Johann Eichhorn – the Beast of Bavaria

For eleven years, he was the terror of Munich. Nobody knows for sure how many victims Johann Eichhorn – who once said about himself “he was like a wild animal” – really claimed. He was convicted for five murders and 90 cases of rape, but he probably committed several hundred more sexual delicts.

It all began in 1928. In West Munich, several young women were brutally attacked, threatened with a gun or knife, raped and sometimes also robbed. 

In five cases, the victims were murdered and their bodies savagely mutilated. Until on January 29, 1939, a man was seen attacking a 12-year-old girl and subsequently arrested: a locksmith and former railway worker named Johann (Hans) Eichhorn, then aged 32, married, two children, known as a regular guy and good father.

In the following weeks,  some of the incidents could be traced to him. After a mole in prison passed some more information to the police, he finally broke down and confessed.

He had met his first murder victim, a 16-year old maidservant named Katharina Schaetzl, on October 11, 1931, on Wiesn (during the Oktoberfest). They agreed to go on a bicycle tour to Ebenhausen, but during that trip, all of a sudden, Eichhorn attacked Katharina, raped and strangled her, weighed down her body with stones and threw it into the Isar. She was found some time later, and a replica of her head was made for a public attempt to identify her.

This sculpture of Katharina´s head was used for a public attempt to identify her.

Three years later, in 1934, Eichhorn attacked Anna Geltl. The 26 year old wife of a hairdresser was crossing Forstenrieder Park on her bicycle when she was dragged into the bushes. Eichhorn shoot her into the head and cut her genitalia out with a knife.

Only a few weeks later, he attacked Berta Sauerbeck, a 25-year-old office worker. She, too, was dragged off her bike. As she desperately fought her attacker, he shot her in the head and raped her. Then he threw her into a dump – severely wounded but still alive – and buried her underneath some waste.  During his trial, Eichhorn later explained that he needed violence to achieve sexual arousal.

For years, the man was leading a perfect double life, in a long-time relationship with his later wife who was into rough sex. But for him, that was not enough. Three months before their marriage, he murdered his fourth victim.

 Rosa Eigelein, a 25-year old seamstress. She, too, was dragged off her bike, shot in the head, raped and her genitalia mutilated with a knife. Her body was just left by the roadside. Eichhorn didn´t even try to hide it.

Rosa Eigelein, her skull with the bullet hole

Maria Joerg was his fifth victim, a 23-year-old maidservant. She, too, is dragged off her bike, shot and mutilated and then buried in Forstenrieder Park – close to where Eichhorn had killed his first victim Maria.

After his arrest, Eichhorn was seen by doctors and psychologists. He was 1,73m tall, slim and muscular, with large hands and a large mouth with miserable teeth in spite of his young age. The psychologists assess him as “intellectually not below average… but ethically and morally low, unstable, unrestrained, with an unusually strong sexual drive, a psychopath.”

In November 1939, he was convicted to death by beheading. The execution was on December 1st. His wife and sons changed their names and left the area.

To this day, Eichhorn is one of the most savage and cruel murderers in German criminal history. Nevertheless, his case is little known, probably due to the fact that he was a member of NSDAP and the case was pretty much hushed up in its time.   

Based on an article by Sven Rieber in: http://www.merkur-online.de/lokales/muenchen-west/johann-eichhorn-bestie-aubing-751796.html, all images taken from there.

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Jack the Ripper – some news

TheDaily Telegraph ran an interesting article on the Ripper yesterday.

 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/8514000/Scotland-Yard-fights-to-keep-Jack-the-Ripper-files-secret.html

Scotland Yard is battling to keep 123-year-old files on Jack the Ripper secret.

Four thick ledgers compiled by Special Branch officers have been kept under lock and key since the Whitechapel murders in 1888.

Jack the Ripper murders reported by the Police News

Trevor Marriott, a Ripper investigator and former murder squad detective, has spent three years attempting to obtain uncensored versions of the documents.

But he has been repeatedly refused because the ledgers contain the identities of police informants – and the Metropolitan Police insist that revealing the information could compromise their attempts to gather information from “supergrasses” and other modern-day informants.

Last week, Mr Marriott took Scotland Yard to a tribunal in a last-ditch attempt to see the journals – containing 36,000 entries – which he believes contain evidence which could finally unmask the world’s most famous serial killer. ….

The ledgers provide details of the police’s dealings with thousands of informants from 1888 to 1912, including some who provided information during the original Ripper investigation. … According to Mr Marriott, the files contain the names of at least four new suspects, as well as other pieces of evidence.

… On uncovering references to the ledgers in 2008, Mr Marriott applied to see the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The Met refused and he appealed to the Information Commissioner who also decided the books should not be revealed. Now Mr Marriott has undergone the final appeal stage to the Information Tribunal, in which the case is heard by a panel of three judges.

The three-day hearing involved a detective inspector, identified only as ‘D’, speaking to the court from behind a screen because of his sensitive role running the force’s intelligence-gathering operation from informants. Detective Inspector ‘D’ told the tribunal that unveiling the files could deter informants from coming forward in future, and could even put off members of the public from phoning Crimestoppers or the antiterrorist hotline. Det Insp ‘D’ said the passage of time did not make publication of informants’ identities less sensitive because their descendants could be targeted by criminals with a grudge.

Another senior officer, Detective Superintendent Julian McKinney, told the tribunal that releasing names would make police officers less capable of preventing terrorist attacks and organised crime, and make informants vulnerable to attack.Det Supt McKinney said: “Regardless of the time, regardless of whether they are dead, they should never be disclosed. “They come to us only when they have the confidence in our system that their identity will not be disclosed.”

But Mr Marriott said a number of historical files have previously been released which contained details of informants. He argued there was no evidence to show descendants of informants who have been named had come to harm.

This is an interesting development. Looking back at my previous JtR post, I have tried to make clear under what enormous pressure the police were at the time to catch the killer and stop the murders. It would have been in their own best interest to let the public know as soon as they could that a) the danger posed by the Ripper was no more and that b) the credit for this belonged to them, that they had done a good job in protecting the public.  

And yet, no such announcement was ever made. The case was allowed to gradually fade from attention. There was no large-scale announcement that the Ripper was gone, people were safe now, police was not as goofy as they had been thought to be. They took the risk that panic would break out anew in the East End, caused by any murder similar enough to give the public the impression that the Ripper was back. And when  there were indeed a number of similar murders over the next two years, none were conclusively linked to the Ripper, and none were treated the same way by the police.

