A fearful Chapter in criminal history.
[From the Chicago Times.]
The criminal court at Custrin, in Pomerania
,) has for a fortnight been occupied with a case which may be said to be without a precedent in the annals of Prussian crime.
A workman named Karl Maasch
has been accused of having been concerned in the commission of thirteen murders and many hundred robberies, of which he confesses himself guilty.
The number of his transgressions is, however, probably, far greater than that indicated in the crowded list already made out against him. Among modern criminals, Dumollard alone, who was executed some months ago in France
, can be compared in the enormity of his crimes with the monster Maasch
Not only was Maash, like Dumollard, guilty of the most cold-blooded cruelty in the numerous murders which he seemed to take fiendish delight in perpetrating, but the hideous manner in which he treated the still warm bodies of his female victims sinks him far below the level of the savage or the brute.
was, it appears, the leader of a band of wretches, consisting of himself, his brother Martin, his mother, an old but active woman, and two laborers named Liebeg and Kohlschmidt; and all these persons were placed at the bar. Their burglaries and murders had for five years kept in almost continual alarm the population around Sodlin, Pyritz, Lansburg and Stargardt.
One of the most horrifying atrocities which they committed was on a night in May, 1861, when Karl Maasch
and some of his band broke forcibly into the house of a miller named Baumgart, at Carsdorf, murdered the miller and his wife, his daughter, two sons, and a maid, and robbed the house of everything that was portable and valuable, including, it is believed, a considerable sum of money.
The murders, too, were committed in a manner so atrocious as to arouse the population into a frenzy, and the most persevering exertions were made to obtain a clue to the guilty parties.
The noblest detectives of Berlin
were sent to aid the local police; but the only person to whom suspicion pointed, an assistant who slept in the house, and who was the only one who escaped death, was at last set free, under the conviction that he was innocent.
A strange incident, however, at length occurred.
Two farm laborers, of the village of Warsin, near Stargardt, were one morning walking together on their way to their work in the fields, when it came on to rain.
For the sake of greater shelter against the wet, one of them proposed that they should proceed to their destination for the rest of the way by a path leading through the woods.
This being agreed on, the peasants had not been ten minutes in the forest, when one of them espied at some distance through the trees the upper half of the body of a man sticking up out of the ground.
Their hearts leaped to their mouths.
One immediately started off with all the speed he could put forth, while the other, more self-possessed, retreated more slowly, keeping his eye fixed on the object in question, which gradually sank out of sight into the earth.
The peasants instantly made known to the owner of the estate the strange thing they had witnessed.
The police was sent for, and a number of persons, with all dispatch, proceeded to the mysterious spot which was pointed' out by the laborers.
At first it seemed as though the men must have deceived themselves or were carrying on a practical joke; for at the spot indicated there appeared to be nothing like a hole in the earth, as the grass covered the ground all round about.
On closer investigation, however, a slit was found in the grass in the form of a square.
It was the top of a trap door covered with turf.
On forcing this open and descending, a large cavity was discovered, from which, however, the late occupiers had already fled.
The hole itself, which was roofed with trees overlaid with turf, was divided into two rooms, the walls lined with boards — a stove, two or three beds, a ladder, victuals, and cooking utensils being present, and making a very snug underground dwelling.
In addition to these articles, there were present quantities of objects identified as having been stolen from various houses in the neighboring country, in which burglarious robberies and murders have been committed.
Axes, firearms, and other weapons, as well as a considerable number of thieves tools, were likewise found.
The police now found themselves on the right track.
Various circumstances — the description given by the peasants of the occupiers of the cavern, as well as indications found in the cavern itself — led to the suspicion that the person so seen was none other than the notorious workman, Karl Frederick Maasch
, who was conjectured to be the leader of the band of robbers who had so long infested the neighborhood.
Against him and his crew the search was henceforth specially directed.
Maasch had been for some time a laborer on the estate of Deazon, near Pyritz, in which neighborhood he was born.
He was never married, and had been published frequently for theft.
He was a scoundrel of the lowest modes of life, and sprang from a family hereditarily criminal.
He had fled from the place mentioned above on account of the discovery of new thefts committed by him, and had not been seen for several years.
At first the efforts of the police to take him were completely foiled, and he was strenuously aided in his concealment by the rest of the band, consisting for the most part of his family.
His mother and brother (Martin
) lived together at Schonon, Pyritz, about six English miles from the retreat in the forest.
's wife were speedily seized and thrown into prison on suspicion.
In their dwelling were found an axe, on which traces of blood were still discovered, and a quantity of articles belonging to the same robberies as did those found in the hole in the woods so that at length those who had committed the Baumgart murder were in the hands of justice, if we except their leader, Karl, Maasch.
On a microscopic examination of the three axes from the hole and the fourth found at the house of Martin
, unmistakable traces of this horrid six fold murder were perceived.
On one axe, stuck, a small portion of human brain; on all four, human hair mingled with clotted blood.
The hair agreed completely with that of the murdered persons, and that of the servant maid was identified with particular clearness.
On one of the axes there still clung red woollen threads, precisely similar to those of the material of which Mrs. Baumgart
's nightcap was made, and which she wore on the night of the murder.
Another axe still retained traces of the children's bedclothes.
The wife of Martin
sealed her guilt by hanging herself in prison, after having been accused of participating in the Baumgart murders.
The principal party, however, still remained at large; he had been driven from the Soldan country by the exertions made to capture him. What, however, the police could not achieve with the utmost endeavors was again left to be accomplished by a happy accident.
One beautiful summer's evening a citizen of Frankfort-on-the-Oder observed a drunken man in the public streets behaving himself in a very shameless manner.
On addressing some words of indignant remonstrance to him, he received an answer of the very coarsest description, and was compelled to call a police sergeant.
Against the latter the stranger pointed a loaded pistol.
He was, however, finally overpowered, and taken to the lock-up.
A quantity of arms, thieves' tools, and money, were found on him, and it appears that in the earlier part of the evening he had been treating several workmen, whom he met quite accidentally on the road to the town, with copious potations of brandy, and had himself become intoxicated.
He finally confessed that he was the long sought Karl Maasch
, and had only just come from committing a fresh murder and robbery, in which he had taken the money found upon him. Near Hackleburg, two days before, a commercial man had been shot in the forest and robbed of his money; the horses galloped on to the village of Hackleburg
, drawing behind them the vehicle containing the lifeless body of the merchant.--Maasch, who confessed to this murder, was delivered up at Sodlin to the authorities engaged in investigating the Baumgart murders.
In the course of the trial not less than one hundred and forty witnesses were examined, and great numbers of depositions were read.
confessed to having committed the thirteen murders himself, and sought to have his fellow-prisoners acquitted on this ground.
If this request seems like the one bright spot in the conduct of the chief criminal, yet it was of no avail against the proofs adduced, that three of his comrades at least had assisted him in one or more of his numerous murders.
Karl and Martin Maasch
, their mother, and Liebig
, were found guilty of murder and robbery, and condemned to death; while the fifth prisoner, Kohlschmidt, who was convicted of robbery only, escaped with several years' imprisonment.