Fritz Haarmann

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Fritz Haarmann
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-00824, Hannover, Prozeß gegen Friedrich Haarmann.jpg
Fritz Haarmann (center) with police detectives, November 1924
Born (1879-10-25)October 25, 1879
Hanover, German Empire
Died April 15, 1925(1925-04-15) (aged 45)
Cause of death
Decapitation by guillotine
Other names The Butcher of Hanover,
The Vampire of Hanover
Criminal penalty
Conviction(s) Murder
Victims 24-27+
Span of killings
September 25, 1918–June 14, 1924
Country Germany
State(s) Province of Hanover, Prussia
Date apprehended
June 22, 1924

Friedrich Heinrich Karl "Fritz" Haarmann (October 25, 1879 – April 15, 1925), also known as the Butcher of Hanover and the Vampire of Hanover was a German serial killer who is believed to have been responsible for the murder of 27 boys and young men between 1918 and 1924. He was convicted, found guilty of 24 murders and subsequently executed in April, 1925.

Early life[edit]

Fritz Haarmann was born in Hanover in 1879,[1] the sixth child of poor parents. Haarmann was a quiet child who shunned many boys' activities such as sports and preferred to play with his sisters' toys. He was also a poor student. At the age of 16, at the urging of his parents, Haarmann enrolled in a military academy at Neu Breisach. He initially adapted to military life, and performed well as a trainee soldier. After just one year in the academy, however, he began to suffer seizures and was discharged for medical reasons.

Haarmann returned to Hanover and took employment in a cigar factory. He was arrested in 1898 for molesting children, but a psychologist declared Haarmann was mentally unfit to stand trial, and he was sent to a mental institution indefinitely. Six months later, Haarmann escaped and fled to Switzerland, where he worked for two years before he returned to Germany. He again enlisted in the military, this time under an alias, but in 1902, he was again discharged under medical terms. Haarmann was awarded a full military pension and returned to live with his family and took employment in the small business his father had established. After an argument with his father, Ollie, led to a violent fight between them, Haarmann was arrested, charged with assault and again sent for psychiatric evaluation. This time, a doctor did not diagnose Haarmann as mentally unstable. A court discharged Haarmann and he again returned to live with his family. Shortly afterwards, Haarmann attempted to open a small shop, but the business soon became bankrupt.

Criminal career[edit]

For the next decade, Haarmann lived as a petty thief, burglar and con artist. He was frequently arrested and served several short prison sentences. He gradually began to establish a relationship with Hanover police as an informer, largely as a means of redirecting the attention of the police from himself, and later admitted that the police began to view him as a reliable source of information regarding Hanover's criminal network.

In 1914, Haarmann was convicted of a series of thefts and frauds and was imprisoned just as World War I began. Upon his release in 1918, he was struck by the poverty of the German nation as a result of the loss the nation had suffered in World War I. The country was bankrupt. Fritz Haarmann immediately reverted to the criminal life he had lived before he was arrested in 1914. The new state of Germany provided him with even more opportunities to operate on the fringes of the criminal network, and because of the increase in crime as a result of the poverty the nation was enduring, police again began to rely on Haarmann as an informer.[2]


Detectives search a stove inside Haarmann's room

Between 1918 and 1924, Haarmann committed at least 24 murders, although he is suspected of murdering a minimum of 27. Haarmann's first known victim was a 17-year-old youth named Friedel Rothe. When Rothe disappeared in September 1918, his friends told police he was last seen with Haarmann. Under pressure from Rothe's family, police raided Haarmann's apartment, where they found their informer in the company of a semi-naked teenage boy. They charged Haarmann with sexual assault, and he was sentenced to nine months imprisonment. Haarmann avoided serving his sentence throughout 1919, and during this time, met a young runaway named Hans Grans, who subsequently became his lover.[3]

Haarmann served his nine-month imprisonment between March and December 1920. Again, he regained the trust of the police and became an informer. Shortly after his release, Haarmann moved into a new apartment: number 27 Cellerstraße.[4] Shortly afterwards, Hans Grans moved into Haarmann's apartment.

