We have featured only one other German/Austrian serial killer.
Martha Marek. She was a poisoner who even poisoned her own husband and children.
If you have never read “The Poisoner’s Handbook,” I can’t recommend it enough. It discusses the start of forensics that made it possible for murderers to be caught using science. Before that, poisoning was common. There are killers out there that we will never know about because they got away with it.
Poisoning was common in estate and money disputes. However, this was usually poisoning a person or two. Some people would poison multiple people like Martha Marek. Another German female killer who used poison to murder is Gesche Gottfried, who will speak about in this podcast episode.
In 1785, Gesche Margarethe Timm was born in the German city Bremen. Not much is known about her mother, but her father was a tailor. When she became a young adult, Gesche wanted to be an actress in the theater. She was a pretty woman, so there was a chance she could make it. Therefore, Gesche started taking singing and dancing lessons.
While Gesche was working hard to start in the theater, her father decided to arrange her marriage. He was a saddler named Johan Mittelberg. A saddler is a profession of making saddles for those who didn’t know me.
He wasn’t very supportive, so he destroyed her dreams of acting in the theater. They would go on to have three children. Johan spent his money and time getting drunk and visiting brothels. This pastime cost him to dwindle all of their money. He finally told Gesche that they had no money. Johann would get sick. He would start vomiting, having bouts of diarrhea, and becoming extremely thirsty. Gesche’s mother had placed poison in the attic to get rid of some mice. She took that and put it on her husband’s breakfast. Not long after, in October 1813, Johan Mittelberg died.
A year later, in two months, Gesche lost her parents and two of her children.
She first murdered her mother. Gesche would say about killing her mother:
“While I am canning the poison, God gives me a hearty, loud laugh that I was frightened of myself at first. But immediately I remembered, God would give me this, as proof that my mother will soon be in heaven Will laugh.”
Gesche would then murder her two daughters. When they died, she went after her father, who would die after eating some soup.
Death Follows Gesche
No one suspected Gesche. Instead, she was praised.
Everyone admired her strength and ability to keep going after losing her husband, children, and parents. So they started calling her “The Angel of Bremen.”
A third child, a son, and her brother would also pass away. Gesche would say about her son’s death:
“Why I let this boy live longer than the others, I do not know.”
At this time, she met wine merchant Michael Christoph Gottfried where Gesche became Gesche Gottfried as we know her today. He seemed to be a good man and was her support during the death of her child. However, it didn’t seem that was good enough for her. In July 1817, Michael Christoph Gottfried passed away.
For years, Gesche remained alone and enjoyed the money her second husband had left her. But, in 1823, Paul Thomas Zimmermann, who was her neighbor, proposed to her. They didn’t get married, but Paul still added her to his will, where he left his home. After a while, Paul Thomas Zimmermann also died.
Gesche seemed to have been a fashionista and loved dressing in fashionable dresses while living a good life now that she had money from her second husband and the house her fiancé had left.
Greed seems to be the top reason women become killers. Even though Gesche was living a comfortable life, she seems to have wanted more. As a result, people around her started getting sick and dying.
Even with all the money she had, Gesche seems to spend it even people would die quicker, so as fast as she would die.
Death Follows Gesche
In 1827, Gesche’s neighbor Johann Rumpff came over to have dinner with her. When she served him a salad, Johann noticed some weird white grains on the leaves. He noticed it but still ate it. It wasn’t until he came over again for dinner that he noticed the ham Gesche served had the same white substance. So when Gesche wasn’t looking, Johan took a sample and had a doctor analyze it.
The doctor was able to identify the white grains as arsenic.
The grains were also oily, so it also had something called mouse butter. I googled it seemed to be poison mixed with peanut butter. However, it seems people still use it today.
Johann and the doctor went to the police. When Gesche found out that she was about to be found out, she fled to another city called Hannover. She was eventually caught in March 1828 and arrested.
During the trial, it was found that Gesche poisoned over 15 people. She was sentenced to death. She remained locked up for three years, where Gesche said she saw her dead family. Maybe it was guilt? Or sadness that she got caught? Three years on April 21, 1831, she was led to the guillotine, where she was executed in front of 35,000 people.
Gesche was another greedy female killer featured in the podcast. I would also consider a family annihilator being that she basically annihilated her family. I always find it fascinating how people don’t suspect a person when people are dying around her. Still, we have to remember that people had a short life span during that time. Today, a spit stone called a “spuckstein” in German in the town square where Gesche Gottfried met the guillotine. Gesche Gotteath mask made that is used to study the facial patterns of women who have committed a crime. I thought facial patterns would be the same for killers, so please let me know more about this practice.
Stuchbery, M. (2019, March 28). Stuchbery’s Strange Histories: The Sad Tale of Gesche Gottfried. Retrieved from https://bylinetimes.com/2019/03/05/stuchberys-strange-histories-the-sad-tale-of-gesche-gottfried/
Newman, A. P. (2017, August 29). Spit Marks the Spot Where This Serial Killer’s Head Landed. Hadieved from https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/spuckstein-gesche-gottfried
Grimm, K. (2020, August 10). “Es ist wohl mehr Trieb als Absicht”: Aus dem “Engel von Bremen” wurde eine Giftmörderin. Retrieved from https://www.stern.de/gesundheit/gesche-gottfried–wie-der–engel-von-bremen–zur-giftmoerderin-wurde-8194358.html