Karl Denke, a.k.a. "The Cannibal of Ziębice", was a Polish cannibalistic serial killer.


Denke was born in Münsterberg, Silesia, which is what was once known as the Kingdom of Prussia (it is now called Ziębice, Poland), coming from a wealthy family that worked as farmers. At childhood, Denke proved to be difficult for his parents to raise; at the age of twelve, he even ran away from home. When he graduated from elementary school, he started an apprenticeship under a gardener, and then started life on his own at the age of 25. It was at this time that his father died, to which the farm was taken over by his older brother and Denke himself bought a piece of land with the money from his inheritance. However, farming did not go well for him, so he sold his land as a result. He eventually purchased a little house on what is now called Stawowa Street. Unfortunately, what savings he had left were lost due to the uncontrollable inflation occurring at the time. Though he was forced to sell his house, Denke refused to move out. He still lived in a little apartment on the right side of the ground floor of the house, and continued to occupy a nearby shop. Denke soon became well-liked in the community and came to work as a church organ player.

For reasons unknown, Denke engaged in cannibalism, killing his first victim, one 25-year-old Emma Sander, in 1909. From that point on, he continued his series of killings, claiming the lives of dozens of people. Reports suggested that he also disposed of the flesh of his victims by selling it as pork and/or offering to what guests he had in the house. His killings ended on December 21, 1924, when he attacked a man named Vincenz Olivier with an axe. Olivier escaped and identified his attacker as Denke to a coachman named Gabriel, who then called in the authorities. Denke was investigated, and officers found identification papers for twelve travelers, assorted clothing, a pair of drums holding large pieces of meat in brine, numerous types of bones, and pots full of fat. Officers speculated from the amount of remains that Denke had killed about thirty victims. He was arrested, and the following day, Denke committed suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell. Decades later, the case has been mostly forgotten, with those who are still aware of Denke addressing him as "the unusual case" or "the forgotten cannibal".

Modus OperandiEdit

Little is known about Denke's exact M.O. What is revealed is that he targeted travelers and homeless people of both genders. He somehow lured them into his house on Stawowa Street and killed them by beating them with an axe. He then dismembered the bodies post-mortem with the axe and presumably other cutting tools found in the house, and is alleged to have sold at least some of the retrieved flesh at the Wrocław market.

Known VictimsEdit

  • 1909-1924: Killed at least 42 victims within a fifteen-year span. Known ones are:
    • c. 1909: Emma Sander, 25
    • December 21, 1924: Vincenz Olivier (attempted, but survived; non-fatally slashed his scalp)


  • Denke is similar to Fritz Haarmann, a.k.a. "The Butcher of Hanover". Both were European serial killers who targeted high-risk victims such as travelers and runaways and are alleged to have dismembered their victims post-mortem and selling their flesh as pork.

On Criminal MindsEdit

Though Denke hasn't been mentioned or referenced on Criminal Minds yet, Floyd Feylinn Ferell's habit of dismembering his victims post-mortem and selling them as meat to unsuspecting customers appears to be an allusion to the allegations to the disposal of the flesh Denke cut up from his victims. A scene where Wallace Hines feeds the pieces of a victim's head to unsuspecting restaurant customers in The Inspiration is also a possible allusion to the aforementioned rumor.



  1. Polish translation for "Father" or "Papa"

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