Armed Robbery and Murder at the Kupferbergpad - Namibia Safari and Lodges - Gondwana Collection

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Armed Robbery and Murder at the Kupferbergpad

Avatar of inke inke - 03. April 2015 - Discover Namibia

Bruno Sommer and Fidel Falk with shackles at the inside wall of the Imperial Prison in Windhoek.

Alongside the Kupferbergpad that takes you from Windhoek over the Gamsberg Pass to Walvis Bay one comes upon a commemorative plaque in honour of 32-year-old police sergeant Hermann Strunck who was killed during an armed robbery in April 1912. The crime not only kept the inhabitants of Windhoek in suspense, but also made headlines in several newspapers 'back home' in Germany. 

In the early morning hours of the 1st of April 1912 Sergeant Hermann Strunck (32) mounts his horse at his base, the Kupferberg police depot. On his way to Windhoek, he is accompanied by 28-year-old Hermann Kogeler who wants to see a doctor because he hasn't been feeling well the past few days. 

After a good rainy season the country is lush and green. In the fresh, crisp morning air the 28 km to Windhoek seem like no distance at all. At around 8h30 the two sergeants trot into the capital and report to police headquarters. Kogeler goes to see the doctor while Strunck goes to the post office and to the bank. He also has various errands to run for some of his colleagues and for himself. At lunchtime at the mess a relieved Kogeler tells Strunck that the doctor gave him good news: he is not suffering from any serious condition. 

After a short break the two men load cash for the Kupferberg police depot onto their horses. Kogeler stashes some 600 Mark in coins into his saddlebags, Strunck tucks away bills to the value of 11,400 Mark, a fortune of money, intended to pay for the depot's clothing, transport and wages. In accordance with regulations, they notify headquarters of their departure at 15h30 and set out on the return trip to the Kupferberg depot. In their luggage they also have newspapers from Germany, dated by six to ten weeks, as well as the private letters that everybody at the depot is longing for. 

As they leave Windhoek behind, they spur on their horses. After a while they slow down to walking pace and keep on chatting to each other. 

At about 16h10 the two police sergeants pass a huge old camel thorn tree a few metres from the road among shrubs and knee-high grass. Suddenly a shot rings out from the direction of the tree - immediately followed by another one. Sergeant Strunck is hit and falls from his horse. Kogeler thinks it was the stray bullet of a hunter and rushes to assist his friend. But another shot is fired at him while he is still dismounting. Only lightly injured, he gallops away to fetch help from the Kupferberg depot. He looks back over his shoulder but in his state of confusion he cannot distinguish anybody in the dense bush. 

Police sergeant Ludwig Schmidt and two Herero workers hear the shots. They are busy repairing the road between Windhoek and Kupferberg about 800 m away from the scene of the incident. Schmidt immediately goes to investigate. He first comes across Strunck's horse without a rider, grazing by the roadside. Schmidt jumps onto the horse and rides a short way towards Windhoek. He finds Strunck, killed by a shot which went through his upper arm into his chest. His head shows wounds from the shotgun pellets. His clothes are dishevelled as if somebody has searched him. No-one seems to be in the vicinity. 

Schmidt orders the two labourers to stay with the body and rushes off towards Kupferberg. A little later Heinrich Finke, a construction engineer, arrives at the scene with a horse cart. He has met Sergeant Kogeler on the way who told him about the ambush. They load Strunck's body onto the cart and Finke transports it to the garrison hospital in Windhoe from where he phones the police headquarters and the Imperial District Authority. Since the Kupferberg depot is connected to the telephone network since the previous year, police headquarters have already been informed by Kogeler and Schmidt. Police assistant 2nd class George recorded the following information: 

I.IV.      5.55 N. 
K'berg to Windhuk by teleph. 
Patrol Strunk attacked at Aub. Strunk shot at and killed. The other officer (Kogler) wounded. Strunk's horse fled to K'berg with money. 
Captain Hollaender marched out from depot. Assailants have not been seen. 
     W. I.IV. 12. 
George            (Budack, p. 23) 

As mentioned in the report, Strunck's superior, Captain Hollaender, and all available police members at the depot immediately ride to the scene and cordon it off to make sure that nothing is tampered with. A policeman with a sniffer dog is dispatched from Windhoek that same evening. In the morning the dog leads the police to the places where Strunck's attackers must have camped; the police finds evidence such as recently lit red matches and snippets of paper - from Strunck's notebook, as it turns out later. They also find footprints which point to two assailants, one of them a tallish person, the other a shorter one. 

The night after the murder, from 1 to 2 April, a chain of mostly voluntary sentries, including Herero and Bergdama, is formed around Windhoek. All roads are closed off, and police patrols search public facilities. 

