More police failures in the case of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) have emerged after the discovery of the body of a child who disappeared fifteen years ago.
Written by Liz Fekete, first published on the website of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR)
A 9-year-old girl disappeared on her way home from school in Bavaria in 2001. Fifteen years later, skeletal remains of the child, named in the media only as Peggy K, were discovered by a mushroom picker in a forest in Thuringia, very close to the Bavarian border.
For three years now, the IRR, working alongside NSU-Watch in Germany, has been following the ongoing court case in Munich against the sole surviving member and associates of the NSU. After years of bungled investigation and exposure of malpractices, we thought we knew pretty much all there was to know about the nature of the gruesome crimes committed by the NSU. But now forensic investigators have said that DNA evidence at the site of the remains of Peggy K matches that of the dead neo-Nazi NSU terrorist Uwe Böhnhardt. The evidence, though is being disputed by the police, who claim it might be contaminated.
Recapping the NSU case
The case of the NSU – the subject of a trial in Munich that started in April 2013 – is complex. The basic facts began to emerge, slowly at first, in November 2011, when Germans awoke to the news that a neo-Nazi cell had been responsible for the murders of ten people, mostly of Turkish origin, but including a police woman. All had been shot in the head at close range, between 2000 and 2007. While even now it is not officially acknowledged, it was institutional racism in the police and intelligence services that created the climate for the NSU’s long reign of terror. The crimes were never investigated as racially motivated. Instead, suspicion fell on the families of the deceased, as well as foreign (ie, Turkish) crime syndicates. The police were simply too busy following false leads to see what was under their noses, and the intelligence services were complicit too, as critical information about the NSU from their paid informants within the far-right scene (more later) was not passed on. The media, too, played its part, by consistently describing the murders as the ‘doner kebab killings’.
The facts began to emerge slowly after two of the NSU cell, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, killed themselves. They were being pursued by the police following a bank robbery in Eisenach, when they set fire to their car in an apparent joint suicide pact. The girlfriend of the two men, Beate Zschäpe (one of five people on trial in Munich) then blew up the apartment they were sharing, before giving herself up to the police, four days after she went on the run. At the same time, a shocking and horrific DVD was sent to the press and political parties, in which the NSU claimed responsibility for murders as well as nail bomb attacks in Turkish neighbourhoods which left at least twenty-two people injured.
Flawed investigation into Peggy’s disappearance
Peggy’s body was discovered in a forest around 150 kilometres from the city of Eisenach, where Böhnhardt and fellow NSU member Uwe Mundlos committed suicide. Disturbingly, Wolfgang Geier, the same police officer in charge of the massive investigation into her disappearance, was in charge of the police investigation into the murders of the NSU’s victims – tellingly code-named Operation Bosphorus. In exactly the same way that Operation Bosphorus targeted the Turkish community, the framework for the investigation into Peggy’s disappearance was influenced by the fact that her father was of Turkish origin. Thousands of police officers, as well as military tornado jets searched the woods near her home, and alerts were broadcast in Turkey. Eventually, in 2004, police claimed that Ulvi K, a Turkish man with severe learning difficulties who lived in the same town as Peggy, had confessed to the murder as well as sexual assault. He, an innocent man, was to spend ten years in prison.
‘You don’t deserve to have an Aryan child’
Details of police failures to investigate a neo-Nazi link in Peggy’s case too are emerging in the press, once again in dribs and drabs. According to an article in the Bild, Peggy’s mother was a convert to Islam, and sometimes wore a headscarf. A few days after her daughter’s disappearance, she received a letter which apparently stated ‘You don’t deserve to have an Aryan child like Peggy’. Now police in Thuringia have appointed a special commission to investigate all unsolved child murders dating back to the 1990s. This comes amid media revelations that in the 1990s Böhnhardt, then 15, was linked to another child murder. The media report that when the body of 9-year-old Bernd B was discovered near a river in Jena in the 1990s, a school friend came forward naming Böhnhardt as the murderer. But, apparently, the case was then dropped, because of a lack of evidence.
In fact, these recent revelations relating to murdered children don’t come as a total surprise to NSU-Watch and lawyers for the NSU’s victims. The camper van in which the bodies of Mundlos and Böhnhardt were found contained children’s toys and at least one article of child’s clothing, as did their apartment, where child pornography was also found. The Chair of the NSU Investigative Committee in the Thuringian parliament, Katharina König, is now calling for the objects in the van to be genetically tested. She also wants the scope of all committees dealing with the NSU to be expanded and for the authorities to search for DNA evidence of the three in all open murder cases involving children or people with foreign backgrounds. What implications the new revelations in the NSU case will have in the ongoing case against Beate Zschäpe is not yet clear. ‘I would hope that Ms Zschäpe would shed light on what happened and unpack what she knows about this case’, says lawyer Mehmet Daimagüler. Daimagüler has also requested the presentation of new evidence in the case, including reviewing child porn found on a computer of the NSU, to see who downloaded the materials – ‘Böhnhardt, Uwe Mundlos, Beate Zschäpe or all three’.
Finally, there is the question of what role, if any, was played in all this by convicted paedophile Tino Brandt, a former vice-chair of the National Democratic Party of Germany who knew the NSU trio very well. Brandt, based in Thuringia, was one of the German intelligence services’ most prized paid informants. In 2014, Tino Brandt, who was called to give evidence at the NSU trial, was sentenced to over five years in prison, on charges relating to over sixty-six cases of sexual abuse of minors, including rape and prostitution.
IRR News: Germany, the far Right and the NSU trial
IRR Briefing Paper No. 6 (April 2013): State intelligence agencies and the far Right: A review of developments in Germany, Hungary and Austria, download it here (pdf file, 958kb)
The latest news from Germany, as reported in the regional press, is that the authorities are warning the public not to expect quick results in Peggy’s case. It is now claimed that traces of Böhnhardt’s DNA were transferred accidentally to the crime scene owing to the fact that investigators used the same equipment they have used in the NSU cases!