Ernst August Wagner
(September 22, 1874 – April 27, 1938) was a German spree killer who, on
September 4, 1913 killed his wife and four children in Degerloch and
subsequently drove to Mühlhausen an der Enz where he set several fires
and shot 20 people, of whom at least 9 died, before he was beaten
unconscious by furious villagers and left for dead.
After several psychiatric assessments diagnosed him
to suffer from paranoia, and thus becoming the first person in
Württemberg to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, he was brought
to an asylum in Winnenthal, where he commenced to write several plays
and dramas. He died there of tuberculosis in 1938.
Ernst August Wagner was born on September 22, 1874 in
Eglosheim near Ludwigsburg as the ninth of ten children, not including
one half-brother and half-sister. Most of his siblings died early, so
that in 1913 only two sisters and one brother remained. After his father,
a poor peasant with drinking problems, died one day before Ernst
Wagner's second birthday, the indebted family was forced to sell their
farm. His mother tried to make a living of a small shop and soon
remarried, but due to Mrs. Wagner's many affairs the marriage was again
divorced when Ernst was seven years old.
Ernst Wagner, who was known as the "widow's boy" in
the village, suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts, though he
was quite intelligent and did well enough at school to earn a public
stipend, and thus, despite his poverty, was able to study and become a
teacher. After his exam he worked as auxiliary teacher at several
schools in Württemberg from 1894 to 1901, though in April 1900 he was
suspended for half a year, because of severe nervousness and
irritability. In consequence he went to Switzerland for two months,
where he tried to sell some of his poems to newspapers.
In July 1901 he was assigned as teacher to Mühlhausen
an der Enz where he stayed until 1902. Some time in the summer of 1901,
in drunk condition, he sodomized an animal. As a result he became
increasingly wary and suspicious that others might know of his deed and
began to see signs and hints that the villagers of Mühlhausen are
mocking him for this act of bestiality. Thus he bought a revolver, which
he always carried with him from that point on, so that he could evade a
potential arrest. He began an affair with Anna Friedericke Schlecht, the
daughter of a local innkeeper, who became pregnant from him in spring of
1902, but as Ernst Wagner hated the Schlecht-family, thinking that his
future father-in-law despised him, he tried to elude the, finally
In December of the same year, Wagner's mother, to
whom he felt deeply attached to, died, he had his final examination as a
teacher and was transferred to Radelstetten, a poor and isolated village.
Although he was embittered to be ordered to such a puny place, it also
temporarily eased his feelings of constant persecution, even though the
incident of sodomy continued to haunt him. On December 29, 1903 he and
Anna Schlecht married in Ludwigsburg, mostly due to pressure from
outside, as their daughter Klara was already 10 months old. Ernst Wagner
never made a secret out of the fact that he didn't love his wife anymore
and thought that she was intellectually inferior to him, considering her
to be more of a servant than his wife. Though Wagner's friends also
stated that he always treated her kindly.
In the summer of 1904 he once again went to
Switzerland, trying twice to commit suicide there, once by drowning
himself and by jumping off a bridge, though both attempts failed,
because he was, according to his own words, too weak. In the
following years his wife bore four more children, the last being Rudoplh
Alfred Wagner, born in July 1909, who died on September 22 of the same
year, Ernst Wagner's 35th birthday, who apparently was quite indifferent
to the death of his son. Wagner was said to have been unhappy about the
births of his children and complained about the financial stress the
feeding of his large family caused.
Some time in 1906 or 1907, thinking that the people
from Mühlhausen had passed on their knowledge about his crime, the
feelings of being ridiculed and watched by others returned, and as a
consequence he began to make plans to take revenge on those whom he
deemed to be the cause of his misery, the villagers, and especially the
men, of Mühlhausen.
In autumn 1907 he bought the first Mauser pistol, the
other one following in 1909 and, with his bicycle, which he loved more
than anyone or anything else, he made extensive journeys through the
surrounding area and trained his shooting skills in remote forests.
Between 1909 and 1911 he made several requests to be
transferred to another school, which was finally granted, so that on May
1, 1912 he began his work at a school in Degerloch, a suburb of
Stuttgart. At that time he also decided to go ahead with his plan to
avenge the derision he had to endure, as even at his new workplace he
saw hints of people "knowing", and initially chose the spring of 1913 to
put it into practice, but finally determined the last days of the summer
holidays for his revenge. In the days leading to the murders he wrote
several letters to explain his deed.
