What is the greatest crime that you have ever solved?

crime - Specialists help to solve murder cases

Two a day, on some days even three, a total of 785. That is how many murders and attempted murders are counted by the police crime statistics for 2017. That means: In 2017 the police closed 785 known murder cases. It doesn't matter whether they took place in the same year or not. It doesn't matter whether the investigation was successful or not.

The police's success rate in murder cases is significantly higher than in other crimes. Among other things, because most of the murderers come from the closest circle of trust of the victims. In 2017 alone, 147 women died because they were abused at home by their (ex) partners.

As with almost all crimes, the majority of the perpetrators of murder are male. In just under nine out of ten cases. But: If women kill, then they are convicted of murder disproportionately often. Because they kill differently and for different reasons than men.

Men are more likely to act in an affect

The Frankfurt detective chief inspector and non-fiction author Stephan Harbort examined and wrote it down. According to him, because of their physical inferiority, women killed more systematically and in the domestic environment, which is then judged to be insidious in court, while men more often acted directly, “in the affect” - for example, when an argument escalated.

In 2017, the police investigated 823 suspects in the 785 murder cases that were completed by the police. In most of these cases, normal police practice was sufficient to locate the suspects. After all, every homicide squad has a whole range of experts, technical aids and procedures at its disposal.

A large homicide squad can consist of 20 investigators - significantly more people involved than can be seen Sunday after Sunday in the "crime scene". The commission includes the men and women from forensics, the detectives who are still questioning witnesses at the scene of the crime or who go from house to house to collect as many pieces of the puzzle as possible.

There is no pattern F in murder

Sometimes, however, no matter how large a commission, it doesn't get anywhere. Simply because the case is too complicated. Then you need specialists who are even more specialized than the forensic specialists and pathologists in the ZDF crime series “The Specialists”. Because there is no pattern F in murder.

We met three of these experts and talked to them about their work. The case analyst S., for example, creates perpetrator profiles when her colleagues cannot find any suspects and creates interrogation concepts when suspects do not confess, even though all the evidence speaks against them.

The entomologist Jens Amendt, however, asks the police for help when forensic medicine can no longer determine the time of death of a corpse. And Petra Paulick's Cybercrime Competence Center in the State Office of Criminal Investigation in Saxony-Anhalt tries to keep up with the ever faster increase in Internet crime.

* If requested, the identity of the interview partner was anonymized. Even when replaying individual cases, all details that allow conclusions to be drawn about certain people have been removed.

The fly reader

Jens Amendt, forensic entomologist in forensic medicine at the University of Frankfurt, uses larvae to determine the time of death of murder victims. Source: Frank May / dpa

Disgust? Jens Amendt does not know disgust at maggots and flies that spread on a corpse. Just fascination. The blowflies are supposed to tell him what happened to the boy. His parents reported him missing four months ago, and now the police have found his body. What has happened in the meantime? Did the boy die immediately after his disappearance - or was he abused for weeks?

The police called Jens Amendt for help. The biologist did his doctorate on insects and is fascinated by their adaptability - and their unused criminological uses. He had once heard about them at a symposium: In Italy, forensics was already working with flies, in the USA as well, even in the GDR. In West Germany, on the other hand, there is no evidence.

“Because my entomology was very theoretical up until then, I wanted to try something practical and simply offered it.” The Federal Criminal Police Office was interested, and the head of the Frankfurt forensic medicine was also convinced of the new approach. He funded Amendt a position - in exchange for his name as an academic figurehead.

"Blowflies are the first insects to settle on a corpse"

Almost 20 years later, Amendt is considered a master in his field. The police always call him if the usual methods of determining the time of death of a corpse are insufficient. Forensic medicine Frankfurt examines 30 to 40 corpses with insect infestation from all over Germany every year. The standard means of forensic medicine are generally only suitable for a determination one to two days after the occurrence of death.

If a corpse is only found afterwards, the investigative authorities fall back on Amendts flies. "Because the blowflies are the first insects to settle on a corpse," says Amendt. “Attracted by the smell. This changes immediately after death. "

After a short time, the flies lay hundreds of eggs on the corpse; maggots hatch from them a day or two later. They eat and eat for days. They molt twice until they are large and strong enough to be transformed. Then they look for a place away from the body, protected from the weather and predators, to pupate. Wrapped in their chitin shell, the maggots then turn into flies for days.

Each species has its own pace

The process doesn't always follow the same rules - Amendt has to read the stages correctly in order to know how long a corpse was at least at the site. He checks how far the oldest maggots or pupae have developed on the corpse. He can determine exactly to the day when the flies laid their first eggs.

But that is complicated because flies are cold-blooded. Depending on the temperature, they go through the process from egg to fly faster or slower. The procedure usually takes two to four weeks. In extreme heat, development is possible within eight to ten days. In order to determine the exact time a corpse was lying there, Amendt needs to know how warm the place was where it was lying.