Perhaps the police really had no idea who the Ripper was and were simply trying to soft-pedal. On the other hand, we do have statements of several members of the police force that the police did indeed know who the Ripper was, giving different reasons just why there had not been an arrest and the killings had stopped.

The ledgers and the secrecy that still surrounds them support the theory that at least some of the police exactly knew who was behind the Ripper killings – and that there is a reason why this has to be kept quiet until today. In fact, the varying statements of police officials as to the identity of the Ripper could have been purposeful desinformation.

As one user on Casebook states: “As the article explains, the Special Branch Registers and Ledgers contain suspect names that pertain to these events. 4 more suspects. Special Branch themselves therefore were involved in this investigation. That means there was involvement on a political or national security level of some sort. That is what Special Branch, deal with. … Now that tells me that if the Whitechapel murders were subject to Special Branch involvement, there are things that we know nothing about. If Special Branch have listed suspects under THEIR watch, then political invovement exists. That is the nature of Special Branch activity.” http://forum.casebook.org/showpost.php?p=174744&postcount=164

Andrea Maria Schenkel: Tannoed

This book, based on the 1922 Hinterkaifeck murders I talked about earlier, has received many accolades. The German original was on the Spiegel bestseller list for a long time, has been praised here, there and everywhere and was made into a movie (English title: The Murder Farm). I´ll be upfront: I don´t see why.

“Tannoed” is very short – 120 pages in the German softcover edition. 24 of these are either blank spaces or contain a prayer litany quoted from a 1922 prayer book. That leaves 96 pages worth of text.

Two thirds of these consist of short statements from various locals people  about the murder victims, when they were last seen and the circumstances in which they were discovered. To piece together the events that led up to the murder in this way, from various perspectives that create a more complex picture in the reader´s eyes, is a legitimate writing technique. But I just recently re-read Dorothy Sayers´ “The Documents in the Case” where the same technique has been applied so much better. Where Sayers creates vivid characters whose statements give an individual insight both into their own personality and into the events they relate, most of Schenkel´s statements sound alike, exchangeable in tone. The people that are supposedly “quoted” are hardly characterized, they remain reduced to names and labels, and their opinions of the murder victims do not differ much from one another. The language, High German with a regional flavour, also feels contrived, but then if people who speak dialect in their everyday lives (as many country people do) try to speak High German, it usually has a contrived feel to it, so this is sort of acceptable.

Having read about Hinterkaifeck already, there was pretty little in these statements that was in any way new or surprising. About everyone of the people spoken to in the book has a real-life counterpart in a person that was actually interviewed by police in the Hinterkaifeck case, and the statements in the book differ little from the documented statements in the case. There´s the mechanic who came to the farm the day before the murders were discovered, the sister of the new maid who was killed along with the family, the men and boys involved in the discovery of the bodies, the parson, been there, done that, read that statement. Schenkel´s version of the case is set in the 1950s (but it might as well have been set in the 1980s), so the main difference between the original statements and hers is the odd reference to WW2 and the post-War years, which sometimes feels as if the author simply looked up main events of the times in Wikipedia and made sure to squeeze a mention of them in here or there. Schenkel was born in 1962, and it shows.

The structure of the book is jumbled (I do not call it “non-linear” on purpose).

It begins with an introduction by an un-named first person narrator who has grown up in Tannoed, then moved away, later returns after the murders have happened and is now supposedly the person conducting the interviews and gathering all the statements, or maybe isn´t:  We will never know, because this narrator is never heard of again afterwards. There is no “detective”, nor is there a framing plot outside of the actual murders.

We then get alternating “Lord have mercy on us” quotes from the prayer litany, statements from the villagers, and omniscient narrator passages narrated in present tense. Some of them accompany an unknown male going about his work on the farm (the murderer, who indeed must have stayed on the farm for days after the deed tending to the animals). Some of them accompany the murder victims in their last hours on the fatal night. And some of them accompany a vagrant named Mich who hides on the farm planning to rob it and becomes a witness to the murder. While these short vignettes seem to show a little more creative contribution by the author than the statements, if you are familiar with the Hinterkaifeck case, you will quickly realize that they, too, contain little that is not actually already provided by the case documents, embellished on a daytime court drama level.

In an interview in the annex of the book, the author says that she did read about Hinterkaifeck but then put that all aside and let her imagination roam – if that is so, it sure did not go very far. There is little to be found in Tannoed that is not available in more detail, and more important: more authentic, in the various Hinterkaifeck resources.

Peter Leuschner, the author of the two main non-fiction books on Hinterkaifeck, has in fact sued Schenkel for plagiarism. This is not at all surprising, since most parts of the book really give the impression to have been lifted from the available documents, shortened here and there, some names changed, some references to the 1950s forced in, but very little original work added.

It is more surprising, and saddening, that Leuschner lost his case, but I was told years ago by a lawyer that that´s simply the nature of legal cases connected with copyright issues. No matter how well documented your case may be, no matter how obvious it all seems, the outcome is never certain and depends completely on the judges. Sometimes I really do not have much confidence in our legal system.

Schenkel´s second book, Kalteis (Ice Cold), is also based on a true case:  This time, it´s Bavarian serial killer Johann Eichhorn, who was active in the 1930s, who provides the base for her Johann Kalteis. The case sounds interesting, but I plan to read up on the true Eichhorn and skip Schenkel´s version. This author, I´m afraid, is not my cup of tea.

Christina Collins – the “real” Joanna Franks

As a follow-up to yesterday´s post…

“Christina Collins was 37 years old when she was brutally raped and murdered by three drunken bargemen whilst travelling by barge to join her husband, Robert Collins in London.
Her body was discovered in the canal at Rugeley on June 17th 1839. She was carried up the infamous local ‘Bloody Steps’ into the Talbot Inn. Her blood is said to have dripped onto the stonework, hence their name, and although the steps have long been replaced, they are still given their eerie title today. It is reported that on occasions blood has been seen oozing from the famous steps.
Three of the four boatmen that had been taking Christina to London, were subsequently charged with her murder. Two of them hung, Capt. Owen and George Thomas, the third, William Ellis was transported. The fourth member of the crew, a young teenage boy named Musson, was cleared and released.
Christina’s body is buried in St.Augustines Churchyard. The gravestone is engraved “To the memory of Christina Collins, Wife of Robert Collins, London, who, having Been Barbarously treated was found dead in the Canal in this parish on June 17th 1839, age 37yrs. This stone is erected by some individuals of the parish of Rugeley in communication of the end of the unhappy woman”.
A few years ago, an Inspector Morse drama, starring John Thaw, – ‘The Wench Is Dead’ was adapted from the Colin Dexter novel , and was based on the story of the Christina Collins murder.
Information by www.rugeleyonline.co.uk/people/collins.htm Thankyou.”

