Such is the case of Fritz Haarmann—a.k.a. “The Vampire of Hanover.” He earned his ghoulish moniker not merely by his killing of more than 24 young men and boys, but by his preferred method of execution: biting through the throats of his victims.
Well before his known rampage began in 1918, Haarmann had built up a long and troubled criminal career. He spent years in prison, was confined to mental institutions, and had been declared “morally inferior” and “incurably deranged.” In the years after the First World War, Haarmann found himself in Hannover, living a life of crime that was tailor made to the lawlessness and disorganization of war-torn Germany.
He was arrested for various burglaries and frauds, and also admitted to an assortment of other crimes, including stealing tombstones and robbing graves with a female accomplice between 1905 and 1913. By 1919, Haarmann had struck up a relationship with the Hanover police—this despite his status as both a known criminal and a homosexual, which was, at the time, a crime in Germany punishable by imprisonment.
Haarmann worked as an informant, offering to fence or store stolen property while actually luring criminals into police stings. In order to avoid suspicion, Haarmann himself was also arrested during these raids. He spent much of his time in and around Hanover’s central railway station. There he sold black market property to travelers while occasionally performing citizen’s arrests on individuals traveling with forged documents. It is believed that his relationship with the Hanover police later helped Haarmann to avoid detection for his grisly crimes.
The first known victim of the Vampire of Hanover was Friedel Rothe, a 17-year-old runaway who disappeared from home in 1918. If young Rothe was indeed Haarmann’s first, he was the first of many. In the years to follow, Haarmann killed at least 24 young men and boys between the ages of 10 and 22, most of them in their teens. When he was finally arrested in 1924, Haarmann said that he was unsure how many victims he had claimed; the death count ranged from 30 to 70.
In December, Haarmann went on trial for 27 murders; he was ultimately found guilty of 24, which was enough for the death penalty. Of these known murders, most were dispatched in the same grisly manner. According to his own confession, Haarmann would be compelled to bite his victim’s Adam’s apple in the throes of passion, something he chillingly called his “love bite.” Sometimes these victims were manually strangled at the same time; on other occasions Haarmann’s “love bite” would go completely through the victim’s trachea.
Once Haarmann’s victims were dead he would dismember their bodies and, in most cases, dump them in the nearby Leine River. Haarmann then collected the personal belongings of his victims, and either sold them to others or gave them away as gifts. Sometimes these gifts ended up in the hands of his lover and likely accomplice Hans Grans. In his confession, Haarmann claimed that he found the act of dismemberment abhorrent, but that his need to kill was “stronger than the horror of the cutting and chopping.”
Rumors that Haarmann had eaten some of his victims or sold off their flesh as part of his trade in contraband meat circulated among the public. Haarmann himself vehemently denied ever engaging in cannibalism or selling human meat.
Haarmann’s arrest came after several discoveries of human skulls and other bones in and around the Leine River. This, coupled with the prodigious number of disappearances of young men and boys in Hanover (more than 600 went missing in 1923 alone), led police to dredge the river. They discovered more than 500 human bones and sections of bodies in the Leine, belonging to at least 22 separate individuals. More than a third of the bones were believed to have belonged to young men between the ages of 15 and 20, and many showed signs of having been dissected.
How many of these bones belonged to victims of the Vampire of Hanover we will likely never know. In his trial, Haarmann confessed to the murders of those victims for whom there existed direct physical evidence, but professed remembering very little about them. When he was shown photographs of the deceased, he would say things like, “I certainly assume I killed [him], but I don’t remember his face.”
Haarmann’s lover and accomplice Hans Grans was also arrested, and was initially convicted of incitement to murder and sentenced to beheading. The discovery of a letter from Haarmann declaring Grans’ innocence led to a retrial. Grans was ultimately found guilty only of aiding and abetting Haarmann, and convicted of two concurrent 12-year sentences.
After his own conviction, Fritz Haarmann was condemned to die by guillotine, a fate he seemed to welcome. Addressing the court prior to his sentencing, Haarmann was quoted as saying, “Condemn me to death. I ask only for justice. I am not mad. Make it short; make it soon. Deliver me from this life, which is a torment. I will not petition for mercy, nor will I appeal. I want to pass just one more merry night in my cell, with coffee, cheese, and cigars, after which I will curse my father and go to my execution as if it were a wedding.”
Haarmann’s wish was granted. On April 25, 1925, the Vampire was beheaded at Hannover Prison.
All photos: Wikimedia Commons