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One-woman crime spree
July 20, 2008 4:12 PM   Subscribe

She robs, she injects herself with heroin, she flits across borders like a ghost, she seems to kill with almost professional precision, she leaves clues and bodies – and she has no identity.

The suspect, known as the Phantom of Heilbronn, is wanted in connection with 30 crimes in three countries, including six murders and dozens of robberies. Police has no idea what she looks like, they do not know how old she is, but they have one big clue - her DNA. Just today, a Metafilter post was about how reliable DNA is in identifying suspects. A one-woman crime spree? Maybe the employees of the company that provides the PCR kits to the police should handle over their DNA to avoid a systematic error?
posted by yoyo_nyc (58 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sometimes she pilfers from a shed, then suddenly last year she was in the backseat of a patrol car when a 22-year-old policewoman was killed and her companion was seriously injured in Heilbronn.

Chigurh's sister?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:22 PM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Clone her, duh. If anyone can catch the Phantom of Heilbronn, it's the Phantom's clone!
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 4:28 PM on July 20, 2008 [11 favorites]


A picture.
posted by The White Hat at 4:36 PM on July 20, 2008 [5 favorites]


Chigurh's sister?

Band name #452.
posted by Pecinpah at 4:43 PM on July 20, 2008


The Phantom Menace is a indeed a grave problem but the suggestion to clone her will only lead to an Attack of the Clones.
posted by sien at 4:49 PM on July 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


... and we all know how badly that will turn out.
posted by kyleg at 4:52 PM on July 20, 2008


Mom? Is that you?
posted by loquacious at 5:08 PM on July 20, 2008


Grace, is that you?
posted by bwg at 5:14 PM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


She flits across borders like a ghost one of tens of millions of Europeans with valid passports who cross Europe's almost completely open borders every single day of the year.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:20 PM on July 20, 2008 [6 favorites]


Chigurh's sister?

Band name #452.


For real. Say it out loud; it has nice cadence.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:45 PM on July 20, 2008



"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."
posted by From Bklyn at 6:13 PM on July 20, 2008


Actually europeans don't need a passport to cross internal borders. Most borders have no control, you're just driving and suddenly there may be a sign on the road that says "welcome to $country". If asked by the police, all you need is your national ID.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 6:17 PM on July 20, 2008


With the open borders and only partially-connected police forces, I'm surprised Europe doesn't have more of these traveling serial killers.

Also, do police cars in Europe not have barriers between the front and the back? It's pretty rare to see a police car here without those barriers, which are supposed to prevent exactly this sort of crime.
posted by Forktine at 6:20 PM on July 20, 2008


With the open borders and only partially-connected police forces, I'm surprised Europe doesn't have more of these traveling serial killers.

Why are you surprised? Most people don't want to be serial killers. For the average schlub, there's not much reason to - shit pay, no benefits, lots of manual labour, isolation, health hazards galore - and it's not as though less-than-draconian security measures somehow magically convince people of the advantages of washing your hands in your fellow person's blood. It's a predilection, not a pastime.

By the same token, when someone wants to go violently bonkers, they do - regardless of the surveillance apparata around them. As we keep seeing.
posted by regicide is good for you at 6:59 PM on July 20, 2008 [17 favorites]


A picture.
posted by The White Hat at 4:36 PM on July 20


When did Carmen Sandiego get to be so hot?
posted by P.o.B. at 7:00 PM on July 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


With the open borders and only partially-connected police forces, I'm surprised Europe doesn't have more of these traveling serial killers.

Um, couldn't you say the same thing about the U.S?
posted by delmoi at 7:03 PM on July 20, 2008


That suggests the Phantom might be a Gypsy but investigations in the community have not yielded any results

Odd; this question in particular could easily be resolved with the DNA.
posted by dgaicun at 7:22 PM on July 20, 2008


When did Carmen Sandiego get to be so hot?

When people started playing on something with a resolution better and more color than an Apple ][+?
posted by rough ashlar at 7:23 PM on July 20, 2008


MetaFilter: I'm surprised Europe doesn't have more of these traveling serial killers.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:39 PM on July 20, 2008


Um, couldn't you say the same thing about the U.S?

