Little girl's lonely, hungry death shakes Hamburg
7 March 2005 , HAMBURG - A little girl's lonely, hungry death at the hands of her apparently apathetic parents has shaken Germany's wealthy northern city of Hamburg. Several days after the news about the case of 7-year-old Jessica had died inhaling her own vomit after spending nearly five years cooped up in a dark, unheated room, the soul-searching questions and finger-pointing among the authorities have only just started. "Jessica: The Dossier of Failure" was the banner headline in the daily 'Morgenpost'
7 March 2005
HAMBURG - A little girl's lonely, hungry death at the hands of her apparently apathetic parents has shaken Germany's wealthy northern city of Hamburg.
Several days after the news about the case of 7-year-old Jessica had died inhaling her own vomit after spending nearly five years cooped up in a dark, unheated room, the soul-searching questions and finger-pointing among the authorities have only just started.
"Jessica: The Dossier of Failure" was the banner headline in the daily 'Morgenpost' in a story looking at why it was that Jessica's fate had escaped the notice of the city's various social, education and police authorities over so many years.
Hamburg, like other big cities in Germany, has had its occasional case of a person lying dead in an apartment for months or even much longer and nobody - neighbours or authorities - taking notice.
But those deaths mainly involved people who lived lonely, isolated, anonymous lives. Jessica was different. Her death was the result of a father and mother who purposely kept her - literally - in the dark and out of sight of neighbours or relatives.
In the end, the girl weighed only 9.5 kilogrammes, the usual weight of a one-year-old. An autopsy revealed that in her desperation, Jessica ate her own hair to quell the hunger pangs.
Jessica's martyrdom only came to light when her mother, 35, called for emergency medical help after the girl went into convulsions and lost consciousness.
That appeared to be virtually the only help the mother or her 49- year-old husband had given the girl over the years, according to newspaper accounts which described a family living in a drab prefabricated apartment house on the city outskirts.
Apparently it was at some point after the family moved in in July 2000, the parents began to keep the girl cooped up in a room in which the only window was sealed shut and covered with black plastic to keep out the daylight.
The room had no light bulb, only a bed and a carpet. The heating was switched off.
Between that point and 2 March 2005 when Jessica died, the girl had been kept out of view of school authorities, social services and any family relations and neighbours.
When the parents went out dancing or to a tavern, they were careful to make sure their pet cat was kept well-fed. But Jessica was locked away, given only the occasional scrap of food and some water, if they even thought at all about the girl left alone in a room with no dolls, toys or wall posters.
As the public digested these revelations, the shock boiled down to two main questions: How did Jessica escape the notice of the authorities, and what kind of people are her parents?
Hamburg Lord Mayor Ole von Beust has ordered a full investigation of the actions by all the departments involved, particularly the school and social services authorities who failed to notice that the girl did not attend school.
The school authorities said that they sent someone on three different occasions to the family apartment to make inquiries, but nobody came to the door. At some point after that, Jessica's file appeared to have been lost in the bureaucratic jungle.
As to the parents, who face up to 15 years prison for negligent homicide, social psychologists are painting a picture of a couple whose own human emotional state was apparently almost as threadbare as their daughter's existence.
Social workers found a flat virtually devoid of any personal effects - pictures, books, or decorations. The wallpaper was peeling off the walls, no light in the hallway, bare linoleum floors.
The mother, identified only as "Marlies M.", had had three children by previous partners. The first child she put up for adoption, while the other two she simply gave up to the care of their father and never inquired about them again.
According to the 'Hamburger Abendblatt' newspaper account of what social workers were saying about the case, Marlies M. evidently shrugger her shoulders and felt no wrong-doing towards Jessica.
"I gave her things to eat. If she didn't want to eat, what could I do about it?" she was quoted by a social worker as saying.
The father, Burkhard M., also shrugged the matter off and blamed his wife about Jessica's state. Social workers quoting him as saying: "I have nothing to do with it. This was her (the mother's) job."
Hamburg city social services authorities said Jessica was to be given a "worthy funeral" at the state's expense. Jessica will have a properly-designated grave, they said. It won't be anonymous.
Subject: German news