Detectives point towards the entrance to Haarmann's room

Haarmann's subsequent victims largely consisted of young male commuters, runaways and, occasionally, male prostitutes whom he would typically encounter around Hanover's central railway station. The victims would be lured back to his apartment and then killed by being bitten through their throats, sometimes as they were sodomized. All of Haarmann's victims were dismembered before they were discarded, usually in the Leine River. The possessions of several victims were either sold on the black market or retained by either Haarmann or his younger lover, Hans Grans. Rumor also had it that Haarmann would peddle meat from the bodies of his victims as canned black market pork. Although no physical evidence was ever produced to confirm this, Haarmann was known to be an active trader in contraband meat.[5]

Haarmann's accomplice and live-in partner, Hans Grans, sold the possessions of several of the victims cheaply on the black market, and kept other possessions for himself. Haarmann initially claimed that although Grans knew of many of his murders, and personally urged him to kill two of the victims so he could obtain their clothing and personal possessions, he was otherwise not involved.

Police photo of Haarmann's room

Haarmann was eventually apprehended when numerous skeletal remains, which he had dumped into the Leine River, washed up downstream in May and June 1924. The police decided to drag the river and discovered more than 500 human bones which were later confirmed as having come from at least 22 separate human individuals. Suspicion quickly fell upon Haarmann, who had convictions for molesting children and had been connected to the disappearance of Friedel Rothe in 1918. Haarmann was placed under surveillance and on the night of June 22, was observed prowling Hanover's central station. He was quickly arrested after trying to lure a boy to his apartment. His apartment was searched and the walls were found to be heavily bloodstained. Haarmann tried to explain this as a by-product of his illegal trade as a butcher. However, clothing and personal items known to be possessions of several missing youths were also found in his home. Under interrogation, Haarmann quickly confessed to raping, killing and butchering young men since 1918. When asked how many he had killed, Haarmann claimed "somewhere between 50 and 70". The police, however, could only connect Haarmann with the disappearance of 27 youths, and he was charged with 27 murders. It is interesting to note that only a quarter of the personal items found in his apartment were identified as having belonged to any of the victims.


Fritz Haarmann being led into court in December 1924

Fritz Haarmann's trial began on December 4, 1924. Haarmann was charged with the murder of 27 boys and young men who had disappeared between 1918 and June that year. The trial was spectacular; it was one of the first major modern media events in Germany. The term "serial killer" had not yet been coined, and the public and press were at a loss for words to describe the case; Haarmann was simultaneously referred to as the "werewolf", a "vampire", and "The Wolf Man". Apart from the cruelty of what Haarmann had admittedly done, even more scandalous—shaking German society to the core—was the involvement of the police in the case: Haarmann was a police informant who frequently gave up other criminals to investigators. Until Haarmann was arrested, it had never occurred to police that the serial killer they were looking for had been working right under their nose, even though some of the victims were last seen in his company.

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

The trial lasted barely two weeks. On December 19, 1924, Haarmann was found guilty of 24 of the 27 murders and sentenced to death. He was acquitted of three murders which he denied, even though the personal possessions of the boys were either in his possession or acquaintances of his at the time of his arrest. Haarmann made no appeal against the verdict.[6]

Haarmann was beheaded by guillotine on April 15, 1925.[7] His last words before he was beheaded were: "I repent, but I do not fear death."[8] Acting executioner was Carl Gröpler from Magdeburg.


Hans Grans was initially found guilty of incitement to murder[9] in the case of Adolf Hannappel, a 17-year-old apprentice carpenter who vanished from Hanover's railroad station on November 11, 1923, and to an additional 12 years' imprisonment for being an accessory to murder in the case of Fritz Wittig,[6] a 17-year-old traveling salesman who was last seen walking towards Haarmann's apartment in the company of both Grans and Haarmann on May 26, 1924.[6]

In the case of Hannappel, witnesses had seen Grans, in the company of Haarmann, pointing towards the youth. Haarmann claimed this was one of two murders committed upon the insistence of Grans and for this reason, Grans was sentenced to death. In the case of Wittig, police had found a handwritten note from Haarmann, dated the day of Wittig's disappearance and signed by both he and Grans, in which Grans had agreed to pay Haarmann 20 Goldmarks for the youth's suit. As the note indicated Grans's possible knowledge in the disappearance of Wittig, he was convicted of being an accomplice to Haarmann in the murder and sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment.

The communal grave of Haarmann's victims

The discovery of a letter from Haarmann declaring Grans' innocence, dated February 5, 1925, subsequently led to a second trial and a 12-year prison sentence for Grans. After serving his sentence, Hans Grans continued to live in Hanover until his death in 1975.

