Starved and hidden in the freezer: nobody missed little Dennis

The freezer is no bigger than a washing machine. 52 by 52 centimeters wide and 86 centimeters high. Colorful Teletubbie stickers stick to one side of the Italian made. On a day in mid-November 2005, the chest is in the largest, full room of the Cottbus district court. Prosecutor Tobias Pinder puts on white rubber gloves, approaches the chest and lifts the lid. And retreats. Immediately, a pungent smell of decay fills the room. The note-taker jumps up and opens the window. The listeners leave the hall almost in haste. The court also withdraws. There will be a long break on this third day of negotiations.

Later, when the chest is closed again, the air can be breathed and every chair is occupied, many people in the hall ask themselves: how is a six-year-old boy supposed to fit into this refrigerator? The chest becomes a symbol of the martyrdom that little Dennis from Cottbus must have endured. The boy’s parents, Angelika and Falk B., are sitting just a few meters from the chest. They are accused of letting their son starve to death.

The case of the boy, who died a little over 20 years ago, caused horror beyond Brandenburg’s state borders and raised the question: How can parents do something like this to their child? Why didn’t anyone step in? Behind closed doors and in front of his parents, Dennis has emaciated and eventually starved to death.

Nobody missed the boy. Neither his many siblings, who lived in the household, nor the social welfare office or the youth welfare office, whose employees are said to have been at Dennis’s family’s home regularly since 1993. For two and a half years, Dennis’s body was in the small freezer in the kitchen of his parents’ apartment in the Cottbus Sandow development area. Decorated with a doily on which the coffee maker stood.

From 1981 to 1999, Angelika B. gave birth to eleven children, three of whom she gave up for adoption. When Dennis is born in January 1995, he is the seventh child. The parents, who have been unemployed for years, live on child benefit and Hartz IV. Six months after the boy’s birth, his drunk mother jumps or falls out of a window on the third floor, sustaining serious injuries. Dennis already lives in a home. He is described as a very lively, sometimes aggressive child.

After a year and a half, Angelika and Falk B. regain custody of their son and the other children. In December 1996, almost two-year-old Dennis returned to his parents. He weighs around ten kilograms. Normal for a kid his age. Dennis has been living at home again for a year when his parents take him out of daycare. The investigations show that the boy became emaciated by the age of three or four at the latest.

His mother Angelika B. will explain later in the process that Dennis was a defiant, stubborn child. Sometimes the boy didn’t want to eat. His father Falk B., who has nothing to say at home, will say that he saw his boy’s development and felt sorry for the child. But he remained silent. Because of his wife. “I didn’t want theatre.”

When Dennis was five years old, he weighed no more than seven kilograms and was just skin and bones. It is no longer allowed to leave the apartment so that no one can see how badly it is doing. Whenever the family celebrates with lots of alcohol, Angelika B. hides her son. On a video taken for her 40th birthday, the child can only be seen briefly once: a spindly boy with an oversized head.

DPA

At the trial, prosecutor Tobias Pinder presented the freezer in which Dennis’ body lay.

While the parents of other children of this age constantly have to buy bigger things, Angelika B. sews the trousers of her now six-year-old boy twice tighter – by ten to 15 centimetres. His father keeps going to the social welfare office to get smaller clothes for Dennis. He sees that the child is unwell and suggests taking him to the doctor. But Angelika B. fends off. Everything is fine with Dennis, she says. Falk B. then does not push further to see a doctor. Angelika B. later put it on record that she was afraid that a doctor would confront her about the boy’s condition and that the youth welfare office would take her children away.

At night, Dennis is tied to his bed with a bathrobe belt, and his parents lock the room door. The child is restless because of the lack of food. His mother says it bothered her when her son walked around the apartment at night.

At some point Dennis can no longer walk. His knees are thicker than his thighs. The boy is also too weak to sit up. All of this emerges from later investigations.

