In the 1920s, Fritz Haarmann was praised by the citizens of Hanover for his cheap prices for meat – that is until they discovered that the meat he was selling had been reaped from local missing boys.
“Wait, wait just a little while
Soon Haarmann will come to
With the little hatchet
He’ll turn you into ground meat.
He’ll make meat jelly from the eyes
He’ll make baconfritz haarmann der metzger
out of the butt,
He’ll make sausages from the intestines
And the leftovers he’ll throw away.”
I can’t imagine that I am alone in thinking this is the most disturbing nursery I have heard in my life, especially when I was once a big fan of the “Ring Around the Rosie” tune which I used to sing until I learned that the entire rhyme was about dying from the Bubonic Plague during the Middle Ages (a traumatizing fact for a nine-year-old to discover, by the way.)
Similar to “Ring Around the Rosie,” the German nursery rhyme “Haarmann-Lied” (“Haarmann Song” in English) has a horrifying backstory of its own. For the people of Hanover, Germany, this song has a very personal connection. It serves as a local legend about the infamous “Vampire of Hanover,” a serial killer who preyed on young runaway boys and male prostitutes that he would kill by biting into their trachea, then disposed the bodies by selling his victim’s flesh as “beef” to the citizens of Hanover.
An Unfortunate Childhood
Fritz Haarmann was born in 1879 as the sixth child to a dysfunctional, lower-class family. With an antagonistic father and emotionally distant father, Haarmann never stood a chance. Early in his life, he took a liking to playing with dolls and wearing dresses. He rarely spent time with boys of his own age, but rather, he played with his sister. In an effort to “man-up,” his parents enrolled him in a military academy when Haarmann was sixteen years old. At first, things were going well for Haarmann as he became fully immersed in the military lifestyle. Until about a year after, he began to suffer from epileptic seizures that resulted in discharge from the military. For a year, Haarmann returned to Hanover to work at his father’s cigar factory but was later captured and charged for molesting young boys. After he was condemned to a mental asylum which he escaped 6 months later, Haarmann made another attempt to join the army where he was quickly discharged again in 1902. He was later awarded a full military pension that allowed him to move back home. This was when his career in crime truly began, starting with small offenses, including: burglaries and petty crimes that soon escalated to serial murders.
A Blossoming Romance
In 1913, police in Hanover quickly became fed up with Haarmann’s crimes and threw him in jail. While most of the men in his age group were fighting in World War I, Haarmann was falling in love.
During his 5-year jail sentence, Haarmann met the devilishly handsome 24-year-old Hans Grans. Upon their release, both men quickly took up residence together. Similar to the romance between the famous criminal couple Bonnie and Cylde, Grans and Haarmann completely changed the course of their own lives and the people around them. Grans was twenty-one years younger than Haarmann and a pimp who was, in fact, more interested in women than men. Grans meant everything to Haarmann but much like his childhood his love, his affection was never reciprocated. Grans was known to have had at least three other female lovers whom he prostituted out of Haarmann’s home. It is also believed that many of the murders committed by Haarmann were due to Grans’ jealousy of the victim’s clothing or trinkets.
A Career in Murder
After being paroled in 1918, Haarmann found himself a free man who was watching his country fall apart around him as World War I came to an end. In an effort to make money, Haarmann took up two jobs: as a smuggler for a gang and as an informant for the Hanover police – a role that would have a large part in helping Haarmann evade the law for his crimes. 17-year-old Friedel Rohe would become known as Haarmann’s first victim. In the fall of 1918, Rohe ran away from home and was never to be seen by his family again. Upon investigation of the missing teen, police learned that friends of Rohe had last seen him with Haarmann. At first, police didn’t take the tip seriously, Haarmann was their informant, there’s no way he was a murderer, right?
The family of Rohe begged to differ and applied enough pressure to police for a raid inside Haarmann’s apartment. As police busted through Haarmann’s door, they discovered him in a precarious position, lying on his bed with a 13-year-old, half-nude boy next to him. Although there was no trace of Rohe to be found, police arrested Haarmann for sexual assault of a minor, thus he found himself back behind bars for the next 9 months. Years later, Haarmann confessed to the police that Rohe’s head was wrapped in newspaper and hidden behind his stove on the day of the raid of his apartment. Upon his release, Haarmann regained the trust of the Hanover police and returned to his part-time job as a police informant whilst he began a killing spree that would last for 6 years and claim at least 24 lives. Most of Haarmann’s victims were underage boys who were either runaways or prostitutes who worked near the Hanover railway station – a convenient location for Haarmann to lure victims back to his apartment.
Haarmann’s unique killing style was what solidified him as one of the most infamous serial killers in Germany. Haarmann killed his victims by biting through their windpipes, in what he called: his “love bite.” He would then have sex with his victim’s bodies. Once he was finished, he would dismember the body and either grind their human flesh into sausage meat or chop them up into cutlets that he would sell as “beef” or “pork.” Whatever parts of the body that couldn’t be sold as meat, he would discard in the River Leine. Although he was a registered sexual offender who was caught by the police in a sexual act with a 13-year-old minor, the law continued to turn a blind eye. In fact, Haarmann thrived as he enjoyed the prosperity of his successful business of selling his victims flesh and clothing despite that the city lived in fear of the “Vampire of Hanover,” as more and more children vanished.
An End for “The Vampire of Hanover”
By 1924, skeletal remains of young missing boys washed up on the banks of the Leine River. Police retrieved over 500 human bones from the river that were later confirmed to have belonged to at least twenty-two different bodies. The people of Hanover – had been plagued by “this butcher” for the past six years – chose to take matters into their own hands. From the very first murder, many citizens suspected Haarmann especially after witnesses said they saw Haarmann with numerous underaged boys, but they also knew that Haarmann was the “favorite informant” of the Hanover police. Questions about corruption in the Hanover police department spread quickly across town, eventually the Hanover police were deemed unfit to investigate him. Instead, detectives from Berlin picked up the case. Detectives placed Haarmann under surveillance and watched him lurk the Hanover train station, searching for his next victim. After an attempt at luring a young prostitute to his apartment, he was arrested for the fourth time. Detectives preformed an extensive search of Haarmann’s apartment and found a disturbing amount of evidence. Not only were the floor and walls were stained with blood, there were also more than 100 different pieces of clothing that belonged to the missing boys of Hanover. The evidence was damning enough to lock Haarmann away for an eternity. During interrogation, he happily confessed and answered police’s questions. Haarmann was charged with multiple counts of murder and a trial followed shortly after. In court, Haarmann made no attempt to receive sympathy from the jury, but rather, he insulted almost everyone present and yelled at one of his victim’s father by declaring that he would never have killed his son because he was “too ugly.” The nightmare for the people of Hanover finally ended in April of 1925 when Haarmann was found guilty of 24 murders and was sentenced to death by guillotine, putting a swift end to the “Vampire of Hanover.”
Haarmann’s story has inspired many movie directors and their films, and the song based off of him has gone on to become an urban legend for the people of Hanover. The folksong will continue to be used as a warning for naughty boys in Germany that they better behave or “The Vampire of Hanover” will come back to sell their flesh at his business stand.