Murder is, undoubtedly, a horrendous crime no matter the motive and means. Still, there is something especially sinister when no aspect of it can be reasoned or reckoned.
Though the events leading up to the atrocity were not covered up so much as barely considered and reported upon, in even local news, their horrifying consequences were hidden methodically, carefully. In the September of 1998 thirty-four itinerant and at-risk citizens of Cologne were abducted by persons or parties that remain unidentified, by methods and means of which we do not even have the beginnings of an understanding. It is a cruel and galling irony that tragedies which might have gone unnoticed and unremarked due to the terrible, ordinary apathy towards those who disappeared led to something that caused its victims to be wilfully forgotten, deliberately written out of history for fear of instilling a panic that might never be quelled.
Even though there was an abrupt spike in the numbers of vulnerable people going missing, no interest in launching an inquiry into it was forthcoming. The silence around the disappearances was almost absolute: The only journalistic interest – a term applied very generously - came from a small-press conspiracy theory newsletter which claimed that the missing people were being taken as part of an illegal, state-sanctioned h+ (transhuman) programme. Only later, after the grim discovery of the abductees, was there any concern at all; though it hit like a hurricane. The sense of an escalating desperation was evident in the increasing grasping techniques of the authorities and their tight-lipped special investigators. This was only stoked when nothing of substance was discovered, no clues or leads found to have any particular meaning, and those who were privy to what had happened held their breath in fearful anticipation of another spate of abductions. Abductions that they might not be able to conceal.
Instead, as far as they were concerned, the incident both began and was concluded - however macabrely - a month or so later on the 10th of November. Cologne Cathedral, also called the Church of the Assumption, was set to be opened for a cleaning prior to Mass and, when the doors were unlocked, the abductees were found. They were all dead, mercifully, somehow set or sunken, fused into the stones of the cathedral itself along the aisle and its surrounding columns. It was as though the two elements, flesh and architecture, had never been separate or distinct forms of matter, as bodies jutted out from marble and granite alike, some only visible as partially occluded faces, their gaping mouths partially filled with stone, smooth and undisturbed and flush with the surrounding architecture.
Worse, every single one seemed to have been alive even as they were set into the stone: where they were able the victims seemed to be trying to claw their way out: buried to their shoulders or waists, with hands grasping for purchase - nails snapped out of their beds and fingers shattered, split and broken. The aisle was littered with such unfortunates; upturned faces seeking grace whilst below the floor they were only composite of brick and bone, flesh and rock. One of the bodies, that of a man who was fused into the ground just above the knees and had an arm sunken into a column, was still warm to the touch when the scene was examined. He had, apparently, only recently succumbed to the shock of his trauma and torment, maybe hours after the rest of the charnel scene was set and still.
Those who witnessed the gruesome tableau - besides the priest who discovered the slaughter they were mostly from a carefully selected group of police and pathologists - were shaken, if not outright haunted, by the pain, terror and anguish writ indelible on the faces of the dead. Many left their jobs, their city, even their country over the following months. One even took their own life, leaving a note which spoke of constant night terrors and flashbacks to the scene, of visions in which the victims were somehow still alive, held conscious on the edge of undying agony and imploring, begging, for someone to end their pain.
Apart from those involved in the original investigation, only a few have seen the records and files which detail the case, from the sparse notes that covered a handful of those initial abductions to the tortured, terrible precision with which every aspect of the scene was dissected and measured. Of those who have seen them, or at least the copies made by and stolen from one of the police investigators, none have made convincing claims as to having uncovered any significant details despite the ornate theories they have spun out to attribute a motive or means to what happened. The nature of the incident, like so many of the things I am set to study and catalogue, attracts the attention and interest of those who seek truth and those who seek to force reality into the patterns they have already seized upon.
While some have become entirely obsessed with their own work on the case, others have disappeared down a rabbit hole of esoteric theories, each equally plausible in their implausibility and all impossible to prove to any degree of satisfaction. People have explored the numerological significance of the victims’ names in relation to one another as well the geometry of their placement within the cathedral’s architecture. Some have even attempted to posit some pattern based on slight similarities in the whorls and loops of the many sets of fingerprints recovered at the scene which could not be matched to anyone examined or questioned in the course of the investigation. Without any definitively significant factors it is essentially impossible to pick out which of those amongst the nearly infinite others is meaningful or enlightening.
Among all the apparent randomness some have argued it might even be possible, albeit highly implausible, to attribute what happened in Cologne to the collateral effect of some confluence or collision of esoteric forces; the chaos left in the wake of powers still beyond our ken. That avenue, whether we might find the cruelty of chance a comfort or even more terrifying than the idea of such pain and terror having been inflicted through deliberate malice, is closed off by the presence of a message left among the dead. Once investigators picked their way past the horror-show maze of bodies they found a single, seemingly nonsensical yet somehow chilling phrase which had been seared and scarred into the steps up to the altar in crude capital letters. The message, which we can read but may never be able to understand, read: ROT WIRD ZUM PROBLEM.