the last in
a four part series on the events of October 1977, which culminated in
three deaths in Stammheim prison exactly thirty years ago today...
"Gudrun, Andreas and Jan were tortured and
murdered at Stammheim prison"
The Stammheim “Suicides” (1)
In previous installments we have seen how the Red Army Faction survived
the arrest of its leading members Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin,
Ulrike Meinhof, Holger Meins, and Jan Carl Raspe in 1972. Over the next
years these individuals and other RAF political prisoners were
subjected to isolation and sensory deprivation torture, and yet through
the strategic use of hunger strikes managed to inspire a new generation
of guerilla fighters on the outside.
This struggle was not without its losses, though, and by 1977 several
guerilla fighters had died, including three who died in captivity. The
most recent of these, the RAF’s leading theoretician Ulrike Meinhof was
said to have “committed suicide” at a key point in her trial in 1976,
and yet later investigations would uncover evidence that she had in
fact been raped and strangled, and then hanged to make it look like she
had killed herself.
We have also seen how in 1977, a year after Meinhof was murdered, the
guerilla embarked on its most ambitious operation to free the
prisoners, assassinating the Chief Federal Prosecutor and attempting to
kidnap two leading businessmen in an effort to force the State to
release their comrades. While they failed to capture one of these
targets, instead killing him, the other, former Nazi Hans-Martin
Schleyer, was taken prisoner on September 5. As days turned to weeks
and negotiations seemed to be getting nowhere, a Palestinian commando
intervened, hijacking a plane and taking ninety people hostage,
supporting the RAF and also demanding that two Palestinian prisoners in
Turkey be freed.
These events unfolded in September and October 1977.
On October 17, a West German anti-terrorist commando stormed the
airliner in Mogadishu, killing three guerillas and wounding the fourth.
The next morning it was announced that Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas
Baader were dead, having allegedly committed suicide. It was also
announced that Jan-Carl Raspe and fellow RAF prisoner Irmgard
Möller had “attempted suicide.” Raspe subsequently died of his
An examination of the contradictions surrounding the alleged “suicides”
of Gudrun Ensslin, Jan-Carl Raspe, and Andreas Baader, contradictions
no less numerous than in the case of Ulrike Meinhof’s death, tends to
support the conclusion that the deaths were in fact murders.
Baader and Raspe died as a result of gunshot wounds, Ensslin as a
result of hanging, and the sole survivor, Irmgard Möller, suffered
repeated stab wounds inflicted with a kitchen knife.
poster mobilizing for a demo in Stuttgart to mark the ten year
anniversary of the Stammheim murders
True to form the West German State opened an investigation
into the poster itself,
under Paragraph 129a: "support for a terrorist organization"
As the two men were alleged to have shot themselves, some explanation
as to where the guns had come from was necessary. Remember: the four
had all been kept in complete isolation since Schleyer had been taken
hostage, and had been in prison under strict conditions for years
On October 27, a spokesperson for the administration at Stammheim
offered the necessary explanation. He stated that it is “not out of the
question ... that one of prisoners’ lawyers passed the contraband
articles to a prisoner during a visit.”
Yet, such a thing does seem in fact to be “out of the question,” if not
flatly impossible. Before entering the visiting area, lawyers had to
empty their pockets and give their jackets to an employee for
verification; they were body searched physically and with a metal
detector. Prisoners were strip searched and inspected and given a new
set of clothes both when entering and when leaving visits with lawyers.
Further, due to the Kontaktsperre,
the lawyers had been unable to see their clients after September 6.
As regards Andreas Baader, a plethora of other irregularities are
apparent. Baader is supposed to have shot himself in the base of the
neck in such a way that the bullet exited his forehead. Repeated tests
indicated that it is virtually impossible for an individual to position
a gun against his or her own body in such a way. Equally curious, there
were three bullet holes in the cell. One bullet lodged in the wall, one
in the mattress, and the third, the cause of death, lodged in the
floor. Are we to presume Baader missed himself twice? As well, Baader
had powder burns from the recoil on his right hand. Baader, however,
was left-handed, and would almost certainly have used his left hand to
shoot himself. In the case of Raspe, no powder burns were found at all.
Powder burns always occur when firing a weapon.
The gun smuggling theory relied very heavily on the testimony of Hans
Joachim Dellwo, brother of RAF prisoner Karl-Heinz Dellwo, and Volker
Speitel, the husband of RAF member Angelika Speitel. They had both been
arrested on October 2,1977 and charged with belonging to a criminal
Under police pressure, both men would later admit to acting as couriers
for the guerilla, and testify that they were aware of lawyers smuggling
items to the prisoners during the Stammheim trial which had ended in
April 1977 – specifically they eventually claimed that guns had been
smuggled in. The scenario put forth by the state was that these guns
were then hidden away in the walls of the cells as work was done
renovating the seventh floor that summer.
