Monstrous ‘Darkroom Killer’ terrorised clubbers who he drugged & strangled – before being nailed by shocking CCTV clue

WAKING up in a Berlin hospital, Miroslaw Wawak had no memory of the night before or the events that almost sent him to an early grave.

He would be the only surviving victim of a serial killer who was targeting gay men in Germany’s thriving underground clubs in 2012.

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Haunting CCTV footage that shows Berlin’s ‘Darkroom killer’Credit: Supplied
Miroslaw Wakaw is lucky to be alive

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Miroslaw Wakaw is lucky to be aliveCredit: Courtesy of Netflix

The spate of murders had already left three men dead – poisoned with a lethal dose of GHB or “liquid ecstasy” – before being robbed.

The crime scenes provided few clues or any hard evidence to prove foul play, leaving cops scrambling to find a suspect.

But Miroslaw’s near-death experience would be a breakthrough in the case, leading to a nation-wide manhunt for a shadowy figure dubbed “the Darkroom Killer”.

The grisly investigation features in Netflix’s latest docuseries Crime Scene Berlin: Nightlife Killer, available on April 3.

Homicide lead investigator Monika Laschke tells the show: “This is the kind of case that made me feel we were dealing with a monster.

“A once in a century case.”

Sex, drugs and techno

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, incoming liberal licensing laws allowed the city’s 2,700 nightclubs to stay open all night – fuelling a new-age techno movement.

Described in the series by techno DJ Patrik Berg as “loud music, hedonism and sexualism,” the movement turned Berlin into a “lawless party scene.”

Local DJ Lucia Lu adds: “Getting high on drugs is part of our culture.

“Some people might go out and have five beers, others have a joint and others snort a line.

“The possibilities are endless but at the same time this party scene has a dark side.”

Many of the clubs offered the LGBTQ community unrestricted access to “dark rooms” – a safe place for anonymous sex with strangers.

“Berlin nights are vibrant, diverse and in my personal opinion somewhat dangerous,” says Katrin Faust, a State Prosecutor.

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Grosse Freiheit 114, the Berlin dark room where the first murder took place

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Grosse Freiheit 114, the Berlin dark room where the first murder took place
Nicky Miller was murdered by Dirk P in Germany

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Nicky Miller was murdered by Dirk P in GermanyCredit: Police Handout
Grosse Freiheit 114 in Berlin

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Grosse Freiheit 114 in BerlinCredit: Google Earth

But in April 2012, horror struck when a young man was found dead at sex club Grosse Freiheit 114.

Bartender Matthias recalled it was a typical Friday night when his boss rang his doorbell and asked him to come to the club.

“The next thing I know we have a dead body at our bar. I didn’t know who, why, how or what.” he says.

“My co-worker who found him didn’t initially think he was dead, he was trying to wake him up. He put a glass of water next to him and said he would be back in ten minutes and then he’d have to kick him out.

“But when he came back the man’s skin had changed colour and it was at this stage he realised what was actually going on.

“The crew thought it might have been a sex accident, or too much drugs or alcohol or a combination of everything.”

Police were called to the scene but were unable to find any evidence or identify the man.

Andreas Voges, a senior homicide investigator, said: “It’s the kind of place you’d expect a lot of evidence – including DNA evidence… there were paper tissues lying around and we inspected the garbage that was filled with condoms.

“But with nothing to identify the body – it was a John Doe case.”

The coroner found evidence of strangulation but nothing suggesting a struggle.

Police returned to the bar with a photo of the victim and one of the workers identified him as a regular who worked at the nearby metro market, where he was identified as 32-year-old Nicky Miller.

Nicky’s sister, Anka Hilgert, described him as a beautiful person, loved by everyone, who would often “wear a wig and pass as a woman… and sometimes dressed in high heels”.

“It is hard to understand why some one would do this, rob someone of their life

Regine Luck, victim’s grandmother

There was no conclusive evidence to prove Nicky’s death was murder but coroner Dr Sven Hartwig admitted they couldn’t rule out the victim was poisoned.

Sven added: “Other than alcohol, no other substances could be forensically traced on Nicky.

“No narcotics were detected. Cause of death with no concrete evidence is very difficult.”

Murdered in his bed

Andreas Voges, a senior homicide investigator who help crack the case

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Andreas Voges, a senior homicide investigator who help crack the caseCredit: Courtesy of Netflix
Forensic police struggled to find any evidence from the crime scenes

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Forensic police struggled to find any evidence from the crime scenesCredit: Courtesy of Netflix

Three weeks before Nicky died in the dark room, another man named Alexander was found dead in his apartment after his grandmother, Regine Luck, was told he hadn’t turned up to work.

“I phoned his mum who went and checked on him – he was lying on his bed dead,” she says.

“It is hard to understand why some one would do this, rob someone of their life.”

Inspector Laschke said, once again, the victim’s body was untouched and showed no signs of struggle before death but his phone and wallet were missing.

An autopsy failed to confirm the cause of death.

Regine claims Police assumed he had been experimenting with drugs but the family refused to accept that.

The only survivor

A scene from Nightlife Killer, depicting the creation of liquid ecstasy

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A scene from Nightlife Killer, depicting the creation of liquid ecstasyCredit: Courtesy of Netflix

Miroslaw’s own encounter with the killer began on the way home from a night out when he remembers buying a beer and a peppermint liqueur for his train ride home.

He was alone on the platform when he was approached by a man in his early thirties and began chatting.