But isn't the traveling serial killer a staple of American popular culture -- movies, books, and so on -- regardless of how common or rare it really is?

I think what I was getting at is that this figure is comparatively rare in depictions of Europe -- certainly, there are some movies (though mostly ones staying within one country, at least that I have watched), but it's not a dominant cultural trope.

Whereas, if one were a nutjob, and were to want to be killing people without getting caught, crossing a national border or two would seem to be a smart way to try and get away with it.

So yeah, I'm surprised by the rarity of depictions in popular culture of this sort of roving psycho in Europe, compared to the frequency of those depictions in the US; and also by the suggestion that a wandering psycho like this woman is quite so unheard of in Europe (a continent, after all, that has not had any trouble producing other kinds of killers over the years).
posted by Forktine at 7:49 PM on July 20, 2008


TFA: Cash was missing from Mr Walzenbach’s home but there was no further clue to the killer’s motive.

Err, how is cash not incentive enough for murder?

Reading this piece makes me think that the real problem is lazy and incompetent policing. I doubt these crimes are related. It sounds like someone has come up with a boogeywoman to explain unsolved crimes like how american police in the 1980s blamed heavy metal satanic cults everytime someone was assulated. Get off the conspiracy theories and do some real police work.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:06 PM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Prediction: The killer won't be the woman, but her boyfriend, who is only slightly smarter than she is. And now that police are looking for the woman, she is already dead, having been killed by her boyfriend.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:14 PM on July 20, 2008


OK Cool Papa Bell, where did you hide the body?
posted by polyglot at 8:28 PM on July 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Actually "she" has been dead from an overdose for a while. Her Kafkaesque boyfriend, carries her scalp on his belt, to leave hairs and other distracting DNA. He wears gloves and all. He likely kills for money, whether it is robbery, or wet work.

If you want to get really film noir, it is his Mother's DNA, and scalp. It's an Austrian thing. She is buried in the basement, along with several more victims.
posted by Oyéah at 8:36 PM on July 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


How do you say, "You'll never take me alive" in German? ;-)
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:36 PM on July 20, 2008


the real problem is lazy and incompetent policing. I doubt these crimes are related.

The same person leaves her DNA at various different crime scenes, so that alone makes them related. Unless you don't believe in DNA evidence or think the police are making it up?

She steals sometimes, kills sometimes. She commits these crimes infrequently, and the crimes don't seem connected when they first happen, except for the fact that the crime scenes have her DNA at them.

It doesn't seem like incompetent policing to me, as it would be hard to prevent them or catch her when they seem so random and so spread out. A heroin addict with access to a car, who commits crimes ocasionally to support her habit, fits pretty well, I'd say. Albeit a smart one, I guess.
posted by gemmy at 8:44 PM on July 20, 2008


Why are you surprised? Most people don't want to be serial killers. For the average schlub, there's not much reason to - shit pay, no benefits, lots of manual labour, isolation, health hazards galore

But how else can we cleanse the world of the filth?

... I MEAN "THEY" ... how can THEY cleanse the world

<> .>

killing is wrong
posted by Bonzai at 8:46 PM on July 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Georgian Car Dealers. Dealing in Cars from the Balkans, or Georgia. That sure implies smuggling, heroin smuggling, people smuggling.

We didn't hear enough about why the woman, or woman who looks like a man, or man with a scalp, was in the police car to begin with.

Car dealers get an awful lot of information about people and money, in the transaction process. It would be a grim, but easy thing to set up car deals, and the night before, break in and rob the individual that has secured cash to buy a "used car from the Balkans".

Yeah, if Albert Einstein had become a police officer, instead of a physicist, then there mightbe lower crime, and a lot less nuclear weapons. But, this isn't a perfect world, then, is it?
posted by Oyéah at 8:47 PM on July 20, 2008


The same person leaves her DNA at various different crime scenes, so that alone makes them related. Unless you don't believe in DNA evidence or think the police are making it up?

No, but I am aware the DNA in different conditions and using different methods could cause many false positives. Especially if the police have already concluded its the same crime and dismiss testing that says otherwise. That said, I'd like to see an itemized list of what DNA was found where, a timeline, and the specific test used and by which lab, before I start running off believing in this mysterious international multi-decade uncatchable (well caught once then fought off 2 cops) addict killer.

