Thursday, November 26, 2015

Marie Schneider, 12-Year-Old Murderess – 1886, Germany

FULL TEXT: Berlin, July 9. [. . . ] An atrocious murder was committed here today by a girl of about 12 years. The child coaxed another little girl of about 4 years to the fourth story of a house, robbed the little one of her earrings, and then threw her out of the window. The poor creature was killed by the terrible fall. The youthful murderess confessed her guilt, giving us the reason for the deed that she wanted to possess the little girl’s earrings.

[“A Horrible Murder Committed by a Child of 12. …” The Chicago Tribune (Il.), Jul. 10, 1886, p. 5]


FULL TEXT: The trial has just concluded at Berlin of a little girl of 12, named Schneider, who was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for deliberately and knowingly causing the death of an infant playmate, aged three and a half. The details of the trial were most revolting, and bore out the opinion of an expert in medical jurisprudence that be had never heard of such an instance of human depravity m any criminal so young. Coveting the earrings of her playmate, which she meant to sell for sweetmeats, this little girl Schneider decoyed her victim up several flights of stairs, secured the trinkets, and then pushed their owner out of an open window. Schneider’s answer to the judge on questions of religion, law, morality, death, and life showed that she was perfectly conscious of the nature and consequences of her deliberate crime.

[“A Young Murderess.” Aberdale Times (Wales), Oct. 9, 1886, p. 3]


FROM: Havelock Ellis, The Criminal, Scribner & Welford, 1890, pp. 7-12

EXCERPT: I will now give, in some detail, the history of a more decisive and significant example of this same moral insensibility. It is in a child, and I take it from German records. Marie Schneider, a school-girl, twelve years of age, was brought before the Berlin Criminal Court in 1886. She was well developed for her age, of ordinary facial expression, not pretty, nor yet ugly. Her head was round, the forehead receding slightly, the nose rather small, the eyes brown and lively, the smooth, rather fair hair combed back.

With an intellectual clearness and precision very remarkable for her age, she answered all the searching questions put by the President of the Court without hesitation or shrinking. There was not the slightest trace of any inner emotion or deep excitement. She spoke in the same quiet equable tone in which a school-girl speaks to her teacher or repeats her lesson. And when the questions put to her became of so serious a character that the judge himself involuntarily altered his voice and tone, the little girl still remained self-possessed, lucid, childlike. She was by no means bold, but she knew that she had to answer as when her teacher spoke to her, and what she said bore the impress of perfect truth, and agreed at every point with the evidence already placed before the court. Her statement was substantially as follows:—