There are also around 1,000 known blowfly species, around 45 of which live in Germany. Each species has its own pace. No examination is therefore the same as another. If Amendt comes to a crime scene, he kills some of the maggots and dolls found and preserves them - the other he lets grow into flies in the laboratory. How many days do you need for this?

"What would really help us would be a kind of body farm"

Amendt leads into a small house in the garden of the Frankfurt forensic medicine. Dozens of Ikea wire rubbish bins, on which he has stretched women's tights, are stored next to each other on a shelf. “It's a little improvised,” laughs Amendt, “but it works. Can you smell the slightly putrid stench? That's the meat in the buckets there. The maggots grow on it. ”Amendt then stores the maggots in a breeding cabinet, the temperature of which he can precisely set. For each type of fly it can be determined how long it takes from egg to fly at a certain temperature.

Amendt is testing something similar outside in the garden. There lies a dead rat in a hamster cage, flies and beetles buzz around it. "We can also use this observation," says Amendt. “But what would really help us would be a kind of body farm. A place where we could examine under various real conditions how corpses change and how the insects on them develop over time. "

The factors in determining the time of death are numerous

State requirements and ethical concerns make the implementation of such a project practically impossible. For forensic experts like Amendt, however, the increase in knowledge would be immense. Because the factors that make it difficult to determine the time of death are numerous - the direct contact between the flies and the corpse, the environmental conditions at the berth, extreme weather conditions.

In the case of the kidnapped boy, Amendt managed to determine the time of death fairly precisely. Although his body had been lying there for months. A very special type of fly had completely completed its development cycle on the boy's corpse. Maggots of this kind fall into winter rigor below a certain temperature until April.

Amendt only found empty doll covers under the boy's dead body. The mother fly had only been able to lay her offspring until the beginning of September - and the kidnapping took place in early September. For the investigators it was now clear: at least the boy had not suffered abuse for weeks.

The data fisherwoman

“What if software to control pacemakers is available soon?”: The criminologists of the future such as Petra Paulick, head of the Cybercrime Competence Center of the State Criminal Police Office Saxony-Anhalt, know the depths of the Internet - across all borders. Source: Mads Claus Rasmussen / Imago

They come in the morning when the suspect is still at home. Then they ring the doorbell, show their search warrant and start work: The police then target hard drives and USB sticks, cameras and microchips, recording devices and cell phones. Anything on which information can be stored.

In Saxony-Anhalt, all of these data carriers later end up in Petra Paulick's department. She heads the Cybercrime Competence Center (4C) in the State Criminal Police Office (LKA) Saxony-Anhalt. She is something like the criminalist of the future. The investigators scour suspects' chats, analyze hard drives and cell phones, and eavesdrop on phone calls.

"Something like that is needed," says Paulick, "because digital crime is gradually replacing classic offenses." Why kidnap a bank boss when the much bigger booty is on the Internet - and anonymity is difficult to crack?

The new marketplace for the illegal

In the interview, Petra Paulick, shoulder-length hair, in her mid-40s, weighs each of her words before she utters them. She tells of the Internet as the new marketplace for the illegal; that even murders can be bought there; that malicious programs are currently in vogue that encrypt all files of the victims and only decode them for money.

What she doesn't tell you about, however, is how the 4C works. Most cases are kept secret, as are the procedures and the possibilities your analysis programs have in the meantime anyway. The perpetrators should not know what the LKA is capable of.

It is also impossible to find out during a visit. The way to the interview room leads along a department that could hardly look more ordinary: white, individual office doors, green frames. No room with 18 monitors flashing at the same time like in US crime series, no supercomputers, no darkened communal office in which dozens of IT cracks, fueled with energy drinks, sore fingers.

Cyber ​​crime does not stick to borders

Most of the perpetrators Paulick and her team deal with are male and younger than 50. The investigation is complicated - because of technology and responsibilities. Because the structure of Internet crime does not adhere to the federal borders of the Federal Republic. Offenders can be located anywhere in Germany or abroad. That leads to a back and forth of the offices.

The American tech giants are also making work more difficult: “Call Whatsapp and say you come from the LKA Sachsen-Anhalt. They don't really care, ”says Paulick. And finally, with every digitization progress, the possibility of criminal exploitation grows. “What if pacemaker control software is available soon? Or to control self-driving cars? What if they can be remotely controlled unless a ransom is paid? "

"We have to be able to trust our employees"

The 4C tries to counter this. 57 experts work here, most of the police, some scientists. They meet again and again in expert and voting rounds with other criminal investigation offices to exchange ideas about new methods. However, recruiting professional hackers is out of the question. “We have to be able to trust our employees,” says Paulick. "That doesn't work if we hire people with criminal tendencies."

