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Ernst August WAGNER





Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Revenge - Paranoia
Number of victims: 14
Date of murders: September 4, 1913
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: September 22, 1874
Victims profile: His wife and four children / 8 men and 1 girl
Method of murders: Stabbing with knife - Shooting
Location: Degerloch/Mühlhausen an der Enz, Germany
Status: Found not guilty by reason of insanity. Died in asylum on April 27, 1938

photo gallery


The Wagner Case by Hilde Bruch, M.D.


Ernst August Wagner (September 22, 1874 – April 27, 1938) was a German spree killer who, on September 4, 1913 killed his wife and four children in Degerloch and subsequently drove to Mühlhausen an der Enz where he set several fires and shot 20 people, of whom at least 9 died, before he was beaten unconscious by furious villagers and left for dead.

After several psychiatric assessments diagnosed him to suffer from paranoia, and thus becoming the first person in Württemberg to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, he was brought to an asylum in Winnenthal, where he commenced to write several plays and dramas. He died there of tuberculosis in 1938.


Ernst August Wagner was born on September 22, 1874 in Eglosheim near Ludwigsburg as the ninth of ten children, not including one half-brother and half-sister. Most of his siblings died early, so that in 1913 only two sisters and one brother remained. After his father, a poor peasant with drinking problems, died one day before Ernst Wagner's second birthday, the indebted family was forced to sell their farm. His mother tried to make a living of a small shop and soon remarried, but due to Mrs. Wagner's many affairs the marriage was again divorced when Ernst was seven years old.

Ernst Wagner, who was known as the "widow's boy" in the village, suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts, though he was quite intelligent and did well enough at school to earn a public stipend, and thus, despite his poverty, was able to study and become a teacher. After his exam he worked as auxiliary teacher at several schools in Württemberg from 1894 to 1901, though in April 1900 he was suspended for half a year, because of severe nervousness and irritability. In consequence he went to Switzerland for two months, where he tried to sell some of his poems to newspapers.

In July 1901 he was assigned as teacher to Mühlhausen an der Enz where he stayed until 1902. Some time in the summer of 1901, in drunk condition, he sodomized an animal. As a result he became increasingly wary and suspicious that others might know of his deed and began to see signs and hints that the villagers of Mühlhausen are mocking him for this act of bestiality. Thus he bought a revolver, which he always carried with him from that point on, so that he could evade a potential arrest. He began an affair with Anna Friedericke Schlecht, the daughter of a local innkeeper, who became pregnant from him in spring of 1902, but as Ernst Wagner hated the Schlecht-family, thinking that his future father-in-law despised him, he tried to elude the, finally unavoidable, marriage.

In December of the same year, Wagner's mother, to whom he felt deeply attached to, died, he had his final examination as a teacher and was transferred to Radelstetten, a poor and isolated village. Although he was embittered to be ordered to such a puny place, it also temporarily eased his feelings of constant persecution, even though the incident of sodomy continued to haunt him. On December 29, 1903 he and Anna Schlecht married in Ludwigsburg, mostly due to pressure from outside, as their daughter Klara was already 10 months old. Ernst Wagner never made a secret out of the fact that he didn't love his wife anymore and thought that she was intellectually inferior to him, considering her to be more of a servant than his wife. Though Wagner's friends also stated that he always treated her kindly.

In the summer of 1904 he once again went to Switzerland, trying twice to commit suicide there, once by drowning himself and by jumping off a bridge, though both attempts failed, because he was, according to his own words, too weak. In the following years his wife bore four more children, the last being Rudoplh Alfred Wagner, born in July 1909, who died on September 22 of the same year, Ernst Wagner's 35th birthday, who apparently was quite indifferent to the death of his son. Wagner was said to have been unhappy about the births of his children and complained about the financial stress the feeding of his large family caused.

Some time in 1906 or 1907, thinking that the people from Mühlhausen had passed on their knowledge about his crime, the feelings of being ridiculed and watched by others returned, and as a consequence he began to make plans to take revenge on those whom he deemed to be the cause of his misery, the villagers, and especially the men, of Mühlhausen.

In autumn 1907 he bought the first Mauser pistol, the other one following in 1909 and, with his bicycle, which he loved more than anyone or anything else, he made extensive journeys through the surrounding area and trained his shooting skills in remote forests.

Between 1909 and 1911 he made several requests to be transferred to another school, which was finally granted, so that on May 1, 1912 he began his work at a school in Degerloch, a suburb of Stuttgart. At that time he also decided to go ahead with his plan to avenge the derision he had to endure, as even at his new workplace he saw hints of people "knowing", and initially chose the spring of 1913 to put it into practice, but finally determined the last days of the summer holidays for his revenge. In the days leading to the murders he wrote several letters to explain his deed.

