Born August 12th, 1870 in an unknown Lower Silesian village, not much of Karl Denke’s early life has been recorded aside from the fact that he was a terrible student and ran away from home at the age of only 12. 25 years old when his father died, Karl's older brother inherited the family farm, but Karl also inherited some money, which he used to buy a property with a house, garden and shed in the small town of Münsterberg - today known as Ziębice - about 60km south of Wrocław.
An 'Upstanding Citizen'In Münsterberg, Karl was known as a generous, caring and devout local citizen, even referred to by some as ‘Vater Denke’ or Father Denke. He carried the cross at Evangelist funerals and played the organ during church services. Despite living a lower middle-class lifestyle, he commonly helped beggars and travellers, offering them a place to stay and odd jobs if they were in need. He didn’t drink alcohol and he wasn’t known to have relationships with women.
Like many in Germany after WWI, however, Denke lost his savings due to rampant inflation and was also forced to sell his house, though he refused to move out and continued to rent an apartment in the same building on the ground floor. Well-liked and respected around town, Denke operated a meat shop in town, and regularly sold suspenders, belts, shoelaces and other leather goods in the local market, and sometimes even door to door. He also frequently travelled to Breslau (now Wrocław), where he was licensed by the Butchers Guild to sell pork in the big city markets - all of it boneless, pickled and in jars; he was specifically known to sell his jars labelled 'skinless pickled pork' in Hala Targowa. It was a time of crisis and his goods were popular, allowing him to maintain a decent enough living.
ApprehensionBy now you can probably guess where this is going. Denke’s secret double life unravelled quickly when on December 21st, 1924, a homeless vagrant named Vincenz Olivier appeared at the Münsterberg police station covered in blood, claiming he had barely escaped from Father Denke’s apartment with his life. Law enforcement were loath to believe the unknown beggar's story, but a brief medical examination revealed that he had sustained a serious head wound, corroborating his claim that he had been attacked with an axe. Police were obliged to question Denke, who explained that he had indeed attacked Olivier, accusing the beggar of attempting to rob him after receiving a handout. Although receptive to this seemingly reasonable explanation, the police took Denke down to the police station and put him in a holding cell while the matter was resolved.
ConsequencesAs it transpired, Olivier was given medical treatment and then charged with vagrancy - a crime in Germany at the time, and one which it has been theorised may have prevented other potential victims or survivors of Denke from seeking help from law enforcement. He was later sentenced to 10 days in jail for his role in exposing one of the most despicable and vile serial killers in German history.
By that time Denke was dead. Before even being subjected to real suspicion, the man known as 'Vater Denke' had killed himself as soon as he was left unobserved by police. He hung himself in the holding cell with a small pocket handkerchief before night had even fallen.