FULL TEXT: At 10 AM each morning a mousey blonde woman paces the courtyard of the cold, gray Mainz prison. Her drab green dress is covered by a worn gray coat and her pallid face is expressionless.
Occasionally she runs toward the gate. “Is there a crowd?” she asks the guard. “Well, open the door and let them see what a poisoner looks like.”
This is 29-year-old Christa Lehmann’s only emotion. She tells frankly of poisoning her husband, Karl, her father-in-law, Valentin, and her best friend, Annie Hamann, with E-605, an insecticide.
Christa claims she killed Mrs. Hamann by mistake—but her other poisonings were in “self-defense” and her “conscience is clear.”
Christa lacks the romance which surrounded the de Medici women and Lucretia Borgia who, during the Renaissance, poisoned unfaithful lovers and politically useless husbands. Christa had no hemlock cup or jeweled poison rings, nor did she greet her victims in marble halls and vamp them in richly brocaded gowns before she watched them writhe to a painful end.
Until publicity surrounding the discovery of her crimes set off 60 suicides and murders with E-605, Christa Lehmann was a nobody.
She was born in a tar-paper shack in North Worms. Her father was a fertilizer salesman and 25 years ago her mother was committed to an institution for the violently insane in Mainz. Her father’s second wife tried to make a home for Christa, her sister and brother until the father divorced her.
Later, Christa was sent to a vocational institution where she learned laboratory work.
SHE MARRIED Karl Lehmann, a dozen years her senior, shortly after he returned from a Russian POW camp. The couple moved into a shabby attic on Paulus Str. near the church where Martin Luther posted his thesis and the first German Reichstag was founded.
Three children came in quick succession, and after the first died, Christa found life almost unbearable. Her husband refused to work, beat her daily and neighbors liquor, shouting, “I don’t care where or how you get them.”
Neighbors marveled how nicely Christa and her children looked on so little money. They found her kind, gracious and always helpful when they were in trouble.
One day Christa remembered a poison her father sold to vineyard owners along the Rhine. E-605 was developed during the war by I. G. Farben in Bielefeld and is the only insecticide which will kill all types of plant parasites.
Farmers dilute it with water at a ratio of 20,000 to 1. Christa tested it by soaking a piece of bread in the clear, bitter-almond liquid. She put it in her dachshund’s milk and seconds later he died.
SHE TOLD neighbors she killed the dog because she couldn’t afford the taxes. Christa’s laboratory experience taught her that animals have a greater resistance to poison than humans so in September 1952 she slipped a few drops of E-605 in her husband’s milk.
He went to the barbershop, returned violently ill, Christa put him to bed, called a doctor who pronounced Herr Lehmann dead of a “stomach ailment.”
Christa and children moved downstairs into father-in-law Valentin’s tiny 3-room flat. In her new dark, dank home, Christa entertained several gentlemen and when Valentin realized she was pregnant he threatened to “teach her a lesson in morals.”
In December 1953, Valentin dropped dead from his bicycle a few minutes after he drank E-605 spiked yogurt. Christa’s best friend, Annie Hamann, was from an impoverished but respected fisherman’s family in Worms. Her husband was killed in Russia in 1944 five months before her daughter Ursula was born.
She lived in “the smallest house in Worms” with 10-year-old Ursula, her 75- year-old mother and two unmarried brothers. Mrs. Ruh, the mother, didn’t dislike Christa, but objected to the way she “ran around with men.”
Saturday, Feb. 13, Christa and Annie Hamann bought five liquor-filled mushroom candies in Wortmann’s department store in Worms. Christa took them home, sucked the liquor out of one, filled it with E-605, sealed the chocolate with a hot knife and put the poisoned bonbon in the bottom of the bag.
She went to the Hamann house for tea, ate two bonbons herself, offered one each to Annie’s brothers and gave the fifth to Mrs. Ruh, who put the goody in a kitchen cupboard and forgot about it. Monday afternoon, after Annie Hamann had prepared for her daughter’s return from a children’s rest home in Bad Nauheim, she found the fifth bonbon and took a bite.
“How terribly bitter,” she said and spit the candy on the floor.
“Mother, mother, I can’t see, I’m blind . . .” and Annie Hamann collapsed. When the doctor arrived she was dead and so was her white spitz who lapped up the remainder of the bonbon.
It was the dead dog. that aroused suspicion and started the investigations.
A weeping Christa Lehmann visited her dead friend’s family and told how the two bonbons she ate made her violently ill Saturday night. But she told the police a different story. After the funeral Christa threw a shovelful of earth on the dead woman’s grave and was taken into custody.
AFTER SEVERAL hours of questioning she was released. When Christa read the coroner’s report in the newspaper, she disposed of the E-605 in her apartment.
The Evangelical preacher, Pastor Urhahn, was suspicious because even at the funeral Christa seemed too cold. He talked with her and she finally confessed. Three days later Urhahn talked her into confessing to the police for the sake of her children.
She called for her father.
“Tell me you are not guilty,” he asked.
“Yes, I am,” she said. “I did it in self defense.”
“I condone you.” her father said. “But now you must tell the police.”
Calmly smoking a cigarette and looking out of the police department’s third-story. windows, Christa confessed.
While she was in the Worms jail she considered herself a special guest because her crime was so unusual, and at every meal she demanded a double ration. After Christa was jailed she wrote her father two notes. In one she asked him to confess to the killings so she would be free to take care of the children “who need me.” In the second she asked him to send her “a green dress arid sew E-605 into the hem.” Both notes were intercepted.
THE PERSONS who killed themselves since Feb. 15 found easy access to E-605. Every vineyard grower and big gardener has it. It can be bought for 35 pfennigs in flower stores. The smallest vial contains enough poison to kill three people and a small jarful could be deadly to all the citizens in a city the size of Frankfurt. E-605 is nitrophenolphosphoric acid.
Farmers do not want to take it off the market because it is the only insecticide which kills every bug. Formerly three or four types of poison had to be used.
While Christa was waiting for psychiatric examination, the deaths of a bartender, known to be a friend of hers, of her first child and several others in the Worms area were investigated. It was found that all died of natural causes. If Christa Lehmann is found sane, she will go on trial in a Mainz court. If she was insane she will probably be. Committed to the asylum near Mainz where her mother works in the kitchen.
Several of the court authorities believe she is a sane and clever murderess who calculated every movement she made. Others think she inherited her mother’s mental illness and that, combined with the unhappy and unhealthy circumstances of her youth and marriage in one of West Germany’s poorest cities, this groomed her for murder.
Christa seems to have lost interest in her children and everything else, except she seems determined to show the curious public a real murderess, according to prison officials.
[Inge Sahlman, “The Strange Case of Christa Lehmann and the E605 Suicides,” The Stars and Stripes European Edition, May. 2, 1954, p. VII?]