Sunday 26 April 2009

A Forgotten Serial Killer

There are certain periods of history, and certain societies, that are, it might be said, defined by criminality. Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany are good examples of systems of governance where law, as it is commonly understood, only serves to demonstrate how little protection people have from the state that follows no objective moral standard.

Let me put this another way or, rather, let me pose a question: is it possible to conceive of ordinary crime, everyday crime, if you like, as opposed to political crime, in a place like Nazi Germany? Clearly no society is ever free of crime, no matter how much it may pretend to that absolute standard; so objectively theft, murder and all of the other aspects of social crime must have been present, disappearing almost behind much grander outrages. Well, it was some fascination that I read an article by Roger Moorhouse in one of the history journals I subscribe to, an article entitled The Nazi Serial Killer.

It tells the story of one Paul Ogorzow, a Berlin railway worker, who was convicted and executed in 1941 for the serial murder of eight women. He was known at the time as the S-Bahn (urban railway) murderer, whose victims were invariably dumped on the city’s train tracks. The murders themselves were no more than ugly sex crimes. However, the investigation by the Kriminalpolizi-the Kripo-was weakened by political and racial preconceptions.

There were plenty of clues implicating Ogorzow. He worked for the railways; he was already known to the police; four of his victims were found within a mile of his home, and one of his intended victims reported that her assailant had been wearing the overcoat of the German Railways. But the Kripo, blinded by ideological bigotry, reached for theory and speculation rather than unbiased detective work; the perpetrator was variously thought of as a Jew, a foreign migrant worker and even a British agent!

Even when Ogorzow came within their purview they let him go because, well, he was a member of the Party and the SA, an upstanding German who could not possibly have been guilty of such outrages. It was only after his name kept coming up in a trawl of railway employees was he arrested for a second time. In the interrogation that followed Ogorzow not only admitted to the eight murders, but a further six cases of attempted murder and thirty-one of assault.

During his trial Ogorzow even tried to draw on the ideological climate of the day as part of his defence, saying his murderous behavior only began after he had been treated for gonorrhea by a Jewish doctor using an unconventional treatment. But justice, for once, was done to one of history’s least remembered serial killers, cast into the shadows by a far greater one.

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