History is awash with violent people like Karl Denke doing unbelievable things that the rest of us simply can’t imagine. Among these men was a serial killer so obscured by the lens of history that he’s almost a ghost. Little is known about Karl Denke, a dark figure shrouded in mystery.
Not so much is remembered about his murders, the events in his house of horrors, or his modus operandi. But we are aware that this brutal man killed and cannibalized dozens of travelers and vagrants in the early 1900s.
- His early years were dark
Not so much is known about Denke’s childhood years. He was born in 1860 in the Kingdom of Prussia, now a part of Poland. Karl Denke was the first of the modern serial killers. He came long before the rise of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Denke’s family owned their own farm. They were relatively financially secure. Back then, wealth automatically translated into positive character traits and personal pedigree in the eyes of the general public. But beyond these, those early years were dark–unknown.
- Behavioural Problems
It is very common for many serial killers to display behavioural problems at an early age, usually starting around puberty. That was exactly the case with Karl Denke too. He was said to be shy and soft-spoken but a problematic child. At age 12, he ran away from home.
He became an apprentice and to a gardener, and began to do landscaping, after he ran away from home. However, at the age of 25, when his father died, he inherited a portion of the old farm. Denke tried to farm. But he was never successful with either farming or gardening. So he sold his plot and bought a house to rent out as a landlord. The house had several tenants and many travellers passing through. This made it the perfect place to murder many people over a long stretch of time undetected.
Although no one knows for certain if any external influences caused Denke to go on a murder spree, the general belief is that something inside him definitely snapped. His overall demeanour seemed to transition from that of a man who was relaxed, joyous, and friendly to a tale of murder and cannibalism. Nobody seems to have the slightest idea why this man completely switched personalities and became a macabre monster. It has been suggested that a Jekyll-and-Hyde theory was in operation. According to this idea, Denke was two men in one body. Outwardly, he was kind, compassionate, and caring—even bearing the cross during church services. Then he transformed into a terrifying, dark, disturbed monster behind closed doors.
- Feeding humans to humans
Not many serial killers concern themselves with the objects of their depravity. However, Denke wasn’t a run-of-the-mill cannibal. He cooked his victims and then fed the small town what he called “pork.” It was actually human meat, but no one noticed. Allegedly, Denke even sold the flesh of his victims for a profit.