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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Rape
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: February 14, 1921
Date of arrest: December 5, 1921
Date of birth: ???
Victims profile: Ursula Schade, 12 (his stepdaughter) and Dorothea Rohrbeck, 16
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Hirschberg, Silesia, Germany
Status: Executed by guillotine on January 1922



Translated from the German by Frances Hogarth-Gaute

Part III


The Death of the Heiress

Germany 1921

The Versailles Treaty came into effect on January 10th, 1920. The Reparations Commission of the victorious Allies fixed the monthly amount of coal to be delivered from the Ruhr at 2,234,000 tons; from May 1st, 1921, Germany was to make a yearly payment of two million gold marks, the sum to be increased later. In May 1921 a dollar was still worth 65 marks-by August 1923 it was worth 1,280,000 marks.

It was during this period, called in the history books "the Inflation", that a tragedy occurred at Kleppelsdorf Castle, and it is impossible to separate the tragedy of a whole people from that of two adolescent girls.

The setting of the drama was typical of the era-yet another example of the fact that the times produce their own actors. Dorothea Rohrbeck, called Dörte by her relatives, was born in 1905, and was at this time sixteen. Her mother had died when she was born, and her father just after the war when she was fourteen. Rohrbeck was himself a product of his era. A clever young Berliner, who knew all about land speculation, he had come up from nothing and married, "above his station", the daughter of the banker Eckardt. He had become a multi-millionaire by speculating in land during the spread of the southern outskirts of Berlin. He had bought several properties, including Kleppelsdorf Castle in Silesia, which stood in extensive grounds, and so was just what the self-made man wanted. He had no desire to sell this property, or to speculate with the estate, for here should grow up generations of Rohrbecks, "lords of the manor". When he died his fourteen-year-old daughter Dorothea inherited everything, and it was this rich heiress who was found shot in a room overlooking her garden on February 14th, 1921.

She was very slight, almost elfin in build, but looked older than her age; her dark eyes were enormous; there were bitter lines round her mouth, and her lips were usually turned down at the corners. A girl who is her own mistress from the age of fourteen tends to mature early, the more so if she lives in a period of which one German poet wrote:

Das Universum stockt und starrt

Kein Puls des Lebens geht

Die Welt probiert

Wie die Vernichtung ihr zu Gesichte steht.

(The universe stands and stares. There is no pulse beat. The world is assessing how destruction becomes her.)

The other victim, Ursula Schade, was twelve years old.

She was Dorothea's cousin, her mother being the sister of Dorte's dead mother. The period produces the characters, and the writers find names for them. Nowadays Ursula would be casually called a 'Lolita', but actually she was a Lolita of the twenties and therefore quite a different type from the heroine of the modern novel. Then children did not, as they do now, want to remain children for ever. The Lolitas of today are spoilt, but as in any case they are allowed everything they want, they have no desire to seem older than they are. Ursula, twelve at the time of the murder, behaved like a girl of sixteen. She hated Dorothea, who at sixteen was wealthier than she, and arrogant.

Peter Grupen was Ursula's stepfather. He had married her mother when she already had several children, and he was about thirteen years her junior. He called himself an architect, but in reality he had been a builder's foreman before the war, a junior employee in the Vulcan shipyard in Hamburg. During the war (the First World War that had ended three years earlier) he had served with the Uhlans in Hanover, and at Verdun a shell splinter had torn off his left forearm. He embarked on a fresh career, for which a new word had been coined. He was a 'profiteer', speculating in foreign exchange, plots of land, tropical fruit, horses, and cars. At the time of the murder he was only just twenty seven, a short, stocky man with a handsome face, exactly the type of man to trick a woman into marriage.

Fraulein Zahn was at the time forty-two, an ageing spinster, and presumably after remaining a virgin for so long, she would be an easy victim for the first real confidence trickster who offered her marriage. She came to Kleppelsdorf Castle the year Dorothea was born, and after the death of the child's parents became her governess, friend, counselor and companion. To be the sole prop of a beautiful young heiress was an ideal position for her. She encouraged Dörte to lead a gay life, and perhaps even thought of herself as the girl's mother, a childless spinster with maternal feelings.

Frau Augusta Eckardt, aged seventy-five, was the widow of a banker. She was Dorothea's and Ursula's grandmother, and mother-in-law to the "architect" Grupen. A short, thin, vivacious woman, she had an enormous zest for life, so much so that she had forgotten to make any inquiries after the disappearance of her daughter, Frau Grupen. At certain periods of social revolution it is not only the members of the 'lower' classes who are attracted upwards. Some 'upper' class people, particularly women, are fascinated by those who have come up in the world.

These were the principal characters in the drama. In addition there were Fr1iulein Mohr, housekeeper and Grupen's last mistress, Sister Emma Kube, who was to say some strange things in the presence of a horrified prosecutor, a skilful defence counsel and a great many experts.

The drama began on the bitterly cold afternoon of February 14th, 1921. Kleppelsdorf Castle is on the Bober, near the small town of Lähn, north-west of Hirschberg in Silesia, where the summers are hot and dusty, the winters cold and snowy. The people in this part of the country are lonely, but they have cultivated all the virtues of isolation: hospitality, feelings of solidarity, and a strong instinct for self-preservation, and these survive even in times of adversity. The castle is a two-storey building, perhaps a spacious manor house rather than a castle, although it lies in a huge park, for Dorothea's father, it will be remembered, had so much wanted to own a castle and play the squire.

The girl lived alone, except for the servants and her governess Fraulein Zahn, but on this particular day the castle was unusually full. About a fortnight earlier Dörte's grandmother had come from Itzehoe bringing with her Peter Grupen and his stepdaughters Irma and Ursula.

Frau Eckardt, her son-in-law and the younger girl Irma were chatting in the salon when they were called into the dining-room for lunch. One of the maids was sent to fetch the young heiress and her cousin Ursula, but returned shriekking with terror:

"The two girls are dead!"

The old lady and Grupen hurried along to the room which, like most rooms in the castle, had a special name: the Wardrobe Room. It was simply furnished with two beds, a wardrobe, a washstand, dressing-table and two chairs. The carpet, which covered about half the floor, was soaked with blood, and on it lay the two girls. Their grandmother bent over Dorothea who was already dead. Grupen knelt down beside his stepdaughter Ursula, who seemed to be still breathing. His first words-at least according to the account given later during his trial-were:

"Tell us who did it. I shall be blamed!"

Ursula did not speak, and died a few minutes later. Then Grupen noticed the revolver with which the two young girls had been killed. He offered no explanations as to the origin of the weapon, though he soon admitted that it belonged to him.

Had Grupen, the only man present, no knowledge of what to do in murder cases, or was he anxious to clear away the signs of the crime as soon as possible? Whatever the reason, he did not follow the well-known rule that the victim of a murder must not be moved, and carried his stepdaughter on to the nearest bed. A bag containing nineteen more bullets was now visible in the pool of blood under her body. It also contained a letter obviously written by Ursula, and addressed "To Grannie":

... I shot Dörte first and then myself. Now you won't have to worry about Dörte any more .... Your unhappy Ursel.

The old woman held the letter in her hands, unable to take in what it said. Then she looked across at Grupen, who apparently saw the suspicion in her eyes, for he said abruptly:

"You know that I was in the other room with you."

