While doing some random Google searches, I stumbled upon a fascinating resource on Google Books – the Bayer[ische] Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, or the Bavarian Central Police newspaper. In short, Bavaria’s Most Wanted.
While my German language skills are lacking, it seems that this paper was distributed throughout Germany and perhaps neighboring countries – presumably to police departments. Each edition lists many individuals that are wanted by the police for various crimes or for further questioning, or they are wanted by the court to serve their time. The paper is a multi-purposed resource: a “Wanted Dead or Alive” for criminals, a “Beware” list of shifty characters, and a “Who is This?” for unidentified persons. Some listings are quite detailed and others are brief, but many include the person’s physical descriptions, identifying information such as birth dates, birth places, and occupations), and occasionally even photographs of the individuals.
The collection found on Google Books was digitized from originals at Harvard University’s Law Library. The collection includes papers published in Bavaria from 1866 to 1910.
Crime hasn’t changed much since then. The first edition found online from 1866 has a wide variety of crimes listed including rape, fraud, theft, forgery, violence, and vagrancy – and the alleged criminals are both men and women. Maria Balthasar, a seamstress from Austria who also claims to be an actress, was wanted for misdemeanor theft. Johann Schäffer from Brixen, Tyrol, was wanted for questioning for an investigation about a brawl. Johann Gieselbreth, a goldsmith from Linz, Tyrol, apparently disappeared with quite a bit of gold that did not belong to him. Katharina Pfeifer, a cook working for Baron Eichthal, was accused of “the crime of theft by misappropriation of silver spoons and forks, then the crime of fraud embezzlement.”
The paper does not include the type of information about the crimes that a newspaper account would, but the brief descriptions left me wanting to know more. One particularly intriguing crime is “returning from exile” – which seems to indicate that perhaps exile from the country is a punishment for one crime and returning early is another crime on top of it. Is that similar to breaking parole?
Naturally, the individuals I became most fascinated by were those that had their photographs printed in the paper. I found quite a few great stories browsing through the 1903 edition. Many photos were the typical “mug shots” – front and side view like you see today.
Under the headline “Unbekannter Verhafteter” – “Unknown Arrested”, this man is described as being approximately 60 years old, 1.75 meters tall, with gray hair, graying mustache, and gray eyes. He committed grand larceny – either at the Neunkirchen train station or else that is where he was last seen. The courts believe he might be a carpenter named Sebastian Maier, who was born on 23 Mar 1853 to Christoph and Margarete Maier.
Other photos looked like upstanding, law-abiding individuals such as this attractive couple:
This is Hugo Ellenrieder, a banker from Munich (born 1871), and his wife Elise (born 1876) nee Kahl. The happy couple are traveling together – apparently away from Munich, where they are wanted for a fradulent admission of bankruptcy.
Some of the photos were a bit creepy, particularly the ones of dead guys in coffins:
This poor guy is not a criminal, but an unidentified body found in the river near Bamberg. Since the police were unable to identify the body, they printed a the photo as well as a detailed description including scars on his body and the clothes he was wearing. His pocket contained a wallet with 7 pennies and one room key.
Just browsing through one year’s worth of the Bayerische Zentral-Polizei-Blatt and looking at only the stories with photos would provide me with several interesting blog posts. There were sad stories like the deaf and dumb man wanted for vagrancy or the entire Gypsy family, parents and four children, wanted for begging. These two particular crimes seem to show up frequently, and the culprits seemed to be foreigners, mentally ill, or deaf.
Occasionally the paper had photos of missing people. One of the sadder ones was a photo of a cute young boy who had been missing from his home for months.
Some stories make me want to know more about what happened – both before the crime and after! What ever happened to the studious-looking, bespeckled notary clerk who was wanted for embellzement? Then there was the well-dressed, attractive, mustached Italian named Guido Wölfler. He was a watchmaker’s assistant from Florence traveling in Germany also using the alias “Bonvini”. It seems that Guido was wanted for embezzling a significant sum of money “to the detriment of Italian workers”. No wonder he was in Germany…
As I wondered about “the rest of the story” for these individuals, I came upon a surprise – a name I knew. I don’t know the beginning of the story or the circumstances of the crime, but here was one tale I could tell further! Stay tuned for my next post to learn more about the relative I found listed in Bavaria’s Most Wanted.
Bayer[isches] Central-Polizei-Blatt. Published 1866. Original from the Bavarian State Library, digitized November 22, 2010. Accessed via Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=OQZFAAAAcAAJ
Bayer[isches] Central-Polizei-Blatt. Published 1903. Original from Harvard University, digitized August 5, 2008. Accessed via Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=4cAqAAAAYAAJ.