The Watcher


Fräulein Langhans typed away at the paddles of the stenographic machine. Document and report. Every detail was to be taken down by the stenographer, it was not Fräulein Langhans’ job to choose what was to be noted down, her job was to accurately record the conversation or interrogations that happened before her, to remain stoic and silent, to not pass judegment and above all remain indifferent in her reports. For people such as Ernst Gennat, the great detective who had reformed the Murder Commission from one of wandering lines of questioning to a department that made use of all the latest technologies and scientific evidence the objective details were important, however small, they might just make the case. So she sat as the man with the glass eye was brought into the room and placed before the large Gennat the buddha of Berlin. Gennat sat with Inspector of the drug devision of the Alex Dr. Richter, and the criminal secretaries, Fräulein Korfes and Fräulein Ströher that would represent the Prussian Police if District Councillor Dr. Löwenthal believed enough evidence, including the psychological reports gathered by Kriminal Assistant Georg Rosse at the Kriegsversorgungsamt at the Brommybrücke, was present to charge the war wounded veteran watcher.
Gennat was known for his success across the world. His patient and methodical wisdom had presented an almost unbelievable success rate in reaching criminal convictions through carefully compiled evidence rather than the brutality of the Bulls, brutality still used as a tool amongst the lesser crimes, lower in the Alex or in over Police forces across the globe who preferred coercion. The use of torture to attain a confession from a suspected criminal had been abolished, within Prussia, on the ascension of Friedrich, son of Friedrich Wilhelm I, in 1740. Despite the fears of anarchy ensuing once the threat of torture had been removed from society it had proven very successful in the reformation of the judiciary. Now, over a hundred and eighty years later, Ernst Gennat was reforming the criminal process further. Every piece of evidence had to be questioned again, and that is why the Watchman Schulz sat before him once more. The question was over his movements on the Monday, the 12th of August 1929 when the young Hildegard Zäpernick, recently turned 11, had vanished, only to be found 4 days later, buried almost a meter down in the sandy ground of a cellar awaiting its cement floor in the Gillesbau construction site at the corner of Westendallee and Sachsenpark.
“On the Monday in question, did you have any moments, when you couldn’t account for yourself?” Schulz was asked. Both he, his wife, and his colleague, the other watchman Flade, had noted that he had, on previous occasions blacked out or been found in a strange place or even in the midsts of convulsions upon the floor.
“On that Monday, I did not, I had no moments when I wasn’t accounting for myself.”
“After the workers had left, you collected wood, correct?”
“I filled a backpack of it. Of the chippings, non useful pieces, waste.”
“Did you purchase anything on your way to work on that Monday?”
“The newspaper, as I already said. I thought I had stopped to buy cigarettes and sweets as well, but that was on the Friday. I purchased two packs of Juno, ten of, for 80 pfennigs and two rolls of sweets for 10 pfennigs each, orange drops and peppermint drops, a pack of each.” Schulz reaches into the clothes that he has been dressed in whilst in custody for the last five days and produces a white box square in nature and only half a centimetre thick, casually he throws it onto the table, the italic and flowing script on the front spells Juno. “There, that’s the pack I bought, all empty now see, the other, the first pack was thrown away when you brought me ‘ere.”
“Have you ever given sweets to the children of Neu-Westend Herr Schulz?”
“I’ve never given anything, nothing, to the children at the building, no sweets, chocolate or anything similar. Yeah it’s possible I’ve given sweets to my own children.”
“Were tools always laying around the building site?” A change in the line of questioning.
“Yeah, once a kid with frizzy hair brought me a hammer one of the workmen had left outside of the fence,” Schulz explained.
“And spades? Were they often left around?”
“Spades, yeah I would find them in various places, scattered all over the building.”
“You had access to them then?”
“Well yer, of course. But I had not instructions to pay attention to tools laying around, it was more important to the owners to protect the materials. But I’m going to expressly state that I had nothing to do with the girls murder, nothing to do, absolutely nothing.” He iterated and reiterated.
“Fräulein Langahns, would you read back the transcript please,” Gennat asked. Fräulein Langhans did as requested, and stoically and matter-of-factly read back the interrogation from the strange stenographic script that was printed upon the paper that had rolled from the machine.
“Everything in order Herr Schulz?” The watcher was asked.
“Make sure you know it was Friday I purchased the cigarettes and sweets not Monday, it was definitely Friday!” Schulz emphasised.
“Fräulein Langhans?”
“Very well. That’ll be all.”
Schulz was led from the room and back to the basement cell in which he had been held since his arrest on the suspicion of the murder of Hilde. For Gennat and the team they had pressed for information and done their careful analysis of the site, the Hauptfile, the main file of the investigation was growing but for the hours and the days of work that the Mord Kommission officers of Quoß, Werneburg, Rosse, the secretaries, the assistants and the dog handlers, it was an apathetic file that lead not to a solid conclusion of guilt upon the party of Schulz. The file in its detail of the discovery of the body of the raped and murdered girl, the alibis of everyone of the over 140 workers, led to one clear point, that nothing was clear.
If the struggles to build a case based on observations and the piecing together of movements had not been difficult enough there was also an added issue. The the Murder Kommission Zäpernick was entirely relying on those who those that Quoß, Werneburg and their investigators had spoken to, but when one seed of doubt is placed upon a statement it begins to undermine much more. This doubt continued to spread when the mother of Erika Timmler, who had told Quoß she had stood with Hildegard as Schulz had told them stories of the war, of bombs and trenches, reported to the Mord Kommission that Erika Timmler could no longer say that she was at the conversation, spreading certain doubt that it actually had taken place, and the mother herself requested not to attach too much strength to the statement and when Hilde Gehricke was asked over the Monday conversation of the war, she had no recollection of it.
“We must discount it then, must we not?” Gennat had commentated.
It brought the question forward of can a conviction be brought entirely on the statements of witnesses? Even though no one had witnessed the child, Hildegard Zäpernick, disappear, nobody as far as the Mord Kommission had discovered, seen anything. It was to District Councillor Löwenthal to now decide.

