The horrific murder of the little 8-year-old boy in Brooklyn by Levi Aron reminded me of the story of one of the most famous (fictitious) child killers in history, Hans Beckert.
Portrayed by the legendary actor Peter Lorre in the classic German film “M,” Beckert is a sad, lonely, pathetic pedophile who genuinely feels remorse for his nightmarish deeds, but is helpless to stop.
Aside from the relentlessly grim and dark backdrop to the story, director Fritz Lang (in his first sound feature) structured the tale to show how the “respectable” upper-world of police, businessmen and politicians are virtually indistinguishable from the underworld of criminals.
While the police are desperate to catch the killer, the gangsters are more eager to capture him since his activities bring more heat on them, dampens their illicit profits and gives them a “bad name.”
It is, in fact, the criminals who seize Beckert and even give him a “trial” of sorts, before he is captured by the “real” police.
Beckert is ultimately caught because he is known to whistle the melody of In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Hagerup Grieg.
The film made Peter Lorre a star, although, as a Jew, he eventually had to flee Hitler’s Germany for a long career in Hollywood (mostly as a disturbed bad guy).
Incidentally, the character of Beckert was reportedly based on an actual child-killer named Peter Kurten, who murdered children in Dusseldorf during the 1920s.