From 1918 to 1921 an unknown number of women disappeared in the German capital of the Weimar Republic, culminating in the discovery of dozens of body parts in both the Luisenstadt Canal and Engelbecken Reservoir. Most of these women were reported missing by their employer Carl Grossmann. In August 1921 the residents of 88/89 Langestrasse heard screams coming from an apartment on the 4th floor. When police arrived and forced entry they found Grossmann, a former local butcher in the process of cutting up the body of a young woman. In the subsequent police investigation, Grossmann would be implicated in the deaths of numerous women before he cheated the hangman and committed suicide in his jail cell.
Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Grossmann was born on 13 December 1863 in Neuruppin, Germany. Although not much is known about his childhood, his early criminal activity is mostly well recorded and by the age of 20 he served his first 3 day sentence for begging in 1883. More criminal convictions followed when he was arrested for committing an unnatural sex act on a sheep in Mannheim in 1896, whilst the following year he was convicted for a sexual assault on a 12-year-old girl from Nuremburg. In what would be his twenty-fifth conviction, Grossmann was sentenced in 1899 to 15 years penal servitude for the sexual assault of two girls in Bayreuth, a 10-year-old and a 4½-year-old who was badly injured in the attack.
Although he was once employed as a butcher, Grossmann preferred to earn his living by begging on the streets, and used some of his income on prostitutes who shared his bed most nights. By the early 1900's, he began renting a squalid top floor apartment at 88/89 Langestrasse, located in the slums of the capital, that was situated near the last stop of the Silesian railway. He was considered bitter and secretive by his neighbours, but was given his privacy by his landlord because he always paid his rent on time. Through his begging he was earning enough money to pay for a regular housekeeper for his Berlin apartment, however these housekeepers invariably did not last long, and soon another applicant was sought to replace the previous young woman.
It is unknown when he began to murder women, but during World War I, Grossmann sold meat on the black market and later owned a hot dog stand at a train station near his home. It was strongly believed he used the flesh from his victims as meat substitute which he sold to the unsuspecting public and threw the bones and other inedible parts into the river. He would often invite prostitutes to his apartment for sex, whilst homeless women were offered food for the same arrangement, as well as advertising for single women to work for him who were all then butchered, before he disposed of the remains. This led to a spate of missing persons cases beginning in May 1918 when several bodies began showing up in the Luisenstadt Canal and Engelbecken Reservoir in various stages of decomposition.
In October 1920, 33-year-old Freida Schubert went missing. She had travelled to Berlin from Dresden, and on the day of her disappearance she had been seen propositioning many men, when one eventually accepted her services. Between 07 to 09 October 1920, the remains of a young women were found in the Luisenstadt Canal, which were later identified as those of Freida Schubert. On 16 October the Berliner Morgenpost reported that the killer had sawn through her bones with such brutality that he arm had been pulled from the shoulder and her heart had been pulled from her ribcage.
The police believed it was the work of a sadist and began by questioning any potential witnesses, one of whom said they saw the young woman in the company of Carl Grossmann. Police then made a search of his apartment on 21 October and found the missing woman's handbag, however Grossmann was able to offer an innocent and plausible explanation and the matter was pursued no further. In December 1920, a young woman known as Melanie Sommer vanished, and the rash of unexplained disappearances and bodies discovered by police continued throughout 1921 right up to early August, when Elisabeth Barthel disappeared which saw the number of cases of missing women reported to the Berlin Police Department rise up to twenty three.
The 13th of August saw another young woman disappear when 24-year-old Johanna Sosnowski fell victim to the Berlin Butcher. She worked as a maid and was mother to a young child. 55-year-old Grossmann would regularly report these women to the police as missing and claim they had robbed him before fleeing, however they had actually fallen victim to his sadistic sexual urges and after entering his apartment, were murdered and dismembered. His last murder involved 35-year-old cook, Marie Theresia Nietsche, who had been recently been released from Moabit Prison after a month long sentence. On 21 August 1921, she had met Grossmann on the street and joined him for drinks in several local pubs. When they returned to his apartment he offered her coffee laced with cyanide and then bound her hands and feet before beating her across the head until she was dead.
