The true story of Paul Ogorzow, a serial killer in the heart of the Third Reich.
As the Nazi war machine caused death and destruction throughout Europe, one man in the Fatherland began his own reign of terror.
This is the true story of the pursuit and capture of a serial killer in the heart of the Third Reich.
For all appearances, Paul Ogorzow was a model German. An employed family man, party member, and sergeant in the infamous Brownshirts, he had worked his way up in the Berlin railroad from a manual laborer laying track to assistant signalman. But he also had a secret need to harass and frighten women. Then he was given a gift from the Nazi high command.
Due to Allied bombing raids, a total blackout was instituted throughout Berlin, including on the commuter trains—trains often used by women riding home alone from the factories.
Under cover of darkness and with a helpless flock of victims to choose from, Ogorzow's depredations grew more and more horrific. He escalated from simply frightening women to physically attacking them, eventually raping and murdering them. Beginning in September 1940, he started casually tossing their bodies off the moving train. Though the Nazi party tried to censor news of the attacks, the women of Berlin soon lived in a state of constant fear.
It was up to Wilhelm Lüdtke, head of the Berlin police's serious crimes division, to hunt down the madman in their midst. For the first time, the gripping full story of Ogorzow's killing spree and Lüdtke's relentless pursuit is told in dramatic detail.
The woman looked to be alone. That was Paul Ogorzow’s first mistake. He was so eager to attack her that he went with this initial impression instead of taking the time to make sure there was no one around that could save her.
She was walking along a pathway through the gardens of suburban eastern Berlin in an area known as Berlin-Friedrichsfelde. Although she was near the station from where she could catch a train that would whisk her into the heart of Berlin, this residential area felt like the countryside. She’d walked this path between residents’ allotments many times, through the lush gardens with their cherry trees, chestnut trees, apple trees, carrots, onions, potatoes, hedges, and assorted bushes and grasses.
Twenty-seven-year-old Paul Ogorzow hunted for victims in this area. He stalked and attacked women who were walking by themselves at night. And night had acquired new meaning in wartime Berlin—a government-imposed blackout meant the only meaningful illumination here at this hour came from the night sky.
He looked rather average—on the short side of medium height, white, with short black hair parted on the left. He mostly was clean-shaven, although he sometimes had a wisp of a mustache. His eyes were a bit beady, his lips thin, his hair thinning, and his ears stuck out, but his only truly noticeable feature was his nose. The left nostril looked normal, but the right nostril was oversized, the result of a broken nose he’d suffered in his youth that had not been properly set.
He sometimes wore his uniform during his attacks, in which cases that was generally all his victims noticed. His railway uniform, though, looked somewhat like many other uniforms worn during the Third Reich. In the dark, and with the suddenness of his attacks, it could be hard to observe the details that would reveal exactly what kind of uniform he was wearing.
This was not Ogorzow’s first time looking for a woman to assault. By now, he’d emerged from the darkness to attack around thirty different women here. So far, the confusion of the war had helped him avoid much police attention, but he’d also been careful to attack his victims only when he felt confident that he could safely overpower them.
Taking advantage of the darkness on this evening, he rushed his victim. She only saw him coming at the last moment, when she reacted by screaming as loud as she could. Ogorzow wrapped his large hands around her neck and started squeezing, hoping to silence her and render her unconscious. She fought him though, tooth and nail, enough to be able to continue to breathe, and even to scream.
What she knew—and he did not—was that help was only a short distance away. Her husband and brother-in-law were nearby, and she hoped they would hear her screams and come to her aid.
They were horrified to hear her yelling for help and rushed to the scene. Ogorzow was a man of some strength, as he’d worked in manual and farm labor for most of his life, but he was not a big man. Also, he had expended a lot of energy trying to subdue his victim by the time the two men came upon him.
The husband and brother-in-law violently grabbed Ogorzow and yanked him off his victim. They began to pummel him. Once they were done beating him, they yelled at him that if he were still alive, then they would turn him over to the police.
Ogorzow had just experienced a sudden reversal of fortune—one moment, he felt as powerful as God, able to control whether his victim lived or died, his hands squeezing around her throat, and the next, he was being beaten by two men. He worried that they might kill him or, if he survived, alert the authorities so they could arrest him.
In the darkness, Ogorzow was able to break away from his attackers and hide among the numerous bushes and trees in this area. He knew this place well, having spent time here at night, looking for victims to attack. These two men searched for him, but they eventually gave up and took their loved one away for medical attention. By the time the three of them reported this incident to the police, Ogorzow was safe at his nearby home.
Afterward, Ogorzow thought back on his mistakes. Besides having attacked a woman who was not alone, he had left behind three witnesses. He’d counted on the speed of his attack, combined with the darkness on the garden path, to result in his victim not being able to properly describe him to the police. But a prolonged struggle had occurred, and he worried that the woman he’d attacked and her two saviors might be able to identify him.
He reflected on his narrow escape and how he could lower his risk of getting caught. Giving up his attacks was not even a consideration. He derived too much pleasure from assaulting women. Instead, he focused on what he could do to become a better criminal.
After this close call, Ogorzow realized that he needed to make sure that his victims could not scream out for help. So he would immediately choke them with his hands, threaten them with a knife, or hit them over the head with a blunt instrument. He was not sure yet what would work best, but he knew this was a problem he would have to solve if he was to avoid getting beaten up again—or, worse yet, caught by the police.
And he set his sights on a new hunting ground—one that ran right straight through the heart of Berlin, with an almost limitless supply of victims. Soon, he would expand his repertoire and become one of Berlin’s—and maybe Germany’s—most notorious serial killers.
Reviews & Praise
“Onboard an electrified speeding train in Nazi Berlin, Scott Andrew Selby reveals an equally electrifying story of the railroad employee who could not stop murdering.”
New York Times Bestselling Author of Zodiac
"An expertly told detective story, in which the author presents a fascinating case without digesting the facts for his readers...As a chronicle of unknown German history, few recent books are as compelling."
“Scott Selby’s true story is both intriguing and exciting—and made even more compelling because as the investigators search for a killer they are urged on bygovernment officials committed to an official policy of mass murder."
New York Times Bestselling Author of American Lightning
"A compelling read."
“In the darkest days of tyranny, in a blacked-out Berlin in the grip of panic but with a politically neutered police force, the hunt for a serial killer becomes a game of cat-and-mouse that reaches far up the chain of the Nazi state…Scott Selby meticulously recreates one of the most horrific but fascinating murder investigations of twentieth-century Germany.”
New York Times Bestselling Author of Midnight in Peking
“A fascinating story.”
“A chilling, fast-paced narrative full of shocking twists…A unique and riveting historical account of a lone predator hunting in the shadows of World War II Berlin.”
Author of Ballad of the Whiskey Robber
“Darkly fascinating…It’s a story of determined detective work by a police officer with a surprisingly clear sense of justice given his surroundings. And it's a story of the ways that killers rise and fall on multiple levels, one that still resonates decades later."
New York Times Bestselling Author of The Poisoner's Handbook