Yet Speitel and Dellwo’s testimony was tainted by the fact that they
provided it in order to avoid lengthy stays behind bars. In exchange
for these allegations they each received reduced sentences and new
identities. As a result of their testimony, two defense attorneys would
be tried and convicted of weapon smuggling in 1979.
As well as conveniently explaining the deaths, the gun smuggling story
served two further purposes. From that point on, all lawyers’ visits
with RAF prisoners were through a screen, a process which allows
greater ease of auditory surveillance, as well as depriving the
prisoners of one of their last direct human contacts. Furthermore, the
guards were permitted, from that point on, to look through lawyers’
files “to prevent smuggling.”
In the case of Gudrun Ensslin’s “suicide” there were further
contradictions. The chair she allegedly used to hang herself was too
far away from her body to have been used and the cable supporting her
body would not likely have tolerated the weight of a falling body. As
was the case with Ulrike Meinhof, the histamine test that would have
established whether Ensslin was dead before she was hanged was never
In search of an explanation for this mass suicide, the state suggested
that the prisoners realized there was no hope for their liberation
following the storming of the hijacked airliner in Mogidishu and
consequently chose mass suicide rather than life imprisonment. This
explanation raises two questions. How would the prisoners, given the
Kontaktsperre, have known about these developments? And, further, how
would they have organized a group suicide under such conditions?
On October 20, authorities claimed to have “discovered” a radio in
Raspe’s cell, a cell that he had only occupied since October 4 it
should be noted. The state alleged that, using the wall sockets and
tools stolen while the prison was being renovated, the prisoners
constructed an elaborate communication system that allowed them to
monitor the radio broadcasts and to communicate with each other.
This was only the first in a series of very useful “discoveries.” On
October 22, two hundred and seventy grams of explosives were
“discovered” in the prisoners’ wing. On November 12, a razor blade and
three detonators were “found” in Baader’s cell. Finally, on December
12, a gun and ammunition were “found” in a cell formerly occupied by
another RAF prisoner. It is worth noting that the gun in question was a
Colt .38, the model used by special police units.
While the details of what happened that night may never be known, and
the state’s story cannot be 100% disproven, even taken at face value
all the state’s claims do not point to “simple suicide”: in the final
analysis their own evidence suggests that if prisoners would have had
access to guns and radios then someone in a position of authority would
have known it. Author Stefan Aust, for instance, suggests that the
prisoners may have been allowed to believe they had established a
“secret” communication system so as that what they said to each other
could be monitored. What emerges then is a picture of the prisoners
being allowed to have weapons and being allowed to communicate with
each other, and authorities listening in as a suicide pact was agreed
upon and then acted on, all the while doing nothing to interfere (2) .
Yet one of the biggest problems with the suicide story, even in this
form, is the fact that not all of the prisoners had died.
On October 27, Irmgard Möller, the only survivor from the alleged
group suicide attempt, issued a statement claiming that she had NOT
attempted suicide. She said that the last thing she heard before going
to sleep on the night in question was two muffled explosive sounds. She
was not aware of anything until she awoke some hours later feeling
intoxicated and disoriented and having difficulty concentrating. She
further stated that the prisoners had no contact with one another
except by shouting through the air vents in their cells or when going
by each other’s cells on the way to or from the yard. Finally, she said
the prisoners had absolutely no idea of developments in Mogadishu.
To this day, she maintains that the prisoners were murdered.
It is difficult to dispute such a claim, coming as it does from a woman
who survived these events.
Clearly, the prisoners had anticipated the possibility of murders
disguised as suicides. On October 7 Andreas Baader sent his lawyer the
"As a result of the measures of the last 6 weeks and a few remarks from
the guards, one can draw the conclusion that the Administration of
State Security, which - as a guard who is now permanently on the 7th
floor has said - hopes to provoke one or more suicides here, or, in any
case, create the plausible appearance of such. In this regard, I
stress: None of us - this is clear from the few words that we have been
able to exchange at the doors in the last few weeks and from the years
of discussion - have the intention of killing ourselves. Should we -
again a guard - “be found dead,” we have been killed, as is the
procedure, in keeping with the tradition of legal and political
Gudrun Ensslin had also written to her lawyers stating:
"I am afraid of being suicided in the same way as Ulrike. If there is
no letter from me and I’m found dead; in this case it is an
at the funeral...
Furthermore, in conversation with two prison chaplains on the afternoon
of October 17, Ensslin had explained that there were three sheets of
paper kept in a file in her cell, containing important information.