The decision of Löwenthal came the next day. He was granting the arrest warrant for Schulz and charging him with the murder of Hildegard Zäpernick, it wasn’t a charge on evidence that he had done it, it was a charge on the evidence being that he was the only one that that Murder Kommission and the prosecutors could determine could have done it. Not every case taken on by Ernst Gennat could be proven conclusively, but it had to be shown that everything had been done by Gennat and his team in the pursuit of a criminal conviction and Schulz was the only logical culprit. No alibi, a history of mental illness and blacking out and some character facts told by relatives that did not quite match was what had brought about the decision to charge Schulz with the murder. However, when it came to dealing with the press the Murder Kommission was transparent.
In the morning edition papers on the Friday, a week after the discovery of the body and the incarceration of Schulz the papers printed the news.
The front cover that displayed the picture of a proposed model for the construction for an extension to the Reichs Chancellery, a building to be of large neo-classial proportions but bare from the frivolities of design juxtaposed against the Rocco palais that once belonged to Radziwill family that had become the Chancellery first of the German Empire and now of the Weimar republic. An analogy of the state of Germany if there ever was one, modernising but on the foundations of the old. The supplement, however, represented the zenith to which the investigation had reached. A whole page had been dedicated to the investigation and the people of Berlin, going about their daily lives bought into the story again that had been gripping them for almost two weeks. Below a short headline declaring the issuing of the arrest warrant they printed the statement issued amongst the printing houses of the capital by the Berlin criminal police. People sat in the parks of Berlin, on the trams and Stadtbahns, in the Kneipes that filled the corners, at home and in their offices pouring over the statement. But if they were looking for answers to the case, as the Zäpernicks and residents of Westend were, they were to be disappointed.
“The crime committed against the unfortunate child,” the person nominated to be spokesperson at the meeting of the press the previous day had begun, “presented the criminal police with a difficult task and above all with an extraordinary responsibility. On the one hand, the public have a legitimate claim to a speedy clarification of the case, and on the other hand, as is very often the case, the risk that an accidental chaining of apparent suspicions may under certain circumstances lead to a blameless person being accused as a perpetrator. The decision taken on by the Criminal Police, as to whether the guardian Schulz had to be arrested temporarily and whether this police detention should be maintained and Schulz brought before the judge was made at a stage in which there was still no clarity or certainty about the perpetrator.”
“With no certainty, therefore, and with no material that is already sufficient for a conviction, but nevertheless a suspicion that, according to human judgement is urgent.”
The spokesperson continued, and made it evident that the public prosecutor agreed with the thought process, and criminal process of the Murder Kommission. The main belief, it was stated, against a stranger committing the crime rested with how the body was disposed. A stranger would have fled, as the guard Flade had also theorised, discarding the body and fleeing. However, great time had been taken to bury the body, in a cellar, one of the few remaining not to have been cemented, but one that would be cemented soon. Surely a stranger, if it was a stranger who was to have committed this heinous crime would not have had the time or confidence to bury the girl with such thoroughness when a guard with a dog was also present on the site.
“So,” the spokesperson deduced to the press, “a stranger would not have chosen the building block, which was enclosed on all sides, as the scene of the crime. As a result, his escape options were very limited, and how could a stranger know immediately that the floor was no cemented and was to be cemented in the coming days. If it was not for her discovery, it would be quite possible her body, once laying under cement, may never have been discovered. Only someone who knew the site, and someone whom Hilde knew could have committed the act. However, Schulz, the guard, has asserted his innocence and declares himself a victim of the coincidence of unfortunate circumstances.”
The spokesperson was rounding off the candid interview into the less than ideal case against the guard Schulz, he finished with an appeal, not only to the press but to the public, “The Criminal Police would like the public to know and understand the horrific crime in an assessment that appreciates the difficulties presented within the case.” The papers, added “a request that can only be considered as far as possible,” as they added their own voice to the piece and the conclusions drawn by the murder kommissions.
So people read the news and quietly passed judgements to themselves, or debated it loudly over the froth of beer. Some could understand the difficulties that the police had had to overcome in the case, others, the more reactionaries stirred up by the tone of the papers were disgruntled that the world renowned Gennat had not quite lived up to the expectations placed upon him, and there it was, the creeping vine that eked it’s way into the cracks, filled the wholes and eventually displaced substance, and it was called doubt.

