Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • August 21, 1921.

  • Occupants of an apartment block in Berlin hear screams coming from one of the rooms,

  • an apartment owned by a well-known butcher and street merchant.

  • A butcher police find, but not of cattle... of women.

  • When the cops barge into the bedroom, the killer is dissecting a woman's body.

  • The cops can have no idea that parts of her were destined to end up on someone's plate.

  • You won't be surprised, then, to hear that this guy became known asThe Berlin Butcher.”

  • His story beggars' belief.

  • He is, perhaps, one of a very few serial killers who might have profited from his crimes.

  • We say 'might' because we're not completely sure.

  • Maybe you'll feel the same way in about 12 minutes.

  • This story demands your full attention.

  • 1921 was a bleak time in Germany for most people, following the loss of the First World

  • War and the harsh economic conditions that ensued.

  • Economically devastated, morale in society was as low as can be.

  • Many people saw no light in the darkness.

  • Food was scarce and still rationed, so much so that near-famine conditions were reported

  • in some areas.

  • For many people, they relied on the black market for their fill.

  • On one day in 1920, someone took a lurid photo: a crowd of men butchering a horse in the street;

  • its intestines pushed up against the curb.

  • We can't paint a grim enough picture of what conditions were like for many Germans

  • back then.

  • Life was hell for a large part of the population.

  • Crime was pervasive.

  • Women sold their bodies in an attempt to eke out a living.

  • People begged for food.

  • Vagrants were everywhere.

  • These were theyears of crisis”.

  • They were also years that saw some of Germany's worst serial killers.

  • Besides the man we'll talk about today, there was Karl Denke, another cannibal who

  • murdered the poor and sold their meat to unsuspecting members of the public.

  • Even though he killed in the region of 40 people, his story was suppressed at the time.

  • That's why he's sometimes calledThe Forgotten Cannibal.”

  • Also, in the 1920s, a German man named Brunodke may have murdered as many as 50 people.

  • Then there was Peterrten, akaThe Vampire ofsseldorf”, who tore his victims apart

  • and drank their blood.

  • The savage Fritz Haarmann, who also killed during this dismal era, was later nicknamed

  • The Wolfman.”

  • That's because he often killed his victims by biting them through the throat.

  • He then butchered his prey and sold their meat as pork.

  • He once wrote, “God oh God, where is it going to end?”

  • In his confession, he told police, “When I would go out of control, I would bite them

  • and suck their necks.”

  • Ok, so we think we have amply set the scene for you.

  • These killers are still virtually unheard of, but they deserve much more attention than

  • they've been given in the annals of serial killer history.

  • It seems the English-language press, or Hollywood for that matter, doesn't really care about

  • German killers.

  • But arguably even more forgotten is the killer we'll focus on today.

  • Trust us, after hearing his story, you will never forget him.

  • His full name was Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Grossmann.

  • He was born on December 13, 1863.

  • He was one of seven or possibly eight kids and grew up in the town of Neuruppin.

  • His family was dirt poor, so he left school at the age of 14 to work in a textile factory.

  • He then went to Berlin after turning 16, where he held down many jobs, including a position

  • as a trainee butcher.

  • This would serve him well in later life.

  • He fought in the First World War but was released from duty after suffering from a hernia.

  • From then on, he wandered around taking odd jobs, usually in Berlin.

  • When he was 20, he was jailed for begging.

  • He spent much of his young life in and out of jail for vagrancy and petty theft.

  • He also did a lengthy stint in prison for a sex-related crime.

  • On his return from prison, he became well-known in his neighborhood, mainly because he was

  • always bringing women back to his apartment.

  • Sometimes neighbors would hear loud arguments, even screams, but with their own lives being

  • so harsh, no one ever bothered to complain.

  • Still, when women started going missing close to the Silesian train station, where Grossmann

  • was often seen, people became suspicious.

  • One time his neighbors, Helene and Mannheim Itzig, made a little hole in his door so they

  • could peep through.

  • Time and again, they heard screams from his apartment, and they were also pretty sure

  • Grossman looked just like a face they'd seen on a wanted poster.

  • Still, they never saw any murders through that hole.

  • Other neighbors often talked about the awful stench that emanated from his apartment.

  • It smelled like someone had died in there.

  • When the authorities asked Grossmann about this, he just said some meat had gone off.

  • He was a butcher, after all.

  • One of his ways to earn a crust was selling meat on the black market.

