In the 1800s, it was rare for crimes committed outside England to reach the Illustrated Police News, a popular newspaper sold for sixpence to bloodthirsty readers eager to learn about the most recent shocking crimes. But in 1868, a rare article appeared telling the tale of a horrific slaughter in Germany.
Johann Thode and his wife Margaretha owned a farm in Schleswig-Holstein in North Germany. They had 5 sons and a daughter who all helped on the farm. The country life was idyllic, but beneath the surface and gentle tinkling of cowbells and the cheerful sowing of crops, there was an undercurrent of something sinister brewing. There was one member of the family who made everyone uneasy. The second eldest son, Timm, was 23 years old. He was known to be argumentative and was frequently on bad terms with his father and brothers, but although everyone knew he had a bad temper, nobody could have guessed what it would one day lead to.
One day in August 1866, Timm Thode ran to his neighbours calling for help, shouting that there was a fire at their farm. Once the fire was put out, the villagers were shocked to find the rest of the Thode family inside the partially burnt barn, blood-stained and charred. Timm’s parents, four brothers, sister and the servant girl were all dead.
At first, people suspected a gang of robbers, but when the police arrived, they found nothing to suggest a break-in, and nothing had been stolen. Police interrogated Timm Thode, knowing that there was bad feeling between him and the rest of his family. He made a full confession.
This is how he did it.
He crept up behind each of his 4 brothers one after the other, while they were working the land, and beat them to death with a 5 foot handspike, which is a long wooden or metal pole. When his father arrived home, Timm told him that the oxen had broken loose. Johann Thode rushed out to try and catch them, but while he was distracted, Timm waylaid him and struck him down with the handspike just like his brothers. He brought his father’s body to the barn using a cart. Then, he killed one of their two watch dogs and tried to kill the other, but it broke free. His mother came rushing out of the house to find out what the noise was about. Before she had a chance to realise what was happening, Timm killed her with a hatchet before giving his sister Anna, and servant girl Apollonia Dehn, the same treatment.
He stacked all the bodies in the barn and set fire to it, hoping that all the evidence would be burnt beyond recognition. His maniacal words as he watched the roaring flames licking at the timbers of their family home were chilling. “Ha, I have them all dead!”
Had his plan worked, he would have inherited the farm and become a wealthy man. He would have received a sizeable sum as he would not have had to share it with his siblings. The police were horrified by his calm demeanour as he related the story of his crimes. He seemed to show no emotion at all. Timm Thode was found guilty and executed on 13th May 1868, but the memory of the flickering flames and his violent murders lives on…