There is no shortage of technical issues with DNA testing, especially decades old DNA.

Regardless, these articles really dont have enough information. We have a living witness (the cop who caught her who survived the car attack) but no real description? This stinks of bad policing and fear mongering.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:57 PM on July 20, 2008


Oh yeah and the police thinks shes a man now. This whole thing sounds like the keystone cops.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:00 PM on July 20, 2008


@ gemmy
She steals sometimes, kills sometimes.

In a "criminal career" you normally see an escalation of crimes (from less violent to more violent an more intense). To shoot two police officers for no obvious reasons (assuming, she fired the gun) and than go back to do burglaries in summer houses and steal food does not fit. Hence I assume there might be a systematic mistake, see also Occams Razor.


@ Blazecock Pileon
Sometimes she pilfers from a shed, then suddenly last year she was in the backseat of a patrol car when a 22-year-old policewoman was killed and her companion was seriously injured in Heilbronn.
The involvement of this woman in this crime is not clear (but more clear in others). Her DNA was found on the car. Not more, not less. The same is true for the murder of the Georgian Car Dealers. Her DNA was found on the car's fuel door. None of the murderers, which have been arrested, has seen a women. The interesting thing about this part is that the car was before in possession of the German Secret Service and was given out for undercover actions.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:06 PM on July 20, 2008


wait, they have the persons DNA, so they can tell if its a man or a woman.

Unless of course, their DNA samples are wrong, and there is just bad testing going on. First sample from first crime is poorly done, has double XXs, is labeled as female. 3 years later they run another sample from another person, but they only have the records, not the original sample from the first one, so the two match up close enough to be considered the same person given the equipment of the time, and the two cases are linked. They don't even bother checking for the sex this time.

Now of course, they are testing to see if it matches a bad sample, and they can't seem to consider that their test is falliable in any way, so they keep going on the assumption it is the same person. Of course the rest of the evidence may contradict this, but DNA never lies right?

I think its just a technician who forgets to cover their mouth when they sneeze once every few years.
posted by mrzarquon at 9:12 PM on July 20, 2008


@mrzarquon
3 years later they run another sample from another person, but they only have the records, not the original sample from the first one,

Unlikely since this error would have to be happened in three different countries.

I think its just a technician who forgets to cover their mouth when they sneeze once every few years.

This would be the obvious explanation but this technician would have to be far up the ladder (supplier of PCR kits etc.) since this DNA is found in three different countries.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:17 PM on July 20, 2008


This has screenplay written all over it.
posted by trondant at 9:36 PM on July 20, 2008


Grace, is that you?

I thought of the same thing when I read the post! I have DEFINITELY watched that video too many times...
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 9:51 PM on July 20, 2008


are we the only ones thinking it's contaminated samples?
the links i read seem to think it's a real criminal.
posted by bhnyc at 9:54 PM on July 20, 2008


That suggests the Phantom might be a Gypsy but investigations in the community have not yielded any results

Odd; this question in particular could easily be resolved with the DNA.

ISRT race can be very hard to establish using DNA.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:57 PM on July 20, 2008


this technician would have to be far up the ladder … since this DNA is found in three different countries
Unless they work at “DNA-processing-ᴙ-us” which does lab work for lots of different police departments across Europe, or the like.
posted by hattifattener at 10:01 PM on July 20, 2008


This reminds me of the Henrietta Lacks cells that contaminated around 20% of all the in vitro cell lines
posted by bhnyc at 10:05 PM on July 20, 2008


With the open borders and only partially-connected police forces, I'm surprised Europe doesn't have more of these traveling serial killers.

Um, couldn't you say the same thing about the U.S?


delmoi, I believe that was the point. We have quite a few here.

The striking bit about this for me is how many times her DNA shows up in so many crime scenes, yet she's never apparently been arrested and had her DNA databased. The odds seem daunting. It's especially so because of the much more widespread use of DNA in Europe. I doubt many robberies in the States merit DNA testing, particularly when there's a backlog of months in most jurisdictions, just for violent crime.

