Friedrich Heinrich Karl “Fritz” Haarmann was born in 1879 in Hanover, Germany. He was the last of six children born to Johanna and Ollie. While reports exist that Ollie married the elder Johanna for “her money,” the evidence remains indicates that the couple was still quite poor. Additionally, Ollie was described as “cantankerous” and “cold” toward the family, while Johanna babied young Fritz to the point of embarrassment. In fact, Johanna treated Fritz nearly identically to his sisters, to the point that she encouraged him to play with dolls, and dress in his sisters’ clothes. She also taught him to cook and do needlepoint.
In 1886, when Fritz started school, his teachers noted how coddled he was. While his behavior wasn’t poor, his grades and ambition were, and he had to repeat a grade more than once. Additionally, as Fritz got older, he battled more with his father, whom he reportedly detested. They argued frequently, and on top of it, Fritz had begun scaring his sisters “for fun” with little games like knocking on the windows at night and telling them ghoulish stories. So – much to his mother’s dismay – it wasn’t long before Fritz was being shipped off to military school.
While at first he did well at Neu-Breisach (in April 1895), Fritz eventually began having serious problems. He was noted to be performing in exercises when suddenly he would lose consciousness. Eventually he suffered full-on seizures too. The military school had little choice but to discharge teenage Fritz back to his family in Hanover.
Fritz began working for his father – a situation no one seemed to particularly enjoy – but he was having fewer medical events, which Ollie and Johanna counted as a blessing. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to them, Fritz was engaging in other behaviors in the community that went far beyond a simple medical diagnosis. Fritz had begun molesting children.
When the accusations mounted, and Fritz was finally named by multiple victims, he was promptly shipped off to a mental asylum. It occurred shortly after his 18th birthday. The treatment at the asylum was something that Fritz Haarmann would never forget, and he spoke of it as though it was sheer torture (though it is ultimately unknown what happened to him there). What is known is that the security at the asylum was lax, and he escaped, only to return to Hanover by the time he was 20.
This return ushered in a ‘new period’ for Fritz where he attempted normalcy by wooing a local woman named Erna Loewert. Their engagement delighted Fritz’s parents, who hoped that he would straighten out and live a conventional life.
It wasn’t to be.
Soon after Erna became pregnant, Fritz left her and their unborn child to re-enroll in the military under an assumed identity (he wouldn’t have been allowed back due to medical reasons). A year passed before he was discovered by officials when he collapsed in a seizure during an exercise. He was swiftly discharged and returned home in disgrace. As soon as he arrived, his father Ollie tried to have him committed to the asylum again…to no avail. Fritz Haarmann was a free man left to his own devices with no wife, no family support, and no structure.
Over the next two decades, Haarmann spent several years total in and out of custody for committing a string of burglaries, thefts, scams, and smuggling runs. He also continued committing sexual offenses, but was rarely reported to police for such. A homosexual relationship blossomed during this time period as well, with a young man named Hans Grans – a partnership that would last until Haarmann’s final run-in with the law.
Yet, even though Haarmann was being more true to his nature, and embracing his homosexuality, it wasn’t satisfying to him. This is because Haarmann didn’t necessarily just prefer the company of other men…he sometimes preferred the company of boys. Furthermore, Haarmann had learned from the transgressions of his past. He’d learned that if he left living victims, that there would be living accusers.
In 1918 the murders commenced.
Typically Haarmann chose his victims carefully. Not only were they young (many in the pre-pubertal or just pubertal stages of ages 10-14), they were usually runaways that Haarmann found at train stations. He would lure them back to his apartment with the promise of a warm place to stay and a hot meal. Given that many of these children were running away from dismal situations at home, the kindly Haarmann seemed like a lucky break! Unfortunately for them, meeting Haarmann was anything but lucky.
Haarmann would ply his victims with food, drink, and company when they first arrived at his flat. Then, quite barbarically, he would employ his “love bite”: a swift and fatal mouthful of their adam’s apple, crushing their trachea. This generally resulted in death from asphyxiation. But, at times, the love bite was so brutal that Haarmann completely severed the flesh with his teeth, causing the victim to bleed out.
By 1924, Haarmann had murdered an estimated total of 27 boys. And, the manhunt was on.
Even though Haarmann was a suspect, and was found in possession of items of several victims’ clothing, there was little else to tie him to the murders. And, since Haarmann and Grans made money selling used clothing (much of which they stole), there was plenty of clothing to go around. However, after seven days of relentless questioning, Haarmann broke down and confessed to police.
After a circus of a trial – and several psychiatric evaluations – Haarmann was put to death on April 15, 1925. He was beheaded by guillotine, stating, “I repent, but I do not fear death.” The remains of his victims were buried together in a grave at Stöckener Cemetery months before his execution, with a large, granite, memorial inscribed with the victims’ names and ages. As was customary of the time period, Haarmann’s head was preserved in a jar by scientists, who used it in their studies to examine the structure of his brain. It was being kept at the Göttingen medical school until 2014, when it was cremated.
Not unlike the Charles Whitman (Mass Murderer) case, there are some medical issues that may obscure some ability to create a ‘clean’ profile. Whitman had a brain tumor, and Haarmann suffered from epilepsy. While epilepsy obviously won’t make someone a murderer, it is a form of brain malfunction. Additionally, it is unknown where this abnormality came from. Was it something Haarmann was born with, or was it from an injury? The latter seems more likely because there is no information regarding epilepsy in Haarmann’s early years from either his mother or his teachers. Thus, did an injury he sustained cause an ongoing issue that shaped the rest of his trajectory? It’s impossible to know.
What we do know is that Haarmann was certainly homosexual (his primary orientation), and that he also had Pedophilic leanings. His activities weren’t enough to state that he was exclusively a Pedophile because he had adult relationships as well, but the urge was there, and he acted upon it. Therefore, a diagnosis of Pedophilia (or Hebephilia, if that was an option) would be appropriate.
Haarmann also appeared to lack anything close to a sense of empathy. In fact, there are reports of him inserting himself into the investigations of some of the missing youth, speaking to their families, and laughing afterwards. This is notably Psychopathic. Haarmann displayed other Psychopathic traits as well including: irresponsibility in several domains, deceitfulness, conning, manipulation, promiscuity, and a grandiose sense of self. It’s likely, therefore, that he may have scored High on the Psychopathy scale too.
Lastly, and most confoundingly, Haarmann evidenced some behaviors that just don’t fit into the prior two categories. Those behaviors include his “love bite,” his dismemberment of victims, and his possible selling of their flesh to unregulated meat markets. Far beyond sadism, these behaviors suggest something more patently disturbed about Haarmann’s psyche. And, if he’d been more disorganized, I’d hypothesize that he was psychotic. Ironically, this was the conundrum for examiners back in Haarmann’s day as well! While they found his behaviors to be quite disturbed (to the level commonly seen in psychotic individuals), there wasn’t a concordant disorganization/disintegration to go with it. So, instead of being committed one last time, Haarmaan was adjudged as knowing right from wrong, and executed instead. Even in 2014 while his brain sat waiting, the mystery hadn’t been solved.
Then again, did it need to be?
Perhaps looking too hard for the source of the defect is overrated. Sometimes evil is just evil.