“All in all, it was work which involved putting together a piece of the puzzle that I had never experienced before," police chief in Jena Thomas Quittenbaum said on Tuesday.
Investigators’ instincts, new methods for DNA analysis and modern computer technology have all played a role in the investigation. Now investigators are certain that a 65-year-old man from Berlin murdered ten-year-old Stephanie from Weimar over 27 years ago.
A police task force stormed the man’s apartment in the capital on Sunday, according to head of the task force, Andreas Gerstenberger. The suspect, who is now in custody, was lightly injured after getting into a scuffle with the police and attacking the officers with an iron bar.
Immediately after his arrest, the man confessed to the murder during an initial interrogation, according to Gerstenberger.
Andreas Gerstenberger with a photo of Stephanie in the background. Photo: DPA
Back in August 1991, Stephanie’s lifeless body was found under the Teufelstal bridge of autobahn 4 east of Jena by about 20 kilometres. At the time, police suspected that she had been pushed off the bridge by an unknown person and was killed by the fall.
The suspect arrested on Sunday is believed to have approached Stephanie and another girl in a Weimar park and asked them to show him a palace nearby. Stephanie agreed and left with the suspect. But after she failed to show up at her friend’s home that afternoon, the friend informed Stephanie’s father. Police were alerted and a search was carried out the following day. Two days later, Stephanie’s body was found.
The man also sexually abused Stephanie before he killed her, according to investigators. Head of the public prosecutor's office in Gera, Thomas Villwock, said that the suspect tried to cover up the abuse with the murder.
In 1996, the suspect was convicted of sexually abusing children and sent to prison for seven years.
The 65-year-old had worked as a truck driver and grew up in the Weimar area before moving to Berlin shortly before the fall of the wall.
Stephanie’s case is the oldest of three unsolved child murders in the Thuringian cities of Jena and Weimar which a special commission dealing particularly with old cases has been working on intensively since November 2016.
In 1993 a nine-year-old boy named Bernd disappeared in Jena and was discovered dead twelve days later on the banks of the Saale river. The person who murdered 10-year-old Ramona from Jena has also never been caught; the young girl disappeared in the summer of 1996 and her body was found in a wooded area in January the following year.