Ernst Gennat

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Ernst Gennat's grave

Ernst August Ferdinand Gennat (1 January 1880 – August 20, 1939) was director of the Berlin criminal police. He worked under three political systems in his 30 year career as one of the most gifted and successful criminologists in Germany. Among other things, he worked on the cases of Fritz Haarmann and Peter Kürten.


In his childhood, he lived with his parents in a staff housing of the correctional facility in Berlin-Plötzensee. He graduated from high school on September 13, 1898, and entered the faculty of law of the Frederick William University on October 18, 1901. In the years in between one can assume that he served in the military (which he noted as profession on subscription to the university).

On July 12, 1905, he left the university without a degree, shortly before the end of the semester on August 15. The reason was his career in the police - he had entered the police service in 1904 and passed the examination to criminal police officer on May 30, 1905. Two days later he started as detective assistant and he was promoted to criminal detective on August 1.

When Gennat entered the criminal police, there was no separate homicide division. It was just on August 25, 1902, that an on-call homicide service was created. That had not even changed when the Berlin police was reorganized on June 1, 1925. Only on the basis of Gennat's efforts a homicide squad was created. This event made it possible for his promotion to lieutenant inspector (at the age of 45). He had been skipped beforehand on the basis of his massive criticism of the conditions in the criminal department.

After creation of the Zentrale Mordinspektion (central homicide inspection) the division ran up to an enormous success under Gennat's leadership. In 1931 the homicide inspection was solving 108 of 114 crimes making for 94.7 percent (compared to 85 to 95 percent in today's homicide inspection work). Gennat himself worked on solving 298 homicide cases. His department was organized as one standing inspection team with two backup teams. The active team had one senior and on junior homicide inspector accompanied by 4 to 10 criminal police officers, a stenotypist and a dog handler. The backup teams had a senior and junior homicide inspector (bound in a so-called "Mord-Ehe" / homicide marriage) plus 2 to 3 police officers and a stenotypist. The composition of the active team changed every four weeks to ensure that each officer gained enough experience.

Gennat reorganized much of the structure of how to investigate homicide. He developed most of the scheme that we know as profiling today. His work is documented in articles for the public like the 1930 publication "Die Düsseldorfer Sexualverbrechen" about Peter Kürten where he was the first to coin the term "Serienmörder" (serial killer).

During the Third Reich, he was able to continue his work despite keeping a distance to the Nazi Party. Based on his success, he was even promoted to department director in 1934 and vice director of the Berlin police in 1935. He married criminal inspector Elfriede Dinger shortly before his death on August 20, 1939 (he had cancer but his sudden death makes a stroke more likely).


Ernst Gennat inspired the fictional character inspector Karl Lohmann who appeared first in Fritz Lang's M (1931) and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1932). He also appears in the crime-drama Babylon Berlin, inspired by Volker Kutscher's Gereon Rath novels. Gennat appears as a major character in Philip Kerr's last novel, Metropolis.


  • Karl Berg: Der Sadist, Der Fall Peter Kürten. Belleville, München 2004 ISBN 3-923646-12-7 (Gerichtsärztliches und Kriminalpsychologisches zu den Taten des Düsseldorfer Mörders Peter Kürten)
  • Dietrich Nummert: Buddha oder der volle Ernst. Der Kriminalist Ernst Gennat (1880 - 1939). In: Berlinische Monatsschrift, 1999, Heft 9, S. 64 - 99 Volltext
  • Franz von Schmidt: Vorgeführt erscheint. Erlebte Kriminalistik. Stuttgarter Hausbücherei, Stuttgart 1955
  • Franz von Schmidt: Mord im Zwielicht. Erlebte Kriminalgeschichte. Verlag Deutsche Volksbücher, Stuttgart 1961
  • Regina Stürickow: Habgier. Berlin-Krimi-Verlag, Berlin-Brandenburg 2003 ISBN 3-89809-025-6 (Historischer Kriminalroman, basierend auf dem authentischen Mordfall Martha Franzke von 1916)
  • Regina Stürickow: Der Kommissar vom Alexanderplatz. Aufbau Taschenbuch-Verlag, Berlin 2000 ISBN 3-7466-1383-3 (Biografie)
  • Regina Stürickow: Mörderische Metropole Berlin, Kriminalfälle 1914 - 1933. Militzke, Leipzig 2004 ISBN 3-86189-708-3
  • Regina Stürickow: Mörderische Metropole Berlin, Kriminalfälle im Dritten Reich. Militzke, Leipzig 2005 ISBN 3-86189-741-5
  • Ernst Gennat: "Die Düsseldorfer Sexualmorde." In: Kriminalistische Monatshefte 1930, S. 2 - 7, 27 - 32, 49 - 54, 79 - 82.

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