Written By: ML
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Karl Denke was born and raised in Silesia in the Kingdom of Prussia now known as Poland on August 12, 1870. As a child of German farmers, there was not much information about his childhood other than that he was a quiet boy and had behavioral problems. He had a history of running away from home at the age of 12.
When he was 25, his father died and left him a sum of money. Since he did not become successful with farming, he sold his lot and bought a house in a small town to become a landlord. Denke became an organ player in their local church and was well-loved by the community. He was even called “Papa” or “Vatter” for his kindness and generosity even to strangers.
The Gruesome Crimes
Denke was a religious man who was loved by everyone. That is why his crimes shocked the whole town. His sudden change in personality and lack of motives were a mystery. There were even speculations that this was a case of Jekyll and Hyde, a religious man transforming into a monster that kills.
He primarily targets travelers and homeless people. He takes them in to spend the night in his place and then kills them, chops them with an axe, and sells their flesh in his meatshop or at the market. During that challenging period, he sold products made from human such as pickled human meat which he labeled as pickled boneless pork. He fed human meat to fellow hungry humans and no one noticed the difference.
His first known victim was Ida Launer in 1903. From then on, he had more than 40 victims. His last known victim was Rochus Pawlick in 1924.
Arrest and Death
On December 21, 1924, Denke took in a traveler named Vincenz Olivier. Olivier suffered under the hands of Denke and came out of the house all bloodied and wounded. He came to the police station and reported that he was attacked by Karl Denke with an axe. With Denke’s good reputation, the police did not believe the report but Olivier persisted. The police questioned Denke who then told them that he was being robbed and it was just self-defense. Because of Olivier allegedly trying to rob Denke, and Denke trying to axe Olivier, they were both sent to jail.
Moments later, Denke was found dead in his cell. He committed suicide by hanging himself using his handkerchief. His reason for taking his own life was never known.
After Denke’s sudden death, the police investigated his house and discovered the gruesome horror that took place in there. It was a makeshift meatshop. There were carved human meat, jars of pickled flesh, human bones and body parts, femurs and ribs, and homemade chemicals for disposing corpses. Products made of human skin were also found such as shoe laces, belts, and suspenders among others.
The police were able to identify 20 people out of more than 40 possible victims. There was also a ledger where names of people were listed. With so many remains found in his house, the victim count might exceed.
But despite the gruesome murders and cannibalism, Denke’s crimes were easily forgotten. This was where he got the moniker The Forgotten Cannibal.
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