  • He even had a hotdog stand at that train station.

  • Little did his customers know that he was possibly making the hotdogs out of the women

  • he'd murdered.

  • Selling meat wasn't just a way to make money or afford Grossmann some thrills.

  • It was also practical, given he lived in a fourth-floor apartment.

  • Dragging full bodies down the stairs would have attracted attention, even in a neighborhood

  • where people were used to seeing strange things.

  • He cut up his victims and ate parts of them, as well as drinking their blood, some reports

  • say.

  • Often, he dumped the parts he couldn't eat or sell in the canal.

  • Many of his victims went missing and no one looked for them.

  • They were theless dead,” women who could vanish without causing a stir.

  • To explain, here's how one historian described the area where Grossmann found his victims.

  • In the sooty Koppenstraße at the Silesian train station poor, weathered, and wrecked

  • creatures walk around nightly, especially on Saturdays, without head-covering and with

  • blue kitchen aprons.

  • They count on the drunken workers returning home, to whom they can offer themselves for

  • one to two Marks.”

  • Often, Grossmann would wait in a park in the area called the Andreasplatz.

  • One witness later said that he was almost famous at the park.

  • She explained, “He was there almost daily and always had a different friend with him.”

  • His so-called friends believed his promise of a free meal and a roof over their heads

  • for the night.

  • He didn't always kill them, however.

  • He was known to hire some of his women.

  • Others escaped his clutch after he'd been violent towards them.

  • People often turned a blind eye to this, only because Grossmann had money in his pocket,

  • and at times, he was willing to lend it to desperate residents in the area.

  • In a book written by the author Sace Elder, she says, “In his neighborhood, then, Grossmann

  • was no anonymous urban predator like the Ripper of Whitechapel, with whom he would later be

  • compared.

  • He was, on the contrary, quite well-known, if not universally disliked.”

  • The book explains that he picked up prostitutes at times, or single mothers, or sometimes

  • women who had zero social connections.

  • During the court trial, some of the survivors came forward.

  • The story was always the same.

  • For food or clothing, they slept with him.

  • Some of them were lied to.

  • He'd offer them a job, but the payment never came.

  • One woman said she stayed over at his place.

  • He drugged her that night, and you can imagine what happened.

  • One prostitute, named Erika, said in court he was just toocreepyso she didn't

  • go back with him.

  • Another prostitute named Johanna said she did go back to his place, and she also got

  • out in one piece in the morning.

  • These two women were lucky to survive.

  • A lady of the night named Nitsche wasn't so fortunate.

  • She'd just gotten out of Moabit prison when she bumped into Grossmann in the park.

  • As always, he charmed her and promised her a warm bed and good company.

  • Back at his place, she drank coffee spiked with cyanide.

  • He bound her body and trussed her up to be butchered.

  • That's when the cops paid him a visit.

  • Other women came forward and said they suspected he'd drugged them.

  • They woke up on his bed, not knowing what had happened to them.

  • Some of them went to the police, but their social standing didn't exactly elicit much

  • action.

  • As one historian wrote, prostitutes didn't see the police as prosecutors but as persecutors.

  • Unfortunately, even today, vulnerable women worldwide elicit very little sympathy from

  • the public and don't exactly demand the most thorough investigations when they go

  • missing.

  • This is why prostitutes are often the first choice for killers.

  • For many of them, the sorry state of affairs means the illegality of their job precludes

  • them from working in safe spaces.

  • This is how Grossmann could have killed as many as 50 women; some say 100 women.

  • The real number will never be known, nor how many victims ended up becoming packages of

  • meat or sausages in buns...If that's true.

  • Keep watching.

  • Police should have known better, especially given his criminal record.

  • But it was often he that was at the police station making complaints.

  • Time and again, he accused hishousekeepersof stealing from him.

  • One of them, Freda T. was charged with theft.

  • Emma B got off, the cops in her case believing her story about this violent, compulsive liar

  • of a man.

  • And then one day, the neighbors had heard one too many screams.

  • Finally, they called the cops.

  • That's when they found Ms. Nitsche being dissected.

  • On further inspection, police found parts of the bodies of two other women.

  • Then, when neighbors told investigators the full story of his park visits and women constantly

  • going in but not coming out, they began to wonder just what kind of man they had in their

  • station cell.

  • The lead investigators were named Werneburg and Riemann.

  • For a few years, they'd known that a killer was in their midst.

