Germany Shocked by Teenage Murderers The Origins of a Bloodbath
Two 17-year-olds brutally murdered the parents of a schoolfriend in provincial Germany last week, shocking the country. The crime was all the more mystifying because the two teenagers were reported to be happy and stable. What went wrong?
Torben B., one of the suspects in the Tessin murders, is led away by police.
It was the night of Jan. 13, in the small town of Tessin in the eastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, when Felix and Torben massacred the parents of their former friend Florian in a bloody frenzy. The pathologist who examined the corpse of Florian's father, Peter E., counted 66 stab wounds. Just how many times his wife Antje had been stabbed could not be determined for sure. Wounds on her arms suggested that she had attempted to protect her face before the perpetrators had slashed her until she was unrecognizable.
Although both boys confessed the next day, the motive for the bloodbath is still a mystery. According to the Schwerin senior public prosecutor Hans-Christian Pick, the story told by Felix and Torben is "markedly confused." What they have told investigators, he continues, is "so far-fetched that it will have to be checked more closely."
Not matching the profile
Two things stand out: alcohol and drugs did not play a role; and the two boys do not fit the profile of violent young offenders. After a heavily-armed high-school student ran amok in a school in Emsdetten last November, injuring 37 people before killing himself, a pattern appeared to have been found: outsider, into weapons, likes violent video games, fond of wearing black clothes. A close observation of those with such traits seemed a good way to prevent future tragedies.
But with Felix and Torben practically none of the tell-tale signs applied. Both of them came from apparently stable families, were good students and were considered by their teachers to be friendly and willing to help. Police and psychologists are trying to look for answers as to what went wrong on that fateful evening -- an evening which began with a harmless chat between youngsters in a bleak bus stop shelter, on the wall of which is written, "Sometimes we don't do things, so that others don't notice that we do actually want to do them," and which ended with a bloodbath. The brutality of the crime, says Felix's father, "stands in front of me like a mountain, making it impossible to talk about what happened and to look for the reasons why."
The mountain is a high one. On the Saturday in question, the two -- both students at the local gymnasium, or upper-level high school -- spent much of the evening with a friend of theirs, a 15-year-old girl named Eyleen W. At about 10:00 p.m., the three of them showed up at Florian's parents' house. After tying up Eyleen and locking her in a shed, they rang the doorbell. Peter E. answered the door, and was immediately attacked.
They got his wife Antje a short time later -- she bled to death on the floor of her own home. Son Felix barricaded himself into his room and was able to alert the police. When they arrived, Felix and Torben grabbed Eyleen, piled into Florian's parents' rusty compact and attempted their getaway. But they didn't get far before ramming into a parked car and being surrounded by the police.
Huge questions, though, remain unanswered, the most obvious being, why did they do it? But there are others. Did one of the two announce in advance -- as the public prosecutor's office claims -- that they would kill someone that evening? If yes, why did the 15-year-old Eyleen W., a friend of Felix's sister, accompany the killers to their victims' house? Why did the two of them tie her up and gag her before the crime? Why did they take the girl into the house after the murders, show her the bodies and ask "Do you believe it now?"
In the media the "why" question soon focused on the virtual. After all, Felix and Torben were regarded as hard-core computer geeks. "Did they want to be like their role models and kill without mercy, as they had practiced a hundred times already on their PC?" asked the mass circulation daily Bild.
For Wolfgand Albrecht, deputy director of the Elbe High School in Boizenburg, the connection is "not valid." He thinks that the theory that violent video games make killers out of children is nonsense.
"But before we talk about Felix and Torben, I'd like to show you this," he says and points at the corner of his office, where chess boards and wooden boxes with pieces are piled up. Next to them on the floor are two large plastic bags full of board games.
"We want to teach our students to not only play on the computer," Albrecht says. "Many of them don't know any more how to play with an opponent whose eyes you can look into and with whom you have to communicate."
Felix and Torben had these and many other social skills, Albrecht says. He almost begins to wax lyrical ("I know that this sounds strange after what happened," he admits) when he talks about the programming course "Blitz Basic" the pair had given in their last year of school -- of their own accord.
"It was fascinating to see how they approached the material didactically," he says. "They endlessly discussed the topics and did calculations with the course participants. The class always went over the two hours which had been scheduled for it. If someone hadn't thrown them out at some point, they would all have missed their buses home."
The house where Florian and his parents lived.
But other stories -- those from village youth who had been hanging out with Felix for years -- paint a slightly different picture. During a visit to a swimming pool last summer with some friends, Felix went a bit too far when they were playfully dunking each other under water. Felix had held people under "almost until the air bubbles stopped coming," reports 17-year-old Alexander R., who had played with Felix since they were children.
Otherwise Felix had been more of a "wimp," they said, especially if things got rough. "He always ran home screaming straight away. His father caused trouble and called the cops, even though he's otherwise not so bad."
The youth, who came to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania with his parents from western Germany in the 1990s, only took on the leader role when it came to staging role-play games in the woods, or re-enacting television cartoons such as the Japanese action series "Dragon Ball Z."
"Then Felix was in his element," Alexander says. "There he knew what he was doing, because he had always helped his mother with her puppet theater. He divided up the roles and told everyone how to play. And when it didn't go as he wanted he got very angry, even back then."
As the boys in the village got older, they lost interest in the games, Alexander says. "But in that respect, Felix somehow always stayed 12 years old."
Felix mostly stayed away from the usual free-time activities of the teenagers in the village, such as drinking sessions. Instead, he is said to have continued his role-playing activities with younger kids. It was during one of these games, according to people Tessin, that he had an argument with Florian E., the son of the two who were killed.
Florian allegedly no longer wanted to take part in what he called "the tying-up shit," because Felix played too hard with the younger children. Felix is said to have threatened Florian as a result. When Florian's father then reported the incident to the police, the friendship was over.
An investigator inspects the would-be escape vehicle. The two murderers didn't get far.
"Final Fantasy VII", Felix's latest favorite game, may also have played a role -- as a template for the staging of the boy's own final fantasy. In the game, warriors have to kill the bad guys with a sword. But, as violent as that sounds, both the film and the game have a "12" age rating -- incomparable with the most violent games available.
All the same, one can't help but suspect the Japanese cartoon warriors might have helped trigger the bloodbath. Felix and Torben are known to have watched the film on the evening in question. Moreover, the police investigation has revealed that the two boys had called each other by the names of the film's heroes in the run-up to the crime. And Felix and Torben allegedly demanded that Peter E. make submissive gestures like the ones seen in the film.
Felix's lawyer Johann Schwenn believes after his initial conversations with the boy that they had not originally intended to kill the couple but that something had gone wrong. "The boy and the crime don't fit together," he says.
After their escape attempt in Antje E.'s beat-up Volkswagen Polo came to a premature end -- when they rammed an abandoned Ford Fiesta some 100 meters away -- the boys took stock of their evening. Eyleen was still in the back seat and the two perpetrators showed little emotion of any kind.
The murder had been surprisingly easy, they concluded. They had hardly felt it when they stuck in the knife: "It went in like yoghurt." Felix's suggestion that they should kill each other rather than be pulled from the car by the police was rejected. The idea to "pretend to be stupid in order to be declared certifiably insane," obviously appealed to the two boys better: "Then we'll be out in a few years."
They threw their knives out of the car, got out, let their hostage go free and asked the police not to hold them too hard. Clearly they were afraid that the plastic handcuffs would hurt their wrists.