The remains of Haarmann's victims were buried together in a communal grave in Stöckener Cemetery in February 1925. In April 1928, a large granite memorial in the form of a triptych, inscribed with the names and ages of the victims, was erected over the communal grave.[10][11]

After his execution, Haarmann's head was preserved in a jar by scientists to examine the structure of his brain. Haarmann's head is now kept at the Göttingen medical school.

The case stirred much discussion in Germany regarding methods used in police investigation, the treatment of mentally ill offenders, and the validity of the death penalty.[12] However, the most heated topic of discussion in relation to the murders committed by Haarmann were issues relating to the subject of homosexuality, which was then illegal and punishable by imprisonment in Germany. The discovery of the murders subsequently stirred a wave of homophobia throughout Germany, with one historian noting: "It split the [gay rights] movement irreparably, fed every prejudice against homosexuality, and provided new fodder for conservative adversaries of legal sex reform."[13]



  • September 25: Friedel Rothe, 17. Haarmann claimed to have buried Rothe in Stöckener cemetery.


  • February 12: Fritz Franke, 17. Franke was a pianist, originally from Berlin. He encountered Haarmann in the Hanover station waiting rooms.
  • March 20: Wilhelm Schulze, 17. An apprentice writer. Schulze's clothing was found in the possession of Haarmann's acquaintances.
  • May 23: Roland Huch, 16. Student. Vanished from Hanover station after running away from home.
  • c. May 31, 1923: Hans Sonnenfeld, 19. A runaway from the town of Limmer; Sonnenfeld's coat and tie were found at Haarmann's apartment.[14] Haarmann was acquitted of this murder.
  • June 25: Ernst Ehrenberg, 13. The son of Haarmann's own neighbor. Ehrenberg disappeared while running an errand for his parents.
  • August 24: Heinrich Struß, 18. Haarmann was in possession of Struß's violin case when arrested.
  • September 24: Paul Bronischewski, 17. Vanished as he traveled home to the city of Bochum after visiting his Uncle in Groß Garz. He was offered work by Haarmann when he alighted the train at Hanover.
  • c. September 30: Richard Gräf, 17. Disappeared after telling his friends a detective from Hanover had found him a job.
  • October 12: Wilhelm Erdner, 16. A locksmith's son from the town of Gehrden. Erdner disappeared as he cycled to work. On October 20, Haarmann is known to have sold Erdner's bicycle.
  • October 24 or 25: Hermann Wolf, 15. The victim's clothes were traced to Haarmann and his acquaintances. Haarmann was acquitted of this murder.
  • October 27: Heinz Brinkmann, 13. Vanished from Hanover station after missing his train home to Clausthal.[15]
  • November 11: Adolf Hannappel, 17. An apprentice carpenter from Düsseldorf. Witnesses saw Haarmann approach Hannappel.
  • December 6: Adolf Hennies, 19. Hennies disappeared while looking for work in Hanover. Haarmann was acquitted of this murder.


  • January 5: Ernst Spiecker, 17. Disappeared on his way to appear as a witness at a trial. Grans was wearing Speicker's shirt at the time of his arrest.
  • January 15: Heinrich Koch, 20. Koch was known to be an acquaintance of Haarmann.
  • February 2: Willi Senger, 19. Senger's clothes were found in Haarmann's apartment after his arrest.
  • February 8: Hermann Speichert, 16. An apprentice electrician from Linden-Limmer. Speichert's geometry kit was found in the possession of Grans.
  • April 8: Alfred Hogrefe, 16. An apprentice mechanic. All of Hogrefe's clothes were traced to Haarmann or Grans.[16]
  • c. April 15: Hermann Bock, 22. Bock was last seen by his friends walking towards Haarmann's apartment in mid-April, 1924.
  • April 17: Wilhelm Apel, 16. Disappeared on his way to work. Apel was lured from the Hannover-Leinhausen station to Haarmann's apartment.
  • April 26: Robert Witzel, 18. Last seen visiting a traveling circus; Witzel's skull was found May 20. Haarmann admitted dumping Witzel's remains in the Leine River.
  • May 9: Heinrich Martin, 14. An apprentice locksmith. Martin disappeared from Hanover station.[17] His leather marine cap was found in Haarmann's apartment.
  • May 26: Fritz Wittig, 17. Last seen in the company of Haarmann and Grans at a bar. Haarmann insisted Grans ordered him to commit both this murder and the murder of Hannappel.
  • May 26: Friedrich Abeling, 10. The youngest victim. Abeling disappeared while playing truant from school. Remains dumped in the Leine River.
  • June 5: Friedrich Koch, 16. Vanished on his way to college. Koch was last seen in the company of Haarmann.[18]
  • June 14: Erich de Vries, 17. De Vries was an apprentice baker. Haarmann led police to his remains after his arrest.[19]