  • Bodies had been found on many occasions, most of them slaughtered or in pieces.

  • Many of them remained nameless, Jane Doe's as American cops call them now.

  • At one point, police were finding a body or body parts in the canal and other nearby waterways

  • almost daily.

  • The German newspapers soon reported on the case.

  • One of them, Vorwärts, wrote that Grossmannhas caused primarily the feminine population

  • of Berlin understandable anxiety and excitement.”

  • Like in the Yorkshire Ripper case many years later in England, the news reports saidrespectable

  • women had nothing to fear.

  • This was not only a gross insult to some of the most vulnerable women in Germany, but

  • Grossmann's so-called friends had come from all walks of life.

  • His hotdogs were not discriminately filled.

  • People compared Grossmann to London's Jack the Ripper, but comparisons shouldn't have

  • been made.

  • Grossmann was likely far worse, and he was only interested in availability, not what

  • the women did as a living.

  • Just a few days before Grossmann was arrested, the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper published

  • an article with the headline: “Persons who Disappear.”

  • It said thousands of people had disappeared in 1919, 1920, and 1921, mainly young women.

  • Two days after, the same newspaper reported that a lower leg and spinal cord had been

  • found in the canal.

  • A young woman was the victim.

  • So, with Grossmann in handcuffs, investigators understood that they might have a prolific

  • killer on their hands.

  • Grossmann admitted he'd killed the three women found in his apartment, but he didn't

  • own up to any more murders.

  • He said he'd killed the women because they'd stolen from him.

  • As for why he chopped them into pieces, he said it was the only way to get them out of

  • the apartment block.

  • Even back when police were not so educated in the ways of serial killers, they knew there

  • had to be more victims.

  • They also knew this man hadn't killed solely out of anger.

  • Psychologists said this man is a sexual killer.

  • He murders not out of emotional rage like so many one-time killers do, but he killed

  • because it gave him a thrill.

  • One expert said his murders were a “manifestation of a degenerate sexual urge.”

  • There was no motive other than the fact killing aroused him.

  • In October, the Berliner Morgenpost printed the details about Grossmann's brutal dismemberment

  • of the bodies.

  • Directly opposite was an unrelated article with the headline, “Meat is Getting Cheaper.”

  • Was this dark humor, or an editorial blunder?

  • We will never know.

  • On September 19, 1921, The Washington Post ran the headline, “Butcher Held for Killing

  • 20 Girls And Selling Flesh.”

  • This time there was an editorial blunder in the US.

  • Just below that headline was another headline, “Fresh From Paris.”

  • Two young women in fashionable outfits were printed underneath.

  • The article called Grossmann a “shabby, quivering old mansaying he was one of

  • the worse killers in criminal history.

  • Sensationally, the writer called Grossman a “beast in human formand like the German

  • media, the story didn't bother to talk about poverty or the reasons for widespread hunger.

  • It is in that article where American readers first heard about the cannibal meat seller.

  • In the third paragraph, it said, “This confessed killer of 20 girls and women, butcher of their

  • bodies, and seller of the flesh of some of them in the guise of veal steak or sausages,

  • will spend the rest of his lifein a hospital for the criminally insane.”

  • The article stated that hospitals and evensavantswere racing to buy his skull

  • and other body parts after he died.

  • Designed to titillate rather than educate, the article hyperbolically said Grossmann

  • hadsuperhuman cunning.”

  • It has for years been a habit of poor reporters to de-humanize serial killers, therefore avoiding

  • tricky discussions about the problems in society.

  • With that in mind, perhaps some of the rest of the story was exaggerated.

  • It stated that Grossmann would often walk around with a package of meat wrapped in brown

  • paper.

  • He'd hug it to his stomach and thenpeddle the contents to some shady itinerant butcher

  • or half-starved inhabitant of darkest Berlin.”

  • We've dug pretty deep into this story, and we have no idea where the Post journalist

  • got some of those small details from.

  • The story wasn't just pulled out of thin air, though, except the bit about confessing

  • to 20 murders.

  • He only admitted to police he'd killed four women.

  • German investigators did think Grossman was behind scores more murders.

  • One of the reasons was that in the canal near his house they discovered the limbs of 23

  • women.

  • Investigators even found entries in his diary which suggested he'd lately killed more

  • women and thrown theuselessparts into the canal.

  • The German newspaper, the Lokal-Anzeiger, wrote, “The mass-murderer Grossmann is suspected,

  • after the