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How police finally tracked down 'Woman without a face' after DNA was found at 40 crime scenes

Kit Roberts

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How police finally tracked down 'Woman without a face' after DNA was found at 40 crime scenes

Featured Image Credit: Image Source / Alamy Stock Photo

Of all the crimes, nothing quite captures the imagination like a mysterious person who keeps showing up at crime scenes.

They were like a ghost. Over multiple different murders across borders, somehow their DNA showed up. Police were baffled, who was this mysterious criminal?

The DNA kept turning upon at crime scenes. Credit: Pixabay
The DNA kept turning upon at crime scenes. Credit: Pixabay
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It might sound like the opening to a crime thriller, but believe it or not, this did actually happen. Over more than 40 separate incidents the same DNA profile kept showing up, leaving police concerned there might be a serial killer on the loose.

In the end, the search for the mysterious killer lasted for more than a decade. The DNA profile turned up repeatedly at crime scenes all over Europe. The killer could cross borders with impunity, how do you trace someone like that?

The mysterious person even got a cool nickname, 'Phantom of Heilbronn' or the 'woman without a face'. Scary stuff.

Between 1993 and 2009, the DNA was found at 40 different crime scenes. The crimes ranged from burglary and drug use, all the way up to murder. The Woman Without a Face was a prolific criminal, being involved in crimes in France, Austria, and Germany.

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Her DNA was first found in 1993 on a teacup which had been found next to the body of a 62-year-old woman. The woman had been strangled to death in her home in Idar-Oberstein, Germany.

Things went quiet for a while, only for the DNA to resurface again eight years later at another murder. This time it was a 61-year-old man who had been killed, again by being strangled.

Due the similar method of killing and the DNA match, police believed that they may be dealing with a serial killer.

One extremely perplexing case was when a man shot his own brother. The DNA was somehow found on one of the bullets.

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The DNA even showed up on a bullet. Credit: Pixabay
The DNA even showed up on a bullet. Credit: Pixabay

Things came to a head when the DNA was found in the car of Michèle Kiesewetter, a police officer who was killed when someone climbed into the back of her patrol car and shot her and her partner, who was injured.

Police offered a reward of €300,000 (£255,000) for anyone who could provide information about the Woman Without a Face.

So, was there a serial killer on the loose across borders? The truth, in this case, is far less exciting.

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There was not some mysterious killer on the loose, in fact, in all these cases the DNA was a contamination which had been taken into the crime scenes on the swabs they used to take the samples.

This was because they had been contaminated by one of the employees at the factory in Bavaria. It was this employee's DNA which had been turning up time and again.

Speaking back in 2009, Stefan König of the Berlin Association of Lawyers said the case showed the importance of not reaching conclusions based solely on DNA evidence.

He said: "DNA analysis is a perfect tool for identifying traces. What we need to avoid is the assumption that the producer of the traces is automatically the culprit.

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"Judges tend to be so blinded by the shiny, seemingly perfect evidence of DNA traces that they sometimes ignore the whole picture. DNA evidence on a crime scene says nothing about how it got there.

"There is good reason for not permitting convictions on the basis of DNA circumstantial evidence alone."

So even DNA evidence is not perfect. Misinterpreting evidence can crate the false impression of a crime spree or pattern. It might not a serial killer, but that's pretty interesting and important if you ask me.

Topics: News, Weird, Crime, Police

Kit Roberts
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