  • In September 1918,[20] Haarmann is believed to have killed a 14-year-old named Hermann Koch; a youth who disappeared just weeks prior to Friedel Rothe, his first confirmed victim. Haarmann is known to have kept company with Koch; he is also known to have written a letter to Koch's school providing an explanation for the youth's prolonged absence.[21] As had been the case in the disappearance of Friedel Rothe, police searched Haarmann's apartment in search of the youth, although no trace of Koch was found and charges against Haarmann in relation to the disappearance were dropped.
  • Haarmann is also strongly suspected of the murder of Hans Keimes, a 17-year-old Hanover youth who was reported missing on March 17, 1922[21] and whose nude, bound body was found in a canal on May 6. The cause of death was listed as strangulation, and the body bore no signs of mutilation. A distinctive handkerchief bearing Grans's name was found lodged in Keimes's throat.

Prior to the discovery of Keimes's body, Haarmann is known to have both visited the youth's parents offering to locate their son and to have immediately thereafter informed police that he believed Grans was responsible for Keimes's disappearance (Grans was in custody at the time of the disappearance).

Two weeks prior to the disappearance of Keimes, Haarmann is known to have argued violently with Grans over his (Grans's) theft of property from Haarmann's apartment. It is likely Haarmann committed this murder in an attempt to frame Grans in reprisal for the theft of his property.

Haarmann was not tried for the murder of either Koch or Keimes. Officially, both cases remain unsolved.

In film[edit]

The case of Fritz Haarmann has been the inspiration for at least three films:

Poster of Fritz Lang's 1931 film M

The first film to draw inspiration from the Haarmann case, M, was released in 1931. This film starred Peter Lorre as a fictional child killer named Hans Becker. The film was directed by Fritz Lang and was also inspired by the then-recent and notorious crimes of Peter Kürten and Carl Großmann in addition to the crimes of Fritz Haarmann.

The film The Tenderness of the Wolves (Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe) was directly based upon Haarmann's crimes. This film was released in July 1973 and was directed by Ulli Lommel. The Tenderness of the Wolves was both written by and starred Kurt Raab as Fritz Haarmann.[22] German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder produced the film and also appeared in a minor role as Wittkowski.

The most recent film to be based upon Haarmann's murder spree, Der Totmacher (The Deathmaker), was released in 1995. This film starred Götz George as Haarmann. The film focuses upon the records of the psychiatric examinations of Haarmann by Erich Schultze, one of the main psychiatric experts in the trial. The plot of Der Totmacher centers around Haarmann's interrogation after his arrest, as he is being interviewed by a court psychiatrist.[23]

In other media[edit]

In 2007, the Hanover Tourism Board (Hannover Tourismus) caused controversy by including Haarmann in its cartoon-style advertising calendar, along with other well-known people from the city.[24] The calendar became a best-seller, and the initial print run of 20,000 calendars was expected to run out in November 2007, rather than lasting through Christmas as planned. Allegedly, Haarmann had also featured in the 2006 issue, but the inclusion drew no attention at the time. The 2008 calendar included a new picture of Haarmann in handcuffs.

Stephen King and Peter Straub mention him as one of the former hosts for the demon "Mr. Munshun," in their novel, Black House.

Kim Newman included Haarmann as a minor character in his 1995 novel The Bloody Red Baron, serving as a "batman" (military servant) to Manfred von Richthofen, the "Red Baron".

Beton Kopf Media, the record label behind German electro-industrial project :Wumpscut:, uses a picture of Haarmann as company logo.

Margit Sandemo opted to use Haarmann for the villainous Lynx in her The Legend of the Ice People book series.

Haarmann has also been the subject of the song "Fritz Haarmann der Metzger" ("Fritz Haarmann the butcher") by death/thrash metal band Macabre.