An hour later the head of the local investigation department, Dr Dubiel, arrived with his murder squad. An old and experienced detective, he first confined himself to establishing the facts, trying to reconstruct the last few hours before the murder.

The old lady, Grupen and nine-year-old Irma had been in the drawing-room. Grupen and his stepdaughter had been playing a game with apples as stakes. When Irma won one, and wanted to eat it, they discovered that it was bad, so Grupen first told her to throw it into the stove, then to take it outside instead, and Irma left the room carrying the apple. What the murder squad was anxious to establish was whether Grupen had also left the room. He denied it, and Frau Eckardt said:

"I was knitting and I might have dropped off. I don't know."

Even little Irma did not remember whether her stepfather had followed her out, or whether he was still in the drawing-room when she returned. For the moment the question of an alibi was still unanswered, but the results produced by the forensic experts were more concrete. Dr Peters from L6wenberg made a verbal report only one hour after the discovery of the bodies:

"I consider it impossible for Ursula to have killed her cousin. There are various reasons against her having committed suicide. Firstly, from a shot at a distance of less than five centimeters her eyebrows and probably her eyelashes as well would have been singed-but there are no signs of it. Secondly, suicides usually uncover the spot where they intend to shoot themselves. Thirdly, Ursula had thrown back her head in fright. If she had shot herself, the path of the bullet would have been different. Fourthly, if it had been suicide, the empty cases would have been found near the bodies, but they were scattered all over the room. The most remarkable thing of all, at least for the time being, is that the safety catch was on. So Ursula would have had to push it back after the murder, which is impossible. After the third shot-Dorothea was hit twice, her cousin once the murderer clicked the catch on instinctively." With a faint smile the police doctor added, "I should not be surprised if this was the 'little' mistake that every murderer makes sooner or later. In this case he has probably made it sooner."

Should Peter Grupen be arrested at once? It was not quite so simple. The main difficulty was Ursula's farewell letter:

Frau Eckardt had positively identified the handwriting as her granddaughter's. Then there was Grupen's alibi, which could not be upset there and then. How could he have left the room, killed the two girls, and then returned so quickly -certainly before lunch was announced-to the friendly game? There had recently been too many over-hasty arrests, too many miscarriages of justice. The Press, particularly in the big cities, was hostile to the police and the law. Great care would have to be exercised.

Dr Dubiel questioned all the people in the house. This was an unusual situation, and one to be found generally only in fiction, that all those who could know anything about the crime were under one roof.

The police spent the whole afternoon and evening at the castle. The jigsaw puzzle that was being pieced together under their eyes provided a picture of Germany in the twenties. For one thing, there was Peter Grupen's relationship with his stepdaughter Ursula. Dr Dubiel could not yet establish for certain whether the twenty-seven-year-old man had had sexual intercourse with his twelve-year-old stepdaughter, but from remarks made by Grupen's housekeeper, and hints thrown out by the staff, the detective felt sure there had been a "love affair" between them.

"Ursula was her stepfather's slave," said Dorothea's governess, Fraulein Zahn.

"How do you mean slave?" asked Dubiel. "It seemed as if he had hypnotized her."

Hypnotized: the word stuck in his mind. Hypnosis was very fashionable in post-war German society. Everywhere, especially in Berlin, seances were organized by professional and amateur hypnotists, and they were always well attended. A man called Eric Hanussen, who travelled round with his medium, Martha Farra, made a particular name for himself. Summoning up departed souls and spiritualist meetings provided entertainment for the evening, while mediums became the' glamour girls' of the day, like the mannequins, models and call-girls of later decades. Dr Dubiel thought of little Ursula's letter. He would come back to this business of hypnotic influence.

What had been the relationship between Grupen and the young heiress? Of course, sex had played a part here also, if only in a negative sense. The staff had no doubt that "Mr Architect" was after his stepniece. She had returned from an outing on the river showing all the signs of having been frightened. It was not as if the girl was absolutely averse from having an affair, but according to one of the servants she hated Grupen and knew that he was after her to marry her; after all, she was very rich. He had pursued the beautiful, cold, arrogant girl, but that did not mean that he had left his mistress behind when he visited Kleppelsdorf Castle. Fraulein Mohr, his housekeeper, was brought along from his own house in Oldenbuttel near Itzehoe.

"Did you carry on your affair here?" asked the detective, who was gradually becoming incapable of surprise.

"He slept with me last night," she replied, not without a certain pride.

Had they heard enough? Far from it. The description of the eve of the murder, the Sunday night, as it emerged from the statements of the staff, was one of the most macabre stories of the period. They had played the gramophone.

They had sat in the drawing-room. It had been snowing for days, and they could not see out of the windows which were covered with frosty lace. The great stove glowed red hot. They had put on records, and when the music stopped they could hear the dull thud of the snow as it slid off the roof.

Peter Grupen wanted to dance with Dorothea, but she refused.

"Am I too short for you?" he said. "I hate you," replied the girl.

"I have danced with finer ladies than you." "I can't bear you to touch me."

"Your grandmother is a finer lady," said Grupen, and asked the old woman to dance with him.

Ursula and Dorothea sat by the stove watching the oddly assorted couple. Somebody outside walked across the cracking ice. The gramophone was playing a 'shimmy', the dance of that season, of the profiteers' world. Grupen and the little old lady went on dancing. She was almost hidden in the embrace of the burly man as she held the empty sleeve of his missing left arm in her slim, wrinkled little hand. Grupen would not let her go.

"Look at your grandmother dancing," he called to his stepniece, his face flushed.

Frau Eckardt looked up at the man who was her daughter’s husband. A happy smile played round her mouth with its network of wrinkles.

"Peter is a marvelous dancer," panted the old woman.

The needle stuck in a groove in the record. Idiotically it repeated the refrain: "You can have everything from me ... everything from me ... everything from me ... " It was the hit song of the year. Peter Grupen would not stop. "Everything from me ... everything from me ... " he repeated laughing, and he would still have gone on dancing with the old lady half dead in his arms had not Dorothea rushed out of the room with a cry and slammed the door behind her.

At one in the morning Dr Dubiel sent for the "architect" again.

"Herr Grupen," he said with quite unusual courtesy, "we have been told that shortly after the discovery of the murder you said to Frau Eckardt: 'Now you are the mistress of the entire property: Did you say that?"

"Nothing like it," replied Grupen, clearly already on the defensive.

"But is it correct that Frau Eckardt would be the murdered girl's sole heir?"


"More than likely," commented the detective quietly.

"Your wife was first in line. She is the sister of Fraulein Rohrbeck's mother. Frau Eckardt would only inherit if it could be established that your wife was dead. Am 1 mistaken in saying that this is not the case?"

Grupen looked at the detective through narrowed eyes.

Dr Dubiel had worked incredibly fast.

"You know very well that my wife walked out on me," said Grupen.

The detective nodded.

"She disappeared without a trace several years ago." "She walked out."

"Did she leave a letter?" "Not to me, but to friends."

Letters again, thought Dubiel. Letters from a woman who had vanished. The letter from a 'suicide'. The word hypnosis darted through his mind.

"Did you make any inquiries about your wife?" he asked. "No. 1 was glad to see the back of her." Grupen's mouth stretched into a grin.