Text copied from Dave Hammer´s flickr accout, where you can see photos of Christina´s grave    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7706119@N04/3090720690/

Here´s a site about the historical murder that inspired the Inspector Morse novel, with lots of pictures of the actual places.

http://www.mikekemble.com/misc/morse.html

The Wench is Dead

During a stay in hospital, Inspector Morse comes across a monography on a murder that happened in 1859. Joanna Franks, the passenger of a canal boat was found dead in the water at Duke´s Cut on the Oxford Canal. The crew of her boat were tried and two of them eventually hanged for the murder. But something about the case seems off to Morse, and he starts reading up on Joanna´s life and times, and the circumstances surrounding the case…

This is the 8th novel in the Inspector Morse series, and probably not the best one to start with. Having not read any Morse before, I found the book rather tedious when it talked about the Inspector and his stay in hospital, and at least two minor characters were introduced with a full biography that actually contributed nothing to the story. But then, I read crime fiction for the background setting and the whodunnit puzzle, and tend to find it quite off-putting when the book blabbers too much about the midlife crisis, marriage problems or other neuroses and psychological hangups of the detective. In this particular case, Morse was not introduced or portrayed in a way that made me care about, or even get interested in him as a character, so the frame story surrounding the historical case was pretty much wasted on me. And while the historical case (the reason I picked this up in the first place) was considerably more interesting, there, too, were a few things that bugged me.

The first one was the way Morse immediately pegs the rape and murder victim as a potential seductress who brought on her own fate. Even though there is nothing in the monography that suggests this, from this moment on, he studies the case as if it was a certainty rather than his own interpretation (brought on by a dream that mixed up the case with his other bedside lecture – a sleazy novel, to boot). And of course the author has him be right and the subsequent discoveries support this initially unfounded view of the victim´s character.

Then, when Morse´s assistant – doing some research for him – comes across a Victorian trunk bearing the initials “JD” in police archives (Joanna´s initials from her previous marriage), he immediately considers it to belong to this case, which he is not very familiar with. Without any actual investigation or documentation supporting this guess, both he and Morse treat the items found in the trunk, as if it was fact that they had belonged to Joanna, they draw conclusions from them and don´t even consider the possibility that there might have been more than one person with those initials involved with a police case during the last 120 years. And these are supposed to be seasoned police officers. 

The height of Joanna plays another important role in Morse´s solution. He finds out about it by visiting her childhood home, and after some search, discovering marks where her parents had documented both her and her brother´s growth on a wall. But the latest measurement for Joanna – who was born in 1821 – dates from 1841, the year in which she married her first husband. While it is believable that a family would document their children´s growth like this, why would they do it well into the children´s adulthood? Most girls have reached their final height by the time they are 16 or 17, so it is quite unlikely that Joanna´s parents would mark the wall beyond that, and very likely, they would have stopped even sooner. It wouldn´t even make much of a difference to the case whether Joanna´s height as an adult was established at 16 or at 20, but the way it stands, it is one more thing about this novel that doesn´t sit right. 

All in all, it was a reasonably entertaining read but it did not make me want to read more from that series, or author. And for the life of me I can´t see why this novel received the Gold Dagger Award in 1989 for best crime novel of the year – unless everything else published that year was even worse.

Jack the Ripper – thoughts and theories 1

It is probably the most notorious unsolved case in the history of crime. Who was the serial killer who killed and mutilated prostitutes in the East End of London in the “Autumn of Terror” 1888?

There are many theories about, and basically, the only thing that is known for certain is that we know almost nothing. We can´t even be certain about the exact number of victims: although the most wide accepted consensus is that he killed five women, some count only four, others add other cases to a number of eight.

For information on this case, I am taking the easy way and just refer anyone interested to: http://www.casebook.org/intro.html.

So… trying to work out who the Ripper might have been… where to start?

Let´s take a look at the timeline and the overall attention that the case drew in its time.

The murders

http://www.casebook.org/timeline.html

The earliest murder ascribed to the Ripper occured in August 1888 (Martha Tabram). There were two murders in August, two in September, none in the five weeks after the “double event” on September 30, and one in early November. This, the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, is generally considered the final Ripper murder.

Further, there was one more murder in December 1888 (Rose Mylett), one in July 1889 (Alice McKenzie), one in 1891 (Frances Coles) that at some point have been considered possible Ripper murders.

The impact

The impact the Ripper case had on the public at the time sets the background against which the police investigation took place.

“Jack the Ripper … was not the first serial killer, but he was probably the first to appear in a large metropolis at a time when the general populace had become literate and the press was a force for social change. The Ripper also appeared when there were tremendous political turmoil and both the liberals and social reformers, as well as the Irish Home rule partisans tried to use the crimes for their own ends. Every day the activities of the Ripper were chronicled in the newspapers as were the results of the inquiries and the actions taken by the police. Even the feelings of the people living in the East End, and the editorials that attacked the various establishments of Society appeared each day for both the people of London and the whole world to read. It was the press coverage that made this series of murders a “new thing”, something that the world had never known before.” (quoted from above link, my bold). 

http://www.casebook.org/dissertations/dst-rippermania.html

LeannePerry describes in  

http://www.casebook.org/dissertations/ripperoo-terror.html

how these crimes held the East End in a grip of terror: “Over the weekend of Annie Chapman’s murder, anxious and agitated crowds, gathered outside the murder site, the mortuary, the local police station and at the ‘Ten Bells’ pub. Businesses were forced to close and thousands of people swarmed the streets. The crowds came from all over London. People were quick to capitalize on the situation and set up stalls, that did a thriving business. Residents even charged people to view the actual murder site, until they were stopped by police.

When ambulances rushed towards London Hospital, at anytime over the ‘Autumn of Terror‘, informed crowds pursued it, sensing another victim. Angry mobs called for a mans lynching, after he suddenly threw a woman to the ground and began kicking her and threatening her with a knife. The man turned out to be blind and the woman his regular escort. People “saw” the supposed killer everywherethousands of fake Jack the Ripper letters [showed up], wasting a great deal of police time… 

Police conducted house-to-house searches, ten thousand handbills were distributed and more police were drafted to the area, (including plain-clothed detectives).”

