She who has no face baffles German murder squad

2nd April 2008, Comments 0 comments

The hunt for one of Germany's most wanted criminals, a mystery woman suspected of three murders and 15 years of burglaries, takes a bizarre new twist.

Berlin -- The hunt for one of Germany's most wanted criminals, a mystery woman suspected of three murders and 15 years of burglaries, took a bizarre new twist this past week when she was linked to the unsolved slaying of three Georgian used-car dealers.

The unparalleled inquiry is based entirely on DNA found in smudges of sweat and nearly invisible flakes of shed skin.

Police in the southwestern city of Heilbronn have no idea of the woman's name, appearance or age: but when they do catch her, they can link her to genetic material which police scientists have found at the scene of various crimes.

The police are using every known forensic method in the bid to catch an offender who has been dubbed "the woman without a face" by the German media.

One reason: the police want to avenge one of their own. She is suspected of the cold-blooded murder of a 22-year-old German policewoman on a car park in April last year.

From genealogy to health forecasting, the rapidly advancing science of DNA testing enables sleuths to profile people by sex, race and genetic abnormalities. This time it is being used to solve crime, but the inquiry is not going anywhere fast.

The first genetic traces of the offender turned up at the scene of a crime in May 1993. A retired woman, 62, was found strangled in her home in Idar-Oberstein, not far from Heilbronn, in what seemed to be a burglary that had turned violent.

In March 2001, the strangler struck again in Freiburg, southwestern Germany, killing a 61-year-old man.

Other finds include a disposable syringe found in October 2001 lying on an area car-park. The blood on it was the suspect's. The content had been a cocktail of drugs she had shot herself up with.

In a burgled caravan, police discovered she had tasted a biscuit, Goldilocks style. A smudge of spit on a tooth mark in the remaining fragment of biscuit proved once again to be a give-away.

In autumn 2004, the offender may have taken a hiking holiday in the Austrian Tyrol. She broke in to garden sheds along the road towards Innsbruck, discarding a pair of training pants, a hooded cardigan and other items.

Knowing her dress style, her drug use and her cold-bloodedness, police went on television in April 2005 with an appeal to the public for tips. To no avail. What galls police is that her criminal career has been gradually getting more ruthless.

After last year's unexplained murder in Heilbronn of the uniformed policewoman, who had briefly worked as an undercover agent, the offender's DNA was found on the police car.

A policeman gravely wounded in the attack woke from a coma with no memory of the female assailant who presumably pulled a gun and shot the two officers at close range without warning.

This year, police found a few cells of her skin after they stripped and analysed all the upholstery, carpets and lint from the car of a man whom they are holding on suspicion of triple murder.

A former paid informant to the police, he is suspected of killing the three car dealers who had come from the Caucasian republic of Georgia to buy pre-owned German cars. Their bodies were dumped in a river at the end of January.

He denies the charge, saying another man, a Somali Islamist, also in police custody, was the killer, and he denies any knowledge of the woman without a face.

Police have been quick to point out that there is no evidence linking the woman to the murder of the Georgians, adding that none of the testimony mentions any female in the run-up to that slaying.

The only thing that the trace suggests is that she once sat in the car, which was manufactured in 1998.

Police are compiling a thorough history of the car: who owned it, where it has been seen. They already know the three Georgians were driven in the car to Heppenheim, the town where they were killed.

Odder still, the car was in police ownership at the time. The criminal investigation department bought it second-hand last year and lent it to the informant when he was employed to brief police on the doings of his criminal associates.

The police concede the "phantom" might not have actually used the car. The fragment of her skin might have shaken off some small item of clothing, perhaps a handkerchief, that a car user took from her.

Mutations in DNA mean that everyone in the world has unique genetic material, though DNA does not reveal a person's age.

Erwin Hetger, police chief of Baden-Wuerttemberg state, was jubilant at the find, calling it a "down payment" for police to solve the case of the women without a face.

"We're closing in on her," he said.

DPA with Expatica

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