The Berlin Criminal Police (Kriminalpolizei) only know that a man wearing the uniform of the German Railways is attacking women in one area of the city. Some of the women are killed, others aren’t. In December two women are attacked and thrown off moving trains and they die. It’s now early December of 1940. A few days before Christmas, the killer strikes again and over the next two weeks kills three women. The MO is the same: each woman is hit over the head with a blunt instrument and thrown off a moving train of the S-Bahn.
The popular press began to cover the story intensely. Some on the Kripo speculated the killer was a Jew. Or a British agent. Or a foreign worker. Police presence in the area was increased. Police began riding trains and conducting nighttime sweeps of the area which must have been difficult since one couldn’t see anything. You could use a small flashlight in the blackout but you couldn’t keep it on. It was just to check where you were.
Police Headquarters near Alexanderplatz, Berlin in the late 1920’s.
Nothing. So the Berlin Kripo started putting male officers in drag in S-Bahn cars. Since Berlin had a large “drag scene” before the Nazis came to power, this was probably not as difficult as it sounds. (Many American tourists in Berlin in the 1920s didn’t realize the pretty German girls they were dancing with in certain bars were actually men!) But the killer didn’t bite. So police women were put on the trains as bait. That only made the killer more cautious. He struck again after waiting a number of weeks. Then five months passed before he murdered another women. At this crime scene the Berlin Kripo were able to lift the print of a rubber-soled shoe.
The police had also been doing something else which must have taken hundreds of hours if not thousands in this pre-computer age. They matched the approximate time of the murders to the work shift then combed the records of those work shifts to find anyone whose shift assignments were coincidental with the murders. Railway workers worked different shifts depending on different requirements so no one worked just one shift all the time. This laborious work produced a list of eight names. Those men were brought to the “Alex” and questioned. (The main Berlin criminal police station was on the Alexander Platz and was known as “the Alex.”)
But which one of the eight men was the murderer? Or was he even one of the eight men?
[Images courtesy of Nabokov’s Berlin.]