Berlin: In a rare case which has horrified the country, Andrea Göppner has been sentenced to 14 years in prison after being convicted of ‘baby-slaughter’ for killing four of her babies, which were found wrapped in towels and carrier bags in her attic flat.
Andrea Göppner, 45, who shielded her face with an A4 office file throughout the trial, was arrested in November after the remains of eight baby corpses were discovered in her home in Wallenfels, Bavaria.
Christoph Gillot, the judge saw one of the worst ever cases of multiple infanticide in Germany, reduced the charges from murder to manslaughter, arguing that Göppner had killed the babies not out of “blatant self-interest” but in order to “keep her existing family intact”.
Her estranged husband, Johann Göppner, 55, was acquitted on charges of being an accessory to the killings for failing to stop them.
Göppner had given birth unaided to eight children between 2003 and 2013, the court heard. Only four of the cases were prosecuted because it could not be ascertained with three of the corpses whether they had been alive when they were born because they were so badly composed. In one case Göppner had had a still birth.
The discovery was made after Göppner had moved out of the family home to live with a new partner. A family member found a baby’s corpse in the flat and police subsequently uncovered the full scale of the killings.
Gillot defended his decision not to hand down a life sentence, citing the “whole range” of motives Göppner had had for carrying out the killings and arguing there was no evidence she had planned to murder her babies.
“When a case like this goes to trial, suddenly there are many people who know what the right thing to do is, and say a ‘horror mother’ has to be locked away for ever,” he said.
“But first and foremost, we have to try to understand such behaviour. That doesn’t mean justifying it, it just means trying to comprehend it.”
Göppner confessed via her lawyer during the trial to killing some of her babies, but said she could not remember how many. She said she had given birth to each of them at home, unaccompanied, and had wrapped each of them in a towel. As soon as a baby moved or cried, she suffocated it before placing its corpse in a plastic bag or box and hiding it in the flat.
The Göppners each had two children from relationships before their marriage and had three more children together, all of whom are surviving. They had not wanted more children, but did not use any contraceptives.
The court heard that Andrea Göppner had hidden the dead babies in a disused sauna and behind a rafter in the bathroom. They were discovered by Johann Göppner’s oldest daughter, Nina, in the autumn of 2015.
Nina Göppner had thrown her stepmother out of the house on discovering in October 2015 that she had been having an affair. On finding numerous unopened letters, bills and arrears notices she confronted her father. “My father told me he was scared that there was something far more serious to be found,” Nina Göppner, 31, told the court. A year earlier Andrea Göppner had admitted while drunk that she had given birth to a child.
Nina Göppner said she was haunted by the idea that her stepmother had been telling the truth. “There’s a saying that small children and drunks tell the truth,” she said. She decided to search the sauna, which had been used for years as a store cupboard, where she discovered a plastic box – the contents of which stank.
When her father failed to investigate the sauna for himself, his daughter returned with a friend. She sobbed as she told the court: “We opened the box and found a bloody towel. It was clear I was going to find something I did not want to find.” She called the police who then found the remains of a further seven babies.
No one in the family will admit to noticing Göppner’s multiple pregnancies. She explained away her weight fluctuations and the fact she was producing milk by saying she had been taking hormone tablets to cope with the menopause.
Andrea Göppner refused to speak in court but her defence lawyer, Till Wagler, said his client had first become pregnant at 18. After the birth of her second child, and after meeting Johann Göppner, she separated from her husband.
After she and Johann Göppner had had three children together, her mother and husband urged her to be sterilised. But Andrea Göppner did not go through with the procedure and half a year later she was pregnant once again.
“She was happy,” said Wagler, “but her husband wanted her to abort the child. She was devastated.”
As a result he said, she had tried to suppress the pregnancy and was completely surprised when she gave birth.
The scenario repeated itself seven times, and each time, said Wagler “it was as if she was under the influence of drugs”.
On asking her husband what she should do the last time she discovered she was pregnant in 2013 he had “laughed derisively”, Wagler said.
The court heard that Johann Göppner had since demolished the sauna but continued to live in the house with four of his children.
Wagler told the court that Andrea Göppner would not appeal against the conviction and that she was relieved it was now over.
The case was one of several cases of multiple infanticide in Germany in recent years.