"Remarkable," commented Dr Dubiel. "You told your mother-in-law that you had hired a private detective."

"I had to keep the old woman quiet." Grupen rose and paced up and down the room. "I thought you wanted to clear up the death of the two unfortunate girls," he said impatiently.

The detective nodded calmly. "Tell me, Herr Grupen, are you a really good shot?"

Grupen glanced down at his empty sleeve.

"Are you blaming me for being in the war? We learned to shoot at Verdun:'

"The revolver used for the murder was yours?"

"What has that to do with it? Naturally it did not belong to poor little Ursula."

"Did your stepdaughter ever practise shooting?" "Not that I know of."

Then Dr Dubiel questioned Grupen about the relationship between the two girls. Grupen sat down again; he seemed to have regained his composure. He sketched a hideous portrait of the young heiress, and it was quite clear to the detective that this was a case of conflict between two social classes. German democracy was in its infancy. "Ritterbesitzerin"-lady of the manor-was a word from an old dictionary. Very soon the pages would grow yellow, and no longer would anyone be described as landed gentry, but that time had not yet arrived. The word called forth a holy (or unholy) respect from the one-time builder's foreman. He was probably right that the young owner of the castle had been supercilious. She had looked down on the husband of her vanished aunt, this fake architect with his much too fashionable suits, far too loud ties and poor shoes-the smartness of the nouveaux riches never reaches as far as their shoes. Dorothea, whose father had himself 'come up', had been reluctant to admit that the Grupens represented the contemporary world, the world of quick money, fast cars, rapid adventures and swift bankruptcy.

"She never treated my stepdaughter as an equal," said Grupen. "But a good deal could be said about her own way of life. However" -his smile slipped like a badly knotted tie-"speak no ill of the dead!"

"No, speak no ill of the dead," agreed the detective. Meanwhile the police doctors had finished their examination. One of them happened to be a graphologist, often called as an expert witness in legal cases. He made a report to Dr Dubiel, who interrupted his interrogation of Grupen.

"I have managed to get hold of several letters from Ursula," said the doctor, "and have compared the handwriting with that of the 'farewell letter'. I have no doubt at all that the latter was written by Ursula Schade."

The detective made no answer. He had been quite certain that already in a few hours he had found the murderer of the two girls. Now the case he had built up seemed to be collapsing. The phrase "child tragedy" flashed through his mind. This, too, was fashionable in the twenties. There had been "child tragedies" all over Germany-murders and suicides by children. At three in the morning-it was still very dark-the murder squad departed, leaving behind an old woman of seventy-five who had been dancing the evening before, a housekeeper who had been brought to the castle by her master as his mistress, a governess whose lips had remained tightly closed under questioning-and the "architect" Peter Grupen, the only one who might perhaps know the answer to the mystery surrounding the castle.

Ten months later, on December 5th, 1921, the famous case which was to keep the country on tenterhooks until just before Christmas opened at Hirschberg in Silesia.

The Director of Public Prosecutions had authorized the arrest of Dorothea Rohrbeck's step uncle, Peter Grupen, on a double-murder charge.

Grupen had never confessed to the crime; on the contrary he had been passionate in his denials from the outset. The evidence was purely circumstantial, and on this the prosecution-in spite of the unequivocal evidence of the handwriting experts-must establish the profiteer's guilt.

The proceedings, according to the report in Der Bote aus dem Riesengebirge, began on a sunny but bitterly cold winter’s day. The courtroom filled slowly. On the table in front of the dock lay the revolver found at the scene of the crime, revolver bullets, clothing from the bodies of Dorothea Rohrbeck and Ursula Schade, and several other exhibits.

The President of the Court was Dr Krinke from Breslau, a comparatively young and unusually energetic judge, with a tendency to speak like a Prussian officer. The prosecution was led by Dr Reifenrath, an old man, whose conciliatory manner disguised exceptional shrewdness. The defendant had retained two brilliant barristers: young Dr Ablass, who was a local man, and the experienced criminal lawyer Dr Mamroth from Breslau.

The jury benches had an unusual appearance. Nine of the twelve jurors were comparatively well-to-do businessmen, and the other three were the Silesian landowner Count Saurma-Jeltsch from Wilhelmsburg Castle, Beckert, manager of the local bank, and Lieutenant Dulitz from Cunnersdorf.

Within a very few minutes of the defendant's first appearance, the crime reporters - there were dozens of them - realized the basis of the prosecution case. The prosecutor asked for permission to introduce one or more experts on suggestion and hypnosis, explaining that the murdered girl, twelve-year-old Ursula Schade, had been under the hypnotic influence of her stepfather. The defence objected and the three judges withdrew for consultation. Ought an expert on hypnosis to be allowed? This question showed from the outset that this was to be a most unusual trial, but for the time being the court decided not to hear any expert witnesses.

There was another unusual element. This was a case of circumstantial evidence where one shred of proof of the defendant's innocence would be quite enough to ensure his acquittal-even if all the rest pointed to his guilt. In the course of the proceedings the farewell letter left by the murdered Ursula was read aloud.

Dear Grannie,

Do not be cross with me for taking Daddy's revolver out of the desk. I want to help you. I shot Dörte first and then myself. Now you won't have to worry about Dörte any more. When Daddy was showing it to Uncle Willhelm I watched how it was done, then I took it afterwards on the quiet. With love to you and Daddy,

Your unhappy Ursel

During the preliminary investigations experts had definitely identified the letter of the "murderess" and "suicide"; there could be no question of its being a forgery, but if Ursula had written it, then how could a charge of murder against Grupen be upheld? The prosecution would have to prove that the child had written the letter under the influence-probably the hypnotic influence-of her stepfather, and Dr Reifenrath realized that his case would stand or fall on this.

The spectators, who had waded through deep snow to the Hirschberg Assizes, packed the courtroom. Everybody's interest was focused on the one-armed defendant led in by court officials. Well-dressed and composed, he answered every question calmly and politely, and appeared to be a thoroughly nondescript man with almost no peculiarities. Was he really a hypnotist, a double murderer, morally corrupt, a devil? If so he was a fiend in very inconspicuous guise.

For the first few days it seemed as though Peter Grupen was not on trial for the murder of the two girls, but was there to explain to the court the disappearance of his wife, of whom nothing had been heard since the previous September.

President: What happened on September 19th?

Defendant: My wife drove to Itzehoe. I went with her to the station.

President: Was there anybody else in the carriage?

Defendant: Yes, two maids.

President: But they both got out.

Defendant: That is so.

President: How was your wife dressed?

Defendant: She had a green hat. I cannot say for sure whether she was wearing a coat. I assumed she intended to go to Kleppelsdorf.

President: But you were not worried that your wife never arrived in Kleppelsdorf. You made no inquiries. What did you think had happened?

Defendant: That she had gone away with her lover.

(Disturbance in court.)

President: Who was your wife's lover?

Defendant: A soap manufacturer called Schultz, with whom she had an affair during her first marriage.

President: So your marriage with a woman some thirteen years older than yourself was unhappy from the start?

Defendant: No, I was in love with her to start with.

President: Had you any monetary reasons for marrying her?

Defendant: No.