Family murders

Wagner began his killing spree on September 4, 1913 at about 5 a.m., when he knocked his sleeping wife unconscious by hitting her on the head with a blackjack, before stabbing her numerous times in her throat and chest with a dagger, cutting her carotid arteries and hitting her heart and lungs. Afterwards he successively entered the bedrooms of his two sons, Robert and Richard, and his daughters, Klara and Elsa, and stabbed each of them in their throat and chest. Wagner initially claimed that he had also hit his children with the blackjack, though later he was uncertain of this. All of his victims died of massive haemorrhaging.

After covering his family members' bodies with blankets, Wagner got out of his blood-soaked nightshirt and washed himself, before packing a bag with three guns (two Mauser C96 and a small revolver), 500 rounds of ammunition, a black veil from his wife and a belt. He subsequently left his home, leaving a note at his own door that the family was jaunting to Ludwigsburg, as well as another one at the door of Mrs. Stepper, the proprietor of the house he was living in, ordering milk and leaving behind 35 pfennige as payment.

With his cycle he then drove towards Stuttgart and took a train to Ludwigsburg, where he bought a backpack, before making his way to his brother's home in Eglosheim, arriving there at about 11 a.m.

As his brother was not at home, Wagner chatted a while with his wife, telling her he wanted to spend the night at their home after fetching his children from Mühlhausen, and, as it could get late, the house should stay accessible to him during the night. In an unobserved moment he hid 228 rounds in a haystack in the garden. Wagner, accompanied by his nephew and niece, walked to the next train station, where he took a train to Bietigheim at about 1 p.m. From there he took off towards Großsachsenheim, where he mailed letters to several people, among them some of his relatives (one of them, addressed to his sister, simply reading "Take poison! Ernst" (Nimm Gift! Ernst)) and theologist and philosopher Christoph Schrempf, as well as a newspaper. Subsequently he returned to Bietigheim, where he got his bicycle checked by a mechanic and mailed two copies of his auto-biography, one again to Christoph Schrempf. At about 7 p.m. he left for Mühlhausen an der Enz.

Shooting spree

Wagner reached the hills near Mühlhausen at about 11 p.m., where he girdled himself with the belt, put a cap on his head and took the two Mauser C96, as well as a handbag containing ammunition, the black veil and a file. His bicycle and the small revolver were later found hidden in a corn field. Next Wagner set out to cut the telephone lines to the village, but as the poles looked too high to him and due to heavy rain that had set in by that time, he dropped that part of his plan and immediately went into Mühlhausen, where he set fire to four barns. The lower part of his face hidden with the veil he began walking through the streets, shooting at any male person that crossed his path. Wagner later claimed that his female victims were accidentally hit.

In total he spent about 80 rounds and shot 20 people, instantly killing eight of them, as well as two animals, and several buildings burned to the ground, before the villagers, with help of the military, managed to extinguish the fires. A ninth person, Jakob Knötzele, was mortally wounded and died a few hours after the shooting had ended. At one point Wagner forgot to reload his weapons and thus three men were able to strike him down with hoes and sabres. He suffered several wounds in his face and right hand, and his left hand was smashed and nearly cut off. Knocked unconscious, he was disarmed and left for dead, but at 2 a.m. a police officer found him lying on the street, still breathing. When he regained consciousness, Wagner immediately confessed to killing his family, and stated that he would have committed suicide in the end, but as this was now impossible, he would appreciate, if he'd be sentenced to death and decapitated.

Finally, in the evening of September 5, Wagner, who uttered concerns he might get ill if he'd stay too long in Mühlhausen, was brought to a hospital in Vaihingen, where his left forearm was amputated and his other wounds treated.


  • Anna Wagner, Wagner's wife

  • Klara Wagner, 10, his daughter

  • Elsa Wagner, 8, his daughter

  • Robert Wagner, 6, his son

  • Richard Wagner, 5, his son

  • Marie Magdalena Bader, 10

  • Georg Friedrich Bauer, 64

  • Johann Friedrich Geissinger, 60

  • Adolf Heinrich Knötzele, 52

  • Johann Jakob Knötzele, 50

  • Johann Georg Müller, 54

  • Jakob Franz Schmierer, 32

  • Christian Thomas Vogel, 65

  • Christian Widmaier, 68, a shepherd







By Telegraph-Press Association-Copyright

The New Zealand Herald: September 8, 1913

A TEACHER named Wagner suddenly became insane at Muhlhausen yesterday.