Lisa Johnstone concentrates on the treatment of the case in the press in

http://www.casebook.org/dissertations/rippercussions.html.

“The killer – nameless, faceless, seemingly motiveless – defied all attempts at being put into an understandable order, and this lack of a comprehensible and complete story (‘Something terrible’s happened! … Oh, but it’s over now.’) gave the public no way of thinking clearly about their fears; the Ripper became the boogeyman, so elusive, so mysterious, so alien that he could hardly be seen as human. …”

” The now infamous ‘Dear Boss’ letter was posted to the Central News Agency, and although it wasn’t the first Ripper letter – and certainly wouldn’t be the last – it and its ‘brother’, a postcard received on 1st October, are the most well known and are considered to possibly be from the actual killer. Whether they were or not was irrelevant to the press, who, under the pretence that publishing the letters would cause members of the public to recognise the handwriting, ran several stories on these letters. This was more than enough to spark widespread public reaction, although it wasn’t the reaction the police had hoped for…” (referring to the thousands of fake letters that followed).

“… the xenophobic feel that infused the entire case: the suspicion of Jews – the first major suspect being Jewish John Pizer, known as ‘Leather Apron’ – the supposed anti-Semitic Ripper graffiti ‘The Juwes are not the men who will not be blamed for nothing’, the fact that Mary Kelly, the last victim, was Irish, and so on. Victorian Londoners had become increasingly disturbed by the influx of foreign immigrants into the city, partly in light of recent ‘international terrorism’  and partly due to the inherent xenophobia that the English seem to possess. Londoners were desperate to believe that the killer was not English, as only a less-civilised foreigner could commit such awful acts… ”

“Meanwhile, the papers showed a rise in ‘suspicious incidents’ – possible Ripper-related attacks, since any man who now harassed a woman on the street could be Jack himself -… Yet reports of ‘economic’ related crimes – i.e. burglary, mugging, etc. – went up during the Ripper murders. The East End News reported that while the police had been occupied with the killing at Mitre Square, ‘the Aldgate post office was entered and ransacked […] under the very noses of the “guardians of peace and order.”‘ Much of the blame was thrown at the police, from members of the press and general public; on 10th November, the Star published an article citing Sir Charles Warren, police commissioner as ‘clumsy, wilful’ and ‘ignorant’, while many letters to editors suggested more effective methods of police organisation, such as a policeman dressing up as a female prostitute to lure the Ripper or, more sensibly, that a policeman remain on one beat, getting to know that area of the city well, as a ‘policeman who knows his beat […] is worth three who do not’.… The reaction of the general public was to either form voluntary groups who patrolled Whitechapel on the lookout for suspicious men, or to form lynch mobs who would pursue any male with the cry of ‘Jack the Ripper!’

During the “autumn of terror”, the East End was a dangerous powder keg. People were scared almost to a point of hysteria. A militia had formed. There was a considerable risk of lynchings and riots breaking out (which was one of the reasons why the Goulton Street graffiti blaming the “Jewes” was erased even before it could be photographed and established for certain whether it had anything to do with the Ripper).

 The police was under heavy scrutiny and criticism.

In this situation, it would have been in their own best interest to let the public know as soon as they could that a) the danger posed by the Ripper was no more and that b) the credit for this belonged to them, that they had done a good job in protecting the public. But did they? And if not, why?

After all, several members of the police force claimed, later on, that police had indeed known who the Ripper was and had been certain that after the last murder definitely ascribed to him (Kelly) he would not return and start another killing spree. Yet, if that is true, it seems they allowed the public to live with this fear.

Brian W. Schoeneman writes in:

http://www.casebook.org/dissertations/schoeneman-crisis.html

“After the death of Mary Jane Kelly, over the next two years there were at least three similar killings: Rose Mylett, Alice MacKenzie, and Frances Coles. While these killings were similar to the Ripper murders, they took place over a wider time period, did not display the same ferocity as the previous murders and the public did not receive them with the same fear and panic as they did the canonical killings.”

As Schoenemann lays out, there were two rival policing agencies involved in the Whitechapel murder investigations:  the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police force. The latter was – and still is – responsible for the one square mile zone that made up London City proper, which was a separate political entity, with its own figurehead – the Lord Mayor – and city council. …  The bulk of the canonical murders took place within the jurisdiction of the Met – only Catharine Eddowes was killed inside the jurisidiction of the City. In the eyes of the public and the press, the Met alone was responsible for the Ripper’s successful apprehension.

The Metropolitan Police, at the time of the Ripper murders, consisted of 22 divisions. “A Superintendent led each division, who, in turn, supervised a number of inspectors and sergeants. The inspectors and sergeants were responsible for the individual Police Constables who walked the beat. By 1888, the Metropolitan Police numbered a total of 14,106 officers, not including the senior administrators.17 The two divisions that responded to the Whitechapel killings – Division H (Whitechapel) and Division J (Bethnal Green) – numbered 548 and 617 officers, respectively.”

The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) was made up of plainclothes detectives and inspectors, and had a troubled history. It was consistently undermanned – 15 men in a force of over 8000 in 1868 – and was constantly embroiled in controversy and, near its end, in allegations of misconduct. The CID played the lead role in the investigations of the Ripper murders. 

The highest-ranking officers of the Metropolitan Police were at odds with each other, and during the Whitechapel murders – when they should have been united in the resolve to catch the Ripper, and appear united to the press – they were engaged in near constant bickering. In the end, the two most important leadership positions within the Met – the Chief Commission, and the head of the CID – were vacated during the Ripper crisis. This was due in small part to the failure to catch the murderer, but primarily because of personality conflicts. …

Both the rivalry between City and Met Police and the top ranking officers would provide just the more reason to publically announce that the Ripper was gone as soon as that could be done and take the credit for it.

Yet the case was allowed to gradually fade from attention. There was no large-scale announcement that the Ripper was gone, people were safe now, police was not as goofy as they had been thought to be. The risk was taken that panic would break out anew in the East End, which could be caused by any murder similar enough to give the public the impression that the Ripper was back. Now, why would police let that happen? Perhaps simply because they did not have a clue who the Ripper was, and so could neither be certain that he wouldn´t return, nor would they want to draw attention to the fact.