Then the President of the Court tried to clarify the financial circumstances of the couple before Frau Grupen's disappearance. There was still no mention of the murder. It transpired that two days before her disappearance, Frau Grupen had transferred a mortgage worth 52,000 marks to her husband, that she had given him complete power of attorney, and that a division of the property was to be made. Asked why Frau Grupen should have done all that if she intended to leave her husband and, as he claimed, go to America with her lover, the accused had no plausible answer-perhaps she wanted to make provision for her children. This was quite inconsistent with the fact that Frau Grupen, if she were still alive, would have come forward after the death of her daughter Ursula, yet nothing more had ever been heard of her. It was not even established that she actually did take the train from Itzehoe.

Even when, after many hours in the box, Grupen was at last asked about the events at the castle, the murder was still not mentioned. The questions all concerned his relationship with Dorothea. The young man appeared to base his behaviour towards the sixteen-year-old heiress on the motto of the Erlking: "If you are not willing, I shall use force." Married to a wife thirteen years older than he, Grupen made love to a girl about the same number of years younger.

When the defendant denied this courtship, he was confronted with Dörte's letters, in which she spoke of her stepuncle's proposals of marriage. On the other hand there was the evidence of the governess, Fraulein Zahn, who stated that Grupen had occasionally taken Dorothea boating on the Alster-they had all three travelled to Hamburg-and attempted to kill her. The presiding judge explained to the court that according to this statement Grupen had deliberately tried to steer the boat into the wash of a ship, and had thrown away an oar; while retrieving it he had nearly succeeded in capsizing the skiff.

"Fraulein Rohrbeck," continued the President, "told quite a number of people that the incident was no accident. She must have felt quite certain that you were threatening her life."

"I cannot believe that Fraulein Rohrbeck said anything of the kind," replied the defendant.

And still the President refrained from mentioning the day of the murder. He now reached the relationship between Grupen and his twelve-year-old stepdaughter Ursula, and this part of the trial was heard in camera.

At the inquiry Sister Emma Kube, who lived very close to the castle, had known Dorothea since she was born, and had always looked after her, stated that shortly before the murder Ursula Schade had been brought to see her. She had discovered that the girl was suffering from venereal disease; the body was subsequently examined by police doctors-and Sister Kube's statement confirmed. Grupen was questioned and admitted that he, the child's stepfather, suffered from the same disease, so in all probability he had passed it on to her. Grupen would no more admit to his misconduct with Ursula than to the murder of the two girls. It is therefore not surprising that the jury did not believe him, for mention was made at the trial of the following facts brought to light during the investigations:

Grupen had had at least a dozen love affairs after his marriage; he had once had orgies at his house with three mistresses at the same time; he had promised marriage to several servants, including the most recent, the housekeeper who had been present on the day of the murder; he had made advances not only to Dorothea Rohrbeck, but to her governess, the ageing Fraulein Zahn, and had promised marriage to her also; he had exercised his masculine charm even on "Grannie" Eckardt, the old widow of the banker, and his sexual appetite, as it was to be called later by Dr Reifenrath, had been "insatiable", which was quite at variance with his own statement that he had not been able to satisfy the "erotic needs" of his wife.

What a picture of the life of that period of which Erich Kiistner wrote:

Wir haben die Frauen zu Bett gebracht,

Als die Manner in Frankreich standen.

Wir hatten uns das viel schoner gedacht.

Wir waren nur Konfirmanden ...

Dann gab es ein bisschen Revolution

Und schneite Kartoffelflocken;

Dann kamen die Frauen, wie friiher schon,

Und dann kamen die Gonokokken.

(We took the women to bed while their husbands were in France. We thought that was much better for us. We were only candidates for confirmation. .. Then there was a bit of a revolution, and it snowed potato flakes; then came the women, just as before, and then came the gonorrhoea.)

It was indeed an epoch when men were in short supply; the Kleppelsdorf murder trial, in which only women appeared, was an illustration of this, and the one-armed Peter Grupen, who slept with little girls and ageing women, with society ladies and servants, was its hero. It was a time when the women were alone, but not yet independent: when decisions had to be faced, they clung on to the 'spare' man, even if he was only a one-time builder's foreman.

It was an era when even the small amount of external security that money could offer was tottering. Not only the speculators gambled, but all those with means tried to protect their insecure capital-the old banker's widow, her daughter, young Dorothea, and they all turned for advice to the self-made man, who had never possessed anything, and perhaps because of this very fact knew his way around in these times of uncertain values.

Now, at last, the visitors to the Hirschberg Assizes heard the first words directly related to the crime. The prosecution had to prove two points: firstly, as already mentioned, that Ursula Schade's farewell letter had been written under the influence of the accused, and secondly, that the latter had left the Winter Room (as the salon was called) at the time of the murder, at least for several minutes. If Ursula Schade had written the letter on her own, then she had killed her cousin and herself so Grupen could not be the murderer. If Grupen had been in the Winter Room, he could not have committed the crime. Everything else, as the prosecution well knew, was merely circumstantial evidence of varying importance.

The lengthy testimony of the forty-two-year-old governess, Fraulein Zahn, the first witness to be called, seemed to advance the case very little. She came into court wearing unrelieved black. Mourning would show that she thought of herself as the mother of the murdered heiress. She had been in a different part of the house at the time of the murder, and could say nothing of her own knowledge about Peter Grupen's whereabouts at the time in question. Every word she spoke showed her love for the murdered heiress. It had been the middle-aged spinster's dream to become Frau Rohrbeck, hoping that Dorothea's father would marry her; her life had been full of disappointments.

Throughout her evidence the witness avoided looking at Grupen. When her relationship with the one-armed "architect" was mentioned, she lowered her eyes, and was obviously relieved when she was asked about the financial circumstances of the murdered girl. She launched into a spirited attack against the guardian, a certain Herr Vielhack, who had kept the heiress and her governess uncommonly short of money. It was only when the presiding judge questioned her about Grupen's affairs with other women that a spiteful gleam appeared in the small eyes of the bony, desiccated Fraulein Zahn, who was said to have condoned her charge's frivolous pleasures, and enjoyed talking about sex --on the part of others.

The prosecution, assuming that the grandmother, Frau Eckardt, would clear the defendant, rose to question the governess.

Prosecutor: Would you describe the relationship between the defendant and Frau Eckardt as affectionate? .

Witness (eagerly): They were on very affectionate terms.

I have never seen such intimacy between mother-in-law and son-in-law.

Prosecutor: Did you notice the accused caressing his mother-in-law?

Witness: The relationship was certainly quite unusual.

Prosecutor: What do you mean by that?

Witness: Dörte once told me that Grupen had asked her:

"What would you say if I married your grandmother?"

Defendant (leaping to his feet): Dörte can never have said anything so silly.

Fraulein Zahn turned her back on the accused. People should see that she was hostile to him. Nonetheless, before she left the court she had a surprise to spring. She had, she said, found a letter which the missing Frau Grupen had written to her niece Dorothea on the day before her mysterious departure. The witness fumbled in her shabby black handbag and handed a letter to the President of the Court, who read it aloud:

Dear Dörte,

This is to say goodbye again before I leave for America, and to wish you a happy life in the future. It would certainly be best to have at your side a dear good man to help and advise you. Take your Uncle Peter as a good example. He has lost much, and will lose a great deal now, but he still manages to survive all the storms of life.