And in point of fact, I don't think her being connected, however firmly, to multiple homicides even makes her a serial killer in the criminal justice sense. That's a term usually reserved for people who basically kill for a thrill of some kind.

Regardless, if you have such a subject, and you have a dead policewoman, to find her DNA in the car where the killing took place seems an exceptional coincidence. Again, given European violent crime statistics.
posted by dhartung at 10:19 PM on July 20, 2008


ISRT race can be very hard to establish using DNA.

No it isn't, that's why I thought it was odd:

"Your guy has substantial African ancestry," said Frudakis. "He could be Afro-Caribbean or African American but there is no chance that this is a Caucasian. No chance at all."
posted by dgaicun at 11:06 PM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


At the very least there's some bad reporting / writing going on here. From the second article: In Austria there are DNA traces linking the woman to 13 crime scenes. Police arrested two burglars in Linz who must – according to some recovered hairs – have been on a break-in with the woman.
Who and where are these two burglars?
posted by zoinks at 11:46 PM on July 20, 2008


Oh, and from the first article: As for the police officers, they had been snacking in the patrol car. The woman and an accomplice must have crept into the back seat and shot them at close range; the officers’ handcuffs were stolen but their wallets were untouched.
Whaaaat? They were both so intent on their food that neither noticed someone creeping into the car? And how do we know there was an accomplice?
posted by zoinks at 11:54 PM on July 20, 2008


Whaaaat? They were both so intent on their food that neither noticed someone creeping into the car?

Real German bratwurst on a roll with mustard has that kind of power.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:14 AM on July 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Just from these two articles, it seems like there's something pretty stinky about the whole thing. I agree with zoinks that it's highly unlikely that somebody "crept into the car" without them noticing. And why is absolutely nothing said of the injured partner officer? And if the murdered officer was an undercover narcotics detective... wouldn't she have been, um, "undercover"? Why would she be in a patrol car?

At any rate, several things lead me to wonder if the murdered officer and her partner might have been dirty cops? If so, there is a very obvious answer to why the killer(s) were in the back seat, and the officers off their guard with them. Maybe they expected their regular pay-off, but were attacked instead.

A number of other things in the articles struck me as quite odd - most especially:

On New Year’s Day 2003, the Phantom broke into an office and stole nothing but a coffee tin full of loose change. It was a professional job, leaving no conventional fingerprints, for low gains. Only a minute scraping of her skin betrayed her.


So, how often do the police scour the crime scene for the tiniest trace of forensic evidence, when the crime scene is an office that's had its small change jar looted? Like, never?

Same with the shed. She pilfered from a shed? And the CSI team shows up to a random pilfered shed to gather evidence? Really?

And what's the deal with that Ford Escort? That's all as clear as mud. Who owned the car at the time that the blood was found in it? They say it was used by police as an undercover vehicle? Again the connection with the police and undercover, blah, blah?!

I get the feeling that whatever the real story is, it doesn't resemble this reporting in any way. At all.
posted by taz at 1:17 AM on July 21, 2008 [6 favorites]


An idea maybe would be to look in foreign DNA databases US, Japan etc. or screen at places where she very likely won't have been. -> positive match -> systematic error
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:28 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Certainly there was a Romany camp close to the shooting in Heilbronn and the town has a regular coach service to Romania.

?
posted by harhailla.harhaluuossa at 2:09 AM on July 21, 2008


And a bus left for Romania soon after one of the murders!

If that doesn't make it obvious that a gypsy was involved, I don't know what does.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:52 AM on July 21, 2008


DNA lasts. It doesn't wear out over time. All it says is that at some point recently this person was here. I emphasis this because even though the Phantom's DNA has been found at a whole mess of places where crimes have later happened, it does not mean that she herself was present while the offence was committed. For example, in the case with the two burglars in Lintz, the burglars may have been on the scene several hours after her. She may have been in the cop car before the two police officers were shot.