“As suddenly as the killings had begun, they stopped. Though there were a number of similar murders over the next two years, none were conclusively linked to Ripper, and none were treated the same way by the press, police and public. London and the East End had adapted to the fear. There were no further Ripper style killings after 1891. The crisis had resolved itself – though not through the actions of the Metropolitan Police, the Home Office or the public. The Ripper resolved the crisis for them. He simply stopped killing.”

But on the other hand, we do have statements of several members of the police force that the police did indeed know who the Ripper was, giving different reasons just why there had not been an arrest and the killings had stopped.

Let´s take a look at them in the next post, and see how credible these theories are, considering that they must provide a plausible reason why the police did not make any public statement.

Kathy Reichs: Déjà Dead

Originally published 1997, German: Tote lügen nicht (2000)

Having occasionally caught, and enjoyed, episodes of “Bones” on TV, I was happy to come across “Déjà Dead”, the first novel of the Tempe Brennan seris, at a flea market the other day.

It was a brilliant read, and I´m definitely going to read more from this series.

The Tempe Brennan encountered in this book as the first person narrator is considerably different from the Tempe Brennan of “Bones” – according to Wikipedia, the TV version has more in common with the author, Kathy Reichs, than with her namesake. So this Tempe is a forensic anthropologist in her late 30s, living alone after a divorce some years ago, her daughter at college, far away. Tempe is also a former alcoholic.

Whereas in the TV series, Tempe is working in Washington, D.C., at least the first few novels in the series are set in Montreal, Quebec, Canada which does add a unique atmosphere to the setting. Tempe is set apart, and to some degree isolated, by her position as an American working in a foreign country, and while she is not the only woman at her institute, she is the only woman working with several male detectives in this particular case and has a hard time convincing them (especially one) to take her theory of a serial killer on the loose seriously.

When human remains are found on the grounds of an abandoned monastery, Tempe is called in to quickly confirm whether they are from an old grave, laid open by the elements, as everyone hopes, or a case for the police. All too quickly, it turns out they are indeed from a murder victim, brutally mutilated and dismembered.

Something about the find reminds Tempe of a former, unsolved case and she starts looking at that again. Soon after, more dead bodies turn up, all mutilated and dismembered, all of them female. Tempe is convinced that a serial killer is on the loose, but has a hard time convincing the policemen working on the case of her theory.

At the same time, her best friend, a fellow anthropologist who is doing a field study in the red light district about the subculture of prostitutes, is giving Tempe increasingly reason to worry – she acts strangely and unusually and at one point, confesses that in the course of her work, she has attracted the attention of a stalker.

Again and again, the notorious real life case of Jack the Ripper peeks out beneath the lines, starting with the combination of the motifs of a serial killer, mutilated victims, prostitution. The descriptions of the mutilations have some parallels to those committed on the real life victims of the Ripper, most obviously those of the woman murdered in her own home to those of Mary Jane Kelly – the Ripper victim murdered in her home. Did I mention that one of the suspects goes by the alias of “St Jacques”?

Talking about the suspects – there are many fictional treatments of the Ripper case; some are good reads, some are not. Each of them offers its own solution to the case, and sadly, so far I haven´t encountered one that might be even close to probability. Most of them either have the Ripper turn out to be a completely fictitious character, not based on anyone associated with the real life case (e.g. Michael Dibdin´s The Last Sherlock Holmes Story) or they pick a fictionalised version of the more sensationalist theories, having the Queen´s physician, a member of the Royal family, or a conspiracy of freemasons be behind the murders. Which is really only exciting the first time you read about it. By the n-th novelisation, graphic novel, movie, TV miniseries presenting this theory… yawn.

In a way, “Déjà Dead” can be considered another fictionalized treatment of the Ripper case, and while it is far removed from the real case in terms of temporal, geographical and thus cultural setting, in her line-up of suspects and characters Kathy Reichs does acknowledge some of the well-established Ripper theories that are generally considered more likely (…well, at least in comparison to the Royal Conspiracy) today. There is a teacher who behaves oddly – an obvious nod to Montague John Druitt – an even a madman who has exhibited violent behavior in the past and has at times been committed to an asylum, a wave at the David Cohen theory.

The David Cohen theory is, in my opinion, one of the more likely identifications of the Ripper, which makes it worthwhile elaborating on it. It originates from the 1894 Macnaghten memoranda,  which mention three major suspects, among them “a Polish Jew & resident in Whitechapel. This man became insane owing to many years indulgence in solitary vices. He had a great hatred of women, especially of the prostitute class, & had strong homicidal tendencies; he was removed to a lunatic asylum about March 1889. There were many circs connected with this man which made him a strong ‘suspect'”;  from information about the killer (and the police’s knowledge about his identity), revealed by Sir Robert Anderson (Assistant Commissioner CID at Scotland Yard) for the first time in an article in 1895, and later in his own book The Lighter Side of My Official Life (1910): “One did not need to be a Sherlock Holmes to discover that the criminal was a sexual maniac of a virulent type; that he was living in the immediate vicinity of the scenes of the murders; […] And the conclusion we came to was that he and his people were certain low-class Polish Jews […] I am almost tempted to disclose the identity of the murderer and of the pressman who wrote the letter above referred to. But no public benefit would result from such a course, and the traditions of my old department would suffer. I will merely add that the only person who had ever had a good view of the murderer unhesitatingly identified the suspect the instant he was confronted with him; but he refused to give evidence against him.” and, finally, from margin annotations in a copy of Anderson’s memoirs, mentioned above, beloning to the retired ex-Superintendent Donald S. Swanson. The annotations, in Swanson’s own hand-writing, are written at the bottom of the passage about the witness who refused to give evidence against the suspect: “because the suspect was also a Polish Jew and also because his evidence would convict the suspect, and witness would be the means of murderer being hanged which he did not wish to be left on his mind. […] And after this identification which suspect knew, no other murder of this kind took place in London. […] Continuing from page 138, after the suspect had been identified at the Seaside Home where he had been sent by us with difficulty in order to subject him to identification, and he knew he was identified. On suspect’s return to his brother’s house in Whitechapel he was watched by the police (City CID) by day & night. In a very short time the suspect with his hands tied behind his backs, he was sent to Stephney Workhouse and then to Colney Hatch and died shortly afterwards – Kosminski was the suspect – DSS

(Abdridged quotation from: http://www.casebook.org/suspects/davidcohen.html)

Unfortunately, there is still no “final evidence” that would solidify this theory as “the one” – there are good cases to be made for several other theories, which lack “final evidence” as well. So, after more than 110 years, we can still only be certain of one thing about the Ripper: We do not know who he was.