Wagner began his killing spree on
September 4, 1913 at about 5 a.m., when he knocked his sleeping wife
unconscious by hitting her on the head with a blackjack, before stabbing
her numerous times in her throat and chest with a dagger, cutting her
carotid arteries and hitting her heart and lungs. Afterwards he
successively entered the bedrooms of his two sons, Robert and Richard,
and his daughters, Klara and Elsa, and stabbed each of them in their
throat and chest. Wagner initially claimed that he had also hit his
children with the blackjack, though later he was uncertain of this. All
of his victims died of massive haemorrhaging.
After covering his family members' bodies with
blankets, Wagner got out of his blood-soaked nightshirt and washed
himself, before packing a bag with three guns (two Mauser C96 and a
small revolver), 500 rounds of ammunition, a black veil from his wife
and a belt. He subsequently left his home, leaving a note at his own
door that the family was jaunting to Ludwigsburg, as well as another one
at the door of Mrs. Stepper, the proprietor of the house he was living
in, ordering milk and leaving behind 35 pfennige as payment.
With his cycle he then drove towards Stuttgart and
took a train to Ludwigsburg, where he bought a backpack, before making
his way to his brother's home in Eglosheim, arriving there at about 11
As his brother was not at home, Wagner chatted a
while with his wife, telling her he wanted to spend the night at their
home after fetching his children from Mühlhausen, and, as it could get
late, the house should stay accessible to him during the night. In an
unobserved moment he hid 228 rounds in a haystack in the garden. Wagner,
accompanied by his nephew and niece, walked to the next train station,
where he took a train to Bietigheim at about 1 p.m. From there he took
off towards Großsachsenheim, where he mailed letters to several people,
among them some of his relatives (one of them, addressed to his sister,
simply reading "Take poison! Ernst" (Nimm Gift! Ernst)) and
theologist and philosopher Christoph Schrempf, as well as a newspaper.
Subsequently he returned to Bietigheim, where he got his bicycle checked
by a mechanic and mailed two copies of his auto-biography, one again to
Christoph Schrempf. At about 7 p.m. he left for Mühlhausen an der Enz.
Wagner reached the hills near Mühlhausen at about 11
p.m., where he girdled himself with the belt, put a cap on his head and
took the two Mauser C96, as well as a handbag containing ammunition, the
black veil and a file. His bicycle and the small revolver were later
found hidden in a corn field. Next Wagner set out to cut the telephone
lines to the village, but as the poles looked too high to him and due to
heavy rain that had set in by that time, he dropped that part of his
plan and immediately went into Mühlhausen, where he set fire to four
barns. The lower part of his face hidden with the veil he began walking
through the streets, shooting at any male person that crossed his path.
Wagner later claimed that his female victims were accidentally hit.
In total he spent about 80 rounds and shot 20 people,
instantly killing eight of them, as well as two animals, and several
buildings burned to the ground, before the villagers, with help of the
military, managed to extinguish the fires. A ninth person, Jakob
Knötzele, was mortally wounded and died a few hours after the shooting
had ended. At one point Wagner forgot to reload his weapons and thus
three men were able to strike him down with hoes and sabres. He suffered
several wounds in his face and right hand, and his left hand was smashed
and nearly cut off. Knocked unconscious, he was disarmed and left for
dead, but at 2 a.m. a police officer found him lying on the street,
still breathing. When he regained consciousness, Wagner immediately
confessed to killing his family, and stated that he would have committed
suicide in the end, but as this was now impossible, he would appreciate,
if he'd be sentenced to death and decapitated.
Finally, in the evening of September 5, Wagner, who
uttered concerns he might get ill if he'd stay too long in Mühlhausen,
was brought to a hospital in Vaihingen, where his left forearm was
amputated and his other wounds treated.
Anna Wagner, Wagner's wife
Klara Wagner, 10, his daughter
Elsa Wagner, 8, his daughter
Robert Wagner, 6, his son
Richard Wagner, 5, his son
Marie Magdalena Bader, 10
Georg Friedrich Bauer, 64
Johann Friedrich Geissinger, 60
Adolf Heinrich Knötzele, 52
Johann Jakob Knötzele, 50
Johann Georg Müller, 54
Jakob Franz Schmierer, 32
Christian Thomas Vogel, 65
Christian Widmaier, 68, a shepherd
15 PEOPLE MURDERED.
GERMAN MANIAC'S CRIME.
SLAUGHTER OF A FAMILY.
VILLAGERS SHOT DOWN.
DEED CAREFULLY PLANNED.
By Telegraph-Press Association-Copyright
The New Zealand Herald: September 8, 1913
A TEACHER named Wagner suddenly became insane at
The maniac first stabbed his wife and four children to
death, and then, arming himself with a revolver, went into the heart of
the town; where he set fire to several houses.
