Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Waltraud Gruseck: The False Soprano

An Unhealthy Shade of Pale


Herman Hilss
Herman Hilss
Not long after their marriage, a change came over Mr. Hilss. He looked increasingly pale and suffered from severe fluid retention in his legs, a classic symptom of heart disease. Obviously ailing, Hilss was forced to admit to his colleagues that he suffered from heart problems, which sometimes kept him from working.

Hilss' personality changed as well. Bruno Jager, who also gave boat rides in the wetlands to tourists, said Hilss was no longer the same person after he met Waltraud. While the two were never close friends, they had often talked on an informal basis before and after taking tourists on boat rides over the years. Hilss had even discussed his personal life with Mr. Jager at times.

But after Waltraud entered his life, a change came over Mr. Hilss, Mr. Jager said. Hilss turned more inward and hardly talked. It was as if he had decided to close everyone out of his life and would avoid discussing anything that was not related to his work.

Mr. Jager also learned by accident that Hilss had gotten married when someone mentioned it to him in passing one day. Before then, Jager had assumed that Hilss would remain a lifelong bachelor and he had not even been aware that Hilss had been dating someone. But after Hilss married Waltraud, Hilss would no longer even exchange small talk with Jager, much less spend any time with him.

Mr. Hilss was also visibly becoming sicker. In 2006, Jager asked Hilss why he never went to see the doctor since he was obviously having heart problems. But Hilss instead insisted that, while he was having some health problems, he was healthy enough to continue working.

In 2009, Mr. Hilss looked even worse than he did during the previous months. Short of breath, increasingly pale, and noticeably weaker, Hilss was hospitalized in April 2009. He was released two days later and put on a strict regime of medication, diet, and rest. Yet, he continued to offer boat tours, while keeping to himself as he had done before becoming ill.

Police records show that Mr. Hilss returned to the doctor for a follow-up appointment in May 2010. While his prognosis was not disclosed, his bill of health was good enough for him to return to work. But after failing to show up for a boat tour appointment a few days later, he was never heard from or seen again.

Police were alerted when a colleague who was renting his boat from Mr. Hilss could no longer reach him by phone and found that he no longer answered the door at his house overlooking the river. The colleague thought it was strange that Hilss would not keep in touch because he owed Hilss money for the use of his place at the dock. When he could not find Hilss or learn anything about his whereabouts from his wife, the colleague went to the police.

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