Crime writer in court for failed robbery – just like in his book

A Leipzig man who wrote crime novels - including one about a thwarted bank robbery - appeared in court on Wednesday, charged with bank robbery himself.

Crime writer in court for failed robbery - just like in his book
File photo: DPA

Sometimes there's a fine line between truth and fiction.

Just like the character in his novel, the defendant found himself struggling financially and decided to resort to drastic means to resolve the situation – namely, a bank robbery. However, just like in the novel, his plan didn't quite work out.

Perhaps he should have seen that coming.

The incident took place on January 26th this year in Lützschena-Stahmeln, a district of Leipzig in eastern Germany.

According to a police report at the time, the defendant entered a branch of the Sparkasse bank at the end of the day, wearing a mask and carrying an alarm gun. He reportedly pointed the gun at staff, demanding that they hand over money, and ordered customers to lie on the floor.

But when a bank employee handed over the cash, the defendant wasn't satisfied and demanded the contents of the safe as well – but the bank's security system prevented the safe being opened until after a time delay. After 25 minutes in the bank, the accused left with almost €40,000.

However, the writer only made it a few meters from the branch before police caught up with him.

A passerby had seen the would-be robber enter the bank with the gun, and had contacted emergency services. Meanwhile, the bank's security firm had been alerted and was able to observe the incident using surveillance technology, allowing police to arrive on the scene in good time. The author did not resist arrest.

Incredibly, the hapless criminal seemed to use exactly the same method as his protagonist, reports local paper the Leipziger Volkszeitung.

In the novel, the robber flees on a bike and hides a change of clothes behind an oak tree; when police searched the bank's surroundings, they found both a bicycle and a rucksack containing clothes (behind, you guessed it, an oak tree) and the suspect's DNA was found on both objects.

State prosecutor Hans-Joachim Walburg charged the defendant with extortion under threat of force, extortionate abduction and illegally carrying an alarm gun.

A presiding judge at Leipzig's regional court confirmed to The Local that the indictment had been read out in court, and although the 49-year-old suspect, who has lived in Leipzig for 20 years and has been in custody since the crime took place, had not yet entered a plea, his defence lawyer has announced his intention to plead guilty.

The trial is set to take place from August 10th-15th.


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EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Germany is known for having some of the world’s strictest gun laws, but shooting incidents continue to cause concern.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Is it difficult to get a gun in Germany?

To get a gun in Germany you firstly have to obtain a firearms ownership license (Waffenbesitzkarte) – and you may need a different one for each weapon you buy – or a license to carry (Waffenschein).

Applicants for a license must be at least 18-years-old and undergo what’s called a reliability check. This includes checking for criminal records, whether the person is an alcohol or drug addict, whether they have a mental illness or any other attributes that might make them owning a gun a potential concern for authorities.

They also have to pass a “specialised knowledge test” on guns and people younger than 25 applying for their first license must go through a psychiatric evaluation.

Crucially, applicants must also prove a specific and approved “need“ for the weapon, which is mainly limited to use by hunters, competitive marksmen, collectors and security workers – not for self-defence.

Once you have a license, you’re also limited in the number of and kinds of guns you may own, depending on what kind of license you have: Fully automatic weapons are banned for everyone, while semiautomatic firearms are banned for anything other than hunting or competitive shooting.

A revolver lies on an application for the issuance of a firearms license. Photo: picture alliance / Carsten Rehder/dpa | Carsten Rehder

How many legal guns are there in Germany? 

According to the latest figures from the Federal Ministry of the Interior, as of May 31st, 2022, there were 5.018,963 registered guns in Germany, and 946,546 gun owners entered in the National Weapons Register (NWR).

Where are the most guns in Germany?

Most legal guns are found in rural areas and are used in hunting or shooting sports. Guns are also more widespread in the western States than in the states that make up the former East Germany, where private gun ownership was extremely limited. 

READ ALSO: German prosecutors say poaching led to double police murder

What about undocumented guns in Germany?

One problem in Germany is so-called ‘old’ weapons. It’s impossible to estimate how many weapons from the two world wars are still in circulation and such antiques have appeared in a number of high-profile incidents in the last few years.

The pistol hidden in a Vienna airport by Bundeswehr officer Franco A was a Unique pistol from 1917 and the 2007 murder of a police officer in Heilbronn involved a Wehrmacht pistol. 

In 2009, around 200,000 weapons were returned in a gun amnesty, but it is still unclear how many illegal weapons are still out there.

Does Germany have a gun violence problem?

Gun crime is relatively rare in Germany, which has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe and, according to the latest figures from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), gun-related crimes in Germany are decreasing.

In 2021, there were 9.8 percent fewer crimes committed with a firearm than the previous year, while the number of cases recorded by the police in which a firearm was used to threaten fell by 11.2 percent. Shots were fired in 4,074 of the total number of recorded cases, down 8.5 percent from 2021.

An armored weapons cabinet filled with long guns. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Friso Gentsch

Despite this, there have been several mass shootings within the past two decades, which have had a big impact on public consciousness and on gun control policy. 

Between 2002 and 2009 there were three major incidents of young men carrying out shootings at their former high schools and, in 2020, a racially motivated gunman shot and killed 11 people and injured numerous others in an attack on two shisha bars in Hanau. The perpetrator was allowed to legally possess firearms, although he had previously sent letters with right-wing extremist content to authorities.

Recently there were also shootings at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany and at a supermarket in Schwalmstadt in Hesse.

Are German gun laws about to change?

The German parliament reacted to the mass shooting incidents in the early 2000s by tightening the gun laws, and, in the wake of the Hanau attack, a new amendment is in the works, which aims to shift focus towards monitoring gun owners with extremist, right-wing views.

READ ALSO: Germany marks a year since deadly racist shooting in Hanau

In December 2021, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) announced her intention to further tighten gun laws, as part of a plan to tackle right-wing extremism.

The authorities in charge of the protection of the constitution have been warning for some time that neo-Nazis are deliberately joining shooting clubs to obtain guns and the Federal Ministry of the Interior reports that 1.500 suspected right-wing extremists among legal gun owners.

Campaigners say more needs to be done to stop gun crime. 

Dagmar Ellerbrock, a historian and expert on weapons history at the Technical University of Dresden said: “It is high time that we try to at least make it more difficult for these political groups to find their way through the shooting associations.”