Wagner, who was a man of 40 years of age, did not show
any sign of mental disturbance when he emerged from the house. He was
noticed attempting to fire the town later. He had ignited several barns
and houses before he was detected.
The villagers attempted to capture him, believing he
was a brigand, as he was wearing a mask and veil.
Wagner had with him two army revolvers and 250
cartridges. He quickly shot and killed 10 of his would-be capturers and
wounded 23 more, some of whom will probably die.
Finally, he took refuge in a cowshed, where he killed
a bullock with his last bullet.
Most of the villagers fled panic-stricken, but a few
of the bolder spirits, armed with pitchforks and scythes, cut him down
in his retreat, and terribly injured him. One of his hands was cut off.
Wagner's papers found in his home show that he had
carefully planned the crime. A letter addressed to a Stuttgart newspaper
has been unearthed, declaring that he wished to become the devil's ally.
The doctors are unable to detect any evidence of
A murder wave is at present passing over Germany.
There have been no fewer than 11 murders in Berlin alone in the past
School teacher acts out his revenge
There were mass killings long before there
were modern automatic weapons. In 1913, in Germany, a 39-year-old
schoolteacher by the name of Wagner acted out his own Gotterdammerung.
In a Stuttgart suburb, he rose before dawn and as
quietly and painlessly as possible killed his wife and four children. He
mailed several letters; one, containing a complete confession, was
addressed to Stuttgart's largest newspaper.
He took a train to
Muehlhausen, a village 113 miles away. There in
the middle of the night he set several large fires, and as villagers ran
into the street he shot them, killing nine and wounding a dozen. When he
ran out of ammunition, he was overpowered; the terrified townsmen were
astounded to recognize the murderer as the teacher who had moved away a
dozen years earlier.
Wagner died in an asylum 25 years later. He discussed openly and
exhaustively every aspect of his life -- with one exception. He traced
his crime back to one or more sodomistic acts which he would never
describe, committed while teaching in the village; the psychiatrists
wondered if these things had actually happened or were fantasy. Wagner
convinced himself that the villagers knew about those acts, that they
watched, mocked, and ridiculed him. He lived in such constant dread of
arrest that he carried two loaded pistols on his wedding day in 1903.
In his new post he was respected as an outstanding educator, quiet and
dignified. But he ''heard'' pointed remarks and convinced himself that
the people of Muehlhausensomehow had told people in his new village of
his shame. He developed his murderous plan three years after leaving
Muehlhausen. In 1913 he interpreted an earthquake as a mystical sign
that he must act.
The man known as Wagner Von Degerloch was born in
Eglosheim, near Ludwigsburg, in southwest Germany in 1874, to a
big-drinking, big talking peasant father and an allegedly promiscuous
mother. The father died when Wagner was two years old. The mother
remarried, but her second marriage ended in divorce when Wagner was
seven. At school, it was recognized that he was unusually intelligent.
He applied himself well and on leaving school received a public stipend
to study to become a teacher. Literature was his great passion and in
his spare time he wrote poetry.
By 1902, he was living and working in a village called
Muehlhausen. He began an affair with the innkeeper’s daughter, but it
became publicly known and as a result he was transferred to a poor,
isolated community, Radelstetten, nearby. The innkeeper’s daughter
gave birth to a girl in the summer of 1903 and Wagner married her in
December. Four more children followed, although the last died in
The family lived in Radelstetten for ten years. Wagner
was considered by his neighbours to be "an admirable citizen,
dignified, somewhat quiet," and the best teacher the village had
ever had. During this period he began penning dramas with grand biblical
and historical themes. He never succeeded in finding a producer or
publisher for his plays but had some of them printed at his own expense.
In 1912, he was transferred to Degerloch, a suburb of
Stuttgart. He maintained his excellent record as a schoolteacher and
apparently enjoyed the stimulation and culture of the large city.
According to friends and colleagues, his only failing was a tendency
towards grandiosity and loquaciousness when under the influence of
After three or four glasses of beer he was given to boasting
about his literary talent. "He compared himself to Shakespeare,
Schiller and Goethe. Occasionally he would comment that one day he would
become a famous man and do deeds that would astound the world. Nothing
was made of this bragging, since the next day he would perform his work
in the accustomed quiet and conscientious way." All who knew him
considered him to be a well-balanced and intelligent individual, leading
an exemplary middle-class life.
The Muehlhausen Massacre and Wagner’s Secrets
Dr. Hilde Bruch gives a full account of Wagner’s
During the night of September 4, 1913, several large
fires… awakened the citizens of Muehlhausen. As they ran into the
street, they were met by a man, his face covered by a black veil, who
was armed with two pistols. He shot with great accuracy and killed
eight men and one girl immediately; twelve more were severely injured.
