Karl Denke was a well respected man within the town of Ziębice, located approximately an hour and a half outside of Wrocław, Poland. Coming from a family of farmers, Denke had come into a fair bit of money at the time of his father’s death. His brother took over the family farm and Denke purchased a small farm himself. Unfortunately, farming life didn’t fare well for Denke, and so he sold off his property, settling for a small house on the outskirts of town.

Every Sunday Denke could be found in church playing the organ and was known to take in beggars and travelers, offering them a free room for the night in his boarding house. These wayward tenants affectionately referred to Denke as “Papa.”

Karl Denke

Karl Denke

Though to the community at large Denke was a kind-hearted man, Denke literally had more than a few skeletons in his closet. Denke’s charitable facade began to unravel shortly before the Christmas of 1924.

It was the night of December 21st, when a coachman heard cries for help from a tenant Denke had allowed to stay at the house. The man was covered in blood, and appeared to have suffered some form of attack. The man fell unconscious, but just before he was out cold he managed to cry out the word “Papa!”

The man later reported to the police that Denke had attacked him, but due to Denke’s superior reputation within the town, police did not believe him. It wasn’t until a doctor examined the man and determined that he had been attacked with an pickax or some other form of heavy cutting tool, that police took the man’s claims seriously.

The police arrived at Denke’s home to ask him about the attack. Denke claimed that he was only defending his property, while the evidence told a different story. Inside of his closet they found bloodied clothing from both men and women, barrels of bones out behind his shed, and a diary documenting as many as 40 people who had met an untimely end by Denke’s hand. Their bones were stripped clean and their meat was pickled in a brine, which he would not only eat, but sold at a market in Wroclaw as “pork.”

Meat and bones found on a table in Denke's home.

Meat and bones found on a table in Denke’s home.

With the economic downturn that had been plaguing Poland at the time, any meat was a godsend, and the prices that Denke sold the meat of his victims was the best deal to be had. It is unknown how many families may have starved to death if not for Denke’s rogue pickling operations. Nothing from the bodies was wasted. Even the victims’ hair was fashioned into shoelaces, which Denke sold door-to-door.

Denke was mortified that he secret had been found out. Though Denke may have felt that he was doing the town a service by ridding the area of unsavory individuals, while seeing to it that families would have food and supplies to survive, the discovery ruined him. After his arrest Denke was found hanged in his jail cell.