Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Baader Meinhof Gang

The Martyrdom of Holger Meins

Jan-Carl Raspe
Jan-Carl Raspe

The summer of 1972 saw the capture of the top members of the RAF. RAF member Jan-Carl Raspe, a slim blonde man given to a wispy mustache that he wore with a shaven break in the middle, was spotted on June 1. Along with two companions, he had driven up to an apartment in a lavender Porsche. Sensing that he was under surveillance, Raspe ran and shot at his pursuers. He was tackled and taken into custody.

Andreas Baader, his hair dyed blonde, was with comrade Holger Meins in a garage used for putting bombs together when the cops swooped down on them. A TV station had been alerted to the planned capture of the two wanted RAF men and a camera was on the scene recording the event for posterity.

"Come out one at a time!" a police officer told them through a bullhorn. "Nothing will happen to you. Think of your life. You're still young."

Holger Meins semi-nude, grabbed by police
Holger Meins semi-nude, grabbed by police

Andreas Baader was prepared to answer with a gun but a cop fired first. The bullet ricocheted then caught Andreas in the thigh. The wounded man screamed and collapsed on the floor of the garage.

After a brief time, Holger Meins came to the door with his hands held up to indicate surrender. The cops ordered him to strip off his clothes. He took off everything but his underpants and the police allowed this concession to his modesty. When they took the mustachioed and semi-nude man into custody, they roughly seized his arms, causing him to scream in pain.

Andreas Baader under arrest
Andreas Baader under arrest

The cautious police, guns drawn, entered the garage where they found a bloody Andreas Baader. "You swine!" he screamed as he was placed on a stretcher. Just as a cop asked if Baader had been searched for weapons, a gun dropped off the side of the stretcher, making a loud thud as it landed on the floor.

One week later, Ensslin was browsing in a store in Hamburg. An alert clerk saw the pistol in Ensslin's coat and called the cops. Irmgard Möller, Gerhard Müller and Ulrike Meinhof were arrested soon after that.

Acting under their clients' directions, lawyers for the gang used a variety of tactics to delay their trials. The leftist terrorists also spent much of their time behind bars cooking up escape plots that were found out and foiled.

Since the members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang were considered such high escape risk prisoners, special cells were built especially for them at Stammheim Prison. As described in Thomas Streissguth's International Terrorists, "They kept the prisoners under constant surveillance. The walls of their cells were painted white and their cell lights burned 24 hours a day."

The RAF prisoners claimed that they were subjected to "isolation torture" and other special deprivations and went on a series of hunger strikes to protest their conditions.

Jean-Paul Sartre after his interview with Baader
Jean-Paul Sartre after his interview with Baader

In April of 1974, the famous French philosopher and leftist Jean-Paul Sartre went to Stammheim prison to interview Andreas Baader. Since the philosopher and the terrorist had no language in common, they had to communicate through an interpreter. Sartre said that Baader "was weak, he had his head in his hands to hold it up, he had difficulty in concentration" due to the hunger strike he was currently on. Baader had told the philosopher that the strike was "to protest against the intolerable conditions in solidarity with the other member of the RAF."

Sartre said that Baader believed that his small group could build up a relationship with the masses but knew that a long educational period was necessary to make the masses, defined by Baader as farmers and the proletariat, see what was in their true interest. The RAF leader believed that the Federal Republic would eventually be plunged into a civil war.

The Frenchman did not share Baader's views; rather, Sartre believed that the RAF had "endangered the left." Sartre did not condemn political violence in every situation since "in 1943 every bomb against the Nazis was legitimate because mankind had to be freed from the Nazis" but did denounce that of the Baader-Meinhof Gang.

Later that same month, Meinhof and Ensslin were transferred to Stuttgart's high-security Stammheim prison. On April 27, however, Meinhof was taken to Berlin's Mohabit prison because she was being tried in that city for her part in Baader's 1970 jailbreak. Horst Mahler was tried with her, not for helping with the freeing of Baader (he had been convicted of that) but for "criminal association" along with her and Hans-Jürgen Bäcker, the man believed to have shot librarian Georg Linke. Their trial would end with Meinhof convicted and sentenced to eight years, Mahler sentenced to four on top of the eight he was already serving, and Bäcker acquitted.

October 2, 1974 saw the official indictment of Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Ulrike Meinhof, Jan-Carl Raspe, and Holger Meins for a variety of serious crimes including murder. Two of the accused were missing from the Stuttgart courtroom; Meinhof because she was being tried in Berlin and Meins because he was too weakened by his prolonged hunger strike to appear.

The body of Holger Meins
The body of Holger Meins

Death by starvation is one of the most painful. Yet this is the demise that Holger Meins, film student turned terrorist, either chose for himself or felt compelled to submit to. He was a large man, six feet four inches tall, but weighed less than one hundred pounds when he died of his hunger strike on November 11, 1974.

The 2 June Movement took revenge for what they regarded as the "murder" of Comrade Meins by the "pigs." The Sunday after Meins' death was the sixty-fourth birthday of Judge Günter von Drenkmann, the President of the West German Supreme Court. Von Drenkmann had never tried a RAF member but he was clearly a high-ranking representative of the system. The doorbell rang at his home and the judge answered it. He saw group of young men carrying bunches of flowers but did not have time to smell or receive them for they were carrying guns as well. They shot the judge dead.

Peter Lorenz captured
Peter Lorenz captured

The kidnapping of the Chairman of the West German Christian Democrats (CDU), Peter Lorenz, followed this murder. His captors wanted to secure the freedom of six incarcerated leftists or Lorenz would be killed. The government acceded to their demands. One of the six, attorney Horst Mahler, refused to be freed in this manner. The other five were flown to Frankfurt and then to Aden. After six days and nights in a basement "prison," Lorenz was set free in a park. His kidnappers gave him some spare change so he could use a pay phone.

