(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
At 7:00 a.m. on this date in 1926, alcoholic and all-around loser Petrus Hauptfleisch was hanged in South Africa for the murder of his elderly mother nearly two years earlier. The case is detailed in Rob Marsh’s book Famous South African Crimes, available to read for free here.
Hauptfleisch had lived with his mother well into adulthood. When World War I started, he joined the army and served in Europe for four years.
After his return to South Africa in 1919, he demonstrated signs of having grown up a bit: he got a job as a butcher, married and had a young child. He and his wife fought constantly, however. He had a violent temper and drank heavily, to the extent that eventually none of the local businesses would sell him liquor anymore.
Finally his wife left him and he moved back in with Mom, but he was abusive to her as well and over Christmas 1924 she had him arrested after he threatened to kill her.
But once he sobered up and was released from custody, Mom let him move back in. Perhaps she felt she had to, since Petrus was haupt-fleisch und blut. Whatever her reason, the sins of the son were soon visited upon the mother.
Hauptfleisch claimed his mother accidentally set the kitchen on fire on January 13, 1925 and burned to death. The autopsy, however, didn’t support his story: all indications were that Mrs. Hauptfleisch had been suffocated or strangled to death and then burned afterward. There was no sign of soot or ashes in her bronchial tube or lungs, strong evidence that she hadn’t been breathing when the fire started, and there were other indications of asphyxiation. The postmortem lividity indicated she’d been lying flat on her back at the time of death, not face-down as Hauptfleisch said he’d found her.
Authorities believed Hauptfleisch was driven to homicide partly because of greed (he was the sole heir to his mother’s £600 estate) and partly out of personal rancor over that whole arrest thing.
After he was convicted and the sentence of death was passed upon him, Hauptfleisch issued a statement acknowledging that he had not been a good son, but protesting his innocence of this “most dastardly” crime. He would maintain his innocence until he died.