Ten-year-old Ursula Herrmann was kidnapped and buried alive. That was 40 years ago. But the gruesome crime continues to preoccupy lawyers and investigators.
Augsburg – Few crimes have moved people in post-war Germany as much as the kidnapping and death of little Ursula Herrmann. The ten-year-old was abducted on September 15, 1981 at Ammersee and locked in a buried box – the girl suffocated.
To this day, many doubt that the real perpetrator was convicted – even Ursula’s brother. And after 40 years, the case is still preoccupying the lawyers. A current investigation is ongoing with the public prosecutor’s office in Augsburg.
Wrong letter of confession?
In November 2020 a new “letter of confession” appeared. The public prosecutor’s office has been reviewing the letter ever since. The investigators assume that the alleged author did not actually write the letter himself. Rather, it is assumed that an unknown person wants to blacken someone.
The document will continue to be evaluated and examined for traces. “These technical evidence examinations sometimes take longer,” explains Chief Public Prosecutor Andreas Dobler. This has not yet been concluded, the author of the letter has not yet been found.
Meanwhile, it is the 40th anniversary of the kidnapping. On the way home, the child was abducted in Eching. The student’s bike was found, but Ursula had disappeared without a trace. The parents received blackmail calls and a letter demanded a ransom of two million marks.
In fact, Ursula was long dead by this time. The air supply in her earth dungeon was not working, the girl had no chance of survival. On October 4, 1981, the buried box with the body was discovered.
Thousands of clues
The Bavarian State Criminal Police Office (LKA) counts the kidnapping of Ursula as one of the most spectacular crimes of the criminal authorities. On a website, the LKA reminds us that 5,000 reports have been processed and 20,000 fingerprints have been compared. But beyond that, the police investigations were overshadowed by mishaps, and one perpetrator was initially not caught.
TV investigator Eduard Zimmermann also tried several times in his popular ZDF program “Aktenzeichen XY … unsolved” to find the kidnapper. The television presenter, who has since died, reported how he was touched by the images of the child crammed into the box and suffocated there. The dead Ursula looked at him “with pleading eyes”. “Until now, those eyes haunted me,” said Zimmermann two decades after the crime.
But it wasn’t until 2008 that a man was arrested in Kappeln in Schleswig-Holstein who was later sentenced to life imprisonment in Augsburg. The 71-year-old still denies being the perpetrator. Indications of possible accomplices are also unclear. To this day there are still doubts as to whether the right person is in prison.
Does the act become statute-barred?
But there will probably not be a new criminal trial for the act of 1981, even if the public prosecutor would now find a new perpetrator. Because, according to the prosecution, the act is statute-barred. The crime is seen as extortionate kidnapping with fatal consequences – not as murder for which there is no statute of limitations.
On the other hand, lawyer Joachim Feller, who represents Ursula’s brother, could imagine classifying the case as murder and renegotiating it according to new rulings. Feller also does not rule out that the mysterious “letter of confession” can provide new clues. Because it may contain “perpetrator knowledge”, he emphasizes. “There are details in there that were never in the media.”
Brother Michael Herrmann also harbors doubts about the version of the offense once accepted by the criminal division of the Augsburg Regional Court. A few years ago he had initiated proceedings for compensation for pain and suffering against the imprisoned convict, also in the hope that the case would be reopened in principle. It did not come to that – and the victim’s brother drew a bitter conclusion: “There is a lot to suggest that an innocent man has been in prison for ten years,” he wrote in an open letter to the Bavarian judiciary in 2018.
“Of course he’s frustrated,” says his lawyer Feller. A lot of new clues have been provided and yet no new perpetrator is sought.
On the other hand, the convict’s lawyer, Walter Rubach, has long been trying to find evidence in order to initiate a retrial. But Rubach has not had anything tangible so far, and he does not place great hopes in the most recent letter either. It is more likely just an attempt to “attract attention”. But his client now has a different perspective on freedom: “I guess he could get out in 2023,” says Rubach. dpa