Case Studies
The Butcher of 1920’s Germany: Fritz Haarmann

The Butcher of 1920’s Germany: Fritz Haarmann

Friedrich Heinrich Karl Haarmann was a well-known German serial killer and rapist, whose primary victims were men between the ages 11-16 years. His crime period was between 1918-1924 and he had victimized more than 22 boys.

He killed his victims through strangulation or by biting through Adam’s apple. He was also known as  ‘Butcher of Hanover‘, ‘The Vampire of Hanover’ and ‘The Wolf Man‘ with most of his crimes happening around Hanover, the German Empire.

He was also a crucial informer helping the army during World War I back in his 20s. Deprived of peace and tranquility, when the German Empire was having its worst phase ever, was the time where Haarmann took his crimes to an extreme level of brutality. 

Early Life of Haarmann

Fritz Haarmann was born on 25th October 1879 in Hanover, Germany. He was the youngest among the six of them and he had four elder sisters and an elder brother. Since childhood, he was found to be a quiet child.

Being an introvert the only friends he had were three of his classmates and his siblings. He was very close with his mother and as his teachers suggested he was a spoilt child. During his 10th birthday, he was given a doll by his mom after watching him obsess over his sisters’ dolls. He started portraying feminine characters since then and recognized himself as homosexual later on. 

Haarmann’s father married his mother when she was 41 years old. He was argumentative and short-tempered, however, they remained together until his mother died in 1901. He was weak academically and had to repeat school twice. His teachers mocked him and when he was 8 years old, he was molested by his class teacher.

Adult Life of Fritz Haarmann

Haarmann grew up to be physically stronger than his fellow mates. He joined the military on 4th April 1895. He was a great soldier and proved to be excellent in terms of discipline and punctuality. One day while on the field, he broke down and ended up having fits.

He was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder due to which he was forced to quit the military. He later went on to commit petty crimes like theft and robberies and continued to commit sexual assaults. He was arrested and put in a mental rehabilitation center from which he escaped and fled to Zurich, Switzerland with his mother’s help.

In Zurich, he met Erna Loewart during a flea market who was a professor and introduced to him by his elder sister. Soon they were married as per his relatives’ wishes and started a happy life. In October 1900 he was called back by military services.

The beautiful life he started with his wife and his child did not last long. After a few months in the military camp, he broke down again on the field. This time he was facing dementia praecox. He was cleared from the defense all over and was termed as unfit.

On returning Fritz along with his wife, started a fish mongery and generated great business. But soon after that Haarmann started doubting his wife. He felt she had a secret relationship with one of her students and this turned into a fight, after which she asked him to leave.

The fish mongery was registered in Erna’s name hence he lost his business too. On leaving his business and family, Haarmann did crimes like theft from grocery stores to make a living. This however turned slowly into luscious crimes increasing his thrill for murders.

Criminal Phase of Fritz Haarmann’s Life

Haarmann’s first victim was Friedel Rothe, a 17-year-old boy whom he met at the railway station. He was 16 years old while committing the crime in July 1896. Friedel was taken to an isolated cellar, was raped, and killed.

He did not dispose of the body, instead sat next to it until police found him. He was arrested and handed over to the Division of Criminal Matters, which decided to place him in a mental institution in Hildesheim.

He was certified as being incurably deranged and unfit to stand trial by the psychologist Gurt Schmaifer. Haarmann was returned to the asylum on 28th May 1897, seven months after which he escaped to Zurich.

His second crime took place after his wife threw him out. On 12th February he invited, Fritz Franke, a nomad, to his residence and killed him. But this time Haarmann had clear plans and did not intend to get caught.

He cut Franke’s body into pieces and disposed of some of it in his toilet and big chunks of the flesh in lake Leine. From then on Lake Leine was the usual place where he emptied his victims’ bodies, while some of the flesh he used to clean and sell it as canned pork.

Haarmann was not alone. He met a woman (whose name was not disclosed) and made her an acquaintance. Both of them committed brutal murders and rapes around Hanover’s central railway station covering up to more than 25-28 men.

Most of them were in their teens, including Wilhelm Schulze, a 17-year-old whose body could not be found to date. Most of Haarmann’s victims were male commuters, runaways, and occasionally male prostitutes. 

Final Set of Crimes & His Arrest

On 17th May 1924, a human skull was discovered from the Leine lake after two children who went to play there. On further search, broken pieces of bones and skulls were found. All of them were scalped out of the living body.

On anthropological examination, it was found that the skulls belonged to boys of 11-13 years old and 15-20 years old. The investigation led to the identification of the victims and further on to Haarmann’s residence.

Fritz Haarmann was arrested on the night of 22nd June 1924. His house was examined and the police found the floors to be bloodstained and dirty like that of a butcher’s place. They also found the victims’ belongings such as clothes and wallets inside Haarmann’s closet.

He confessed to raping, killing, and dismembering young men to the police after his sister urged him to do so. He also stated that he bit through the victim’s Adam’s apple before killing them completely as this completed his fixation of ecstasy.

He described his actions as out of rabid sexual passion. During confession, he admitted how he disposed of the bodies. It was first to cut into pieces inside his house. The abdominal cavity was drained completely of blood. Legs and hands were cut and the chunks of flesh were cleaned for selling. The rest of the body parts were either flushed off in the toilet or dumped in the lake.

He never accepted all of this as a mistake instead he claimed that his sexual passion was a mental disorder for which he could not find a satisfying and supportive mental health care system. He also stated that Germany is a doomed place.


Haarmann’s trial started on 4th December 1924 and lasted up to two weeks. A total of 190 witnesses testified against him. On 19th December he was allotted capital punishment. In April 1925 he was beheaded by a guillotine on the grounds of Hanover prison. 


Fritz Haarmann’s case was a peak of interest for many scientists and researchers. After the execution, his brain was cut into sections and was sent for forensic examination. It was found to have traces of meningitis.

The sections were preserved for a few years in scientific school. This case is proof of the existence of Forensic techniques and anthropological examinations since the time of World War I.

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