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Bremen, Germany

Spuckstein Gesche Gottfried

A spitting ode to a German serial killer. 

Gresche Gottfried was the last person to be publicly beheaded in Bremen. After murdering 15 people with arsenic she was arrested and sentenced to death on her 43rd birthday in 1831. A crowd of 35,000 watched her head roll to the spot that’s now marked with basalt stone.

The people of Bremen, Germany, honored the prolific serial killer with a spuckstein (spit stone) in the Domshof town square.

Her motive was never discovered, and it’s still a subject of debate, but a logical suggestion is that she had Munchausen’s Syndrome by proxy, where sufferers fabricate or exaggerate illnesses in the people they care for. Her list of victims included her parents, two husbands, a fiancé, several friends, and her children.

Gottfried used a rat poison called “Mäusebutter” which consisted of small flakes of arsenic mixed in animal fat. She mixed small doses of it into her victims’ food, and cared for them as they became increasingly sick. She was well-liked in the area and was even known by friends, who felt sorry for her for losing so many relatives, as “the angel of Bremen.”

After her death phrenologists used her death mask to study the facial patterns of criminal women. Gottfried’s is one of at least two spucksteins in Germany, marking the deaths of especially heinous criminals, and the citizens of Bremen continue to display their disgust by spitting on the stone marked with a cross and set into the cobble street.