The Murderous Landlord of Silesia
Most serial killers barely make it into the teens when you count up their victims. Still others never make it past five or six victims. While any murder is horrible, there comes a certain terror when the bodies stack up and the numbers start climbing into the twenties and thirties.
Karl Denke, who killed people during the early part of the twentieth century, was a man who killed at least thirty people. The number may be much higher.
Though records at the time were sketchy, Denke was born in the Silesia region of Germany, which is now Poland. He was born in 1870, and records of his early life are quite scarce. It is thought that he might have run away from home, and that the home he had shared with his father and mother was abusive. This certainly fits with a common pattern among people who go on to kill others.
Though records of his doings before he was an adult were fairly skimpy, it is widely recognized that he was a much beloved man in his community. He kept a boarding house where he often lent rooms to people who could not pay their fees, and he was an organ player at his local church. According to all records from the time, he was a pillar of the small town where he lived. People knew that they could depend on him. Many people who belonged to the church he attended called him Papa Denke.
Indeed, he was so well beloved that what happened in December of 1924 left the whole town in shock.
One of his tenants awoke to a terrible racket in his landlord’s apartment. Fearing that someone was attacking Denke, he rushed down to help. Instead what he found was a young man with his head split open in the hallway.
The young man begged for help, saying that Papa Denke had tried to split his skull open with an ax. At first, the police were loathe to believe the man, who was a vagabond, especially when he was sprouting such a bizarre story about a local man of good reputation. Denke protested that he had been defending his property from a theif, but he was taken into custody anyway.
He seemed calm when he was imprisoned, but officials were further shocked when he hung himself in the small hours of the morning, using only his handkerchief.
The police went to his home to investigate, and what they found their shocked the town. He had two enormous jars of pickled meat, which was revealed to be human. He had kept meticulous details of bloody work. In precise journals, he recorded killing more than 30 men with an ax. The flesh of these people were clearly preserved, but it is unclear what he did with them. It is strongly suspected that he ate the people he killed or that he sold the meat that he gained from his grisly trade.
Denke’s home was littered with human remains. In addition to the flesh preserving in the pickling fluid, there were also more than 300 human teeth, kept in bags and strangely enough, in salt and pepper shakers. He also experimented with turning human skin into leather and human fat into soap.
Over all, Denke managed to continue with his macabre practice for around 15 years before he was caught and finally killed himself. Though the town was obviously blinded by his supposed good nature, investigation of further reports reveals a darkness to the man. An apprentice was seen running bloody from the house and never seen again, while a vagabond stated that while he was writing a letter, Denke had slipped a chain over his neck. He was stronger than Denke, and escaped.
Denke was always known to be fond of meat, but during that period, when inflation was so high, many people assumed that he was only slaughtering dogs. Though the slaughter of dogs was illegal, many were doing the same, and so this small sin was met with a blind eye.
What force propelled Denke to these depths is unsure. All that we know today is that even kind men can look like monsters.