniting with Fritz on Christmas, later moving into a new apartment, number 27 Cellerstrasse, with him. On February 12, 1923, he returned home unexpectedly to find Fritz murdering his second victim, 17-year-old Fritz Franke. Condoning the act, he soon became Fritz’s accomplice and live-in partner. Hans even chose two of Fritz’s victims for him, one of them 17-year-old Adolf Hannappel, who was murdered on November 11, 1923. Hans was arrested on July 8, 1924, and initially found guilty to enticement to the murder of Hannappel. Fritz and eyewitnesses verified that Hans picked Hannappel out for the former and as a result, Hans was sentenced to death. However, he was cleared and the sentence was reduced after a letter written by Fritz that declared Hans’s innocence was discovered. Instead, Hans served twelve years in prison and was eventually released. He continued to live in Hanover until his death in 1975, from natural causes.


“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.“

In the wake of his killings, Fritz has inspired three films to date. The first, a 1931 German drama-thriller named M, is well-known and has also been inspired by two other serial killers, Peter Kurten and Carl Grossmann. The second, The Tenderness of the Wolves (Die Zartlichkeit der Wolfe), was released on July 1973 and is directly based upon Fritz’s murders. And finally, the most recent is Der Totmacher (The Deathmaker), which was released on 1995 and, like the previous film, is based on Fritz’s murders. Fritz has also been mentioned in several novels, a subject of focus in a song called “Fritz Haarmann [sic] der Metzger“ (“Fritz Haarmann the butcher“) by the band Macabre, and has even been used as a company logo for Beton Kopf Media, a record label.


Though Fritz wasn’t mentioned or referenced in Lucky, Floyd Feylinn Ferell’s habit of dismembering his victims post-mortem and selling them as meat to unsuspecting customers appears to be an allusion to a rumor that Fritz did the exact same thing. Fritz was mentioned in Magnum Opus, when the BAU compared his sloppy method of drawing blood from his victims (by biting) with that of the prominent unsub, who was more organized, using a tube instead. A scene where Wallace Hines feeds the pieces of a victim’s head to unsuspecting restaurant customers in The Inspiration is also a possible allusion to the aforementioned rumor.


The New York Times clebrated Halloween with an article entitled: Victorian Cocktails and Medical Curiosities in (Where Else?) Brooklyn



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