The mystery of the Woman Without a Face

I can’t remember if we’ve discussed it here before, but, for the past several years, German authorities have been hot on the trail of a mysterious serial killer. Called “the woman without a face,” the killer was thought to have murdered dozens of people over a span of 15 years. Here, by way of background, is a recent clip from the UK paper The Guardian:

…And now, Bad Kreuznach finds itself at the centre of one of the most bizarre, high-profile murder mysteries in the country’s history – the search for an apparent serial killer whom police and prosecutors call, simply, ‘The Woman Without a Face’. They have no fingerprints to go on. No witnesses. No description. What they do have is a trail of DNA, now stretching back 15 years and across three countries – as well as a grisly new reason to put a face to her double helix. A case that had for years been gnawingly disturbing, yet still fairly obscure, has leapt on to the front pages of German newspapers. For it appears now that the mystery woman may not only be a killer, but a cop-killer.

In April 2007, Michèle Kiesewetter, a 22-year-old policewoman from an elite drugs squad, was taking a lunch break with a colleague in their BMW patrol car in Heilbronn, nearly 100 miles from Bad Kreuznach. Two people climbed into the back seat and shot the officers from behind, killing the woman and seriously injuring her 25-year-old partner. The assailants struck so quickly their victims had not even drawn their weapons.

As dozens of green-uniformed officers, carrying a smiling portrait of their murdered colleague, paraded at her funeral, the case shocked and moved the country. It also sparked one of the largest criminal investigations in German history – with results that at first puzzled, then stunned, the investigators.

The only clue was microscopic traces of DNA, found on the centre console and the rear passenger seat of the BMW. And when the samples were finally fully secured, tested and compared with Germany’s central crime database nearly three months later, there was an extraordinary match – from two quite different murder scenes stretching back a decade and a half. The ‘Woman Without a Face’ had, it seemed, struck again…

Well, the case broke wide open yesterday as law enforcement officials announced that they had found a woman whose DNA matched perfectly. And it wasn’t someone that you’d expect. It seems as though this brilliant, ghostlike assassin spent her days as a factory worker, making the cotton swabs police used at crime scenes.

Yup, that’s right – the police tracked a phantom killer for a decade, overlooking the possibility that they themselves supplied the DNA, and letting up to 39 killers go free in the process.

Science Fail.

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  1. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    The perfect alibi. That chick’s a genius.

  2. Rich Seaman
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    Damn if this don’t hit close to home. I got over 200 paternity suits from my days working at the Detroit Water and Sewage Department.

  3. Marion
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    One can only assume that she wasn’t the only person working in the factory which makes one wonder, just exactly what was she doing with those swabs?

  4. Posted March 27, 2009 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    There was, not too long ago, a fertility doctor arrested for impregnating dozens of his clients with his own sperm. Disgusting and vile, yes. But also kind of brilliant in a way. One wonders how the parents treat the kids, knowing that he’s the father.

  5. Posted March 27, 2009 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    As for what she does with the cotton swabs, I just read a little while ago that Madonna travels with an assistant who is just responsible for, right before interviews, jabbing cotton swabs on sticks up Madonna’s nostrils and wiggling them around to make sure nothing booger-like shows up on film. Perhaps the lady in the swab factory does something similar.

  6. Robert
    Posted March 29, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Law enforcement agencies have been relying increasingly on technology and less on the sense and skill of seasoned detectives. It’s one of the reasons why organized crime has such an easy time foiling investigations and is as a result flourishing and proliferating. It’s becoming increasingly simple to plant the necessary false leads which are so effective against “automated” investigative procedures.

    The solution is to not replace, with scientific tests, the human factor in criminal investigations. Instead, the wise thing to do would be to simply augment the old traditional methods with the most advanced tools, and have work them in tandom toward solving crimes. Of course this is not a strategy that will ever be adopted. We’ll continue to go down the road we’re on, and everyone will not give any of it enough thought to ever effectively adress it. They’ll keep heaping their on the expectation that more and more technology will save us eventually. The increase in crime will just serve to nudge the public toward the acceptance of a police state.

  7. Posted April 5, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    When I read this article in today’s LA Times on hundreds of killings being attributed to long haul serial killers I was reminded of this thread.

  8. Marion
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Scientists in Israel have demonstrated that it is possible to fabricateDNA evidence, undermining the credibility of what has been considered the gold standard of proof in criminal cases.

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