Sunday, 12 November 2017


I was intrigued to learn about an episode of German true crime and an unsolved mystery that spanned over six years of extortion, shopping centre bombings, Scrooge McDuck and thankful no fatalities with the story of Arno Martin Franz Funke, a reformed blackmail artist. From his childhood, Funke was a tinkerer and an avid hobby chemist and holding down a series of odd-jobs also discovered a talent for illustrations and painted van art—among other things—to scrape together a living but few lucrative commissions were forthcoming.
Much later while on trial for extortion and public endangerment, it was discovered that the fumes inhaled while working in auto body shops caused some brain damage and perhaps was a contributing factor to the bouts of depression that Funke constantly dealt with—to include the conception of his criminal career. In May of 1988, placing an anonymous call from a pay phone to authorities in West Berlin, Funke demanded a sum of half a million Deutsche Marke from the largest German department store Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) and to prove he was a force to be reckoned with, detonated a bomb in the store after-hours causing serious damage. With the money delivered surreptitiously and investigators having no leads, Funke was able to take a sabbatical and travelled until the cash ran out. Struggling again with his mental state, in 1992 Funke decided to target another chain of department stores in Hamburg and Berlin and quickly became a sensation. Spying an ad in the classifieds that simply read “Uncle Scrooge sends greetings to his nephews” (Onkle Dagobert grรผรŸt seinen Neffen), it imprinted upon Funke as a cryptic message and a clear sign as to whom his alter-ego, his spirit-animal was to be. There were nine more ransoms over the next two years with retailers terrorised and the public, enlisted to help identify this individual captivated with his elusive and technical abilities. Spectacular feats of destruction were pulled off without the loss of life and police had grown obliging in placing the extortion money in lockboxes of Funke’s own design at an agreed upon remote location by train-tracks that would retreat speedily and sleathily along rail to Funke for collection further down the line. There were “Ich bin Dagobert” t-shirts and a novelty rap song singing his praises as a folk-hero. I think that this audacity didn’t make much news outside of Germany, at least to my recollection, because for America was dealing with the Unabomber around the same time, who did not quite fit into the same category. Despite his meticulous efforts to cover his path, regular shopping patterns at an electronics shop eventually led to Funke’s apprehension. After serving his sentence, Funke’s celebrity has seen a resurgence with various appearances on reality television. Moreover, Funke has been a consultant for heist-films, and drawing on his early interest for graphic design has become a regular contributor as caricature artist for the German satire magazine Eulenspiegel, often executing the cover art.