Rags-to-riches-to-jail drama with a happy end

26th November 2003, Comments 0 comments

It was a rags-to-riches criminal drama that captivated Germany: a young woman who was transformed into a stunning beauty by her much older plastic surgeon husband ended up in jail following his violent death. But now, as Ernest Gill reports, the story has a happy ending.

Tatjana Gsell out of jail after case against her collapsed

The Bavarian fairy tale of a rags-to-riches young woman who started out ugly and became beautiful only to end up in jail turns out to have a happy ending after all.

Lovely Tatjana Gsell, 32, has been released from jail in Nuremberg, Germany, where she languished for six months pending indictment in the bludgeoning death of her 76-year-old husband Franz Gsell, a well-known and well-heeled plastic surgeon.

But the indictment never came and, in a stunning turnaround, prosecutors have announced that they never had a firm case against her.

Instead, the case is being marked "unsolved" and Gsell is free to inherit her late husband's estate, which includes exclusive properties, a lucrative practice, fast cars and an estimated USD 2 million in cold cash.

It is the happy ending to a tale of a plump and rather plain-looking young woman who went to work for an elderly plastic surgeon who transformed her into a stunning beauty and introduced her to Bavarian high society.

It is also the tale of an old man cuckolded and of a luxury car- smuggling racket, and of a bungled armed robbery which ended in the death of the surgeon and the incarceration of his young widow.

He died in hospital 26 March, more than two months after falling into a coma following a brutal beating by burglars who broke into his lavish home in Nuremberg on 5 January.

His wife was not at home at the time of the break-in. She was in Spain with her new boyfriend, a wealthy Duesseldorf car dealer.

While the tabloids speculated for months that she may have had a hand in his death, investigators in Nuremberg finally denied any evidence of foul play.

"At no time has Tatjana Gsell been the subject of an investigation into possible murder or manslaughter," prosecutor Bernhard Wankel said.

"Instead, we have turned up evidence that Tatjana Gsell ordered the robbery against her husband out of dire financial need," he added.

A childhood friend of hers, a prominent prosecutor from nearby Hof was also jailed for a time on remand.

"He was neither the initiator nor the ringleader of this deed," Wankel said. "However, he was the willing accomplice of the accused."

The story began about a decade ago when Tatjana went to work for the surgeon as a receptionist and he began shaping her into his ideal woman.

A nose job. Bosom enhancement. Over the years he turned her into a stunning beauty and introduced her to high society in Munich and elsewhere.

But things turned sour when she took up with her Duesseldorf friend, openly going off to Mediterranean holidays with him, according to the tabloids.

The Gsells were still legally married and, sometime last year, Franz Gsell turned off the money supply to his absentee wife.

Her credit cards soon ran out. The expensive sports car registered in her name sat in the garage back home in Nuremberg. Franz Gsell had the keys and the papers to the car - locked away in his safe.

Investigators now say things became desperate for Tatjana Gsell.

"She demanded that he turn over the keys and the vehicle, threatening to take them by force should he not hand them over voluntarily," the Nuremberg prosecutor said.

She allegedly contacted a car-smuggling ring whose thugs were to "obtain" the vehicle from Gsell and dispose of it on the black market, keeping a share of the proceeds for themselves and handing over the rest to financially strapped Tatjiana.

The Hof prosecutor was to oversee the transaction and to take a cut of about EUR 5,000 in the proceeds "and generally see to it that her instructions were carried out", prosecutors say.

The head of the car-smuggling ring is now in custody in Greece, and authorities say it was from him that details of the caper finally emerged.

He and his men allegedly broke into Gsell's home last 5 January, using an axe to get inside. They manhandled the 76-year-old surgeon and forced him to open the safe. Failing to find keys or auto registration papers inside, they roughed him up in a bid to extract the whereabouts of the items they sought.

Meanwhile, neighbours hearing the scuffle alerted police who arrived just moments after the robbers fled. Officers found Gsell crumpled and bleeding on the floor.

He had suffered head injuries, broken ribs and a punctured lung. He succumbed 11 weeks later. And Tatjana Gsell was detained on 24 April.

"It is a tragedy all around," said prosecutor Wankel. "There is no evidence to indicate that she ever wanted her husband to die or that she ever condoned actions which would lead to his death."

So Tatjiana Gsell is free and will now inherit her late husband's huge estate. However, her happy ending is blunted somewhat by the fact that she now faces possible prosecution for attempted insurance fraud. She currently faces a serious cash-flow problem, since she the inheritance has not gone through and her legal fees are mounting.
Her parents, who run a driving school, put up bail bond needed to free her from jail.

Thus, the story is not entirely over yet. In fact, it has yet to be written. Her lawyers said this week publishers have approached her with offers of advances for her to write a tell-all book.

November 2003


Subject: Life in Germany

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