The Police’s honesty and the scathing natural nature of the press was putting doubt into the minds. No hard evidence had been found, could the criminal who had committed such a heinous murder still be at large, one stranger amongst the millions within the city, waiting to strike again.
Honesty and transparency however were not helpful to criminal investigations. Since the Tuesday evening, when Werneburg and Quoß had presented their findings of the investigation of the workers to Gennat, Gennat had been sitting on something.
Information, it is regarded, is highly valuable. The use of such high value information depends on who the information is most valued to. It was over this that Gennat was most concerned.
Shortly after one in the afternoon on Tuesday Rosemarie Otto, fifteen years old and a resident of the affluent area of Kleiststraße, a street that belonged to Berlin’s General’s way, a collection of streets that stretched from Kaiser-Friedrich-Platz and its magnificent church to Auguste-Viktoria-Platz and it’s even more impressive Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, left school. From the gates of the school she trotted away, wearing a rubber rain coat, one side black and the other red, a blouse decorated with the floral ornamentation of a blouse traditional in Russia and coloured blue which she matched with blue gloves and a grey skirt. Her school stood just beyond the Bavarian Quarter in the Berlin district of Schöneberg and the walk from the school would take Rosemarie Otto along Luther-Straße past the famous Scala night club and Horcher restaurant where the rich and wealthy mingled with the powerful and wealthy on truffles, braised cabbage with chicory, muscles and french cheeses. However, Rosemarie this day never walked the Luther Straße, she didn’t board the tram that would have sped her home, she just simply vanished. For Gennat this was a conundrum. He had in the cell’s far below the wooden floor boards of his office, a man that to the best information that they could gather was the prime suspect in the case of the missing Hildegard Zäpernick, but now another school girl, although Rosemarie Otto was significantly taller at 1.7 meters in height with brown hair as opposed to Hilde’s blond and with a hair cut trimmed to the length of a gentleman’s cut, they did not present much similarities, but nevertheless another girl had gone missing and a releasing of information might cause further panic.
Gennat had sat on the information as long as he dared, whilst his officers searched and searched until he could no longer and released a statement for the press to print along with her description. He knew the fall out could be great. The people had been eager for developments in the Hilde case, and now it may seem as there could be a serial kidnapper and murderer walking the streets of Berlin and praying on the young girls of the city. To relieve the pain and anguish it might cause a judgemental press and public he allowed for the statement “Kriminal Kouncillor Gennat at Police headquarters requests information.” It was the personal touch, and a touch that showed how important the missing girl was to Gennat.