The maniac first stabbed his wife and four children to death, and then, arming himself with a revolver, went into the heart of the town; where he set fire to several houses. 

Wagner, who was a man of 40 years of age, did not show any sign of mental disturbance when he emerged from the house. He was noticed attempting to fire the town later. He had ignited several barns and houses before he was detected.

The villagers attempted to capture him, believing he was a brigand, as he was wearing a mask and veil. 

Wagner had with him two army revolvers and 250 cartridges. He quickly shot and killed 10 of his would-be capturers and wounded 23 more, some of whom will probably die. 

Finally, he took refuge in a cowshed, where he killed a bullock with his last bullet. 

Most of the villagers fled panic-stricken, but a few of the bolder spirits, armed with pitchforks and scythes, cut him down in his retreat, and terribly injured him. One of his hands was cut off. 

Wagner's papers found in his home show that he had carefully planned the crime. A letter addressed to a Stuttgart newspaper has been unearthed, declaring that he wished to become the devil's ally. 

The doctors are unable to detect any evidence of irresponsibility. 

A murder wave is at present passing over Germany. There have been no fewer than 11 murders in Berlin alone in the past fortnight.


School teacher acts out his revenge

There were mass killings long before there were modern automatic weapons. In 1913, in Germany, a 39-year-old schoolteacher by the name of Wagner acted out his own Gotterdammerung.

In a Stuttgart suburb, he rose before dawn and as quietly and painlessly as possible killed his wife and four children. He mailed several letters; one, containing a complete confession, was addressed to Stuttgart's largest newspaper.

He took a train to Muehlhausen, a village 113 miles away. There in the middle of the night he set several large fires, and as villagers ran into the street he shot them, killing nine and wounding a dozen. When he ran out of ammunition, he was overpowered; the terrified townsmen were astounded to recognize the murderer as the teacher who had moved away a dozen years earlier.

Wagner died in an asylum 25 years later. He discussed openly and exhaustively every aspect of his life -- with one exception. He traced his crime back to one or more sodomistic acts which he would never describe, committed while teaching in the village; the psychiatrists wondered if these things had actually happened or were fantasy. Wagner convinced himself that the villagers knew about those acts, that they watched, mocked, and ridiculed him. He lived in such constant dread of arrest that he carried two loaded pistols on his wedding day in 1903.

In his new post he was respected as an outstanding educator, quiet and dignified. But he ''heard'' pointed remarks and convinced himself that the people of Muehlhausensomehow had told people in his new village of his shame. He developed his murderous plan three years after leaving Muehlhausen. In 1913 he interpreted an earthquake as a mystical sign that he must act.



The man known as Wagner Von Degerloch was born in Eglosheim, near Ludwigsburg, in southwest Germany in 1874, to a big-drinking, big talking peasant father and an allegedly promiscuous mother. The father died when Wagner was two years old. The mother remarried, but her second marriage ended in divorce when Wagner was seven. At school, it was recognized that he was unusually intelligent. He applied himself well and on leaving school received a public stipend to study to become a teacher. Literature was his great passion and in his spare time he wrote poetry.

By 1902, he was living and working in a village called Muehlhausen. He began an affair with the innkeeper’s daughter, but it became publicly known and as a result he was transferred to a poor, isolated community, Radelstetten, nearby. The innkeeper’s daughter gave birth to a girl in the summer of 1903 and Wagner married her in December. Four more children followed, although the last died in infancy.

The family lived in Radelstetten for ten years. Wagner was considered by his neighbours to be "an admirable citizen, dignified, somewhat quiet," and the best teacher the village had ever had. During this period he began penning dramas with grand biblical and historical themes. He never succeeded in finding a producer or publisher for his plays but had some of them printed at his own expense.

In 1912, he was transferred to Degerloch, a suburb of Stuttgart. He maintained his excellent record as a schoolteacher and apparently enjoyed the stimulation and culture of the large city. According to friends and colleagues, his only failing was a tendency towards grandiosity and loquaciousness when under the influence of alcohol.

After three or four glasses of beer he was given to boasting about his literary talent. "He compared himself to Shakespeare, Schiller and Goethe. Occasionally he would comment that one day he would become a famous man and do deeds that would astound the world. Nothing was made of this bragging, since the next day he would perform his work in the accustomed quiet and conscientious way." All who knew him considered him to be a well-balanced and intelligent individual, leading an exemplary middle-class life.

The Muehlhausen Massacre and Wagner’s Secrets

Dr. Hilde Bruch gives a full account of Wagner’s crime.