A large Schutztruppe patrol is dispatched on the morning of 2 April to assist in searching the terrain around the crime scene. No weapons are found. Other police and Schutztruppe patrols comb the vicinity of Windhoek, especially the Auas and Eros Mountains, but also the Khomashochland. 

The inhabitants of Windhoek are notified of the incident with posters and newspaper reports and asked for their help. The district authorities offer a reward of 300 Mark for any relevant clues which could lead to the apprehension of the perpetrator or the perpetrators. 

The handling of the Strunck murder case can be seen as a great achievement in the history of German colonial administration in South West Africa. The success was due to exceptionally efficient cooperation between the Imperial Police, which in 1912 consisted of a force of less than 1000 men including black members, and the legal and administrative authorities. The responsible way in which the newspapers informed about the case and the cooperation of the white as well as the non-white communities also played an important role. 

On the day after the murder the public already starts to provide hints. Suspicious persons are reported to the police. Among the suspects taken into custody that same day are the two men later identified as the murderers: Fidel Falk and Bruno Sommer. 

A farmer reports that his employee has over several days watched an armed man who occasionally fired a shot. The employee was tending cattle and was too far away to be able to identify the man. 

The patrol that is sent to investigate comes across a cave in which a rather scruffy, deeply tanned white man carrying a shotgun is hiding out. His name is Fidel Falk. He is well-known to the police and has already been in jail for housebreaking, theft and damaging public property. 

The equipment found in the cave is an indication that Falk is not the sole inhabitant of the cave. Questioned by a magistrate later that day, he hesitantly admits that a certain Bruno Sommer lived with him for a few days. Sommer is arrested the evening of the same day. 

More arrests are made during the next two to three weeks, not only in Windhoek, but all over the country. Most of the suspects are released soon after, in fact all but Falk and Sommer who are kept in separate cells. 

First they both deny knowing anything about the attack on Strunck. Instead they admit to various other crimes, mainly burglaries and thefts. Gradually they get entangled in contradictions to such an extent that by the end of May the truth comes to the fore: the two of them prepared the attack and carried it out together. Naturally each tries to put most of the blame onto the other. 

In 1912 Windhoek was a small town where most of the German inhabitants knew each other personally. The already shocked community was even more horrified to learn that the perpetrators were two fellow countrymen. Nobody really expected their fellow countrymen to be capable of murder. In the course of investigations evidence of another two brutal murders, committed by the accused against "harmless natives", came to light. 

Falk was the proverbial black sheep of a distinguished and wealthy family in Haslach in Baden. He had been to a good school and then completed a year of compulsory military service. While still in Germany he became a delinquent and was convicted for theft. His respectable, strictly Catholic family was probably relieved when he left for South West Africa in 1909. He eked out a living by working as a farm manager and often changed his employment. One of his employers caught him stealing and he was sent to prison for half a year. When he overheard another prisoner say that once a month a large amount of cash was taken from Windhoek to the Kupferberg police depot, his interest awoke.

Until the end of January 1912 Falk was employed at the farm Elisenheim. A certain Bruno Sommer had been working there as a gardener since September 1911. Falk on several occasions made remarks to him that there was not much merit in working for so little money. Falk dreamt of the free life of a bandit in the mountains - which he promptly put into practice with Sommer. 

Sommer had been born out of wedlock in Bernau near Berlin. He grew up in modest circumstances and his school education was rudimentary. He had turned delinquent at the tender age of 13 and was since in and out of prison for theft and fraud. He was known as crude and hot-tempered. 

The police investigations also uncovered that Falk and Sommer had abducted and killed two Herero women during their 'free bandit life'. They murdered the older woman soon after seizing her, but kept the young girl with them for a while. They probably raped her and then disposed of her so that she couldn't give them away. 

In June 1912 Sommer (30) and Falk (28) were sentenced to death. They were hanged on 12 December in the courtyard of Windhoek prison, despite Falk's appeal against the sentence and an appeal for clemency by his parents. In the history of German colonial rule in South West Africa Falk and Sommer were the only white offenders ever to be sentenced to death and executed. 

Strunck was buried with full military honours in the Windhoek cemetery on 2 April 1912. Soon afterwards, at the request of his mother, his remains were taken to his hometown of Mülheim on the River Ruhr. 

Strunck's colleagues put up a commemorative plaque at the scene of the crime shortly after his death. The original got stolen at some stage and a replica was put up by the "Traditionsverband der ehemaligen Schutz- und Überseetruppen (Freunde der deutschen Schutzgebiete) e.V.", the association of former colonial troops and friends of German protectorates.

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