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Karl Denke, a.k.a. "The Cannibal of Ziębice", was a prolific Prussian serial killer and cannibal (as well as a possible projected cannibal).

Background

Denke's house, where the murders took place.

Denke was born in Münsterberg, Silesia, which is what was once known as the Kingdom of Prussia (it is now called Ziębice, Poland), coming from a wealthy family that worked as farmers. At childhood, Denke proved to be difficult for his parents to raise; at the age of twelve, he even ran away from home. When he graduated from elementary school, he started an apprenticeship under a gardener, and then started life on his own at the age of 25. It was at this time that his father died, to which the farm was taken over by his older brother and Denke himself bought a piece of land with the money from his inheritance. However, farming did not go well for him, so he sold his land as a result. He eventually purchased a little house on what is now called Stawowa Street. Unfortunately, what savings he had left were lost due to the uncontrollable inflation occurring at the time. Though he was forced to sell his house, Denke refused to move out. He still lived in a little apartment on the right side of the ground floor of the house and continued to occupy a nearby shop. Denke soon became well-liked in the community and came to work as a church organ player.

Murders, Arrest, and Suicide

For reasons unknown, Denke engaged in cannibalism, killing his first victim Ida Launer in 1903. From that point on, he continued his series of killings, claiming the lives of dozens of people. Reports suggested that he also disposed of the flesh of his victims by selling it as pork and/or offering to what guests he had in the house. His killings ended on December 21, 1924, when he attacked a man named Vincenz Olivier with an axe. Olivier escaped and identified his attacker as Denke to a coachman named Gabriel, who then called in the authorities. Denke was investigated, and officers found identification papers for twelve travelers, assorted clothing, a pair of drums holding large pieces of meat in brine, numerous types of bones, and pots full of fat. Officers speculated from the amount of remains that Denke had killed at least forty-two victims. He was arrested, and just a day later, Denke committed suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell. He was 64 at the time of his death.

Decades later, the case has been mostly forgotten, with those who are still aware of Denke addressing him as "the unusual case" or "the forgotten cannibal". Even today Denke's exact motives, methods, and much about his life is still unknown. Even the only known photograph of him (the image above) was taken after his death.

Modus Operandi

Little is known about Denke's exact M.O. What is revealed is that he targeted travelers and homeless people of both genders. He somehow lured them into his house on Stawowa Street and killed them by bludgeoning them with an axe. He then dismembered the bodies post-mortem with the axe and presumably other cutting tools found in the house, and is alleged to have sold at least some of the retrieved flesh at the Wrocław market.

Known Victims

  • February 21, 1903-April 20, 1924: Killed at least 30 victims during a 21-year span. Known ones are:
    • February 21, 1903: Ida Launer
    • Unspecified date in 1909: Emma Sander, 25
    • February 1914: Heinrich Bruchmann (a carpenter)
    • January 8, 1919: Railroader Niebel (from Reumen)
    • 1924
      • April 20, 1924: Kasper Hubalek
      • November 17: Rochus Pawlick (a fur dealer)
  • December 21, 1924: Vincenz Olivier (attempted, but survived; non-fatally slashed his scalp)
  • Note: Denke's ledger contained 31 names, including Vincenz Olivier, thus confirming at least 30 victims. However, due to the enormous amount of human remains found in his flat, Denke's true body count is suspected to exceed 42 people, thus leaving at least 12 more unidentified victims.

Notes

  • Denke is similar to Fritz Haarmann, a.k.a. "The Butcher of Hanover" - Both were European serial killers who targeted and killed dozens of high-risk victims such as travelers and runaways, are alleged to have dismembered their victims post-mortem and selling their flesh as pork, and were given nicknames for their crimes.

On Criminal Minds

While Denke was never directly mentioned or referenced on the show, he appears to have been an inspiration for the following unsubs:

  • Season Three
    • Floyd Feylinn Ferell ("Lucky" and "Lucky Strikes") - Both were prolific and cannibalistic serial killers who had behavioral problems as children, were church-goers, dismembered their victims post-mortem, sold them as meat to unsuspecting customers (though Denke is only suspected of doing this), and had one survivor. Ferell also appears in Season Thirteen
  • Season Nine
    • Wallace Hines ("The Inspiration" and "The Inspired") - Both were serial killers who had brothers, were problematic children, worked at eateries, had young women as their first victims, killed victims of both genders, brought their victims to their homes to be killed, dismembered post-mortem, fed their victim's remains to their place's customers (though Denke is only suspected of doing this), and had one survivor who they attempted to kill with a bladed tool.

Sources

References

  1. Polish translation for "Father" or "Papa"
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