A Dead Girl Buried in a Box in the Woods: a DNA Match

This is part three of a five part investigative series on Bavaria, transnational organized crime, and the Ursula Herrmann case.

When DNA analysis became widely available, Ursula’s case was reopened, like many other cold cases, in the hope that these newly developed investigative techniques could produce fresh leads. The items secured from the crime scene were tested, and in 2005, her family was asked to provide DNA samples. Klaus Pfaffinger, the witness who said that he dug a hole in the forest for Werner Mazurek, was exhumed in 2008 to extract DNA from his remains. Other persons of interest from 1980s were tested as well, but again, the police drew a blank. None of those who had been in the focus of the investigation in the initial phase were a match to the unknown male and female DNA traces from the crime scene. But one particular DNA profile had in the meantime resurfaced in a seemingly unconnected context, a brutal 2006 murder of a Munich socialite, Charlotte Boehringer.

The 59 year-old, who lived alone in a penthouse on top of a prime-location multi-storey car park she had inherited from her husband Oskar, was found dead at the bottom of the stairs of her luxury flat. The walls and the marble stairs were stained with blood and Charlotte had extensive head injuries that were consistent with being repeatedly beaten with a heavy object with sharp edges such as a large hammer. The murderer continued to hit her, using his right hand, when she was already lying on the floor. Her expensive memory ring was missing, a substantial amount of cash she had withdrawn was unaccounted for, and her upstairs office gave the impression that it had been raided. Or were these signs of a struggle?

Charlotte did not have children; her nephew Benedikt Toth, known as Bence, to whom she was particularly close, was her main heir. Bence initially planned to become an actor, but then enrolled in law school at the request of his aunt. She did not have any higher education, and she often struggled with the day to day management of her business. She had to rely on an accountant and a lawyer, and she wanted Bence to be in charge of the financial affairs himself. Shortly before his final exams, Bence dropped out of law school, but did not initially tell anybody. He even threw a party celebrating his “graduation”. He continued to work in the car park part time, as he had done when he was a student.

What happened next is not entirely clear. There seems to have been an argument with his aunt. On the day Charlotte was murdered, Bence was at home alone. He would have had a very brief window of time in which he could have cycled to the car park to murder his aunt, but the timing would have been extremely tight. And he would have had a motive – the inheritance. But did he do it? Bence vehemently denies any involvement to this day. He was convicted of murder based on weak circumstantial evidence, even though he is left handed. Some key findings of the initial crime scene investigation have recently been questioned, including her time of death and the backspatter on the walls. An appeal was lodged, which is still ongoing.

On the day she was killed, Charlotte had a visitor, a female friend, with whom she had a glass of wine. Charlotte opened the bottle for the occasion, and her friend remembers precisely how much they had to drink. It does not add up with the blood alcohol level measured after Charlotte’s death and the amount of wine that was left in the bottle in the fridge. Either Charlotte had another visitor that day, or she drank the wine herself and died much later than assumed. In any case, her friend was under the impression that Charlotte was expecting someone else. In the evening, she had planned to meet up with a group of friends as she always did on this time and day of the week. She did not arrive. When the crime scene technicians processed her penthouse, they also took swabs from glasses in her dishwasher, and on one of these glasses they recovered male DNA, the same as from the box that was used to imprison Ursula. The DNA was also found on a chest of drawers in Charlotte’s flat, but it didn’t resurface anywhere else. Given that the evidence from Ursula’s murder had not been secured to modern standards – DNA analysis was not in use in forensics in 1981 – one of the first suggestions was that this could be a case of contamination. This has since been excluded. But how else could the DNA have come to be on two separate locations in Charlotte’s flat? We are left with two possibilities, either it belongs to her murderer, or to a visitor who in otherwise not connected to the crime, and who did not come forward. Unfortunately, an important piece of evidence, Charlotte’s mailbox, was not evaluated by the police in a timely manner.

see video at 10:30

When they eventually tried to listen to her voice mail, the data had already been automatically deleted. Other telephone contacts were secured, and they read like a who-is-who of Bavarian high society.

But assuming that the DNA on both Ursula’s and Charlotte’s crime scene has not been caused by a contamination of some description, how could these two cases be related? The person who left the DNA behind  would have assembled a large wooden box in 1981. 25 Years later, he would have appeared in Charlotte’s luxury flat, visiting a 59 year old, outgoing, wealthy lady. This question is closely connected to the motive of either crime. In Ursula’s case, the abductor was after the money. And in Charlotte’s case? An expensive ring was missing, as was some cash. Her office was raided, with drawers left open, but on the other hand, other valuables were left behind. In the former case, the victim did not have any external injuries, in the latter, extreme and sustained violence was used. Ursula’s murder was planned months ahead. We are uncertain about Charlotte. This could have been both an opportunistic and a planned crime. According to the verdict, Bence waited outside Charlotte’s front door wearing gloves and with a heavy object in hand, pushed the door open when she was about to leave and then attacked her straight away. All evidence supporting this assumption has recently been questioned – the imprints of gloves on the outside of the door and on the back of Charlotte’s jacket now appear to be something else entirely, and Bence’s DNA next to a blood stain on Charlotte’s jacket could in fact have come from anywhere on her jacket rather than from the area directly next to the stain of blood. Moreover, a new analysis of the backspatter suggests that Charlotte was actually first attacked further inside the hallway, directly by the stairs.

There are only two possibilities. Either the murderer knew that Charlotte used to leave her flat at this specific time and day each week to meet her friends at a nearby restaurant, observed the flat to make sure that she was on her own, attacked her and then ran upstairs to search her office, or, alternatively, he was inside her flat beforehand. In the latter scenario, the office could have been the location where she was initially attacked. Here, a rumour that was recently reported in the press could come into play; Charlotte was said to have kept substantial amounts of cash in her flat, about one million Euros in total. Given that the evidence against Bence now appears even thinner than before, and because of the new analysis of the backspatter that places the attack further inside Charlotte’s flat, it would be of importance to start from scratch by establishing a profile of the attacker. Who could Charlotte have known well enough to let him into her flat, potentially offer him a glass of wine, who would also have had a connection to Ursula’s abduction and murder? Who could have known about her alleged hoard of cash in her flat? Such as list would not be too extensive, and surely it would be in the interest of all those who were connected to either case to provide DNA to exclude themselves from the investigation.

Feedback / Information on the Ursula Herrmann case can be submitted via https://ursulaherrmann.org/en-gb/home.

This is part three of a five part investigative series on Bavaria, transnational organized crime, and the Ursula Herrmann case.

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