Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Baader Meinhof Gang

A Kidnapping and A Countdown

On September 5, 1977, his chauffeur was driving a wealthy German businessman named Hanns-Martin Schleyer home from work. Schleyer was President of the Employers Association and a board member of Daimler Benz. Aware of the danger posed to people like himself by both ideological fanatics and those looking to score some easy money, Schleyer, as was his custom, had a car with hired bodyguards tail the vehicle he rode in.

Suddenly a baby carriage was in the middle of the road. Schleyer's driver slammed on the brakes. The car in back with the bodyguards smashed into Schleyer's vehicle.

A van drove up. Men from the van ran to the second car and immediately opened fire, murdering the bodyguards in a burst of bullets. Then they shot Schleyer's chauffeur and pulled the businessman from the car, hustled the shocked and terrified man into the van, and sped off.

A letter soon appeared saying that Hanns Schleyer would be killed unless the RAF prisoners were freed, given 100,000 Deutsch Marks each, and flown to a country of their choosing. Accompanying this demand was a handwritten not from Schleyer saying, "I have been told that if investigations continue my life is in danger. The same would apply if the demands are not met and the ultimatums observed. However, the decision is not mine."

Horst Herold, commissioner of the BKA (a West German agency that coordinates the law enforcement agencies of the various German states) asked that further proof be given that Schleyer was in fact still alive. The kidnappers complied by making a tape of the businessman answering several personal questions.

Denis Payot became the intermediary between the kidnappers and the West German governments. He traveled to Stammheim to hand out questionnaires to the prisoners to find out if they wanted to leave prison under these circumstances and ask what countries they wished to journey to. The prisoners listed nations like South Yemen, Vietnam, Algeria, and Libya.

On September 25, the BKA informed the kidnappers that both Libya and South Yemen had refused to accept the RAF terrorists. However, the BKA representative said that Vietnam had not yet answered.

Two days later, Alfred Klaus of the BKA met with Raspe at the latter's request. Raspe handed him a typewritten note listing other countries that he and his comrades would be willing to travel to: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and Ethiopia.

Hans-Martin Schleyer
Hans-Martin Schleyer

Early in October, the people holding Schleyer sent a recent photo of him, together with a letter by the hostage, to Payot.

Klaus later visited Baader and Ensslin. He found them extremely depressed and believed they were contemplating suicide.

On October 13, 1977, a Lufthansa plane bound for Frankfurt was hijacked by Palestinians. The four hijackers, apparently led by a man giving himself the eerie name "Captain Martyr Mohammed," demanded the release of RAF leaders. Counting passengers and crewmembers, the hijackers had 91 hostages. The terrorists forced the plane to land in South Yemen where they murdered the pilot, Jürgen Schumann, and unceremoniously shoved his corpse into a cloakroom. From there, they ordered the copilot to fly to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. He complied with their demands.

While this was going on, those holding Schleyer issued another ultimatum: two Palestinian prisoners must be released and fifteen million in American dollars are to be paid for Schleyer's ransom. They wanted the ransom delivered by the businessman's son, Eberhard.

Unbeknownst to the four Palestinian hijackers of the plane on its way to Somalia, they were tailed by a plane carrying a German antiterrorist unit. When the terrorists landed in Mogadishu, the second plane was right behind them and the antiterrorist unit stormed the first plane. Three of the hijackers were killed and the fourth arrested. Luckily no passengers or crewmembers were physically injured except for a female flight attendant who suffered a leg wound.

Back at Stammheim prison, Raspe had been closely following this drama on a small radio that had been smuggled in to him. When the plane was re-taken by West German authorities, Raspe communicated this dispiriting news to his comrades via a secret "phone" system the group had rigged up. Apparently, they decided the only way out of prison for them was through death and made a suicide pact.

During the night of October 18, which would become known as "Death Night" for the RAF leaders, Andreas Baader took a smuggled pistol out of its hiding place. He shot at the wall, then at a pillow (observers would later speculate that he did this to simulate a fight). Then he put the gun behind his neck and pulled the trigger with his thumb, blowing a hole through the top of his forehead.

Jan-Carl Raspe put a smuggled gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.

The bodies of Ensslin and Baader are removed from Stammheim Prison
The bodies of Ensslin and Baader are removed from Stammheim Prison

Gudrun Ensslin chose a method of suicide similar to that of Ulrike Meinhof. Ensslin took a piece of speaker wire and ran it through the narrow mesh grating covering her window. Then she made a noose, put her head through it, stood on a chair and kicked the chair out from under herself.

Irmgard Möller stabbed herself four times in the chest with a stolen knife. She came within millimeters of her heart.

In the morning, guards found Baader and Ensslin dead in their cells. Raspe was still alive but died soon after being rushed to the hospital. The life of Möller was saved. When she recovered, she vehemently denied stabbing herself but claimed that she and her deceased comrades had been attacked, giving rise to persistent rumors that this was a governmental mass murder.

Mourners at RAF funeral. Sign reads
Mourners at RAF funeral. Sign reads "Gudrun, Andreas and Jan tortured and murdered in Stammheim"

The kidnappers of Hans Schleyer apparently decided to take revenge for these deaths out on their hostage. Schleyer was driven to a wooded area and ordered to kneel. He complied. Three bullets were shot into his head at point-blank range. He pitched forward and pine needles would still be clinging to his mouth when his corpse was found.

A leftist French newspaper received a letter telling of Schleyer's demise. "After forty-three days, we have ended Hanns-Martin Schleyer's miserable and corrupt existence," it read and guided authorities to a green Audi with Bad Homburg plates in the rue Charles Peguy in Mulhouse, France.

The Red Army Faction was considerably diminished but not yet extinct. Those who joined after its leaders were imprisoned or dead continued to commit atrocities in the name of the communist revolution.

Heinz Herbert Karry was the economics minister of the West German state of Hesse. Deeply concerned about the havoc caused by the RAF, he offered rewards for the arrest of its members. The gang assassinated him on May 11, 1981.

However, by that time the RAF had dwindled considerably and its few remaining members were growing worn-out and disillusioned. The West German government offered leniency to those who surrendered and several took advantage of this offer, spending relatively small amounts of time behind bars for their crimes. An ailing Irmgard Möller was released in 1994 after serving twenty-two years behind bars.

In 1998, a communiqué was sent to Reuters declaring the RAF officially disbanded. It was highly anticlimactic for the group had been quiet for some time.

The dream of a Marxian utopia has suffered many collisions with reality, not least of them when the Berlin Wall came down and Germany reunited. The Baader-Meinhof Gang has had very little long-term effect on the nation in which it was born. Its legacy is one of lives cut tragically short and damaged, of bereft orphans and grieving parents, both for the victims of the group and its members. It has been said that, "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions." The Red Army Faction paved a road to nowhere with their rigid and unrealistic idealism, then littered it with dead bodies and broken hearts.

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