Briefing - Adolph Hofrichter’s Promotional Program
Early in the twentieth century Adolph Hofrichter (1880-1945) was very talented young officer in the Austro-Hungarian Imperial-and-Royal Army, serving in the 14th Infantry Regiment, garrisoned at Linz, a sleepy provincial town which has never had much distinction (well, in later years a rather more prominent fellow with the same first name liked to refer to Linz as his home town). Despite his obvious brains, Oberleutnant Hofrichter wasn’t a very studious young man. As a result, in 1905 he failed to qualify for admission to the staff corps, the surest route to regular promotion. In 1909, after several years of dreary garrison duty and dimming prospects, Hofrichter hit upon a rather clever, albeit unusual, way to speed up promotions; to wit, reducing the number of officers ahead of himself on the Army List by murdering them.
Hofrichter selected ten of his fellow-officers for removal. To each of them he sent, anonymously, a small box of pills accompanied by a little note that read, "These tablets are sexual power-strengtheners, which should be taken a half hour before intercourse." In fact, the so-called aphrodisiacs were actually laced with potassium cyanide. Perhaps because he received his lethal little package a bit earlier than the other nine officers, or perhaps because he was the only one of the ten in need of "enhancement," only one officer actually took the pills, a certain Captain Mader. Mader downed one or two of the pills on November 17, 1909, and promptly died. What followed next clearly demonstrated that Hofrichter really wasn’t staff corps material; he had completely overlooked the possibility that the police would become involved.
Since Mader died under suspicious circumstances – after all, the guy had seemed perfectly healthy – an official inquiry was held. Although they had a reputation for indolence, the local police quickly discovered among Mader’s effects the package in which the pills had arrived, and several more pills. The investigating officers immediately suspected poisoning. While an autopsy was being conducted, the police inquired at the post office from whence the parcel had been mailed, and determined that nine other identical parcels had also been sent out that day. Since the Imperial-and-Royal Post kept track of the addressers and addressees of parcels, the police now knew who had sent the pills and who had received them. Although they quietly informed the other nine officers not to take the pills, the police did not immediately arrest Hofrichter, but began collecting evidence. When the believed they had enough, they detained the young officer.
Surprisingly, the military authorities – and the army as a whole – closed ranks behind Hofrichter, claiming that the imputation that an officer could act in so disgraceful a fashion reflected upon the honor of the entire kaiserliche-und-konigliche armed forces. Nevertheless, the investigating magistrate stuck to his guns, aided by Max Winter, a journalist for the Social Democratic "Arbeiter Zeitung - Worker’s Daily", who broke the story. Pressure began to build to have Hofrichter tried. This finally came about in May of 1910, and on the 28th the Oberleutanant was sentenced to death, which was reduced to life in prison upon a plea for mercy.
This might have been the last anyone ever heard of from Hofrichter. But in late 1918 the Hapsburg Empire collapsed. As a result, a lot of things happened very quickly, among them a general amnesty. So Hofrichter was soon out of jail. And he promptly published a memoir, "10 Jahre im Kerker zu Möllersdorf -- Ten Years in the Mullerdorf Prison".
Almost from the start, Hofrichter’s little "promotional scheme" caught the attention of several authors, and a number of novels and other works have told his story, more or less, as well as at least one film, "Verurteilt 1910 - Condemned 1910", a television epic produced in Germany.
By the way, next time you’re in Vienna, if you can pry yourself away from the Kriegsmuseum - one of the finest in the world - you might consider popping over to the Kriminalmuseum, where some of Oberleutanant Hofrichter’s "aphrodisiacs" are on display.