Gesche Gottfried, the Angel of Bremen
They often say that the female of the species is deadlier than the male. The truth is that at the bottom of it, females are just as deadly as males, but in different ways. If you spend a fair amount of time at Scared Yet, you’ll quickly realize that there are a lot of male serial killers out there. There’s a lot less press given to female serial killers, and on the whole, it seems that serial killing is a largely male-dominated activity.
Then you start to wonder if we only know about male serial killers because they’re the ones who get caught. Most serial killers profiled are men. When men kill, they tend to do it in obvious ways that are difficult to ignore or overlook.
Thanks to the way the world works and to how women’s spheres of influence have traditionally been set up, the work of women serial killers is a lot more subtle. Often, unless they are assisting male serial killers, as in the case of Karla Homolka and Ogata Junko, female serial killers are hard to detect.
Germany has produced its fair share of serial killers, but perhaps one of the most notorious was Gesche Gottfried, Gottfried was born in 1785, and for all intents and purposes, she was reputed to be a kind woman. What many people did not suspect was that she had killed at least ten, perhaps 15 people all together.
Due to the dates of her killings, not much is known about Gottfried’s past. We know that she had fairly kind parents who nonethelss did obviously prefer her brother to Gottfried herself. There are many studies that offer reasons for why Gottfried killed the people that she did. However, the most commonly accepted theory is the fact that she was emotionally deprived when she was young, something that lead to her murderous impulses later on.
Some serial killers kill because they are looking for a primal release, to expel urges that they cannot control or due to an irrational hatred of those around them. Gottfried, on the other hand, was looking for something else, and her method of murder bears that out.
At the time, there was a substance called mousebutter. It essentially consisted of tiny flakes of arsenic that were well mixed with animal fat. The result was a solid poison that could be used to lure and poison the common pests that were often found in the home. Every household would be sure to have some on hand.
She started by murdering her first husband Johann. When it became clear that he was squandering the money his father had given them, she took steps to ensure that she would be left in control of what was left after he died. Over the course of several months, she started sliding small amounts of mousebutter into his food, leading to a lingering and wasting death.
Through it all, she maintained an attitude of pious humility, and she was often commended for nursing him through this difficult time. Of course the town of Bremen saw her as a saintly woman. For a while, all was well, but then she met another man she wished to marry. Her ambition was strong, and to make sure that there were no objections to her marriage, she slowly poisoned her parents and the three children she had had with Johann.
For a short while, her marriage to Michel Gottfried went smoothly, but after she gained control over his property, she saw to his untimely demise. When her twin brother returned from the army and demanded money from her, he also came down with a mysterious illness.
Gottfried was called the Angel of Bremen by some, as she selflessly went about her business and tended the people who kept dying around her. The question of why she continued to kill is unanswered to this day.
She was only discovered when a friend who ate at her place found strange white granules in his food. He took the granules to the local doctor, who had treated some of Gottfried’s patients. The story came out in short order, and Gottfried was beheaded.
She was the last woman executed in Bremen, and after her death, her face and head were cast so that experts might learn what deformites might have caused her lack of morality.