On New Year's Day of 1975, the legislation commonly known as the "Baader-Meinhof Laws" took effect. They allowed courts to exclude a lawyer from defending a client on the suspicion of the attorney's having "formed a criminal association with the defendants." They also permitted trials to go forward in the absence of the accused if the defendant was incapacitated for reasons of his or her own making such as a hunger strike.

On April 24, in Stockholm, Sweden, six RAF terrorists took over the West German Embassy and took eleven people hostage. Swedish police swarmed into the lower floor of the embassy. The furious kidnappers ordered them out, warning them that they would kill the military attaché if the cops didn't leave. The police stayed and, an hour later, the terrorists bound the hands of the military attaché behind his back and marched him to the top of the stairs where they shot him. The cops were permitted to drag the dying man out of the building after the police stripped to their underwear to show they were unarmed.

Before the shooting of the military attaché, one of the terrorists took a secretary to a room where he ordered her to sit before a typewriter and type what he dictated. That terrorist was named Ulrich Wessel, the son of a millionaire. As the frightened woman typed his words, he looked over her shoulder and saw that she was, as is grammatically proper in German, starting all nouns with capital letters. Wessel tore the sheet out of the typewriter and commanded her to begin the letter again using only small letters. He was apparently as rabidly opposed to capital letters as he was to capitalism.

Dr. Heinz Hillegard
Dr. Heinz Hillegard

The RAF group loaded the basement with TNT, and then called the German Press Agency to demand the release of all Baader-Meinhof prisoners. The kidnappers warned that a hostage would be shot every hour until this demand was met. After an hour, the economic attaché, Dr. Heinz Hillegard, was forced to an open window. He was shot dead and his corpse was left to hang out of the window.

Shortly before midnight, the TNT accidentally exploded due to a wiring short. Ulrich Wessel, the two-front anti-capitalist, was killed instantly. Others, both kidnappers and kidnapped, survived but most had bad body burns. Confused and injured, the terrorists surrendered to the police. One of them, Siegfried Hausner, died in a hospital a few days later.

About two months later, at a pre-trial hearing in West Germany, Andreas Baader claimed that the cells of RAF members were being bugged. Most in the mainstream press dismissed this accusation as delusional and evidence of Baader's paranoia. However, it turned out that, for once, Andreas was right. Two years later, the West German government admitted to the electronic surveillance of imprisoned Baader-Meinhof prisoners.

The big four of the RAF, Ensslin, Baader, Meinhof, and Raspe were officially and jointly charged with four murders, fifty-four attempted murders, and a single count of forming a criminal association on August 19, 1975 in Stuttgart. However, their trial would not properly start until January 13, 1976. At that time, the defendants admitted to being part of an "urban guerrilla" group and to "political responsibility" for the bombings.

The defendants, weakened by their past hunger strikes, did not attend most of the proceedings. Jan-Carl Raspe often looked oblivious to the proceedings. He sat with his eyes strangely rolled up. Ulrike Meinhof sank deeper and deeper into a depression as she began quarrelling with her co-defendants, especially Ensslin.

Ulrike Meinhof in prison
Ulrike Meinhof in prison

Ulrike was facing the probability of spending the rest of her life behind bars and alienated even from those who had been her "comrades." She was unlikely to be able to spend appreciable time with the twin girls she had risked her life to bring into the world. The approach of Mother's Day was apparently, and understandably, extremely upsetting to her. On the night before it, a despondent Ulrike ripped her towel into strips to form a rope. She tied it to the crossbar of the window, then put the noose around her neck and jumped off a chair.

A guard found her dead early on Mother's Day, 1976.

Many RAF supporters, including her co-defendants, insisted that Meinhof's death was a government murder. The judge ruled that the trial of Baader, Ensslin, and Raspe could continue despite Meinhof's death.

Carlos the Jackal
Carlos the Jackal

Yet another attempt to free Baader-Meinhof prisoners, along with radical leftists from other countries, took place on June 27 when an Air France airliner was hijacked in route to Paris from Tel Aviv. They were led by the infamous Carlos the Jackal (real name Illich Ramirez Sanchez, son of wealthy Venezuelans), the terrorists forced the pilot to land in Entebbe, Uganda because the regime of its then-leader, Idi Amin, was known to be sympathetic to terrorists.

Two days after the plane landed in Entebbe, the hijackers did something that triggered memories of German atrocities in the all-too-recent past. They ordered the Jewish passengers separated from the gentiles and released the latter. One of the Jewish men went up to a German captor and showed the terrorist the tattoo the hostage had gotten on his arm when he was held in a Nazi concentration camp. Has the Nazi movement completely died out in Germany? The baffled passenger asked. The terrorist explained that he was part of a completely different movement, that for communism. However, like Nazism, it had led to the singling out of Jews and threats against their lives.

A single Jewish woman, the elderly and ailing Dora Bloch, was released so she could be hospitalized.

In return for the lives of their Jewish captives, the hijackers demanded freedom for forty prisoners held in Israel, one in Switzerland, and six in West Germany.

An Israeli commando team stormed the plane and freed the hostages. An infuriated Idi Amin is reported to have gone to the hospital and strangled poor Doris Bloch with his own hands.

Back in West Germany, Baader, Ensslin, and Raspe were convicted of four counts of attempted murder and over thirty counts of attempted murder on April 28, 1977. Each was sentenced to life in prison.

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