Unsolved murder of West German border guard could have been communist revenge

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In 1998, German police found the body of a taxi driver and father of five children named Hans Pluchke in the town of Wiesenfeld. He had been shot in the head above his right eye. His wallet and keys were untouched, so theft was ruled out as a motive. The only possible suspects remaining were members of the Stasi, the former East German secret police.

Until 1970, Plutchke had been a senior hunter in West Germany’s elite Federal Border Guard. He spent much of the 1960s patrolling the important Fulda Gap, where World War III was to begin between East and West. It was in this region of Germany that Plutchke sealed his fate in 1962.

Plutchke was on border patrol duty in August 1962, watching East German pioneers build border walls in the Fulda Gap. The East German guards knew they were being watched by everyone from West German federal border guards to the US military.

Memorial stone for Rudi Arnstadt in Wiesenfeld in September 2013.

Captain Rudi Arnstadt commanded the East Germans. Arnstadt and his GDR (East German) troops were on hand to ensure that none of the troops or pioneers deserted across the border. As Plutchke and his partner walked along the tense border on August 14, 1962, a shot rang out.

Everyone has been alerted. Arnstadt jumped up and pulled out his pistol, pointing it at the West German border guards and firing a shot. Pluchke’s partner fell to the ground. Without thinking, Plutchke unhooked his FN rifle and fired an aimless shot from his hip, hitting Arnstadt above his right eye. Both sides dove for cover as a gunfight broke out.

After the incident, police forces from both sides descended on Fulda, but the East German police refused to cooperate with the West Germans. The question was: had the West German patrol entered East Germany? If they had, then Arnstadt was right to fire his gun. West German investigators concluded no and the case was dropped.

The East Germans admitted they had fired first, but it was not Arnstadt, it was his escort who had fired first, which was supposed to be a warning. The GDR claimed that West German border guards were drunk and hurling hate speech at Arnstadt and his men. They also claimed that the West Germans were part of the company and had repeatedly violated the border. Arnstadt, they believe, attempted to speak to the Western border guard before he was shot.

Unsolved murder of West German border guard could have been communist revenge
Land near the central German city of Fulda.

Arnstadt’s death was declared a murder in East Germany, and Arnstadt himself became a national martyr. Almost immediately, East Germans began to demand justice against the man who shot Rudi Arstadt. Hans Pluchke never revealed his name or his role in the shooting. In 1970, he left the federal service and founded a taxi company in the neighboring town of Hünfeld.

Although he left the army behind, he could never sit easy knowing that so many people wanted his blood. He believed it was impossible to keep his identity a secret from the Stasi and carried a gun on him at all times, even for years after becoming a civilian.

When East Germany and West Germany reunited in 1990, Pluchke grew concerned that he had been tried in absentia for the murder in East Germany, but discovered that he there was no real case against him. In 1993 he admitted to being the shooter for Rudi Arnstadt in a German TV show, “Explosiv – Das Magazin”.

The show did not mention that West German courts absolved him and ruled vigilante murder, portraying him as a murderer. He continued the show. This prompted a brief reopening of the case when former Stasi and East German police officers testified, but the original 1962 ruling stood: Pluchke shot Arnstadt in self-defense .

This was how it remained until March 15, 1998, when Pluchke’s body was found near Wiesenfeld, with a bullet hole in his head, identical to the wound that had killed Arnstadt. The story has led many to wonder if former members of the East German Stasi took revenge for Arnstadt’s death.

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