1623: Nicolas Antoine, Judaizer 1939: Jose Aranguren, Civil Guard general

1831: Gesche Margarethe Gottfried, the Angel of Bremen

April 21st, 2019 Headsman

The Domshof town square still holds a spuckstein (“spit stone”) where passersby can revile Gesche Margarethe Gottfried, a serial poisoner beheaded in Bremen on this date in 1831.

Ptooey! (cc) image by Jürgen Howaldt.

Gottfried wielded the 19th century’s weapon of choice for subtle domestic homicide, arsenic, mixed into spreadable fat, a concoction known as Mäusebutter after its intended legitimate use. This delectable served for 15 murders over as many years in the 1810s and 1820s.

The “Angel of Bremen” — so earned for her kindly habit of nursing her victims through the death throes she prepared them — began as is customary with her spendthrift first husband, followed soon by the three children she had by him, her own mother, father, and brother, and her second husband.

After a six-year break apparently because her access to Mäusebutter had run out, Gottfried was able to resume her career in 1823 by offing her second husband followed by a series of less intimate acquaintances: a neighbor, a landlady, a maid, a creditor. All of her murders seemingly had some pecuniary motive, including those early ones of her own kin (think inheritance). But in many instances the apparent profit was very minor, and her motivations remain uncertain to this day. The phrenologists who examined her head after execution certainly had some ideas: “the brain exhibits an enormously large organ of Destructiveness, with a very deficient Benevolence. This combination appears to have rendered its possessor almost a hyena or tiger in her dispositions.” (Source)

At last one of her proposed victims, one Johann Rumpff who was the husband of the “landlady” Wilhelmine Rumpff already poisoned by Gottfried, became suspicious enough of her to have meals she served to him examined by a doctor, which led speedily to her arrest and to all the rest.

Gottfried was the last person (male or female) publicly executed in Bremen. She survives well enough in the cultural memory to earn periodic tribute on stage, screen, and literature …

… and for the discerning Bremener desiring to see upon whom their sputum falls at Domshof, the Angel’s death mask can still be gawked at the Focke Museum.

(cc) image by Jürgen Howaldt.

German speakers might enjoy the Life of Poison-Murderer Gesche Margarethe Gottfried composed by her attorney Friedrich Voget: part 1, part 2. or see archive.org.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Murder,Pelf,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Serial Killers,Women

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One thought on “1831: Gesche Margarethe Gottfried, the Angel of Bremen”

  1. Philippe says:

    Hello Jason,

    The Wikipedia ( German and French but not English ) article about Gesche Gottfiied you mention quotes in the references the graphic novel ” Gift ” (2010) by Peer Metter and Barbara Yelin devoted to this story.
    I read it (the French version published by Actes Sud) when it was published.
    The book starts around 1880. The heroine, an elderly writer, travels by train to Bremen and tells her young dame de compagnie that when she was her age, fifty years ago in 1831, she visited this city for the first time. There were no trains then so she had come by boat. Initially she wanted to visit Bremen to write a (Baedeker-style) travel / tourism book. But upon arriving she found out the city was preparing to execute a woman, Gesche Gottfried. This would turn out – as you say -to be the last public execution of anyone in Bremen.
    This graphic novel is in black and white with crayonné-style drawings.
    At the end of the book there is a postface with the historical context, the main protagonists of the case and photos including the spuckstein you also show, marking the execution site.

    Best Regards


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