Returning to Kathy Reich´s novel: It would be going one step too far to assume that by identifying the killer in her novel, the author has also stated an opinion as to which suspect she considers the most likely to have been Jack the Ripper; but still, it is a relief not to see the usual conspiracy theories rehashed for the umpteenth time in this context.

Most importantly: The novel is not based on the Ripper case so strongly that you can´t enjoy it if you are not familiar with the historical case, or consider the work unimaginative if you are. All the parallels and nods mentioned are merely an added bonus for Ripperologists in a book that is a good crime novel in its own right.

Hinterkaifeck

The 1922 murders of Hinterkaifeck are one of Germany´s most mysterious unsolved murder cases.

Hinterkaifeck was the name of a small farmstead outside Groebern, between the Bavarian towns of Ingolstadt and Schrobenhausen (approximately 70 km north of Munich). Here, farmer Andreas Gruber (63) lived with his wife Cäzilia (72) and their widowed daughter Viktoria Gabriel (35) – the official owner of the farm – and her two children Cäzilia (7) and Josef (2). 

The family was rather well-off and well-regarded, though not exactly well-liked. They are said to have kept mostly to themselves. Gruber in particular is described as a brutish, sullen loner. He is said to have beaten and mistreated his children, of whom only Viktoria survived.

His daughter Viktoria was a popular member of the church choir, known for her beautiful voice. It was common knowledge that Gruber had an incestuous relationship with his daughter (something which, while illegal, was not infrequent in rural areas at the time), and actively prevented her from marrying again. His wife apparently suffered from the knowledge, but did little to stop things. A schoolmate of young Cäzilia´s reported in 1984 that Cäzilia was reproached for falling asleep in school on the 31st and related that the night before, there had been a severe argument in the family and her grandmother had stormed out of the house wanting to kill herself. They had searched for her for hours. (Earlier, in 1951, the same witness had stated that it had been Viktoria who they had searched for).

Even though a neighboring farmer, Lorenz S., had officially admitted to being the father of little Josef, it was rumored that the boy was in fact the fruit of the incestuous relationship between his mother and grandfather. Schlittenbauer was not the only local lad who claimed to have been with Viktoria.

The murders

A few days prior to the crime, Andreas Gruber told neighbours about discovering footsteps in the snow leading from the edge of the forest to the farm; however, there were none leading back. He also talked about hearing footsteps in the attic and finding an unfamiliar newspaper on the farm. Furthermore, one of the two existing house keys went missing several days before the murders, but none of this was reported to the police.

Six months earlier, the previous maid had left the farm, claiming that it was haunted; the new maid, Maria Baumgartner, arrived on the farm on 31 March 1922, only a few hours before her death.

Some weeks before the fatal night, Viktoria had withdrawn all her money from her bank account and borrowed some from her half-sister (Gruber was Cäzilia´s second husband), to invest in the farm. A donation of 700 goldmark was left in the confessional of the church. The priest traced it to Viktoria, and she told him it was “for missionary work”.

Exactly what happened on that Friday evening cannot be said for certain.

It is believed that the older couple, as well as their daughter Viktoria and her daughter Cäzilia, were somehow all lured into the barn one by one where they were slaughtered brutally. The perpetrator(s) then went into the house where they killed two-year-old Josef who was sleeping in his cot in his mother’s bedroom, as well as the maid, Maria Baumgartner, in her bed-chamber.

On the following Tuesday, the 4th of April, some neighbours went to the farmstead because none of the inhabitants had been seen for several days, which was rather unusual. The postman had noticed that the mail from the previous Saturday was still where he had left it. Furthermore, young Cäzilia had not turned up for school on Monday, nor had she been there on Saturday. The family also had been absent from church on Sunday, which was unusual, given Viktoria´s position in the choir.

Inspector Georg Reingruber and his colleagues from the Munich Police Department made immense efforts investigating the killings. More than 100 suspects have been questioned through the years, but to no avail. The most recent questioning took place in 1986, but even that was fruitless.  In 2007 the students of the Polizeifachhochschule (Police Academy) in Fürstenfeldbruck got the task to investigate the case once more with modern techniques of criminal investigation. Their final report is kept secret. To this day, many hobby investigators continue to investigate the case.

The day after the discovery, on the 5th of April, court physician Dr. Johann Baptist Aumüller performed the autopsies in the barn. It was established that a pickaxe was the most likely murder weapon. The corpses were beheaded, and the skulls sent to Munich, where  clairvoyants examined them without result. The autopsy also showed that the younger Cäzilia had been alive for several hours after the assault. Lying in the straw, next to the bodies of her grandparents and her mother, she had torn her hair out in tufts. The skulls were never actually returned to the bodies and the entire family has been buried without heads. The traces of the skulls have been lost in history. They very likely were destroyed when the forensic department in Nuremberg burned down during WWII.

The motive

The police first suspected the motive to be robbery, and interrogated several inhabitants from the surrounding villages, as well as travelling craftsmen and vagrants. The robbery theory was, however, abandoned when a large amount of money was found in the house.  Only the paper money was gone, while considerable amounts of gold coins and valuables had been left.

It is believed that the perpetrator(s) remained at the farm for several days – someone had fed the cattle, and eaten food in the kitchen: the neighbours had also seen smoke from the chimney during the weekend – and anyone looking for money would have found it.  But why, if they were not looking for money, would the perpetrators stay there for so long and keep up the appearance that someone was alive?

Whoever did this obviously had some farmers knowledge, and also a farmers´ mind: They did not harm any of the animals, not even the dog (until the very last day) though it must have been a hazard.

The use of the pickaxe as the murder weapon also points towards this: The victims had been hit with precision and a lot of hatred, their heads had been split but their bodies had apparently not been hit. Whoever did this must have been familiar enough with using a pickaxe to do so without thinking.

Whoever did this also must have been known on the farm, as the Grubers´ dog – a Pomeranian, said to be a keen watchdog – was first heard inside the house, but and later seen tied up and healthy, barking like crazy outside the barn by a mechanic who came to the farm on Monday. The dog was found inside the barn, hurt and frightened, by the men who discovered the dead on Tuesday. So the killer was familiar enough to the dog to be able to handle it during the three days he stayed on the farm after the murders.

