Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Waltraud Gruseck: The False Soprano

Where is Mr. Hilss?


Mr. Hilss' colleague was not the only one worried. The neighbors thought it was strange, too, that they no longer saw Hilss coming and going from his house, taking out the trash, or tending to his boat moored in the small river. After taking several calls about Hilss' mysterious disappearance, police decided it was time to pay Waltraud a visit.

The first thing they noticed when police turned up at Waltraud's door was a horrible smell that obviously came from more than a dozen cats that she kept in the house. Waltraud matter-of-factly stated that her husband was on a trip and that she had heard from him regularly. While the police remained suspicious, they had no legal grounds to pursue the matter any further.

An aerial view of Hilss' neighborhood
An aerial view of Hilss' neighborhood
The encounter would mark the beginning of a cat-and-mouse game that Waltraud would play with police throughout the affair. She would lie to investigators, and then only later would reluctantly admit to the truth when faced with overwhelming evidence that showed she was lying. But for the time being, Waltraud stuck to her story that her husband was away on an extended fishing trip.

Over the next few weeks after police first approached her, Waltraud marshaled the support of a doctor, her lawyer, and other male friends who were willing to tell police by phone that, to the best of their knowledge, Mr. Hilss was alive and well.

However, the police officials remained unconvinced. They began to investigate Mr. Hilss' disappearance and considered Waltraud to be a person of interest in what was likely a crime. Like pulling on a thread that unravels a garment, detectives began to discover startling facts about Waltraud's past that revealed who the woman really was.

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