As they travelled together the stranger offered to trade his peppermint drink for a bottle of Schnapps, which Miroslaw accepted and then downed.

He added: “At that moment it felt like my head was going to explode.

“Shortly after, we arrived in Berlin, he said he knew his way around and would show me to the right bus stop.

“After a while I couldn’t stand and I realised something wasn’t right. My forehead was soaking wet. He then put his hand on my back, slid his hand under my shirt and felt around and said ‘do you feel unwell’?.”

The next thing he remembers is waking up in hospital and realising his credit card and cash had been stolen, which he reported to the police.

Breakthrough

Having now identified Nicky, investigators traced a credit card which was used after the time of his death in an attempt to buy a train ticket for Saarbrucken.

When the card was declined a second card belonging to Miroslaw was used, meaning they were able to make a link between the two men.

Tests also showed Miroslaw had been given liquid ecstasy.

Coroner Sven said: “This substance wasn’t on our radar, we had hardly any data on it.

“The term liquid ecstasy is misleading because GHB – has nothing to do with methamphetamines of any sort.

“It is the ultimate knock out drug and the smallest dose can lead to death.

“We came to the conclusion this was fatal poisoning.”

Cops now had two crimes – one murder and one attempted murder – very closely linked by location and time.

Remarkably, Miroslaw later remember the platform number and time he travelled which helped police identify the right CCTV cameras.

And in a case breakthrough, police finally had an image of the man they were looking for.

Killer unmasked

The original CCTV footage that showed the prime suspect

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The original CCTV footage that showed the prime suspectCredit: Staatsanwaltschaft Berlin
Late in 2012, the first suspect was arrested

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Late in 2012, the first suspect was arrestedCredit: Courtesy of Netflix

Using records from Nicky’s phone, which was used after his death, investigators traced an unnamed man and attempted to match the CCTV footage at the station with his picture.

Returning to Grosse Freiheit 114 with the footage in the hope the bar staff might recognise him, one worker did.

Andreas Voges, leading the investigation, said after his arrest the man initially claimed he found the iPhone outside the club.

He then changed his story and claimed he had actually groped a motionless person and, when he didn’t respond, had stolen his phone and left.

Andreas added: “It’s hard to believe.

“Criminals tend to say things that can’t be backed up with facts.”

But Miroslaw was unable to identify him and, with little admissible evidence, he was released. It’s unclear if this was the suspect later convicted for the murders.

However a story about the crimes alerted Alexander’s family to another clue.

Regine added: “We saw the article about a man who used credit cards that he stole off his helpless victims.

“When I saw the location was Saarbruken, I remembered Alex telling me he had a friend living there so I informed police about that.

“I showed his friends the story with the CCTV footage of the man and they recognised the jacket on the killer… it was Alexander’s.”

Laschke remarked: “It was a detail that shook me to the core.”

Murder in Berlin

  • On average Berlin police solve 90 per cent of reported homicides.
  • In 2023, there were 536,700 criminal offences recorded in Berlin.
  • Of those cases, 70,000 were violent offences.
  • In 2022, Berlin recorded 38 cases of murder and manslaughter with a further 76 attempts.
  • That compares to 662 cases of murder or attempted murder recorded nationwide in Germany that same year – of which 211 resulted in death.
  • Rape and sexual assaults recorded by German police peaked in 2022 – with 11,896 incidents.

Serial killer on the loose

State prosecutor Katrin Faust said she is still haunted by the case

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State prosecutor Katrin Faust said she is still haunted by the caseCredit: Courtesy of Netflix
Predator Dirk P awaits sentencing at the Crime Court Moabit in Berlin

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Predator Dirk P awaits sentencing at the Crime Court Moabit in BerlinCredit: Rex

Just 11 days after the dark room incident, a man called Peter was murdered in his own apartment, after meeting Dirk P in an online chat room.

In later interviews the killer admitted he had brazenly placed his “glass bottle of knockout drugs” on the table in his victim’s living room before lacing his drink.

Peter was found by police lying face down on his bed. An autopsy found he had a high dosage of GHB in his system.

Andreas said: “By this time, we also had a full itemised list of phone calls made from Alexander’s phone.

“It is often the case that whoever was last contacted usually holds invaluable information.

“We found outgoing text messages to a number registered to a man named Dirk P.”

Police narrowed the search down to a 38-year-old nurse, working in Berlin.

According to family statements, Dirk was “friendly, nice and courteous” but also repressed his sexuality.

It was also alleged he was abused by his grandmother as a child.

He was arrested as a suspect and brought in for questioning.

Andreas said: “We showed Dirk the CCTV footage and he said that was him.

“We finally had the right guy sitting in front of us.”

After seven separate interviews, in which Dirk changed his story each time, he finally confessed to every murder.

Andreas added: “We found a small bottle of Schnapps at his home.

“I think he wanted it to be found so this whole thing could end.”

In chilling words voiced in the documentary, Dirk told police he had a “concrete moral compass” until a childhood trauma which he “couldn’t comprehend.”

Dirk said: “I didn’t want to be gay, I was scared of being an outsider.

“I feel desperate, because I am scared of what I am capable of.”

He added that the murder spree “was all for the thrill of doing something forbidden.”

In 2013, Dirk P was sentenced to life – but killed himself in jail nine months later.

Katrin says: “I’ve worked thousands of cases in my career, and only a few have impacted me this much.

“I am still afraid of this man.”

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