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The murder of Dorothea

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Matthaei family sold their goods around Wlen, including the palace Chateau Kleppelsdorf, to Wilhelm Rohrbeck from Tempelhof in Berlin. Wilhelm Rohrbeck was a rich farmer and trader with the soul of an artist. Wilhelm bought the Chateau, as an investment for the future of himself and your family. 21 November 1904 Rohrbeck’s only child - daughter Dorothea was born. When a few months later, Dorothea’s mother died from complications of childbirth, Wilhelm immediately hired a babysitter for a child Miss Bertha Zahn, who has later become a Dorothea’s teacher.

In 1914, Wilhelm became deathly ill. After long hospitalization, he proposed marriage to Miss Zahn.  “Right now, immediately, here in the hospital!”, he said. Although, Miss Zahn was very pleased with the proposal, she wanted to wait until Wilhelm leave the hospital. Unfortunately, on 23rd October 1914 Mr Wilhelm Rohrbeck died, leaving his daughter everything he owned. In his will, Wilhelm appointed a trustee of property - the judge who was to decide about the finances of Dorothea,  and a manager the goods of Klepplesdorf - Mr. Bauer. Due to the will, Miss Zahn was to be Dorothea’s teacher and be paid salary for all her life. Since then a young orphan lived in a big palace only with the service and her teacher, who was for her like a true mother.

As mentioned the inhabitants of Wlen, Dorothea was a good girl, who never refused to help people who ask for it. As she was also very nice, all youngsters fell for her.

At the end of World War I, there was a period of galloping inflation in Germany. Residents of Prussia, whose savings were only in money, lost everything. In such a situation was Peter Grupen – stepfather of Dorothea cousin, Ursula. Before the war Grupen was an assistant of bricklayer. Then he volunteered for the army, where during World War I, he lost the left hand. As he was respected as a war veteran, he could successfully operate in German business. Quickly, Grupen earned a fortune in land speculation in Berlin and founded a construction company. Peter, who did not have any specific education, told employees to turn to him as "Mr. Architect".

 In his way to wealth, Peter married Mrs. Gertrude Shade-a widow with two daughters (Irma and Ursula). Mrs. Shade was an aunt to Dorothea. When inflation engulfed all Peter’s savings, and he spent all the fortune of Gertrude and her mother, Grupen became interested in Dorothea and her property. Gupens wife, Mrs. Shade had disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and soon afterwards he began to make marriage proposals to Dorothea. All his proposals were systematically and more and more impatiently rejected. Grupen also conspired with Hauptmann Vielhaakiem, the judge who was to decide about the finances of Dorothea – they started to reduce the salary of Miss Zahn and payments to Dorothea. During inflation period, the owner of a multimillion fortune received a minimal renumeration (Gruppen probably feared that Dorothea would spent too much money, that he wanted to take care of. In the end, together with Vielhaakiem decided to threw Miss Zahn out of the work.

A few days before the tragic day, Peter came to Wlen with his two stepdoughters Irma and Ursula, his mother in law (a grandmother of Dorothea,) and a maid. The official reason for arrival was "to improve family relationships", but before leaving Berlin, Grupen had sold his house and all other goods. On the way to Kleppelsdorf, Peter informed his fellows in words: "How do you feel about staying in Kleppelsdorf and living with Dorothea?"

On a tragic day, 14th February 1921, Dorothea and Ursula went to withdraw the package at the post office in Wlen. When girls returned, Mr. Bauer - property manager greeted them at the doors of Chateau. Dorothea went upstairs to meet with the family, while Ursula continued talking to Mr. Bauer, mostly about girls’ plans for the next few days. Then, called by a cousin, Ursula went to the Guest Room at the lower floor of Chateau.

After a while the family sat down to dinner in the Dining Room at the first floor. The Grandmother asked for the maid, that this has already brought the girls. The maid went downstairs and after a while there was a loud cry - "The girls are dead." On the floor of the Guest Room lay in a pool of blood dead Dorothea with two gunshot wounds. A few yards away in a corner of a room - Urszula laid wounded in the head but still giving signs of life. There was a letter in Ursula’s pocket, which was mistakenly assessed as suicide letter (most probably it was written at the instigation of Grupen). Later, during the process, graphologists agreed that although the note was certainly written by girl’s hand, the caption before her name, saying 'unhappy' was written by someone else). The letter said that Ursula shot her cousin first and then herself. Despite immediate medical assistance, Ursula died two hours later without regaining consciousness. The magician bandaging Ursula pointed out that the revolver lying on the floor was secured. What is more, the revolver laid on the left side, although Ursula was right handed. This was the reason why the police began to suspect involvement of third parties into this murder. Shells from revolver bullets were in the opposite corner of the room, to the place Ursula was laying. It soon became apparent that the revolver belonged to Grupen. The night after the murder Peter Grupen was handcuffed and taken by train to the prison in Jelenia Gora. At the station in Wlen, Police had to defend Grupen, because before a crowd of angry Wlen citizens wanted to kill him.

The investigation was difficult and took a long time. Grupen had never fully admitted committing the crime. In December of that year, after a long trace- based process, Grupen was sentenced to death. His lawyers tried to appeal, with no result. Grupen tried to escape. Caught after the second attempt to escape, Peter committed a suicide in prison. Interesting is the fact that he had a unique gift to persuade people to do things very bad for them. Grupen was even accused of hypnotic abilities.

On 20th February 1921, Dorothea rested on the Protestant Cemetery in Wlen, next to her cousin, who was buried the day before. It would seem that nothing bad could happen to this poor girl anymore. Unfortunately, at night, a few days after the funeral of Dorothea's body dug up and robbed of clothes and all her accessories were taken out from the coffin. The family had to relive the funeral.

The tomb has been preserved to this day, at the wall of the cemetery from the sanatorium. Now Dorothea divides the resting place with another citizen of Wlen.

There were many intriguing side quests around the whole murder story, which make it more curious, even today. The case of the murder went down in history of forensic science and is frequently quoted in lectures. In the 1960 a biased book by Hans Habe, "Meine Herren Geschworenen" was published. The book author was only looking for sensation and trying to change the course of events. Unfortunately, this type of literature telling the tragic history of Dorothea is easily available, so it is not difficult, to be misled.

Careful analysts of this story can find a lot of materials in the State Archives in Jelenia Gora. Most sought out materials can be found at: http://www.doris-baumert.de/Dokumente/Kleppelsdorf_Schloss_Tragoedie_1921.htm

Special thanks to Mrs. Doris Baumert for gathering valuable documents from this period.