Best wishes from your Aunt Gertrud

The accused began to gesticulate, the prosecution objected, defence counsel left their seats, and the jury leaned forward enthralled. All the spectators had the feeling that at this moment Peter Grupen was very near to being acquitted. Although hitherto no charge of murdering his wife had been mentioned, hardly anyone doubted that he had murdered her and buried her body. If that were not so-and it could not be the case since Gertrud Grupen really had gone secretly to America-then the charge of double murder appeared in a new light, since it was possible that Grupen was also innocent of the death of the two girls in the Wardrobe Room.

"I ask leave to call a handwriting expert," cried counsel for the prosecution.

"Perhaps Frau Grupen, too, was under 'hypnotic influence'," jeered Dr Mamroth, leading counsel for the defence.

"I am innocent!" cried the defendant.

At this moment all the lights went out; it was late afternoon and the courtroom was plunged into complete darkness.

There was a feeling that it was a judgment from heaven [wrote the local paper Bote aus dem Riesengebirge with the exaggeration of provincial journalism]. The presiding judge and court officials had. to shout to one another. Finally lamps were brought. Everything looked ghostly in the feeble light they shed. The dark figure of the witness Zahn, who had caused all the excitement, was like a shadow, hardly recognizable. The trial proceeded in the uncanny gloom.

If it looked momentarily as though the fate of the accused, contrary to expectation, had taken a turn for the better, the prosecution struck a hard blow a very few minutes later. The chief witness for the prosecution was Irma Schade, not quite eleven. Ursula's younger sister was neatly dressed, modest and well-behaved, and gave the impression of being unusually quick-witted. As with most young people who mature early her behaviour alternated between astonishingly 'grown-up' conversation and occasional lapses into complete childishness.

Irma's evidence caused a clash between the contending counsels. The prosecution asked that she be heard without Grupen being present: the stepfather's influence and his "piercing eyes" might lead to a false statement. Young Dr Ablass, for the defence, lectured his opponent on "the youth of today". Little Irma was much too independent to be in the kind of danger the prosecution suggested. Dr Krinke decided in favour of the prosecution, and Grupen was led out of the court so that Irma could give her evidence in his absence. This could be decisive, since she had been playing a game with her stepfather in the Winter Room a few minutes before the murder. Had Grupen left the room? No question could be of greater significance, and nobody could answer it better than the little girl. Irma, who had arrived at Kleppelsdorf shortly before the day of the murder with her stepfather, sister and grandmother, first described the journey. She had slept most of the way with her head resting on Ursula' s shoulder.

"Did you notice whether Ursula had anything hard in her pocket?" asked the judge, and when Irma said "No", he continued: "Did you ever see Ursula with a revolver and bullets?" Again the child said "No".

"Who packed your luggage?" "Grandmother ."

"And who had the keys?"

"Father." (She meant her stepfather, the defendant.)

"Now try to remember exactly what happened on the day of the murder," said the judge in a kindly voice.

"I remember exactly. I went with Dörte to the post. On the way back we bought some oranges. Then Dörte went straight to Fraulein Zahn's room, and I went into the room where father was sitting with my grandmother and Mohr:' (This was the housekeeper, Grupen's mistress, whom he had brought with him to the castle.) "We played a game. After a while I won an apple, but it was rotten. He [Grupen] told me I should take it out to the lavatory. I did, and threw it away:'

"Did Herr Grupen follow you, or did he stay in the room?" "He came out after me. He stayed outside and I came back to the Winter Room:'

There was a tremendous stir in the courtroom. If the child's evidence was true, and if the court believed it, the defendant's alibi had collapsed. Such was the excitement that for the first time a juror intervened to ask whether Grupen had really sent the child out with the apple. Irma said "Yes" in a firm voice.

It was now the defence's turn to cross-examine. How was it, Dr Ablass and Dr Mamroth asked, that though Irma had already been thoroughly interrogated three times, she had never mentioned Grupen's absence?

"I forgot," answered the little girl, adding quickly, "Nobody asked me:'

"I did not say anybody had asked you," said Dr Mamroth.

"But it is very strange that you should have thought about it at all." 

The presiding judge, obviously puzzled, recalled the defendant.

When the evidence Irma had just given was read out to Grupen, his eyes sought those of his stepdaughter, who looked unflinchingly back at him.

Dr Ablass asked that Irma should be made to stand in front of her stepfather and repeat her statement, but the prosecution protested that according to the rules for procedure a witness was not obliged to repeat a statement.

While the grown-ups were arguing heatedly over her, Irma burst into tears. The judge turned to the court psychiatrist, as if to inquire whether he thought it suitable for the defendant to be confronted by his stepdaughter. The psychiatrist shook his head. The key witness was released, and left the court with her little face twisted, the corners of her mouth trembling, and her eyes full of tears.

At that moment the lights came on again.

According to paragraph 121 of the German regulations concerning juveniles in court, the law must test a child's evidence with particular care. However, this rule only came into being in 1953, and as Dr Max Hirschberg stated in his excellent book Das Fehlurteil in Strafprozess ("Miscarriage of Justice") was one of the most important advances in litigation. In 1921, when the Kleppelsdorf murder trial took place in Silesia, however, there was no such rule, and little Irma Schade's evidence carried as much weight as that of any adult. Like every witness whose statement is of decisive importance, ten-year-old Irma now had to run the gauntlet. Hour after hour witnesses were called to testify to the child's character. Some gave her a spotless one, while others exaggerated the ordinary naughtiness of a child into serious blemishes, and emphasized the "witness's" untruthfulness. The Berlin Vossische Zeitung spoke, not without justification, of the third child murder.

The defence hoped that the evidence of only two witnesses would destroy the case constructed by the prosecution.

They were both women: Marie Mohr, housekeeper and mistress of the defendant, and Frau Augusta Eckardt, his old mother-in-law.

Marie Mohr was a young Silesian peasant girl, blonde and pretty. She had a round, chubby face, and was wearing a dress that fitted tightly over her large breasts. Grupen and she, it was immediately obvious, were well-matched. The builder's foreman, who had made such a success of his life that he had married a banker's daughter and wooed the lady of the manor, nonetheless spoke the same language as his servant. If anything could undermine the defendant's position still further, then it was the excessive loyalty with which the servant interceded for her former master and lover. At the very beginning of her evidence Marie Mohr disclosed two new facts. She said that Ursula had woken her one night at the castle and asked excitedly where the book box was that the visitors had brought with them. That supported the suggestion that she had, in fact, hidden the murder weapon in the box. The second piece of information was even more important.

"On the 9th or 10th February, Ursel gave me a letter for her grandmother. She said that the letter contained 'a big surprise for Grannie'. The next day she asked for it" back, saying her grandmother should have the letter later.

The housekeeper's evidence conveyed the impression that the farewell letter had not only certainly been written by Ursula, but that she knew quite well what it said, an impression prosecuting counsel must destroy.

"What sort of mood was Ursel in when she gave you the letter?" he asked.

"Very cheerful," replied Mohr.

"So she cheerfully intended to announce a murder and a suicide," said the advocate sarcastically.

Dr Ablass sprang to his feet.