Fireworks lit up the sky and gun shots rang out across the fairground. It was the evening of an annual marksman competition and the air was hot in from the summer heat which had brought out many of the residents from their homes, to escape the stifling temperatures in doors as much as it was to watch the men of the Reichsbanner, the veterans and those who believed themselves a fine shot compete with each other. With the open spaces across from the square in which the even took place the sounds of small calibre rifles ricocheted off of the few nearby buildings but predominantly were lost across the waters of the Düssel.
It had been a long way to travel with the public transport from Hauptbahnhof to Flehe. He’d waited at Hauptbahnhof for what had felt to him an age. Watching and waiting he turned the cold metal within his pocket to ease his irritation. His eyes glowered over the blonde bobs, the jet black curls and fiery red hues of the hair of the women of the city exiting into the night, hoping for the right face to appear amongst the masses gathered at the busy central train station of the city, but she’d never appeared, some faces were close, but they were not the ones he longed for. Eventually frustration had played a winning hand, succumbing to the disappointment and feeling that tonight might not just be his night he had chosen to leave and watch the fireworks at Flehe.
Now he stood on the banks of the Düssel, the minor companion to the great river that snaked through central Europe and had once stood as a natural barrier between the Germanic peoples and the French but today was a major tributary to the success of a heavily industrialised nation. His luck had not found him here either he thought. A woman on Aachener Straße had paid him no heed when he had tried to strike up a conversation with her and he was left to meander on.
He watched the marksman shoot at the metal targets, at the wooden representations of eagles to which small shots were fired and segmented pieces fell away, he even took some pleasure in the fireworks which lit up the faces of the people around him. He then saw them.
One must have only been 5 years of the age, the other no more than 13. They were leaving the fair. He watched them as he stalked them through the crowd until they disappeared from view as they left the bright lights for the dark of a dirt road. He quickened his step and pursued them into the dark.
“Do you want to make some money?” He said to the older girl and flashed a coin in front of her face. “Will you go over to the shop there and buy me some cigarettes? I’ll pay you.” The girls were surprised by the sudden appearance of this man from the night. A man whose eyes appeared too close together, who wore a tooth brush moustache under a nose that curved quickly away from his face and whose ears flicked out at the top. The girl nodded, her eyes blinded by the thought of easy money before her and she ran quickly away. Then his glare turned quickly to the five year old. His hands leapt from his sides, his fingers wide from his thumbs darting toward her, his grasp finding its way with great speed to lay around her neck. She fought as hard as she could but she was little match for the grown man before her.
He watched as her eyes rolled back into her head and she fell from consciousness. There was little weight to her body and he quickly carried her into the tall shoots of beans of a allotment that had had a summer to climb, there, with her unconscious body laying on the ground he brought the metal knife from within his pocket and with one heavy but quick movement he slit the girls throat. He felt little. Standing he hurried back to the dirt track and waited for the older girl to return, he did not need to wait long.
She emerged from the darkness, cigarettes in hand ready to pass them to the mysterious man who appeared from no where. As he had done with the first he pounced again on the second. His hands found there way to her throat and he squeezed, but the girl, older and with more strength struggled. He lifted her from the ground and carried her into a leek patch next to the beans where the 5 year old now lay dead. Trowing her to the ground he fell on her, drawing the knife once again, but the struggles of the girl for life were strong and she managed to escape his clutches. Scrambling she got to her feet and ran, but he was close behind her. She fell with the full forward leaping momentum of the man against her and with her on the ground he raised the dagger once again this time thrusting it into her several times until she stopped everything.
Then, with the girl laying dead on the ground amongst leeks, her younger friend also dead but amongst beans, he left.

She was found dazed and confused on Luther Straße the day after the press had revealed her description and that Gennat was on the case. Not knowing what had happened to her and not knowing how she had got there. A woman, wandering the street had noticed her as a girl matching the description that the paper had only printed the previous evening. Approaching the girl, she could tell something was wrong. Hurriedly she had searched for a Schupo officer which she was fortunately able to find with relative haste and alert him to her discovery. Later that same day Rosemarie Otto was reunited with her parents but unable to inform the police of where she had been for the last few days.