I'm aware DNA degrades over time, but I can't find any evidence to suggest that you can pinpoint when the DNA was deposited. She may be forensically present at crimes she was never around to see. The suggestion that she's an accomplice to another criminal further up thread may have been made in jest, but she may be the sort of figure who travels with an entorage - and underworld figures with minions are generally the sort that don't get ratted on.
posted by Jilder at 3:48 AM on July 21, 2008


I remember this case from the news las year. Strange that it pops up now.
I believe the cop who was in the car got shot in the head and was in a coma for weeks. Though he barely surrived, he has no recollection of the shooting which isn't all that unusual.
So it's kinda ridiculous to start a conspiracy theory because english launguage newspapers didn't include all the police files and reports. You are a behaving a bit paranoid here.

Also to the DNA race profiling: "gypsy" is not a race. There are Roma and Sinti from all of europe who are often labeled as that, but at least the Roma I know here in germany find the german word "Zigeuner" offensive and racist. Don't know how it is in the english speaking world.

You can determine someones heritage geografically, so good luck with that.
posted by kolophon at 4:09 AM on July 21, 2008


I bet it's a rogue MI6 agent. She/he went on a covert black ops assasination mission, and was unable to eliminate the target because the mark had children. After MI6 tried to capture this agent for re-education, they suffered amnesia in the violent struggle. Now they're traveling Europe following a series of clues that they're able to piece together from shattered memories, trying to find out who they really are, and eluding capture. A jar of change? Sure, at first look, until you discover the microfilm hidden at the bottom.... A mere shed? Yes, but with a hidden panel of automatic weapons, fake passports, and cash in the rear wall. A 62-year old gramma? Actually a highly paid assasin specializing in poison and "accidental" deaths. Two undercover officers? Actually MI6 agents staking out Bourne's this person's hideout.
posted by Debaser626 at 6:11 AM on July 21, 2008


merv griffin in a dress ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 9:29 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


It is clear to me that this represents a very worrisome evolution in criminal modus operandi. This 'Phantom' is probably some poor woman who died 20 years ago and her body was stolen by Gypsies for the purposes of DNA planting.

It's brilliant, actually. The murder of the police officer was the setting of the stage: a senseless murder that would galvanise the attention of all nearby police forces for years on end, with recoverable DNA to point to a culprit.

Then, sell DNA samples to all comers, be they burglars, murderers, drug dealers, etc. to spread liberally whenever they commit crimes. As soon as police forces come upon that famous DNA, all efforts to apprehend other evil-doers fade to a distant second place and, in case they are caught, they can exchange significant reductions in sentencing for information on the infamous Phantom.

It's perfect!
posted by Cobalt at 10:56 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Maybe the employees of the company that provides the PCR kits to the police should handle over their DNA to avoid a systematic error?

This was my first guess. That either someone consistently at the scene like a lead investigator, or someone who helped to produce the kits hadn't exercised the necessary forensic discipline and had consistently tainted the results.

Because the only other reasonable solution is that the phantom is the familiar of a powerful ancient vampire who requires blood, daytime protection, and sometimes, change for toll-booths. The reason you never find his DNA is that, as the undead, he doesn't have any. But he can easily fly her into and out of any dangerous circumstance she finds herself in while battling international terrorists.

Did I mention that the vampire and her fight terrorists? Yeah, I figured that would be a given. Anyway, it's a pity about her heroin addiction. I'm sure she picked that up whilst undercover trying to convince some cell that she wasn't a cop and was trying to trade opiates for information.

See, when you look at things like this through the lens of simple logic, everything starts to make much more sense.
posted by quin at 11:05 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's a killer on the road

Her brain is squirming like a toad
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:06 AM on July 21, 2008


Am I the only one who thought of Nikita? But then again, I didn't read about any Steyr AUG's being recovered from bubble baths either. You're right, it must be crummy reporting.
posted by ilovemytoaster at 11:59 AM on July 21, 2008


Obviously viral marketing for the new Mila Jovovich movie.

I hear it's like Alias meets Point of No Return meets La Femme Nikita meet Aeon Flux meets Tomb Raider except Matrixier.

Apparently Kate Beckinsale was up for the role but she opted to do a new movie where she plays a vampire who kills vampires that kill other vampires.
posted by Telf at 3:08 PM on July 21, 2008


It may be more likely that there is a problem with the DNA analysis. Here's a link to Mefi, today.
posted by Xoebe at 3:46 PM on July 21, 2008


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