Mentioned as an example of notorious serial killers in the Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "Don't Look Behind You", Season 1, Episode 2, 9/27/1962.

Mentioned as an example of notorious serial killers in Criminal Minds, Season 8, Episode 13, "Magnum Opus", 1/23/2013.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Monsters of Weimar, p. 22.
  2. ^ Source of information is taken from the book Monsters of Weimar, ISBN 1-897743-10-6.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Real Life Crimes, p. 2651, ISBN 1-85875-440-2.
  5. ^ Monsters of Weimar, p. 81.
  6. ^ a b c Monsters of Weimar, p. 129.
  7. ^ Monsters of Weimar, p. 67–143.
  8. ^ "Execute Three Men In Europe: Fritz Haarmann, Lurer of Youths, Dies on the guillotine". The Florence Times (Hanover, Germany: Google News Archive Search). April 15, 1925. p. 4. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Gilbert, Alexander. "Fritz Haarmann: The Butcher of Hannover". Crime Library. Retrieved 4 November 2007. .
  13. ^ Richard Plant, The Pink Triangle, New York, Henry Holt & Co., 1986, p. 45
  14. ^ Monsters of Weimar, p. 87.
  15. ^ Monsters of Weimar, p. 95.
  16. ^ Monsters of Weimar, p. 107.
  17. ^ Monsters of Weimar, p. 114.
  18. ^ Monsters of Weimar, p. 122.
  19. ^ All data in this table taken from the book Monsters of Weimar, ISBN 1-897743-10-6.
  20. ^ Monsters of Weimar, p. 37.
  21. ^ a b Monsters of Weimar, p. 101.
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Hannover-Tourismus wirbt mit Massenmörder Haarmann" (in German). BILD online. 1 November 2007. Retrieved 5 November 2007. 


  • Matthias Blazek: Haarmann und Grans. Der Fall, die Beteiligten und die Presseberichterstattung. ibidem, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-89821-967-9
  • Kerstin Brückweh: Mordlust. Serienmorde, Gewalt und Emotionen im 20. Jahrhundert. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main and New York 2006, ISBN 978-3-593-38202-9
  • Thomas Kailer: „… der höllischen Ausgeburt den Kopf vor die Füße legen …“ Zur Psychologie der strafenden Gesellschaft. Der Fall Haarmann. In: Von der Polizei der Obrigkeit zum Dienstleister für öffentliche Sicherheit. Festschrift zum 100. Gebäudejubiläum des Polizeipräsidiums Hannover 1903-2003. Ed. by Hans-Joachim Heuer a. o., Hilden 2003, p. 69-88
  • Kathrin Kompisch: Der Fall Fritz Haarmann (1924). In: Hannoversche Geschichtsblätter, N.F., ed. 55-56 (2001–2002), p. 97-116
  • Theodor Lessing: Haarmann. Die Geschichte eines Werwolfs und andere Gerichtsreportagen. Ed. and introduced by Rainer Marwedel, Luchterhand, Frankfurt am Main 1989 (first: Berlin 1925), ISBN 3-630-61865-0
  • Christine Pozsár; Michael Farin (Ed.): Die Haarmann-Protokolle. Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1995. ISBN 3-499-60163-X
  • Friedhelm Werremeier: Haarmann. Der Schlächter von Hannover. Die grauenvollen Verbrechen des berüchtigten Serienmörders. Heyne, München 1995, ISBN 3-453-08907-3 (first: Köln 1992 as: Haarmann – Nachruf auf einen Werwolf, ISBN 3-8025-2232-X)
  • Monsters of Weimar – The Stories of Fritz Haarmann and Peter Kürten by Theodor Lessing, Karl Berg, George Godwin. Secondary Texts (Nemesis True Crime), Nemesis Publications, London 1992, ISBN 1-897743-10-6


  • Tatar, Maria (1995). Lustmord. Sexual Murder in Weimar Germany. Princeton UP. 
  • Kailer, Thomas (2003). Lustmord. Werwölfe, Triebtäter, minderwertige Psychopathen – Bedingungen von Wissenspopularisierung: Der Fall Haarmann. Berlin: Carsten Kretschmann: Wissenspopularisierung. pp. 323–359. 
  • The World's Most Infamous Crimes and Criminals. New York: Gallery Books. 1987. ISBN 0-8317-9677-4. 

External links[edit]