For Gennat, Quoß and Werneburg the return of Rosemarie Otto was a relief but not able to understand where she had been for four days presented a problem. Could it have been that the same person who had murdered Hildegard Zäpernick had swiped Rosemarie Otto from the streets but had decided to release her, it was plausible. However, the same over bearing concern kept coming back. It was always how Hilde was buried that had them convinced it must have been Schulz, it was the only explanation, but there it was again, that doubt and that doubt was now making its way to the public through the press. It did not help either that now, Richard Schulz, the watcher, had lawyers who were insisting that the evidence that they had was purely circumstantial and were demanding his release, and a missing girl story within Berlin was the perfect deflection for their clients argument that he had not harmed the girl Hildegard Zäpernick.
It was also on the same day that Rosemarie Otto was found news travelled to Gennat from Düsseldorf. A six year old by the name Gertrude Hamacher and a 13 year old by the name of Luise Lenzen had been found amongst the foliage of an allotment in Düsseldorf. The foster-sisters had been brutally murdered. It was known that over the course of the year that there had been many reports of a sexual predator and murderer in Düsseldorf but could it be possible there was a murderer that had ventured to commit heinous deeds across the Reich. Yet again the cellar convinced Gennat, Quoß and Werenburg that this could not be the case.

On the 28th the press had grown impatient. News of the progress of the process against the watcher Schulz was little, all that was known was that he and his lawyers were fighting with vigour. To some of the press, specifically reporters at Berlin’s Volks Zeitung, they had passed the judgement of guilty internally and taken the mantel of judges and investigators of a groundless bass when they went to press with “Is Schulz the killer, suspicous stains on his suit,” and continued to write, “regarding the Zäpernick murder case, we learn that the investigation into the clothes of the guard Schulz has not yet been completed. It was so delayed because Professor Brüning and his representative, Dr Kräft had driven to an appointment in Stendal. Some suspicious stains have been found on the clothing, but the origin must first be determined. The final approval is expected in a few days,” the report finished.
“Nonsense” came the cry within the police department. The need to sell a story and maintain the interest of city that had been sold on the morbidly curiosity as well as worry amongst the population was becoming greater than fact. The press were writing M for murderer on his back. Quickly Quoß was ordered to release a statement both for internal and external publication dispelling the newspaper report. The internal memo he finished with “The Schulz defence lawyer has submitted an application for an appeal date.

Days passed and after the rebuke of the police the press fell silent. Their headlines turned to the successful flight of the Graf Zeppelin around the world. To the more and more disturbing crimes that flowed out of Düsseldorf and the criminal police there who were starting to look upon their Prussian brethren and Gennat for help in the matter.

In Berlin on the 29th a 13 year old girl, Gerda Bork, goes missing from Stralauer Platz, in the Friedrichshain district. She had lived with her mother opposite the Schlesissches Bahnhof, at the very centre of where Muscle Adolf and his Immer Treu Ringverein were centred. Her mother had sent her on an errand at 20:30 and the girl dressed in blue and yellow had disappeared. A worried mother reported her disappearance to the police, but the information once again had been stored away. Perhaps the fear of further doubt whilst Schulz’s lawyers were continuing to gain the upper hand was too great to immediately release the information, so Gerda Bork was filed away. That is until 6 days later when there was little point in with holding the information any longer.

