I was face to face with the newspapers photos of Else. Murdered. A beautiful young dancer marked with the stain of an act so vile her carnal red lips turned black.
Or so the reporter wrote in his story. I suspected it was to sell more newspapers, but my friend Maxi von Brandt told me it was true.
She took the photos at the crime scene.
I remember well that late afternoon after the story of Else’s murder hit the streets. I was late for rehearsal, a maddening headache squeezing my brain tight. I was still reeling from hearing the news at the theatre the night before when Maxi stopped by my pension to show me the photos she took that didn’t make the dailies.
Black and white images that taunted the viewer with stunning views of a dead girl’s disfigured body, cut in ways so unimaginable I shall leave them unsaid, for it is not my intention to shock you, but to uncover the rage simmering underneath the flashy persona of the Weimar culture.
Like a boil filled with pus ready to burst.
Maxi was an artist with the camera, capturing the mood, thoughts and spirit of her subject much like a painter did on canvas. 1920s Berlin was a time when graphic artists glorified sex murders in their art with passion and color, some in collages tinged with nightmarish images, others with horrid depictions of beautiful women partially clothed, their bodies still sensual even in death. A morbid but political statement that foreshadowed the ghoulish drama of the Third Reich that was yet to come.
“Be careful, Eve,” she warned, then hugged me. “I don’t want to see your cut body through the eye of my camera lens.”
“I will, Maxi,” I said, “I promise.”
But inside I was worried. Last night I had gone with friends to the Rio Rita Bar for a few laughs. I left early and had just passed the Memorial Church when a man hidden behind pious shadows asked me for a cigarette. I shook my head and kept walking but he persisted, saying he had seen me perform at the theatre. Said I was pretty, too pretty to dance in a cheap show.
He reached out to grab me, but I kicked him hard and ran. Down one small street then another. I heard footsteps behind me. Heavy footsteps, like he was wearing boots. I turned the corner and under the timid streetlight, I could make out the tall figure of a man chasing after me. A man wearing a heavy overcoat and a dark hat pulled down low over his face.
I kept going, not looking back until I made it home. I didn’t live far from the nightclub, a small pension with a shared bath, sink and bidet in the room, peeling cauliflower-colored wallpaper, cracked green molding framing the bay window.
I peeked through the crocheted curtain and my hand flew to my mouth. I was breathing fast from racing up the stairs, the adrenaline pumping through my veins. He was there. The man in the overcoat and dark hat. Standing on the corner, smoking a cigarette and looking up toward my window. I watched him for an hour before he finally left.
Two days later I grabbed the early edition of the Berlin newspaper, the fresh ink blurring before my eyes, the words smudging my grey gloves with new fear.
The headline read: Second dancer found murdered near Memorial Church.
I tossed down the paper and cried.
It could have been me.
Lady Eve Marlowe