On May 24, 1704, at about 10 in the morning, Agnes Catherina Schickin, a 30 year-old serving woman from the town of Schorndorf in Württemberg arrived at the village of Krumhard.

After asking for and receiving a glass of milk from a local peasant woman, Agnes was on her way out of the village when she saw four, in her later words, “beautiful little boys” playing together by the roadside. She approached the children and asked for directions to Schorndorf. When one of the boys, the happy Hans Michael Furch, the seven-year-old son of the local cowherder, said he knew the way, she offered him a gift and asked him to walk with her. The three other boys wanted to come along, too, but she dissuaded them. Agnes and the seven-year-old walked off into the forest alone. Later in the day, Agnes would submit herself to the local authorities for having committed murder, and the boy, the 7 year old Hans was found in the forest clearing with his throat slit.

The murder of the boy shocked and infuriated the citizens of Krumhard and many demanded for the imprisoned Agnes to be executed. None was surprised that Agnes was condemned to die by beheading, least of all herself. Before she was publicly executed, she admitted that she was sorry for what she has done and totally ascended the decision of the judges. Later, the 30 year old woman was beheaded and her severed head was raised as a dreadful warning for deterrence of such crimes. Unfortunately for many families in 18th century Europe, she would not at all be alone in her crime.

After the Krumhard slaying of 1704, a series of violent infanticides swept across Germany and Austria,

~1746: Johanna Martauschin smashes the skull of a small child.

~1753: Sophia Charlotte Krügerin cuts the throat of a nine-year-old boy.

~1761: Eva Lizlfelnerin steals a baby and throws it into a river to drown.

These were only the most prominent recorded cases of such crimes, in total, there were over 300 such cases of “suicides by proxy” (the bulk of which occurred in the 1700s), where a woman had acted in this cold blooded manner for the sole purpose that they would be executed by the law.

For over 60 years, this epidemic plagued Austria and Germany. At times it became so bad that it was not uncommon to have 3 or even 4 such cases of copy cat crime done in several nearby towns together. after 1 cases of reported crime often it was guaranteed there would be copy cat cases for decades in the nearby counties. The memory of the crime alone was haunting enough to elicit further such crimes.

~The Formula of Death

To understand the nature of this epidemic, one must look deeper into the societal factors of the 18th century Central Europe, where most of these crime had taken place. At that time, Central Europe- both German and Austria was ruled by deeply Catholic regimes. And one of the central understandings in the Catholic faith was that suicide was a sin that is unforgivable in the eyes of God. So as to say, those who would kill themselves would burn in hell and thus denied access into heaven. It is with this understand that we can see how those female murderers planned out their murders and behaved in the cold rational manners that they did.

The first aspect was that in Continental Europe, death was relatively quick compared to places such as England and Russia, where hanging was usually proscribed for the criminals. Compared to the slow, tortuous death of hanging, where the victim would choke disgracefully until their bulging face turned purple, beheading was a swift, and even dignified death by comparison. And like other crimes, which could often result in a pardon in consideration for the woman's sex, infanticide, along with murder, and treason would almost always result in an instant death.

A deeper look at the type of the women who had committed these crimes also revealed the common mold they all shared: Most were deeply depressed women with very little prospect for a future. Most of them, from Bavaria and Austria – like Agnes were also not women of wealth. Most were seamstresses, servants, laundresses, or farmhand to their families. Many of the criminals were also either slightly passed the young age for marriage or were already locked in unfufilled marriages. For such women, doomed to toil in a cyclical and trapped existence, when they looked at what was done to figures like Agnes Schickin and others, they see a formula that in the end had worked perfectly. Although Agnes was punished in the end, before her execution she would confess to the local priest and be forgiven by him for her actions, thus bypassing the chance of going to hell. In the end, she got what she had long wished, death, and on her own terms.

It is also important to point out that the traditionally fear- inducing aspect of the public execution also backfired in what was conveyed to such future murderesses. Where as others see fear, for those who truly harbored such intentions, they only see opportunity. When they see the public beheadings and the posthumous gibbeting of such women, for those who truly wished death, all they see were examples of all who had succeeded that they could imitate. Thus, in each of the over 300 cases of such, “suicides by proxy” – the woman would turn herself in, confess to her crime, be forgiven for her sins by the local priests, then die as if she was contrite for her crime. However their stated regrets convinced no one of their true feelings for what they have done. Worse yet, the crimes kept coming, not marred by heads of spikes nor the lamentation from ruined families, denial of a proper burial, a vengeful press, or dreadful warnings from authorities.

~A Change of Punishment

By the middle of the 18th century there was such fierce paranoia and suspicion in Austria that merely suggesting baby sitting children would provoke strong hostility and threats from neighbors.

In the end, the law eventually gained an advantage when they finally began to think like the murderesses themselves. In analyzing the thought patterns of the murderesses one of the Austrian judges ordered that all corpses of executed murderesses would be exposed naked in the streets. With these dreadful warnings, the epidemic finally stopped. In the end, shame was greater than fear of death itself.

https://www.thisamericanlife.org/473/loopholes

https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/From-Sin-to-Crime%3A-Laws-on-Infanticide-in-the-Ages.-Obladen/9cdf958d998222b94e34a9928063101649a0a613

Source: reddit post


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