Lüneburg's Landeszeitung newspaper reported on Thursday that two mysterious double murders that gripped Germany in 1989 had largely been solved, primarily thanks to new DNA analysis of two hairs found at the scene.
Prosecutor Wiebke Bethke said DNA found in blood traces inside one victim's vehicle matched those of the genetic profile of the gardener, then aged 40.
A berry collector found the bodies of two couples, naked, in wooded countryside at Göhrde, near Lüneburg in Lower Saxony state in 1989. Extensive police investigations, including interviews of some 5,000 people, couldn't solve the cases at the time.
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The murders remained unsolved, despite a horse rider who noted the number plate of a speeding car that turned out to belong to one of the victims.
In August of that year, Birgit M., the wife of an executive, also went missing at Brietlingen-Moorburg, north of Lüneburg — a fifth case that could also be connected to the deceased suspect.
Brother pressed the case privately
The Landeszeitung, as well as regional public broadcaster NDR, attributed the breakthrough in part to Birgit M.'s brother, a former Hamburg investigative police chief, Wolfgang Sielaff.
At the gardener's former home in Adendorf, near Lüneburg, Sielaff got permission from the new owners for excavations.
Skeletal remains were found under a garage on the property and were quickly attributed to Birgit M. via dental forensics.
In October, Sielaff told Die Zeit newspaper that his sister's disappearance in 1989 was treated as a missing persons case until 1993 when a new prosecutor launched a murder probe.
Taken into custody in that year, the gardener hanged himself, which would have ended the investigation against him, had it not been a murder investigation.
In 2016 a new investigative team established that handcuffs found in a locked room at the gardener's former home had tiny drops of blood from Birgit M., raising the prospect that he had abducted her to demand a ransom.
Lüneburg's Landeszeitung said it was planning to publish more information on the police breakthroughs — including leads on a potential living accomplice — in follow-up articles on Thursday and the coming days.