All of the corpses had been covered. Viktoria, her daughter and her parents had been placed on top of each other in the barn and covered with a door, which in turn was covered with some hay. The maid had been covered with her own bedcloth and little Josef was covered with one of Viktoria´s skirts. This points towards the fact that the killer(s) had some emotional connection to the victims. By covering them up, they tried to hide what they had done, so they did not have to face it.

At some point, the death of Karl Gabriel, Viktoria’s husband who had been reported killed in the French trenches in 1914, was called into question. His body had never been found and two people claimed to have encountered a German-speaking Russian officer after WWII,  who claimed to be “the Hinterkaifeck killer”. A former friend of Karl´s also claimed to have met him in the 1920s. These accounts have been proven wrong and the death of Karl Gabriel seems ascertained enough to discount this theory. Apart from that, Karl Gabriel had planned to leave Viktoria even before going to the war, in 1914. He might have faked his death to be free of her, although this would have been very difficult for a young farmers´ boy in 1914 to accomplish, but why would he return 7 years later and kill the whole family, including young Cäzilia, his own daughter?

From the position of the bodies and their condition, Viktoria was probably the first to die. She was strangled as well as slain, and she was still dressed, as was her mother, whereas Andreas Gruber and little Cäzilia were already in night garb. It is thought that Viktoria was the first to encounter her killer, probably let him in. Maybe an argument erupted (what went on in the barn couldn´t be heard from the living quarters so it wouldn´t have alarmed the others all at once), the first murder happened and led to a killing spree – out of resentment, but also to do away anyone who might know he was there?

Many of those who study this case consider little Josef the key to it all. Why kill him, too? Maybe because he knew and recognized the killer? At two years, he would have been able to say something like “uncle xxx was here”, even if he might not have understood everything else that went on.

When little Josef was born, Viktoria claimed for Lorenz S. to be the father. He denied it and reported Viktoria and her father to the police for incest. On Viktoria´s request, probably garnished with the hint of a chance to marry the wealthy widow, S. withdrew his report later and confirmed to be the father. He had to pay an alimony of several thousand marks to the Grubers, which Viktoria gave him. With this down payment, it was agreed that he was free of any responsibility and Andreas Gruber was made the child´s guardian. In fact, this kind of deal was illegal even then, and a recent TV documentary on the case revealed that apparentlyshortly before she was killed, Viktoria planned to sue Schlittenbauer for alimony payments. 

According to one source, Andreas Gruber was said to have been waiting for an important letter, though we do not know what that letter was supposed to contain, nor who it was from, or even if this was indeed the case. If the killer was waiting for a letter to arrive (and, presumably, destroy) it would at least explain why he stayed on the farm for days after the murder. But if the letter was in connection with Viktoria´s alimony suit, wouldn´t the lawyer have come forth? After all, the murders made the headlines all over the country.

Lorenz S. had remarried at that point. His first child with his new wife had died and been buried only a few days before the murder. Did the notion of having to pay for a child that he couldn´t be sure was his while his own child had not lived trigger something terrible…?

S. was obviously familiar with the Grubers´ farmstead. He was one of the men who went to investigate after the family had not been seen for days and discovered the corpses in the barn.  He had apparently no problem handling them, pulling those lying on top of each other apart. The other two told him not to disturb anything but he said he had to make sure where “his boy” was. 

According to one of the other two men, S. “disturbed everything there was to disturb” and displayed a surprising familiarity with the farm: He went into the house from the barn (both buildings were interconnected) and unlocked the front door from the inside. (Was the key in the lock or was he in possession of the key that had been missed days before?)  He knew that the door to the maid´s room had to be opened in an unusal way, by lifting the handle instead of pressing it down. But if he had been the perpetrator, he would have spent the previous days on the farm and would have had enough time to cover his tracks. He would have had no need to mess with the crime site.

S. stayed on the farm until the police arrived, feeding the cattle. He even had a meal there himself. Just like the unknown perpetrator, he was apparently not disturbed by the presence of the corpses. Even though people were a bit more familiar with death and dead people back then, the other two men were  rather shaky seeing the slain victims.  On the other hand, he might have acted “on auto-pilot” in a state of emergency/shock, like someone who is witness to a severe accident and calmly does everything that needs to be done, shock not setting in until much later.

In spite of his apparent worry about “his boy”, he does not seem to have minded the decease of the family a lot: Years later, he said during an interrogation that the Lord had his hand in the right place when this happened, these were bad people. He did not exclude the two children.

The dog behaved in an unusual way towards S. when they found the corpses. He stayed in his vicinity and barked at him. S. claimed this was because he had gotten blood from the corpses on his shoes.

S. had no alibi for the night of the murders. According to his family, he spent the night at their barn to watch out for burglars after having heard of Gruber´s findings. But  S. was suffering from asthma, so how likely is it for him to have slept in the barn? On the other hand, how likely is it for him to slay six people in a very short time?

S. lived only 350 metres away from Hinterkaifeck, so he could have easily gone over there  and back without his absence being noticed. And years later, when the murders were discussed in the local pub, S. repeatedly talked in the first person when speculating about how the killer may have gone about and referred to him as “I”.

While some of S.´s behaviour makes him look suspicious, a lot of open questions remain. And S. is by no means the only suspect. To this day, a lot has been speculated  about, but no killer has been identified for certain, nothing has been proven.

And so the Hinterkaifeck murders leave us with many questions.

More

More information, pictures and documents:

www.hinterkaifeck.net, www.hinterkaifeck-mord.de (German)

Peter Leuschner wrote a book on the case which has had three (two revised) editions by now (1987, 2007, 2009).

Kurt Hieber made two TV documentaries (1991, 2009).

Movies:

Kaifeck Murder (Hinter Kaifeck), D 2009 > a mystery-horror movie based on the case

Tannoed, D 2009 > movie adaptation of the novel of the same name

Novels:

Andrea Maria Schenkel, The Murder Farm (dt.: Tannoed, 2007).   Transfers the case into the 1950s.

 

Published in: on November 23, 2009 at 7:09 pm  Comments (4)  

Leonie Swann: Three Bags Full

  • Original German title: Glennkill: Ein Schafskrimi, 2005

George Glenn´s flock of sheep has a wonderful life. Their shepherd loves them, has  named them, he breeds them for their wool, not to be slaughtered. He even reads to them.  But one day, this peaceful existence comes to and end when the sheep find George dead on their pasture, a shovel stuck in his breast.

