Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hermann Springstein & Auguste Bock, German Serial Killer Duo - 1895


FULL TEXT (article 1 of 2): At the assizes at Prenzlau, in Germany, on November 5 [1895], Hermann Springstein (a local shopkeeper) and his sister (a widow named. Bock) were convicted of the murder by poisoning, of the male prisoner's wife in March of this year, and sentenced to death. The prisoners were also accused of the murder by poisoning of six other persons, including their mother and father and Mrs. Bock’s husband, and son, between 1886 and 1892. The lives of the male prisoner's wife and brother-in-law had been insured.

[Untitled, The Otago Witness (Dunedin, New Zealand), Jan. 2, 1896, p. 17]

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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): London, November 8 [1895]. – Router’s correspondent at Prenzlau wires the English papers (says our London correspondent) particulars of a curious poisoning trial which is not unlike the famous Joniaux case. The accused were Hermann Springstein and his sister Auguste, widow of a locksmith named Bock. They were accused of poisoning, between 1886 and 1895, no fewer than seven persons, including their father and mother, the male prisoner’s wife, the husband of the female prisoner Bock, her son Alfred Bock, and an unmarried woman named Fiebelkorn; but the indictment upon which they were arraigned was limited to a single one of those crimes— the murder of the male prisoner’s wife, on the 7th of March last, with premeditation— the other charges being investigated collaterally. A motive for the alleged crimes was suggested by the fact that the lives of the deceased persons had been insured for considerable sums. The female prisoner was brought to take her trial from the Luckau Penitentiary, where she was undergoing a sentence of four years’ penal servitude for perjury, of which she was convicted at this court in June last.

Hermann Springstoin, though latterly keeping a grocery store, was a blacksmith by trade, and had also dabbled in veterinary surgery, in which connection he naturally acquired a knowledge of poisons. He lived at Konigsberg until 1893, when he removed to Anklam, and thence to Pasewalk, his sister Auguste keeping house for him. At Pasewalk, in July, 1893, he married, and in May of the following year he came to Prenzlau. His wife died suddenly on March 7 last, after an attack of cramp, to which Springstein said she was subject. Dr Beutlich, the family doctor, next day gave a certificate to the effect that Mrs Springstein had died from spasmodic constriction of the larynx. The body was exhumed a fortnight later by order of the Public Prosecutor. An examination of the intestines made by Dr Bischoff, the police chemical expert in Berlin, established the presence oi 0.034 grammes of strychnine in the stomach and intestines, while perceptible traces of the same poison were found in the internal organs. The life of the deceased had been insured by her husband for 3,000 marks. The attention of the authorities was then turned to six other cases of death under suspicious circumstances which had occurred in the prisoner’s household between 1886 and 1892, while Springstein was living at Konigsberg. The brother-in-law’s life was insured for 12,000 marks. The bodies of these persons were also exhumed, but though traces of arsenic were found in the intestines of Springstein’s parents the poison was not present in sufficient quantities to justify the conclusion that it was the cause ot death. The bodies were, however, in an advanced state of decomposition. Springstein was alleged to have been in the habit of making his wife drunk, and the woman frequently complained that after drinking liquor given to her by her husband, and also after eating food prepared by the female prisoner, she suffered from cramps in the throat such as might be occasioned by strychnine poisoning. Quantities of strychnine, sulphuric acid, and other poisons were found in Springstein’s house. Twenty-five witnesses, including three experts, were cited for the prosecution. Springstein is a powerfully-built unkempt man of rough exterior, and his sister a common-looking woman speaking with a strong Berlin lower-class accent. Both maintained a callous demeanor during the proceedings, the woman on several occasions impudently interrupting the presiding judge in the course of his interrogatory. The judges were Provincial Court Councillor Wilke and Provincial Judges Knitsehki and Simonsohn.

The prisoners having pleaded not guilty, the president proceeded to interrogate them as to the death of their father. Springstein, in reply, described life in the paternal household as being wretched in the extreme. He and his father frequently came to blows, and had quarrels of the most violent character. His father drank heavily, and prisoner alleged that his sudden death was the result of drink. In support of this statement he mentioned that the deceased, when found, held an empty schnapps bottle clutched to his breast in hi 3 death grasp. Prisoner’s brother advised him to report their father’s death to the police, but this Springstcin demised to do, on the ground that it was quite unnecessary. Shortly afterwards his brother was taken to a lunatic asylum, but he was subsequently released. Interrogated as to his veterinary practice, Springstein said it was true that he had insured the lives of cattle for large sums, but he repudiated the suggestion that he had poisoned them in order to obtain the insurance money. It was true that the insurance company had entertained suspicions on the subject, but he had protested against the suggestion. He admitted that he had recommended to his brother a certain vegetable poison, which he described as sure and effectual, leaving no traces behind. Prisoner also denied that he had poisoned his nephew. As to his brother-in-law, he declared that he had died from an overdose of schnapps and arsenic, a mixture which he had been in the habit of taking regularly. Springstein likewise denied that he had poisoned the young woman named Fiebelkorn.

The Public Prosecutor here pointed out that shortly after Springstein senior’s death the woman in question expressed the belief that he had been poisoned. Two days later she was dead herself. His mother, prisoner said, had died after drinking some very strong coffee. She had to go out and dig potatoes one night, and his sister handed her a cup of coffee before she left the house. Several witnesses testified that on the evening in question the old woman, while she was working, suddenly screamed out that she had been poisoned, and asked for a drink of milk. Some milk and water was handed her by a neighbor, but she died soon afterwards. Prisoner stated . that his mother might possibly have taken arsenic in mistake for salts. In explanation of his being in possession of poisons, Springstein alleged that he had sold quantities of poison for killing foxes. The female prisoner, questioned as to the manner of her husband’s death, said his lungs were not strong, and he also was troubled with his heart and stomach. The poison found on him was, she declared, quite harmless. One witness stated that on one occasion Mr. Bock remarked to her: “There were six deaths in our house this year — my mother, my husband, and my son, two horses, and a dog,” adding “and the dog had the finest funeral.” Another witness said the male prisoner had threatened to shoot him. A violent dispute ensued, and in the course of the quarrel prisoner shouted: “I shall do for you yet; I don’t need a pistol for you.”

At the close of the previous day’s proceedings the male prisoner was observed to be making signs to the warder who was taking him back to his cell. The President promptly recalled him and asked what he meant, to which the accused replied in Berlin slang : “Off goes my head. Then off go I to heaven.”

Three medical experts deposed that Spring, stein’s wife had been slowly poisoned through repeated doses of strychnine administered to her, and expressed the opinion that his father and mother, brother-in-law, and nephew had all been similarly poisoned. The Public Prosecutor asked for a verdict of guilty, declaring that, apart from the murder of Mrs Springstein, there was the strongest suspicion that the male prisoner was likewise guilty of the murder of the four persons above-mentioned. Herren Meissner and Dietrich, for the defence, argued that there was nothing in the evidence to justify a verdict of guilty. The jury, however, replied in the affirmative on each count of the indictment, and sentence of death was pronounced on both prisoners.

[“Remarkable Poisoning Case. - A Brother And Sister Sentenced To Death.” The Tuapeka Times (Lawrence, New Zealand), Jan. 1, 1896, p. 6]

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