In the spring of 2001, the parents are requested to register the child at school. Angelika and Falk B. do not react. A school social worker is brushed off at the door. The school management reports the case to the state school board. Nothing happens. This means that the school doctor’s examination, which could have saved the boy, does not take place.

It was not until 2002 that Dennis was registered at school with his brother, who was one year younger. The brother appears. Dennis not. When asked where the boy is, the mother explains that Dennis has diabetes and is in a Berlin clinic. You never have to show a certificate.

“We always believed Mom that Dennis was ill,” the headmistress will testify in the process of the boy’s death. An employee of the social welfare office will state that she did not notice during the home visits to family B. that a child was missing. “There were so many children, I didn’t count them,” she tells the judges. She always found the house clean. She says that if the mother had signaled problems, they would have helped her.

Dennis is dead, but he is listed as sick in the class register

Dennis is listed as sick in the class register. The boy has long been dead. Angelika B. reported in court that her son died on December 20, 2001. Four of her children were at the Christmas market that day. Dennis couldn’t go because he had a fever. In the afternoon her son started to tremble, says the child’s mother. Then the boy, who weighs just five kilograms, stopped breathing.

Before the other children return from the Christmas market, Angelika B. hides her son’s body in the bed frame. For two days. Then she puts her dead child in the unused freezer in the kitchen. She also explains to her husband that Dennis has been taken to a hospital. Falk B. doesn’t ask any more questions. Allegedly he had no money to be able to visit his son.

The parents continue to collect child support for Dennis. In 2003, the father informed the social welfare office that his son was still in the hospital. Nobody there notices that there are no documents about a hospital stay: no certificate, no bills. Since the parents have been living on state support for years, the social welfare office would have had to pay medical bills. At school, the boy is still listed as sick. In May 2004, because of the long stay in the hospital, the retraining of the child in a special needs school is being prepared. Two teachers visit the parents, they hear that Dennis is still in the hospital.

It was not until June 2004 that an employee of the social welfare office became suspicious. She notices that there is no proof of the boy’s hospital stay and informs the youth welfare office. The authority calls in the police.

Four days later, the officers are standing in front of Angelika and Falk B’s door with a search warrant. In the kitchen, they notice a freezer that has been unplugged. Two and a half years after the boy’s death, a police officer discovered a blue garbage bag in the airtight refrigerator. Inside are the remains of Dennis wrapped in a bed sheet.

Angelika and Falk B. are arrested and an arrest warrant is issued. But after just a few days, Dennis’ parents are free again – subject to conditions. According to the district court, there is no risk of blackout or escape. The spouses’ children who are still living in the household are taken into the care of the youth welfare office.

In November 2005, almost four years after the six-year-old’s death, the trial against Angelika and Falk B., 44 and 38 years old, began in Cottbus, in which the public prosecutor presented the freezer. After three months, Dennis’ parents are sentenced to the maximum sentence – to life imprisonment for murder.

But a year later, the Federal Court of Justice overturned the verdict on appeal by the accused and reduced the guilty verdict to manslaughter – because the murder characteristic of cruelty could not be proven. Reason: Dennis no longer felt any pain at the end of his life because he no longer felt hungry due to his years of malnutrition. In addition, the parents would never have refused their child food, but simply accepted that Dennis would no longer eat anything.

In a second trial before another Cottbus criminal court, the judge stated in his verdict that he found it difficult to find words. It’s so unbelievable what happened. At the end of August 2007, he sentenced Angelika and Falk B. to 13 and 11 years in prison for manslaughter. The penalty becomes final.

In 2015, the boy’s father was released from prison – he had served two-thirds of his sentence. In December 2018, Angelika B. was released again. In her last statement before the sentencing, she admitted that she should have taken Dennis to the doctor. The boy had not eaten and she hoped that his condition would improve on its own. But she never thought that her son could die. She was completely overwhelmed with her children in the house. Then she said, “I failed as a mother.”

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