Whilst Grossmann viciously beat Nietsche to death, her screams were heard by his landlord, 66-year-old Gertrude Grabowski who lived on the second floor. She alerted police to the sounds of a violent struggle emanating from his apartment and 41-year-old Criminal Commissioner Ernst Gennat arrived with other officers of the Criminal Police, who proceeded to gain entrance to Grossmann's room. When they entered, they discovered him in the process of dissecting the body of a young woman, who was lying trussed on his bed. Grossmann was placed under arrest, taken into custody and charged with first degree murder.
Investigators who searched his apartment concluded that several other people had been murdered there, which they surmised from bloodstain evidence which indicated at least three other victims. Under questioning Grossmann would eventually admit to the murders of four women who were brutally killed inside his room at 88/89 Langestrasse. However, police also recovered his diary from his apartment, which detailed other women he had raped and murdered. A report from 1921 stated Grossmann had confessed to the murders of twenty women over a twenty year period. It was believed some of these women were the unidentified victims whose dismembered remains were found in the canal near Andreas Square and off the Engelbecken reservoir, but police had little evidence to connect Grossmann with these crimes.
His neighbours were also questioned by police and revealed Grossmann was often found in the company of female companions, who were mostly young and destitute. It was discovered that Grossmann had constructed a separate entrance to his apartment, which he used during the early morning hours when he would arrive home in a drunken stupor from all night drinking sessions, accompanied by a prostitute. It was during the investigation into Grossmann's crimes that investigators became aware of his wartime activities as a butcher. His source of income during the war was alleged to have been from his black market activities in peddling fresh meat to famine hungry Berlin residents. It was the source of the black market meat which police now suspected may have come from his victims, and sold to unsuspecting customers hit by meat shortages and rationing.
He would often be questioned by his neighbours about the nauseating smell which often emanated from his Berlin apartment. Grossmann would explain to them it was merely chicken which had become rotten in the summer heat. His neighbours Mannheim and Helene Itzig became suspicious of his activities and bore a hole in his door so they could better observe him inside his apartment. They never saw Grossmann murders any of his victims, but they did observe how roughly he treated his female companions.
Grossmann's trial began on 02 July 1922 and the prosecution had arraigned 17 witnesses to appear and testify against the defendant. Amongst these women was a prostitute named Erika, who went to Grossmann's apartment but found it was too squalid and considered Grossmann himself to be too creepy and refused to complete the agreed sexual transaction. Some of these women had survived his sexual abuse and escaped with their lives, such as an unemployed industrial worker who accepted his offer to work as his housekeeper in August 1921. She began work immediately but was drugged and raped soon after. Despite consistent reports by numerous women, Grossmann's defence counsel attacked the veracity of their claims and presented their stories as implausible. Another witness, known was Helene was accused by Grossmann himself of having known about the murders and attempting to blackmail him.
The prosecution presented to the court a long list of 23 women who had disappeared. Amongst the names of some of the missing women who were suspected of having fallen victim to Grossmann's sexual depravity included Marie Feld, Luise Werner, Lisbeth Potske, Frieda Thomas, Emma Boritzki, Albertine Asher, 19-year-old Emma Baumann from Mecklenburg and a woman known only as Martha from Poland. Although Grossmann was not accused of direct complicity in the disappearances of these women, it was considered very likely he was responsible.
After three days of testimony from numerous witnesses, Carl Grossmann was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Contemporary reports indicated Grossmann laughed when sentenced to be executed. Grossmann's motivations for why he lured women to his apartment to murder them and butcher their corpses was never ascertained by the authorities, and the families of the victims never got answers to their questions about missing loved ones because on 05 July 1922, Grossmann committed suicide by hanging himself in his jail-cell whilst awaiting execution.
Grossmann is often associated with other German killers of the Weimar period, such as Peter Kurten, Fritz Haarmann and Karl Denke.
Written by Nucleus
Written by Nucleus