“My name is Marie Schneider. I was born on the 1st of May 1874, in Berlin. My father died long ago, I do not know when; I never knew him. My mother is still living; she is a machinist. I also have a younger brother. I lost a sister a year ago. I did not much like her, because she was better than I, and my mother treated her better. My mother has several times whipped me for naughtiness, and it is right that I should take away the stick with which she beat me, and to beat her. I have gone to school since I was six years old. I have been in the third class for two years. I stayed there from idleness. I have been taught reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and history, and also religion. I know the ten commandments. I know the sixth: it is, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ I have some playfellows at school and in the neighbourhood, and I am often with a young lady [believed to be of immoral life] who is twenty years old and lives in the same house. She has told me about her childhood, and that she was just as naughty as I am, and that she struck the teacher who was going to punish her. Some time ago, in playing in the yard, I came behind a child, held his eyes, and asked him who I was. I pressed my thumbs deep in his eyes, so that he cried out and had inflamed eyes. I knew that I hurt him, and, in spite of his crying, I did not let go until I was made to. It did not give me special pleasure, but I have not felt sorry. When I was a little child I have stuck forks in the eyes of rabbits, and afterwards slit open the belly. At least so my mother has often said; I do not remember it. I know that Conrad murdered his wife and children, and that his head was cut off. I have heard my aunt read the newspapers. I am very fond of sweets, and have several times tried to get money to buy myself sweets. I told people the money was for some one else who had no small change. I know that that was deceit. I know too what theft is. Any one who kills is a murderer, and I am a murderess. Murder is punished with death; the murderer is executed; his head is cut off. My head will not be cut off, because I am still too young. On the 7th of July my mother sent me on an errand. Then I met little Margarete Dietrich, who was three and a half years old, and whom I had known since March. I said to her that she must come with me, and I took her hand. I wanted to take away her ear-rings. They were little gold ear-rings with a coloured stone. I did not want the ear-rings for myself, but to sell at a second-hand shop in the neighbourhood, to get money to buy some cakes. When I reached the yard I wanted to go somewhere, and I called to my mother to throw me down the key. She did so, and threw me down some money too, for the errand that I was to go on. I left little Margarete on the stairs, and there I found her again. From the yard I saw that the second-floor window was half open. I went with her up the stairs to the second floor to take away the ear-rings, and then to throw her out of the window. I wanted to kill her, because I was afraid that she would betray me. She could not talk very well, but she could point to me; and if it came out, my mother would have beaten me. I went with her to the window, opened it wide, and set her on the ledge. Then I heard some one coming down. I quickly put the child on the ground and shut the window. The man went by without noticing us. Then I opened the window and put the child on the ledge, with her feet hanging out, and her face turned away from me. I did that because I did not want to look in her face, and because I could push her easier. I pulled the ear-rings out. Grete began to cry because I hurt her. When I threatened to throw her out of the window she became quiet. I took the ear-rings and put them in my pocket. Then I gave the child a shove, and heard her strike the lamp and then the pavement. Then I quickly ran downstairs to go on the errand my mother had sent me. I knew that I should kill the child. I did not reflect that little Grete’s parents would be sorry. It did not hurt me; I was not sorry; I was not sorry all the time I was in prison; I am not sorry now. The next day a policeman came to us and asked if I had thrown the child out of the window. I said no, I knew nothing about it. Then I threw away the ear-rings that I had kept hid; I was afraid they would search my pockets and find them. Then there came another policeman, and I told him the truth, because he said he would box my ears if I did not tell the truth. Then I was taken away, and had to tell people how it happened. I was taken in a cab to the mortuary. I ate a piece of bread they gave me with a good appetite. I saw little Grete’s body, undressed, on a bed. I did not feel any pain and was not sorry. They put me with four women, and I told them the story. I laughed while I was telling it because they asked me such curious questions. I wrote to my mother from prison, and asked her to send me some money to buy some dripping, for we had dry bread.”

That was what little Marie Schneider told the judge, without either hesitation or impudence, in a completely childlike manner, like a school-girl at examination; and she seemed to find a certain satisfaction in being able to answer long questions so nicely. Only once her eyes gleamed, and that was when she told how in the prison they had given her dry bread to eat. The medical officer of the prison, who had watched her carefully, declared that he could find nothing intellectually wrong in her. She was intelligent beyond her years, but had no sense of what she had done, and was morally an idiot. And this was the opinion of the other medical men who were called to examine her. The Court, bearing in mind that she was perfectly able to understand the nature of the action she had committed, condemned Marie Schneider to imprisonment for eight years. The question of heredity was not raised. Nothing is known of the father except that he is dead.

Marie Schneider differs from the previous cases, not merely by her apparent freedom from pathological elements, but by her rational motives and her intelligence. The young French woman intended nothing very serious by her brutal and unfeeling practical jokes. Marie Schneider was as thorough and as relentless in the satisfaction of her personal desires as the Marquise de Brinvilliers. But she was a child, and she would very generally be described as an example of “moral insanity.” It is still necessary to take a further step, although a very slight one, to reach what every one would be willing to accept as an instinctive criminal.

[Havelock Ellis, The Criminal, Scribner & Welford, 1890, pp. 7-12]



More cases: Youthful Borgias: Girls Who Commit Murder


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