20 years on, don’t forget Andreas – the rabbi who just wanted to help

It was a horrific case, but let's not forget the victim

Tuesday, 28th June — By Richard Osley

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Andreas Hinz

Two decades after one of Camden’s most shocking murders, CNJ editor Richard Osley reflects on how the case was covered

AS time passes and stories are told and retold, and memories get foggier and more fragmented, sometimes you hear him referred to as simply “that chopped up rabbi”. Remember that time?

The more grisly true crime podcasts that spring up, with their haunting voices and chilling string music, the more the gruesome circumstances of any murder are ramped up.

I used to write like that. As a trainee reporter desperate to get anything into print, I’d floridly set the scene with fearful adjectives.

But you only have to spend some real time with a grieving relative to realise reporting a tragedy should not be like a Sunday night cop drama.

It’s true that the events in Camden Town 20 years ago might sound like a far-fetched police procedural on a streaming service desperate for viewers, but Andreas Hinz deserves better.

Killed in a flat in Baynes Street at the age of 37, his body was dismembered with a saw and left out with the rubbish. His remains were found when neighbours complained of the smell and some teenage boys went to investigate.

The 20th anniversary of Andreas’ death will tick by at the start of next month, but you are unlikely to hear much about him in any new media reports, nor the failures in the care system which might have saved his life.

People just vaguely remember… “the chopped up rabbi”.

 

Forensic teams in 2002

While something so shocking was made even more wild in print with each story that was published, I remember his friends asking for his family to be left in peace.

His mother and cousin had held a missing person press conference in the days before they discovered what had happened to Andreas, and now the constant doorknocking and calls were too much. Reporters wanted a picture and some quick words for a speedy turnaround.

A fuller picture found Andreas to have been in his second year of training to be a rabbi, and how he had spent a lifetime buried in books and studying religious tracts.

He was a high achiever at the Wuppertal University in his native Germany and was praised for deciphering hidden meanings in ancient texts that had not been considered before.

It was his tireless research which led to his discovery that he had Jewish ancestors and he decided to follow Judaism.

Later, he was simultaneously known as a quiet man among friends, modest to a fault, but one who could deliver passionate speeches at conferences after joining the European branch of the Union of Progressive Jews.

In his 20s, he had worked at a publishing house in Germany before coming to England around 2000 to train as a rabbi at the Leo Baeck College in Barnet.

Everybody I spoke to at the time remembered an amiable, rather unassuming man who wanted to help others.

The CNJ after the court case

He was warmly known at the Belsize Square Synagogue too, where he would occasionally deliver lectures.

Open about his sexuality, he was involved in London’s Jewish gay and lesbian groups. It was in the Black Cap – one of the city’s best known LGBT+ venues – that he met Thomas McDowell.

They went back to McDowell’s flat near Royal College Street where Andreas was killed.
McDowell was later described as a “controlled psychotic”, but there was never really any inquiry into the chain of events that led to the killing.

Tormented by the abuse he had suffered as a child and homeless, McDowell had been given a flat but not an adequate care package. He is now one of only a small number of prisoners to be given a life means life prison sentence.

If any lessons were learned about how to help or handle somebody on the brink, it’s not really clear what they were.

More important to the press at the courtroom door seemed to be that McDowell had given himself the nickname ‘Tommy The Hacksaw’. I saw one report which made a silly connection that both McDowell and the serial killer Denis Nielsen had both drunk in the Black Cap.

It’s the killers, or at least their bloody methods, which take centre stage when cases are reheated for clicks, likes and listens.

With the battle for attention so desperate on social media platforms, the gore will no doubt escalate more in each retelling of crimes like this. The victims – if we extrapolate things further – become just part of the genre’s commodity.

But if we can’t sit still long enough to learn from the holes in the care system which Andreas’ death should have exposed, we should at least remember him as more than a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. More than the man in the bin bags.

Rabbi Dr Michael Shire, now living in the United States, had talked about his kindness at the college, and how he would have made a fine rabbi one day.

And one of his former flatmates up in Windermere Avenue explained back then: “Everybody loved Andy. I think almost everyone he talked to somehow saw Andy as a best friend. What he had was very rare.

“He would never complain and he would always make everyone feel as though their thing was the most important. When he got time to socialise it was very treasured because he was so busy helping everyone else.”

Remember Andreas on July 3.

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