Then his two pistols ran out of ammunition, and he was overpowered and
beaten down with such violence that he was left for dead; however, he
was only unconscious. He had 198 more bullets in his possession. The
innkeeper identified the murderer as his 39-year-old brother-in-law,
who had been a schoolteacher in his village more than ten years
Wagner confessed that during the preceding night he
had quietly killed his wife and four children…He also confessed that
he had come to Muehlhausen to take revenge on the male inhabitants for
their scorn and disdain for him. However, even while lying severely
wounded and exposed to the hatred of the attacked people, he noticed
that no one employed the term of abuse that would refer to his sexual
sins, which he felt had been the cause of all the persecution,
ridicule, and condemnation.
There was a general outcry of horror about his deed,
and public opinion demanded his execution. A violent newspaper debate
raged because Wagner’s life was spared when it was recognized,
during the pretrial examination, that he was mentally ill. He was
committed to an insane asylum, where he spent the rest of his life,
[The] fateful chain of events had its beginning,
according to his self-accusation, with one or more sodomistic acts in
the late summer of 1901 [in Muehlhausen], when he was 27 years old…
Before this he had felt persistently and excessively guilty about
masturbation, in which he had indulged since the age of 18… Of
decisive importance was the fact that his sexual urges and acts stood
in irreconcilable contrast to his high moral standards and ethical
concepts. His deep sense of guilt never diminished… he soon began to
make certain "observations" and to "hear" certain
slanderous remarks, which led to the unshakable conviction that his
crime was known. He felt himself continuously observed, mocked, and
ridiculed, and lived in constant dread of arrest. He was determined
not to suffer this public shame and humiliation, and therefore he
always carried a loaded pistol.
Possibly to defend himself against further sexual
deviations, he began an affair with the innkeeper’s daughter… he
married her (with many inner misgivings)… He felt that he no longer
loved her and that she was intellectually not his equal; he considered
her more a servant than a wife.
The first years in his new position [in
Radelstetten] were relatively free of tension as long as he did not
believe that they "knew" about his sexual crime. But he
never forgot what he had done. His pessimistic mood led to a
recurrence of hypochondriacal complaints. In 1904 his whole existence
became so intolerable that he decided... to end his own life. He
wanted to drown himself in a lake… [but] he was too cowardly… Then
he planned to throw himself before an oncoming train; here, too, his
courage failed him… Gradually he began also to make
"observations" in Radelstetten and felt convinced that the
people of Muehlhausen had communicated their "knowledge" to
the people at his new location. He could notice it because of certain
insinuations and the occasional arrogance which some allegedly showed
against him. He felt caught in the old dilemma: there was never a
direct statement, but he "heard" pointed remarks containing
hints. He knew if he reacted he would be publicly humiliated.
Gradually the conviction ripened that there was only
one way out. He must kill himself and his children, out of pity
to save them from a future of being that target of contempt and evil
slander and to take revenge on the people of Muehlhausen who
had forced him to this horrible deed… Since the men of Muehlhausen
had started and spread the slander, they had to die. In a life that as
a whole had been a series of depressing and frustrating
disappointments, he was grateful that it had been given to him to
avenge his terrible torture and suffering.
Beginning in 1906 or at the latest in 1907, he
developed a plan for destruction and murder… He collected and
carefully hid weapons and all other objects needed for his plan,
practiced sharp shooting in remote parts of the woods, and worked out
his strategy, much like a commander planning a military action. He
kept detailed diaries on all his plans. But over and over again he
shrank away from their execution… he felt that he was "too
weak." So he tried to retain himself and wrote homicidal
dramas… to a large extent with the intent of putting himself in the
role of murderer and arsonist… Finally he had indoctrinated himself
to such an extent that the execution [of the murder] went "like
clockwork, quite mechanically." He acted as though under a
compulsion, like "having been pushed into it," and described
his mental state as "apathetic and excited at the same
Wagner died an embittered man, not because he had
committed mass murder and had been declared insane but because he had
failed to find acclaim as a literary figure… At autopsy his brain
showed no gross pathology; it was sent for microscopic study… and no
abnormal findings were reported… Professor Gaupp, who spent a
lifetime trying to understand the psychological forces of this man’s
background, character, and experiences, concluded his series of papers
with the statement that in spite of all the efforts to follow his
mental processes, there remains a part that is beyond human
Professor Gaupp meticulously recorded his study of
Wagner, and Dr. Hilde Bruch’s succinct condensation of Gaupp’s work
is quoted here at some length in order to give a glimpse of the
contemporary response to what was, in 1913, a new kind of murder.