“They should be sent to the head of the Chancellery if they do away
with me, or if I’m executed,” she said. “Please would you see that they
get there? I’m afraid that otherwise the Federal Prosecutor will
suppress or destroy them.”(5)
Needless to say, according to the official account, these three sheets
of paper were never found.(6)
Although no independent international commission was ever formed to
investigate the Stammheim deaths, the commission investigating the
death of Ulrike Meinhof was still sitting at the time. They had several
interesting comments. They noted that on both nights, May 8-9, 1976 and
October 17-18, 1977, an auxiliary was in charge of surveillance rather
than the usual person. They also noted that in both incidents the
autopsies posed similar problems.
Regarding the incriminating evidence “turned up” by prison authorities
during the cell searches, they approvingly quote from the press release
of Irmgard Möller’s lawyer, Jutta Bahr-Jendgen, of October 25,
"Why these inventories of the cells without neutral witnesses, without
lawyers, these inventories which have produced receivers, radios, Morse
code apparatuses, quantities of plastic explosives – might as well find
The Commission further noted the existence of an uncontrolled entrance
to the seventh floor, which opened into the cell area, and which was
not visible from the guard’s office. This entrance was not acknowledged
by authorities until November 4, 1977. The Commission observes:
"This indicates that - as citizens have been saying for some time - the
functionaries of the BKA, the BND and the Secret Services have a
constant, uncontrolled access to the cells."(8)
The cover-up was so glaring that the Frankfurter Rundschau, wrote, in
reference to the official investigation:
"The Parliamentary Commission is faced with ... three sorts of
witnesses: those who know nothing, those who don’t want to know
anything and those who aren’t allowed to make a statement."(9)
As a macabre postscript to all of this, RAF prisoner Ingrid Schubert
was found hanged in her cell in Munich-Stadelheim prison on November
11, 1977. On the Thursday before her death, she had assured her lawyer
that she had no intention of committing suicide. As in the case of
Meinhof and Ensslin, the autopsy did not indicate the usual signs of
death by hanging.(10)
Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader,
Jan Carl Raspe and Ingrid Schubert:
we will not forget
(1) In recent years some, including RAF prisoners of the first
generation, have claimed to know of a suicide pact involving the
prisoners and have claimed certain knowledge that the deaths were a
suicide. Irmgard Möller, the sole RAF survivor of the day’s
violence continues to insist that there was no suicide pact and that
the prisoners were murdered. Unlike Möller, none of the other
prisoners making these claims have any direct knowledge of what
happened on the seventh floor of Stammheim prison on October 17 1977,
and for that reason, and given the many contradictions in the state’s
explanation, we choose to believe the sole survivor of that night’s
(2) In this regard see Stefan Aust’s book The Baader-Meinhof Group, pages
432, 482-3, 487-8, 496-7, 550-552. Regarding the possibility that
police might have learned of guns in Stammheim fom Volker Speitel as
early as October 4, see page 484. It should be noted that although Aust
claims to believe the prisoners committed suicide, he emphasizes that
there remain serious inconsistencies in the official version of events,
including evidence pointing to the possibility that Baader was shot by
a gun with a silencer on it, which would mean that the murder weapon
was removed after he was killed (547), and also that guards lied when
they claimed Möller had lifted her sweater before allegedly
stabbing herself (548), a “fact” which the state claimed proved suicide
as an assassin would not have tried to save the victim’s clothing.
(3) Republished in a variety of sources in October 1987, the tenth
anniversary of “The German Autumn,” our copy is a photocopy of the
original that was circulated informally. A version of this text is also
produced in Aust op cit. page 489.
(4) Libération(Special Issue)
Paris 1978, p. 27.
(5) Aust op cit. p. 526.
(6) Ibid. p. 528.
(7) La Mort d’Ulrike Meinhof:
Rapport de la Commission international d’enquête,
Librairie François Maspero, Paris, 1979, p. 67.
(8) Ibid, pp. 55-58.
(9) Ibid, p. 68.
(10) Libération, op.
cit, p. 43.
Thirty years ago an escalating conflict between the Red Army Faction
and the West German state reached its turning point. As events reached
their climax in a bloody series of events known as “The German Autumn”
every sector of West German society was shaken to the core.
Kersplebedeb will be co-publishing a two volume complete works and
history of the Red Army Faction in early 2008. This week, to mark the
events of thirty years ago, we will be posting a series of pieces drawn
from these books.
More information about the Red Army Faction is available at http://www.germanguerilla.com
For more information about the upcoming two volume history and complete
works of the RAF, contact firstname.lastname@example.org