For two days, since the Sedantag celebrations on the 2nd Schulz and his lawyers had squared off in court before district councillor Löwenthal against the prosecutor.
The prosecutor, in their final arguments, that the smaller moments of guilt that had been displayed, when looked at individually were not enough to press for suspicion of a crime, but if one looked at them in the greater context a different picture would have to emerge and therefore Schulz would have to remain in custody. To this the defence jeered in strong opposition to the arguments of the prosecutor, who was desperate for a conviction in a case that had gripped the city. The defence stood and declared as he approached Löwenthal “that even in the case of capital crimes, such as this murder of little Hildegard Zäpernick, the maintenance of imprisonment against the accused must never be used to carry out criminalistic experiments, which would undoubtedly be the case here. The evidence, is so meagre that a man should never be put in prison because of it.”
Now it was the fourth and Councillor Löwenthal, having taken arguments on board from both sides and personally sat in on interviews with Schulz and Gennat was ready to make his decision. The investigation and process against Schulz had lasted two and a half weeks since his arrest and there was a hope that answers now, finally, might be found. Löwenthal, sat in front of the room began to speak.
“Herr Schulz, although proof of your innocence has not been provided, the legal requirements for an urgent suspicion of a crime are missing, and the findings that have been put forward to the detention hearing, to find you in suspicion of the commitment of a crime are found, as required by law, to be insufficient to justify suspicion against you. The moments that have been presented, of your presenting a photograph to the girl, the possibility of giving her a kiss is not sufficient in the view that you are reported an exemplary father of five children and have tried to lead an orderly life. I see that no conclusions can be drawn from the scene of the crime given that so many workers are employed there. I have no choice therefore that because of your branding as from the outset as the presumed perpetrator I attach that there can be no question of proof of innocence. This method,” Löwenthal continued, “of accusing persons of serious crimes, then either acquitted or released from pirson with the odium of suspicion that they will be released back into the human community, is a method which must not become a principle in German justice, because it measn that people to whom crimes cannot be definitively proven are ultimately stamped as criminals, because it means that people to whom crimes cannot be definitevely proven are ultimately stamped as criminals, because the suspicion of the crime sticks with their fellow human beings. If Schulz is suspected, he should be put on trial, but if ground for suspicion are not sufficient, the judge must abstain from any judgement if he wants to claim the claim of objectivity for himself. The judicial authorities must be aware of the consequences for all those people who have been acquitted or released from prison, but whose foreheads the judge has put the branding of suspicion upon.”
Löwenthal brought the preceedings to an end and Schulz was allowed to walk free a proof of innocence and a statement of exemplary parenthood from Löwenthal held within his moral pocket.
For the Zäpernicks it was a blow. Not only because according to the logic that had been compiled by the police Schulz was as far as anyone could see the only person that could have been considered the culprit but it also meant that there was no one else. If Schulz had committed the crime of the rape and murder of their daughter he was not to be punished, and if he hadn’t the real murderer also got to walk free, the ones being left punished, simply, was them.
The judgement of Löwenthal was published on the 5th of September, and a day later in the evening edition of the Berliner Volks Zeitung the question was posed, what now for the Zäpernick family and below a picture. A picture of the family, Wilhelm, Elsa, Kurt, their oldest sister, and Hildegard. A picture of a respectable family of the Neu Westend, the Reichsbank colony, taken in the garden where Hilde liked to play, where her mother had shouted towards her on her final day for playing on the trellis and where her father Herr Zäpernick had sat in the evening with Herr Asch shortly before Hilde almost disappeared forever.

Quoß and Werneburg gathered their papers and the pieces that had been handed to them by Gennat, that bore his signature, placed them in the main folder. With posters from the search and other material they were handed to a secretary who typed them up. Once typed the thin, almost see-through papers were hole punched and laid over metal pins of a binding. Wereneburg scanned them, and noticed a mistake, the secretary had managed on the final piece that had been added to the file, a piece that summarised the whole case, to spell the name of Ernst Gennat wrong. Werneburg crossed out the mistake, a z in send of a t, with a blue pencil and spelled the name of the great man, who held an unbelievable record in solving cases but would not be able to solve this one, correctly. For Quoß and Werneburg there was just two jobs left. The first, to deliver the reward that had been advertised. Rudolph Bahnemann, the brother of Emil who had since left Berlin to being a new job elsewhere, was given 200 Reichsmarks for the discovery that his brother had made, Otto Rich who had shared in such a discovery received 125, his brother Wilhelm who had been amongst the men who had first seen the remains of the poor Hilde got 75, August Steuer, the foreman who in a panic had ran to Nietschke’s and pale faced had had to ask the proprietor Frau Nietschke to call the police who, along with his fellow foreman Paul Ganzkow received 50 marks. With the rewards solemnly handed between the men, Quoß and Werneburg now only had to deliver the hauptfile, the main file to the archives. There was no further evidence to act on, and with the decision of Löwenthal on pursuing the case against Schulz, the case was to be delivered for storage as unsolved.
However, it would not be left too long to gather dust within the boxes of the archives.

Achtung! History is produced by The Berlin Tour Guide, and presented by Simon J. James, follow Achtung! History on twitter, facebook and instagram visit the website, book a tour with Simon in Berlin and become a patreon at