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.

The Hollywood Murders

George Baxt: The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case  (1993, dt.: Mordfall für Marlene Dietrich)

Hollywood in the early 1930s. At one of Marlene Dietrich´s lavish parties, a guest is poisoned: a Chinese astrologer and fortune teller, about to reveal a secret about “a great danger” connected with someone present. Police officer Herb Villon, who had come in the company of society reporter Hazel Dickson, immediately takes over the case – but he can´t keep curious Marlene and her friend, Anna Mae Wong, from meddling. The key to the murder lies in the victim´s past, which ties to her several suspects all of which were at Marlene´s party.

This was an entertaining read. Nothing too special, but a nice trip to Hollywood in its heyday, with a bit of humor and a great Marlene and Anna Mae. The story was conceived with a bit too much historic hindsight, however: Of course, the murder victim had to have been to Europe in her past, had to have met an ambitious young politician named Adolf Hitler there and had to have predicted a terrible future connected with him. This is then muddled with an international political conspiracy which involves Nazis, Russian bolshevists, an arms dealer, and more. The Second World War already overshadows the plot, as something planned at least 10 years before its actual outbreak, while other events of the 1920s and 1930s which would have been stronger on the contemporary minds, are hardly mentioned at all. It didn´t bother me too much until I read more books by the same author.

George Baxt: The Alfred Hitchcock Murder Case  (1986, dt.: Mordfall für Alfred Hitchcock)

Munich, 1925. Alfred Hitchcock, still an unknown British director, is directing  his first feature film, “The Pleasure Garden”, when two members of his crew are murdered and another has a nervous breakdown and is first institutionalized, then vanishes. The case is not solved.

“11 years later, in London, an old Munich acquaintance, ill and distraught, begs Hitchcock to read a spy thriller script. The script-deliverer is murdered on Hitchcock’s doorstep. The script itself features the abduction of Alma Hitchcock and police pursuit of Hitch (as a suspected murderer), while he searches for a master spy in order to clear himself and rescue his wife. Alma is kidnapped, Hitch is almost framed for murder and he hares off, chased by Scotland Yard, in pursuit of a double-agent.” (Publishers Weekly). 

It is a really nice idea to have Alfred Hitchcock as the protagonist of a story that could be one of his own movies – including the obligatory cool blonde woman and, of course, a MacGuffin, Hitchcock’s famous red-herring device. The book is more of a spy thriller than a straightforward murder mystery, though.

George Baxt: The Greta Garbo Murder Case  (1992, dt.: Mordfall für Greta Garbo)

Hollywood, 1941. Greta Garbo has just lost her studio contract and lets her neighbour Peter Lorre talk her into accepting the starring role in a lavish independent production on Joan of Arc. But something is decidedly odd about the whole venture, and the production has the attention of the FBI and the local police under Herb Villon, long before a body is found in an abandoned house that belongs to the millionaire producer…

This was the most recent book by Baxt that I read – and the weakest one, perhaps because I could not read the book on its own but always had the comparison to the other two in the back of my mind. The characterisation of Greta Garbo was just too similar to that of Marlene Dietrich (main difference being, Marlene loved cooking and Greta was melancholy), including the attitude that of course she can play along with the suspect to draw him out – after all, she played a spy once. Both books even have a German representative make a generous offer to the movie star to get her to come back to Germany and work for Hitler and the Reich. (Which, of course, both divas decline). The witty quotations, present in all Baxt´s books so far, felt somewhat contrived by now, as if he had had a “Famous Quotes” dictionary by his side when writing and just forced them in wherever he could. The actual murder happens rather late in the book and the focus is – again! – less on the investigation and the murder mystery aspect of the story (which is what I´d expect from a book with So-and-so Murder Case in its title) than on the conspiracy/spy story aspect. And even though with this book set in 1941, the underground Nazi conspirator element is perhaps fitting better than in the other two, GEEZ!  Mr.Baxt, are there no other solutions you can offer to your readers? Were there no other criminals in Hollywood´s heyday?

These novels are listed as part the “Jacob Singer mystery” series which is puzzling because none of them have even a supporting character of that name. In the two of them that are set in Hollywood, the cop in charge is Herb Villon.

Nevertheless, here´s an overview of Baxt´s Hollywood-related murder novels:

1. The Dorothy Parker Murder Case (1984)
2. The Alfred Hitchcock Murder Case (1986)
3. The Tallulah Bankhead Murder Case (1987)
4. The Talking Pictures Murder Case (1990)
5. The Greta Garbo Murder Case (1992)
6. The Noel Coward Murder Case (1992)
7. The Mae West Murder Case (1993)
8. The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case (1993)
9. The Bette Davis Murder Case (1994)
10. The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case (1995)
11. The William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case (1996)
12. The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Murder Case (1997)
13. The Clark Gable and Carole Lombard Murder Case (1997)

I´m reading the Dorothy Parker one next. If that has Nazi spies in it, too, I´m going to scream.