"Is it not a fact that Ursel ran weeping to her grandmother and got into her bed?"

"Yes, that's right," agreed the witness.

Then Dr Krinke took over the questioning. He reminded the witness that she would ultimately have to swear to what she now said, and that it was of vital importance.

Presiding Judge (in a loud voice): Answer yes or no. Did the defendant follow little Irma when she took the apple to the lavatory?

Witness: No.

Judge: Did the defendant interrupt his game with her?

Witness: Yes, but he did not leave the room.

Judge: Not at any time?

Witness: Not at any time.

Defendant (standing up): I beg the witness not to worry about me.

Witness: I am not worrying about you. I am telling the truth.

Judge: What did the defendant say to you when he was taken away?

Witness: That I was to tell the truth, and that would show he was innocent.

Even under cross-examination by the prosecution Marie Mohr stuck to her statement, which was the equivalent of a perfect alibi for the defendant. At the same time it completely contradicted Irma Schade's evidence. Either the child or the man's mistress had been lying. Perhaps the grandmother’s evidence would be decisive.

Frau Augusta Eckardt entered the court. Like most small people she carried herself erect; like most people whom age has beaten, she tried to beat old age. She walked past the accused, hesitated for a moment, then glanced up at him. "It might have been a smile", commented the reporter of the Vossische Zeitung.

In a clear voice the old lady described how the defendant and her daughter had become acquainted.

"She met him at an engagement party. Herr Grupen joked with her, and she answered for the sake of the joke."

"Your son-in-law Schade was, of course, already dead at that time?" asked the judge, and as if in this murder trial there was hardly a single answer that did not introduce a new and mysterious problem, the witness replied:

"The death of my son-in-law Schade was said to have been the result of a shooting accident, but there was an investigation involving Schultz, the soap manufacturer from Perleberg, who was giving my daughter lessons in bookkeeping.' The old woman's face twisted into a malicious smile. "Herr Schultz was one of my daughter's lovers, of whom Herr Grupen has spoken."

The presiding judge slackened the reins, and let the trial have its head. He made no attempt to prevent the defence lawyers from taking turns to ask about the other lovers of the missing Frau Grupen.

"Yes," answered Frau Eckardt to one question, "she also had an affair with the veterinary surgeon Reske."

After the banker's widow had thus exposed her missing daughter, and had, on the other hand, given a glowing testimonial to Grupen both as a husband and stepfather, she spoke of her daughter's disappearance. It was not very surprising that she had accepted Gertrud's disappearance so easily, for the latter had had "an obsession to emigrate to America one day".

The old woman gave her evidence in a calm firm voice. It was only when she had to describe the day of the murder that she began to falter. She accepted the President's suggestion that she should sit down.

"I must ask you once more, Frau Eckardt, what you have already been asked many times," he said. "Can you or can you not state on oath that the accused was in the Winter , Room at the time in question?"

"I was not watching the defendant," answered the old woman-it was the first time she had used the term 'defendant'-"the whole time. It is possible that I dropped off to sleep."

The explanation seemed to satisfy the prosecution. When Dr Reifenrath asked in a triumphant tone whether she had slept long enough for Grupen to have been able to commit the crime, she answered evasively:

"I do not know whether, or how long, I was asleep." Then she added hesitantly, "1 don't believe Ursula did it."

To counteract the effect of these words, the young and energetic Dr Ablass asked permission to read out a letter sent by the old lady to Wilhelm Grupen, the defendant's brother.

There has been a fearful accident here. Ursel took the revolver out of Peter's desk, and yesterday afternoon she shot Dörte and herself. Isn't it awful? As if that weren't enough, Peter has been arrested, because they do not think Ursel could have done it. At the time of the tragedy we were upstairs with Irma in the drawing-room, as we can both swear. So his innocence is bound to be proved.

Frau Eckardt could offer no explanation as to why she had thought at the time that she could swear that Grupen had not left the room, but now mentioned "dropping off". She stepped down, her head bowed. She had defied old age, but in a single hour it had defeated her. She had wanted to save her beloved son-in-law, this vigorous young man from another world; she had also wanted to protect her grandchild’s memory. She had been reproached for caressing her son-in-law and dancing with him. Frau Eckardt crept out of the court, a tiny, broken old woman.

The fact that not only did the testimony of her stepdaughter Irma conflict with that of the housekeeper, but the old woman, who was ready "to swear" to Grupen's innocence, had now destroyed the defendant's alibi by contradicting herself, proves how right Dr Max Hirschberg was to include among the six causes of miscarriage of justice, the "uncritical evaluation of witnesses' testimony". The other five are: uncritical assessment of the confession; uncritical assessment of incrimination by others accused; false identification; lying as proof of guilt; uncritical assessment of expert opinion.

This last possible source of error was to play a decisive part in the Kleppelsdorf murder trial. The enormous responsibility borne by the experts in this case is not surprising, for I have already shown how difficult it had become to uphold the alibi of the defendant, or on the other hand to destroy it. Of those present in the drawing-room at the time, little Irma "knew" that Grupen had gone out, while her grandmother "knew" different things at different times. And this was all in a single room of a single house at a single given time!

What the experts now had to decide had been reduced to a single question: Did the former builder's foreman and fake architect, Peter Grupen, possess hypnotic powers? If he did not, then his wife really had left a farewell letter, and had probably fled to America with her lover, possibly with a lover who had previously shot her first husband. If Grupen had hypnotic powers, then it was conceivable that the letter from the vanished woman had been written under his influence; it was possible that a body fished out of the river Alster shortly afterwards had, in fact, been that of Gertrud Grupen and that she had been murdered.

If Grupen had no compelling powers of suggestion, then Ursula Schade had written her farewell letter to her grandmother of her own free will, and thus was the heroine of one of the many child tragedies of the period, but if he had, then he could have induced his twelve-year-old stepdaughter to write the letter, and committed the fearful crime himself. Much of the evidence that followed turned, even before the experts themselves made their statements, on the word 'hypnosis', which in those dreary post-war years, when there was a yearning for the supernatural, itself exercised a hypnotic effect. Half a dozen witnesses spoke repeatedly of "the penetrating look" and "piercing eyes" of the defendant; one witness asked for him to be taken away, as she "had no will of her own in his presence"; the greatest attention was paid to one statement that Grupen had taken part in spiritual seances. In those pre-Christmas days of 1921, in the heart of the democratic-progressive Germany of the Weimar Republic, one could well imagine oneself back in the Middle Ages, when witches were burned.

The testimony of the secondary-school teacher, Fraulein Kiefert from Itzehoe, who had taught Ursula Schade, was particularly damaging.

"On one occasion we were talking about hypnosis in class," she said, "and Ursula said that her mother knew a man who was a hypnotist. If he looked hard at anyone, that person would have to do whatever he asked."

"Was there any indication as to whether the man in question was the defendant?" asked the presiding judge.

"When I asked her, Ursula only said that she knew where the man 'could be found'. I asked her if she was frightened of him, but she said 'No, it's over as soon as he turns away his eyes.'''

Just as incriminating (in that indirect sense which in cases of circumstantial evidence is so important) was the evidence of someone who knew the vanished woman.

