In Mentem Insania: Christman Gnipperteinga

Erschröckliche newe eytung Von einem Mörder Christman genandt

Between 1568 and 1581, Christman Genipperteinga (also Gniperdoliga and  Gnipperdinga) killed 964 people in between Bergkessel and Frassberg. He lived in a series of underground caves and passages that stretched between the two cities. He was able to make himself invisible and engaged in sexual congress with dwarven artificers who were associates of Satan himself. He kept a sex slave for seven years, killed all six of their children in infancy, and when she eventually escaped from his evil she led the local constabulary to his hideout where they arrested him. Before hauling him away, they confiscated his detailed diary describing his plan to kill 1000 people to satisfy the Devil and sentenced him to die by being broken on “the wheel”, where he lasted for nine days.

Or, Christman Genipperteinga was nothing more than a run of the mill highwayman (among several highwaymen in the same area) who was incredibly good at overstating his abilities and crimes.

Or, Genipperteinga never existed at all.

The only piece of information that we have on Genipperteinga comes from a single source, a pamphlet published by Caspar Herber in 1581 entitled “Erschröckliche newe eytung Von einem Mörder Christman genandt” (reprinted by Johann Scheibel in 1847) which roughly translates to “Terrible new tidings of a murderer, Christman Genandt”. It reads, in part; 

“On June 17, 1581, the executioner finally executed the sentence in Bernkastel-Kues. A heavy cart-wheel smashes the bones of the robber and murderer, Christman Gnieperdoliga. This ends a series of murders that began 13 years earlier and is unique in European history: 964 people are said to be murdered by Gnieperdoliga.”

According to Herber’s pamphlet, Genipperteinga was born in Kerpen (about 30 kilmeters from Cologne), however, there are no records in Kerpen that confirms this. Now, that being said, doesn’t necessarily mean that Genipperteinga wasn’t real. Unfortunately, there are more than a few records that were lost during two world wars, so the lack of records isn’t necessarily proof that he wasn’t a real person.

What we do know is that there were traveling bands of robbers as well as individual highwaymen that were active in the same area. It’s not out of the question that he may have been one of those and was either rather prolific or was really good at telling embellished tales of his exploits.

Terribly, the most believable part of this whole story is the sex slave that he kept for seven years. There have been multiple cases of abducted women who remain with their captors for years and years, despite abuse and physical torture. For example Colleen Stan (the “Girl in a Box”) or, more recently Jaycee Dugard. The woman that he kept as a slave was supposedly the dauther of a local cooper. Gneipperteinga kept her chained in his network of caves (that were reportedly decorated as you would a home) and, in order to keep her from trying to escape, told her that he was a crazy murderer that killed a person or two every single week and would not hesitate to kill her and/or her family. His slave eventually talked him into allowing her to see her family, which, again, is not unheard of in kidnapping cases.

The reason that he would allow her to leave is that he believed that he had enough control over her that it wasn’t a risk. She, of course, used the opportunity to tell her family just who had taken her and they alerted the police, where she led them to Gneipperteinga, ending his murder spree.

Why it’s difficult to believe that the extent of his crimes are real are many. Starting with the 964 murders. That breaks down to roughly 6 murders per month, which is not an unreasonable number, however, with other criminal activity and the existence of an organized constabulary there would be some record somewhere of people finding a body or two every week for thirteen years. The stories of Gneipperteinga are very specific to this one area, the sheer volume of the killing would have been recorded elsewhere by someone. That’s a crazy number of bodies dropping for that information to not travel elsewhere in Europe.

The pamphlet itself is pretty questionable. It was produced shortly after the introduction of the printing press and people were willing to print anything that would convince people to buy their printed material. There were no laws restricting what you could and could not print. Libel laws didn’t exist. This is a great story – it’s terrifying and would absolutely be something that people would pay to read.

The execution itself is also difficult to believe. Execution by being broken on the wheel is brutal. The person is tied spread-eagled atop a large wheel in such a position where their arms and legs are between the spokes. They are then beaten with a club or an iron cudgel. The gaps in the wheel allowing for the limbs to give way and break. They don’t stop when they break your bones, they keep going until you die. Nine days under this torture, even with “fortifying drinks”, is an impossible length of time to survive this. It is, however, an excellent way to drive home just how monstrous Gneipperteinga was, true or not.

Another theory is that Genipperteinga was not a singular person. The person that was put to death for these crimes may have just been one of a number of robbers in that area. This dude was probably embellishing his criminal activities in general, particularly as an intimidation move towards his slave. She turned him in and recounted what she knew to the local authorities and any corroboration of her story, even so much as an unsolved murder, would be taken as proof. While there was basic criminological knowledge, the local law enforcement would not be launching a massive investigation to delve into the truth of this person’s crimes, they just wanted him off the streets.

Germanic folklore is full of murderous figures, there’s even a statue in Bern, Switzerland of the “Kindlifresserbrunnen” (“The Child Eater”) that is believed to be a possible representation of a Krampus character or even an interpretation of the Greek Cronus, who devoured his children to avoid being overthrown.

The Kindlifresserbrunnen

The idea of a person like Genipperteinga existed isn’t completely far-fetched in the realm of fairy tales or morality tales. A read through The Brothers Grimm provides you with similar ideas.

Legend or not Genipperteinga is a fascinating tale. It has devil worship, service to Satan, murder, sex slaves, an underground network of caves used to travel in secrecy, and a satisfying conclusion where justice is done and the monster is destroyed.