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Only known photograph of Karl Denke, after his suicide
|Born||11 February 1860|
|Died||22 December 1924 (aged 64)|
|Cause of death||Suicide by hanging|
|Other names||Father Denke|
The Cannibal of Ziebice
The Forgotten Cannibal
|Motive||Unknown (presumably Cannibalism)|
Span of crimes
|21 February 1903–20 December 1924|
|Country||German Empire, Weimar Republic|
|20 December 1924|
Karl Denke (11 February 1860 – 22 December 1924) was a German serial killer and cannibal who killed and cannibalized dozens of homeless vagrants and travelers from 1903-1924. He is often regarded as "The Forgotten Cannibal" or "The Cannibal of Ziębice".
Denke was born on February 11, 1860 in Münsterberg, Silesia in the Kingdom of Prussia (now Ziębice, Poland), to a family of German farmers. Little is known of Denke's childhood, but it is known that he was often described as a quiet and soft-spoken child who was difficult to raise. At the age of 12, Denke ran away from home.
After graduating from elementary school, Denke became the apprentice of a gardener, and made a life for himself at the age of 25. Denke's father died and his older brother inherited their childhood home, while Denke received a portion of money, which he used to buy a piece of land. Denke tried farming, but this failed and Denke sold it as a result. Denke purchased a house on what is now Stawowa Street, but inflation forced him to sell it. Denke still refused to move out and lived in a small apartment to the right of the house's ground floor. He also ran a nearby shop where he sold meat (which most speculate to have contained human remains). Denke volunteered as a cross-bearer and organist at the local Lutheran church, and was well-liked in his community, often affectionately referred to as "Papa" by the community. Denke quit his membership in the church in 1906.
Karl Denke, for unknown reasons, began murdering homeless vagrants and poor travelers. His first known victim was Ida Launer in 1903. Six years later, in 1909, he killed 25-year-old Emma Sander (another slaughterhouse worker, Eduard Trautmann, was found guilty of her murder and sentenced to 12 years, but was released after the truth was discovered). His last known victim was Rochus Pawlick. Denke also kept a ledger recording his murders. He is also believed to have sold the flesh of his victims as meat to unsuspecting customers.
Arrest, suicide, and aftermath
On December 20, 1924, a homeless man named Vincenz Olivier escaped Denke after he attempted to kill him with an axe, slashing his scalp with it. He was found by a coachman named Gabriel and the authorities were alerted. Denke was arrested and questioned. He was placed in a holding cell, where he hanged himself just two days later with an unspecified ligature (the exact nature of which varies from account to account). Denke's home was searched and police found the gruesome truth of his murders and cannibalism. While the exact number of his victims is unknown, Denke's ledger had 31 names recorded (including Olivier, the escaped victim), confirming at least 30 victims. But due to the large number of body parts found in his home, Denke's body count was estimated to be as high as 42 or even higher.
A detailed report of what was found includes:
- sixteen femurs of which one pair of remarkably strong ones, two pairs of very thin ones, six pairs and two left femurs
- fifteen medium-sized pieces of long bones
- four pairs of elbow bones
- seven heads of radii
- nine lower parts of radii
- eight lower parts of the elbow
- a pair of upper shinbone
- a pair of lower elbows and radii, of which extremities still remain well connected
- a pair of upper arms and a pair of upper arm heads
- a pair of collar bones
- two shoulder blades
- eight heels and ankle bones
- 120 toes and phalanx
- 65 feet and metacarpal bones
- five first ribs and 150 pieces of ribs
Decades later, the case of the Ziębice cannibal remains mostly forgotten. Still much about Denke's life, motives, methods, and even the exact number of victims remains unknown. Even the only known photograph of him (the picture above) was taken after his death.
- "Centipede: Nice enough to eat; Cannibals of the 20th century". The Guardian. May 20, 1993. p. 12.
- Sieveking, p. 15.
- Corke, Jonathan (December 7, 2003). "Cannibal's victim in cold packs; Exclusive pleased to meat you". Daily Star. p. 21.
- "Cannibalism: Hard act to swallow; What drives some people to eat others? We examine the body of evidence". The Straits Times. Singapore. December 14, 2003.
- Robbins, Martin (September 8, 2010). "What does human meat taste like?". The Guardian.
- Sieveking, P. (ed.) (1979) Man bites Man: The Scrapbook of an Edwardian Eccentric, Jay Landesman Limited: London. ISBN 0 905150 15 5.
- Blazek, Matthias (2009). "Karl Denke". Carl Großmann und Friedrich Schumann – Zwei Serienmörder in den zwanziger Jahren. Stuttgart. pp. 133–34. ISBN 978-3-8382-0027-9.
- Martingale, Moira (1993). Cannibal Killers: The Impossible Monsters. London: Robert Hale. pp. 34–35. ISBN 0-7090-5034-8.