During the night of September 4, 1913, several large fires… awakened the citizens of Muehlhausen. As they ran into the street, they were met by a man, his face covered by a black veil, who was armed with two pistols. He shot with great accuracy and killed eight men and one girl immediately; twelve more were severely injured. Then his two pistols ran out of ammunition, and he was overpowered and beaten down with such violence that he was left for dead; however, he was only unconscious. He had 198 more bullets in his possession. The innkeeper identified the murderer as his 39-year-old brother-in-law, who had been a schoolteacher in his village more than ten years earlier.

Wagner confessed that during the preceding night he had quietly killed his wife and four children…He also confessed that he had come to Muehlhausen to take revenge on the male inhabitants for their scorn and disdain for him. However, even while lying severely wounded and exposed to the hatred of the attacked people, he noticed that no one employed the term of abuse that would refer to his sexual sins, which he felt had been the cause of all the persecution, ridicule, and condemnation.

There was a general outcry of horror about his deed, and public opinion demanded his execution. A violent newspaper debate raged because Wagner’s life was spared when it was recognized, during the pretrial examination, that he was mentally ill. He was committed to an insane asylum, where he spent the rest of his life, twenty-five years.

[The] fateful chain of events had its beginning, according to his self-accusation, with one or more sodomistic acts in the late summer of 1901 [in Muehlhausen], when he was 27 years old… Before this he had felt persistently and excessively guilty about masturbation, in which he had indulged since the age of 18… Of decisive importance was the fact that his sexual urges and acts stood in irreconcilable contrast to his high moral standards and ethical concepts. His deep sense of guilt never diminished… he soon began to make certain "observations" and to "hear" certain slanderous remarks, which led to the unshakable conviction that his crime was known. He felt himself continuously observed, mocked, and ridiculed, and lived in constant dread of arrest. He was determined not to suffer this public shame and humiliation, and therefore he always carried a loaded pistol.

Possibly to defend himself against further sexual deviations, he began an affair with the innkeeper’s daughter… he married her (with many inner misgivings)… He felt that he no longer loved her and that she was intellectually not his equal; he considered her more a servant than a wife.

The first years in his new position [in Radelstetten] were relatively free of tension as long as he did not believe that they "knew" about his sexual crime. But he never forgot what he had done. His pessimistic mood led to a recurrence of hypochondriacal complaints. In 1904 his whole existence became so intolerable that he decided... to end his own life. He wanted to drown himself in a lake… [but] he was too cowardly… Then he planned to throw himself before an oncoming train; here, too, his courage failed him… Gradually he began also to make "observations" in Radelstetten and felt convinced that the people of Muehlhausen had communicated their "knowledge" to the people at his new location. He could notice it because of certain insinuations and the occasional arrogance which some allegedly showed against him. He felt caught in the old dilemma: there was never a direct statement, but he "heard" pointed remarks containing hints. He knew if he reacted he would be publicly humiliated.

Gradually the conviction ripened that there was only one way out. He must kill himself and his children, out of pity to save them from a future of being that target of contempt and evil slander and to take revenge on the people of Muehlhausen who had forced him to this horrible deed… Since the men of Muehlhausen had started and spread the slander, they had to die. In a life that as a whole had been a series of depressing and frustrating disappointments, he was grateful that it had been given to him to avenge his terrible torture and suffering.

Beginning in 1906 or at the latest in 1907, he developed a plan for destruction and murder… He collected and carefully hid weapons and all other objects needed for his plan, practiced sharp shooting in remote parts of the woods, and worked out his strategy, much like a commander planning a military action. He kept detailed diaries on all his plans. But over and over again he shrank away from their execution… he felt that he was "too weak." So he tried to retain himself and wrote homicidal dramas… to a large extent with the intent of putting himself in the role of murderer and arsonist… Finally he had indoctrinated himself to such an extent that the execution [of the murder] went "like clockwork, quite mechanically." He acted as though under a compulsion, like "having been pushed into it," and described his mental state as "apathetic and excited at the same time."

Wagner died an embittered man, not because he had committed mass murder and had been declared insane but because he had failed to find acclaim as a literary figure… At autopsy his brain showed no gross pathology; it was sent for microscopic study… and no abnormal findings were reported… Professor Gaupp, who spent a lifetime trying to understand the psychological forces of this man’s background, character, and experiences, concluded his series of papers with the statement that in spite of all the efforts to follow his mental processes, there remains a part that is beyond human comprehension.

Professor Gaupp meticulously recorded his study of Wagner, and Dr. Hilde Bruch’s succinct condensation of Gaupp’s work is quoted here at some length in order to give a glimpse of the contemporary response to what was, in 1913, a new kind of murder.



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