The woman suspected of killing nine newborn babies found buried in eastern Germany confirmed on Tuesday that they were her children but cannot recall how they were killed, officials said at a press conference.
Police officers used metal sticks as they searched the area
The 39-year-old, identified only as Sabine H., was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of manslaughter after police found the nine bodies in flower pots and a fish tank in Brieskow-Finkenheerd, a village near the Polish border.
"She says she can't remember how they were killed because she drank heavily when the contractions began," prosecutor Annette Bargenda said at a news conference. The mother is suspected of giving birth to each of the infants and then killing them one by one between 1988 and 2004.
The woman told police that in every instance, she had given birth to the children without any assistance or other people being there. The father of the children, who divorced the woman earlier this year, didn't know that she was pregnant, the woman claims. The couple also have three children aged 18, 19 and 20.
The ex-husband, who was not named, is a professional who spent long periods away from home on business. He is said to be horrified by the news.
Babies already buried when woman sobered up
In at least seven cases, the woman "knows she put a covering over each child. She said she woke or sobered up only after the children were already buried," Bargenda said. Some of the remains were first stored on her balcony before being moved to the garden and shed, she added.
A police spokesman said earlier Tuesday that the woman had admitted killing some of the children, but the spokesman later said that was incorrect.
German prosecutors said Monday the bodies of the nine newborn babies were discovered in a shed the woman used for storage.
"We are assuming there are at least nine corpses," said Michael Neff of the Frankfurt/Oder state prosecutor's office. He did not comment on a possible motive.
Local politicians reacted with shock to the discovery and asked how it was possible that the disappearance of the babies over a period of some 16 years had not come to light earlier.
Crime leaves officials stunned
"We are faced with a crime whose scope, in my memory, we have never seen in the history of the federal republic" since 1945, said Brandenburg state interior minister Jörg Schönbohm. "We must ask ourselves how this unbelievable crime remained hidden all these years.
"It's a question directed at relatives, neighbors, doctors and the authorities," he added.
The state prosecutor's office in the city said the find in the town of Brieskow-Finkenheerd, 10 kilometers (six miles) south of Frankfurt in a depressed region of former east Germany, was made on Sunday.
Remains found in plant pots, buckets, aquarium
"When someone went to clean up the lot, he found human bones in an aquarium," state prosecutor Ulrich Scherding told news channel N24.
Outside view of the house in Brieskow-Finkenheerd where police discovered the remains of the nine newborn babies
Authorities added that other bodies were hidden in flower boxes and pots in the shed and in buckets buried under sand and earth. They were to be taken for autopsy. Each of the infants appeared to have been killed immediately after birth.
Some 40 police officers with eight sniffer dogs were combing the area for other corpses.
The mayor of Brieskow-Finkenheerd, Ralf Theuer, said he had not known the suspect but heard from neighbors that she tended to keep to herself.
Unprecedented infanticide in Germany
The vice-president of the Association of German Psychologists, Uwe Wetter, said that such cases, while extremely rare, often stem from social isolation combined with extreme symptoms of post-partum depression.
In October 2003, a 38-year-old woman from Czerniejow, Poland admitted to drowning five of her children after their births. And in June 1999, a 70-year-old US woman confessed to murdering eight of her 10 children in the months after they were born.