Even for sheep, it is obvious that he did not die of natural causes. And so, the flock decides to find out what happens. Fortunately, George has read them half a whodunnit once and they know how to go about. Sir Richfield, the lead ram, has the best eyesight, Maude has the best sense of smell. Mopple the Whale has not only the largest appetite but also the best memory. Othello knows humans. And it´s up to Miss Maple, the most intelligent sheep in Glennkill, to piece everything together and work out who the human wolf in sheep´s clothing is.

The sheep quickly find out that a lot of humans are not quite what they seem. Everyone in the small community of Glennkill has secrets – including George. The picturesque village hides the knowledge of a murder in the past which turns out to be a key to the murder in the present (though not quite in the way the mystery-savvy reader expects).

This novel is thoroughly enjoyable – a gripping mystery that keeps you turning the pages, written with a keen sense of humour, as well as knowledge about sheep and their behavior.  By the end of the book, you´ll find yourself sorry to leave the flock.

 

Southern Comfort

Martha Grimes:  Emma Graham Mysteries

  • Hotel Paradise (German: Das Hotel am See), 1996
  • Cold Flat Junction (German: Still ruht der See), 2001
  • Belle Ruin (German: Die Ruine am See), 2005

While these three novels are closely connected – each volume picks up right where the previous one left off – they can also be read on their own. Loosely related to the trilogy is

  • The End of the Pier (German: Was am See geschah), 1996

which is also set around Spirit Lake and features Emma´s grown-up friends Maud Chadwick and Sheriff Sam DeGheyn.

Hotel Paradise

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12-year-old Emma lives – and has to work part-time as a table waitress – at her family´s rundown hotel in a lakeside resort that has seen better days as well. Without any peers in her vicinity, Emma becomes fascinated by the story of another isolated 12-year-old from the past: Mary-Evelyn Deverau, found drowned in Spirit Lake 40 years ago. Apparently, Mary-Evelyn, who couldn´t swim, rowed out on the lake in the middle of the night wearing a party dress and fell off the boat.

Emma finds this (understandably)  strange and begins to investigate, using every spare minute to roam around and ask anyone who might possibly remember anything about the girl, her family, and her death. Then, another murder occurs, right in the very present, and the victim – Fern Queen – turns out to be related to the Deverau family…

Cold Flat Junction

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Emma continues to investigate the story of the Deverau family, which contains yet another murder in the past. Rose Deverau – the youngest of the four sisters Mary-Evelyn lived with – had married Ben Queen against her spinster sisters´ will. Their daughter, Fern, was just recently found murdered. And twenty years ago, Rose had been viciously stabbed to death. Public opinion suspects Ben Queen, who had never denied being his wife´s killer and whose return from prison coincides with his daughter´s death. But Emma – who has actually met Ben – has her doubts. By now firmly convinced that Mary-Evelyn has been murdered, her investigation into Rose´s death also leads her to a deeper understanding why the little girl had to die.

 Belle Ruin

n146946Emma becomes fascinated by yet another mystery of the past. This time, it´s a baby that was stolen twenty years ago from a hotel room while the parents were attending a ball in the same building. The child was never heard of again; investigation seems to have been closed quickly and things were hushed up, due to the wealth and influence of the family – who  turns out to be connected to the Deveraus once again.

 

These are not straightforward mystery novels. The reader has to puzzle the story of the Deverau family together just as Emma does, and even after three volumes, much remains unsaid.

The considerable charm of these novels is in the Southern Gothic setting and shrewd characters.

Emma roams the small and sleepy towns around the former lakeside resort that seem strangely depopulated. Most residents are elderly adults – the few children that Emma encounters are distant and even a little eerie. There´s the diner in which the same people sit on the same chairs every day, with so little variation that even a passing 12-year-old becomes exciting news.  There are houses, hidden in the woods, that  have been abandoned for years, but remain fully furnished – as if their occupants had just gone out (or vanished) minutes ago. Vanishing, or fading away, is a recurring motif that comes up again and again; as personified by the mysterious, ghost-like girl Emma keeps seeing again and again who eerily looks like one of the murder victims in her youth.  

Another recurring motif is isolation. Emma herself is isolated by having no friends her own age around; she does not belong to the few children that appear in the novel and is not yet an adult, either. In fact, when, in the second book, her mother goes on a holiday trip with the hotel manager and her daughter and even Emma´s brother Will has been asked to come, though he declines, while Emma is left back, she hardly even seems to belong to her own family. And Emma is just one of the many characters in these stories that are alone even when surrounded by others.

The characters are a delight to encounter (at least within the pages of a book). There´s Emma´s shrewd great-aunt Aurora, who lives in one of the upper floors of the hotel, surrounded by mementoes of her past like a cocktail-slurping Miss Haversham. There´s the Sheriff and Maud, best friends constantly bickering. The speech-impaired brothers, Ulub and Ubub. Faulkner-quoting master mechanic and poacher, Dwayne and spoilt teenage brat Ree-Jane.

The Emma Graham series has a lot in common with Harper Lee´s “To Kill A Mockingbird” without being quite as political. The novels also remind me of the flashback parts of “Now and then” (movie), “Divine secrets of the Ya-Ya sisterhood” (novel and movie adaptation) with a little “Stand by me” (movie, after a short story by Stephen King) thrown into the mix, as it´s Emma´s last summer before becoming a teenager, growing up, and her experiences and encounters make her realize a lot about life, human nature, and her own personality.

 And this is some of what Martha Grimes had to say about her Emma Graham series:

“The novels evolved out of my wanting to write a “trilogy,” the first being THE END OF THE PIER. This story actually happens some time after the other two, although it was written first. Given the content of THE END OF THE PIER it couldn’t have happened before Emma’s story or she certainly would have made much of it. When I finished HOTEL PARADISE I knew that although the story didn’t have to be “tied up” — given that none of these three books is a mystery — still there were questions I, myself, wanted to answer, so that’s how COLD FLAT JUNCTION came about. Now, I guess there’ll be another one because there are still questions that nag me. Who is this Girl that Emma keeps seeing? … It’s not Emma’s curiosity that keeps her on this case. It’s her unconscious knowledge that if this awful death could happen to Mary-Evelyn Devereau, it could happen to her, too. She’s also 12; she also lives with people who appear to be indifferent to her. Emma is scared, although that might come off as her “nebbiness.” (I love that word.) … many of the characters are based on real people and were just as I’ve described them. … Yes, there was even a Miss Bertha.”

http://www.bookreporter.com/authors/au-grimes-martha.asp