"Frau Grupen loved taking part in spiritualist seances. She boasted to me that she was a magnificent medium, because she had managed to establish contact between her husband and Herr Muller-Czerny in Homburg."

When the judge asked who this Muller-Czerny was, the witness replied, as if to a slightly feeble-minded person:

"Herr Muller-Czerny is famous throughout Germany. He can heal cripples and restore those apparently dead. Hundreds of unfortunate people are at this very moment queueing outside his house."

At last on December 20th, after the trial had lasted more than a fortnight, the experts were called, including the leading expert on hypnosis, Dr Moll from Berlin, who was destined to play the principal role.

The heavy snowfall had affected the electric light; the courtroom was continually being plunged in darkness, and again and again the smelly oil-lamps were produced.(Outside it was icy cold, but clear, and a sharp wind blew from the Riesengebirge. In Hirschberg itself there was a bustle of activity. A Christmas tree had been set up in the main square for the poor. Children dragging sledges behind them ran from shop window to shop window. It would soon be Christmas Eve, and in the market the trees for sale were growing scarcer and more straggly.

In the restaurants, cafes and public houses throughout the town people had only one question: Was the murderer of the two girls the "architect" Peter Grupen, with the "penetrating look" and "piercing eyes" and endowed with "supernatural powers"; the man who had persuaded his wife to write a "farewell" letter and then murdered her; who had dictated another "farewell" letter to a twelve-year-old under hypnosis; who had bent a dozen women to his will through suggestion, perhaps even a seventy-five-year-old woman?

The small town lived in a state of hypnotic suggestion. It did not expect judgment to come from the judge and jury. The expert on hypnosis, the professor from Berlin, would pronounce the final word. A strange feature of the Grupen case was that the most important actors in the trial should not have been the witnesses, nor counsel for both sides, but the experts. However, the year should not be forgotten. Just about this time was born that almost superstitious reverence for the specialist that still fills us today, but then, even more than now, it seemed impossible that the specialist, the expert, could be wrong.

This is why it looked on the second day of the trial as if the jury, in spite of all the incriminating evidence, would have to acquit the defendant. That was the day that the famous handwriting expert, Dr Jeserich, specially brought from Berlin was questioned by the presiding judge.

"Do you consider the so-called farewell letter that Ursula Schade addressed to her grandmother to be genuine?"

"From a graphological point of view there is no doubt about the genuineness of this letter." There was a stir in the court. "This letter and others which were certainly written by little Ursula are alike in every detail."

"This letter was written in pencil?" "Yes.);)

"Another of Ursula's letters, written to a Frau Barthel on the same day, and signed 'Your unhappy Ursula' was written in ink?"

"That means nothing," snapped Dr Jeserich.

The judge persisted. "Could the word 'unhappy' possibly have been added later?"

"There is no reason to think so."

"On the strength of your statement at the preliminary hearing," continued Dr Krinke, "1 must ask you whether the letter reveals certain similarities with Grupen's handwriting"

There were indignant murmurs, since many of the spectators considered the question might lead the witness.

"lf the letter is a forgery, then it must have been done by a greater artist than I have ever met in all my forty-three years of experience. I repeat: the letter was undoubtedly written by Ursula Schade."

"You have also examined the farewell letter that Frau Grupen is alleged to have written before her disappearance. Do you consider this to be genuine?"

"Frau Grupen's handwriting in this letter is identical with that in previous letters she wrote."

The next expert was Professor Schneidemühl from Berlin.

He confirmed his colleague' s evidence, and added:

"Only an incredibly skilful forger could have copied both handwritings with such convincing exactness."

There was a still louder murmuring among the spectators, who were on the whole against Grupen, when the judge was obviously dissatisfied with the statements of the two witnesses, which cleared the accused. He asked both men whether they thought it possible that the two farewell letters could have been written "under the influence of suggestion". Both answered in the negative, and Professor Schneideemühl was also speaking for his colleague when he said:

"Even a letter with the most innocent contents would have shown signs of mental agitation if it had been written under suggestive influence. Neither Frau Grupen's letter nor that of Ursula shows the slightest signs of it."

The public prosecutor, feeling that his case was slipping through his fingers, tried to make capital out of the professor's comment. Ursula's letter at least, he submitted, would certainly have been written in a state of mental agitation, even without outside influence, since it contained news of murder and suicide.

"I shall now put a direct question to you," interrupted Dr Krinke. "Do you consider it possible that either of the letters was written under hypnosis?"

The professor replied that he thought it improbable that both had been written under hypnotic influence, although such cases were not unknown.

"It was suggested to a Danish student under hypnosis that he was Napoleon, and the signature he wrote on a piece of paper looked identical with that of the Emperor. But this is not a parallel case, for the defendant was not the hypnotized person, but allegedly the hypnotist."

Though the evidence of the handwriting experts favoured the accused, that of the ballistics expert, the gunsmith Walter from Lowenberg, redressed the balance. With the help of drawings on a blackboard, he endeavoured to show that Ursula Schade could not possibly have shot herself.

"I am convinced," said the stout, rosy-cheeked man firmly, "that the murderer, standing somewhere near the centre of the room, aimed and fired first at Dorothea Rohrbeck, then at Ursula Schade who was running towards the door, and a third shot at Dorothea, who was still breathing. There is no doubt at all that Ursula was shot from a greater distance than her cousin. Ursula's scalp was not penetrated, though the shot was embedded in it. The shot through Dorothea's head had been fired at closer range."

"Would you say," interrupted the judge, "that Ursula was capable of handling the revolver well enough to shoot herself?"

With all the enthusiasm of a model pupil Walter replied:

"From my experience I do not consider a girl could have handled the weapon properly after merely watching a demonstration. And one cannot rely on the accuracy of anyone so young."

The two groups of experts had now spoken. According to the first, the defendant was innocent, for it was improbable that he had forged both farewell letters, or that they had been written under his hypnotic influence. According to the second, however, Grupen was guilty, since Ursula Schade could not have committed the murder and suicide mentioned in the letter to her grandmother. It now rested with the jury to decide between the handwriting and ballistic experts.

Even then the expert evidence was far from being at an end. The next to be called were the two District Medical Officers, Dr Peters and Dr Scholtz, who were supported by Dr Lesser from Breslau. There was not the slightest discrepancy in their statements, all three being unanimous that-as Dr Lesser put it-"the participation of an alien hand must be accepted as proved".

"The attendant circumstances are all against Ursula's having committed suicide." Dr Peters summarized them briefly. "When the gun was aimed at her, she jerked back her head in terror. The passage of the bullet shows that the murderer shot her from a position near Dörte who had collapsed."

Grupen, who had remained quite calm during the whole of the expert evidence, now leapt to his feet.

"But I am not the murderer," he cried. "I do not know who the murderer is!"

His two counsel tried to calm him, and prevent him from saying any more. After all, the defence was entirely constructed on the supposition that there was no "murderer", that Ursula had, as she said in her letter to her grandmother, first killed her cousin, the beautiful young heiress, then herself.

The heating system had failed, and it was bitterly cold in the courtroom. The vigorous, athletic-looking President shivered, the old public prosecutor shivered, both the young and old defending counsel shivered, but the public, (who had waded there through the deep snow on this cold December day, stuck it out steadfastly. Anyone who had had the 'luck' to get hold of a ticket was anxious not to miss the evidence of Dr Moll, professor of hypnosis, and the greatest German expert in his field.

Even unbiased observers found it difficult to remain uninfluenced by his personality. His entrance was like the first appearance of a great actor whom everybody has been discussing freely on the stage before his arrival. He radiated infallibility. He had come from Berlin to this small town, a star among supporting players. In addition, he was an elderly man who exactly corresponded to the father-figure so prominent in psycho-analysis. Tall and thin, with a crown of white hair round his bald head and a scholarly, ascetic face, with an aristocratic nose and thin lips, here was a man from whom one could expect 'the last word'. When in the course of his evidence (he spoke for nearly a whole day of the trial) the eminent doctor made repeated use of the expression "suggestive personality", no better example was needed. He himself was the embodiment of suggestive personality.

During Dr Moll's discourse those present had at times the impression that the old gentleman did not care a fig for the machinery of the law in which he was now the most important cog. He rarely allowed himself to be interrupted by the President of the Court, and at times continued his speech without even answering the questions that were put to him. He had not only expressed an opinion. He had passed sentence.

The defendant Peter Grupen was guilty.

"There are many quite confused ideas about hypnosis," began the professor in a didactic tone, as if he were addressing a class of school children. The question of whether Frau Grupen or the child Ursula had been hypnotized by Grupen was, he said, unimportant. There were people whose powers of suggestion were much greater than that of hypnotists. Was Grupen such a man? Dr Moll asserted with the whole weight of his authority that he was.

"It is indeed unusual," he said, "for a man to succeed in subjugating his wife and his stepmother in the same way, and Grupen's power to make a whole harem of women submissive simultaneously is still more unusual."

"Do you mean the sexual bondage of these women?" interposed the judge.

For once the professor appeared to take notice of the question.

"Sexual bondage," he explained, "can have a stronger influence than the most complete hypnosis. Both Frau Grupen and his little stepdaughter Ursula were undoubtedly the defendant's slaves." For the first time he paused. "The farewell letter written by Ursula was not the kind that a child such as we have come to know from the evidence would write by herself. It is just as certain that this letter was dictated to the girl by Grupen as that he dictated his wife's letter before her alleged flight."

Nobody, not even Grupen's counsel, dared to interrupt the professor. Nobody rose to say that it was not the duty of an expert on hypnosis to weigh the evidence, that he had been called to pass judgment on the hypnotic aspect of the case, not on the evidence of other witnesses. Doctor, professor, expert-a typically German respect for titles, specialists and experts paralysed the law, and paralysed justice as well.

It was unnecessary for the prosecution to present a strong case against the accused-the professor did it for them. He stressed that suicide by shooting was extremely rare among women; that the defendant was relying on his powers of suggestion when after his arrest he called to the housekeeper Mohr to stick to the truth; that the mixture of sexuality, force and suggestion was quite sufficient to deprive children, or even adults, of their will power, and to induce them to perform such actions as the writing of the farewell letters.

Having given his evidence the professor made to leave the court with no more than a brief nod, apparently thinking it hardly possible that anybody would attempt through questioning to make him change his considered opinion. Indeed, only one juror did venture to ask him a question

"Do you consider it possible that the penetrating stare of the defendant could be an important factor in influencing weak characters or children?"

A question straight from medieval witch hunts, one would have thought, but the professor from Berlin nodded his agreement.

"That is my opinion."

The statements of the handwriting experts were forgotten.

The anchor of salvation for the accused dangled loosely and could find no purchase. Was there any sense in making speeches? Would it not be better to hurry away into the Christmas town, buy presents and a tree, and think of fat carp for the festive table? Yes, much better.

After Dr Moll's evidence, the speeches of counsel for both sides seemed pale and meaningless. Dr Mamroth alone whipped himself up to some degree of eloquence.

"It is the vox populi that demands a conviction. It is understandable that people want there to be a culprit, but this vox populi is the most dangerous thing in the world. It is a ghost that dissolves when one tries to grasp it ... Experts have appeared in this court who have not, as is proper, assisted the judges but the prosecution .... I came here with many doubts, but found my colleague to be convinced of the innocence of our client. I, too, have become increasingly certain of it as the trial has progressed." There was almost a note of despair in his voice as he continued, "Put the certainty of two honourable advocates in the scales as well, and give it full weight. Then you will return a verdict of Not Guilty."

Then the defendant, visibly trembling, rose once more.

"I agree with the remarks of my two counsel," he said simply. "I only wish to say one thing. The public prosecutor thinks I received the Iron Cross as compensation for the loss of my arm. He had plenty of time during the ten months' investigation to inspect my military record. I volunteered to fight for a good cause, and now I am charged with killing an innocent child, a child I loved! I am completely innocent! "

The court was practically in darkness when the jury retired to consider their verdict; the electric light had failed, for about the tenth time.

The representatives of the people were out for only two hours.

In the words of Der Bote aus dem Riesengebirge for December 21st, 1921:

The public prepared themselves for a long wait. People passed the time in animated conversation. The grimness of the place and occasion was forgotten. Witnesses and experts prepared to leave, court officials removed the pieces of evidence; only the skull on which the fatal shots had been demonstrated remained on the table in front of the judges, like one of the mene tekels (warning symbols) of the old Vehmic courts.

Shortly after three o'clock the shrill sound of the bell rang through the corridors; the jury had completed their deliberation and cast their votes. The people's judges were ready to announce their decision.

The judges resumed their seats. In solemn silence the jury filed in, and all present held their breath. Then the foreman, Lieutenant Dulitz from Cunnersdorf, announced that with more than seven votes he and his fellow jurors had found the defendant, architect Peter Grupen from Oldenbuttel, guilty of the murder of one Dorothea Rohrbeck on February 14th, 1921, at Kleppelsdorf Castle near Lähn, and that the deed was premeditated.

The jury also found Grupen guilty of the murder of Ursula Schade and of immoral conduct towards her. Nobody looked at the foreman as he was reading out the verdict. Every inquisitive eye was on the man in the dock. How would the creature react now that his hour had come?

Grupen stood stiff and erect.

"I waive here and now my right to any appeal or request for clemency. The jury’s verdict is a miscarriage of justice, but I can understand how they reached their decision. Perhaps the day will come when some of the details will be explained."

That day has not yet come. In the days of the Weimar Republic in Germany the State recognized capital punishment, but it did not save the first German democracy from defeat. Peter Grupen was executed shortly after Christmas, in January 1922.

Even today, although I have studied all the documents in the Kleppelsdorf murder case carefully and impartially, I would not care to say whether justice was done, or whether it miscarried. In a trial in which the whole proof of guilt rests on the thin ice of 'suggestion' it is not easy to reach a verdict. It seems probable that Peter Grupen did, in fact, murder Dorothea Rohrbeck and his stepdaughter Ursula Schade, but I should have reached a verdict of Not Guilty. The duty of the people's judges at all times is not to test probability, but to reach a decision based on established truth. Or as Alfred Kerr once expressed it:

Du sollst nicht toten

So spricht der Denker

Nicht nur zum Morder

Auch zum Henker.

(Thou shalt not kill, says the thoughtful man, not only to the murderer, but also to the hangman.)



The victims




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