And even if criminal investigation departments did hire hackers: In the meantime, encryption and anonymization techniques have advanced so far that even the best coders cannot beat them. "As with classic crime, we still have the greatest chances when a perpetrator makes a mistake," says Paulick.

Like the blackmailer who stoked fear with bomb threats: In order to extort money, he threatened banks and old people's homes in Saxony-Anhalt with an attack. The investigators found no trace of him. Until one night he logged into a mail platform unencrypted. Less than a day later, the LKA was at his door.

The analyst

At the beginning there is the file: What references to a perpetrator profile are hidden in it? Case analysts like Ms. S., Head of Operational Case Analysis at the State Criminal Police Office in Thuringia, think their way into the world of the murderer. Source: Rolf Kremming / Imago

Most of the time it's quick. The murderer, says Ms. S. in the language of the police, who tried to be neutral, mostly comes “from the social vicinity of the victim”. Barely four weeks passed before he was captured. Routine and experience lead to success. What if there is nothing? Not the slightest hint of a victim-perpetrator relationship? Then Ms. S.'s phone rings.

On this one day, a few years ago, two commissioners were on the phone. An old case does not leave them in peace. A dead woman was found in the forest weeks after she was murdered. The investigation dragged on for years. There were dozens of leads, including a suspect. But it wasn't enough to convict the suspect - a young man with a multiple criminal record for rape. He had killed a woman.

When the commissioners call Ms. S., the man is in jail. In a few months, however, he is expected to be released. The commissioners want to prevent that. Because if what they suspect is correct, there is great danger from him.

The more mixed the team, the better

Therefore, they turn to Ms. S. She heads the operational case analysis of the State Criminal Police Office (LKA) Thuringia. Every LKA has such a unit. In Thuringia, she assesses threats and hazards as well as extortion and hostage-taking, but above all she takes on cases that make others desperate. Most of the time it's about murder.

At the beginning of the work, Ms. S. puts together a team that is better, the more mixed it is. It brings men and women, young and old, conservatives and liberals to one table. “Because what counts,” says S., “is a high degree of objectivity in the team and the ability to empathize with the perpetrator. The more perspectives, the better.

Creativity is needed to be able to reconstruct the perpetrator's decisions in the course of the crime and to draw conclusions from them for the investigation tactics. So you try to understand the destructive thoughts of the perpetrators. ”Most people do not see this world, says S.,“ fortunately ”.

No crime occurs entirely without a motive

The team first analyzes files. Which information is reliable? What does forensic science say? What about forensic medicine? What does the crime scene look like? How is the timing? There are computer programs that can do this, but to make the relevant connections between all the data, you need a sense of crime and memory.

Investigators go through pictures of the crime scene, traces and victims hundreds of times. “Some people immerse themselves so deeply in the scene of the crime,” says S., “that when they close their eyes, they know exactly what would be in which place in the imaginary space. Know where which piece of evidence is and how big the distances are between these objects. "

Then S. and her team reconstruct a picture of the victim. Because no crime happens entirely without a motive. Who was the dead? Who were his friends, who were his enemies? What connections did he have with whom? And above all: Which witnesses could fill in the gaps? They are summoned for interrogation a second time; the team first reconstructs the victim's picture, then all information about the course of the crime.

Collect facts for new interrogation patterns

This also happens in the case of the Thuringian forest corpse. The suspect has already raped five women, killing one woman in the process. During the interrogations, the officers recognize a pattern: the suspect is obviously subject to his instincts during the crime. While many rapists drive their victims far away so that no one is aware of anything, the suspect always rapes his victims on the spot.

He has no conspicuous fetishes, feels no joy in the suffering of others. He gets his deeds over with in a few minutes. All of his victims are female, mature and petite, all of whom had previously fleeting contact with the perpetrator. He misinterprets your friendliness as a sign of consent to sex. When rape, he only uses as much violence as is absolutely necessary. If the victim is calm, he does not hurt them further. But the woman he killed had screamed for help. Did the dead one in the forest also scream?

With all the information, the “Profilers” develop a very precise picture of the perpetrator. The more hard facts this contains, the better. Hard information is information that can be researched or checked in databases. The age of the perpetrator, for example. The radius in which it moves. The regularities of his actions. Soft information plays a major role in the interviews: Does the perpetrator have a problem with authorities? Did he have a traumatic childhood? And how can a new investigation and interrogation pattern be derived from all of this?

The success rate is high, but the staffing levels are too thin

“We are no better than the investigators on site,” says S., “but we are hopefully more objective. We haven't had dozens of interrogations with key witnesses, we're not bogged down and emotionally rooted. It's worth gold, always. It enables a more systematic approach. And one that is less subject to distractions than the everyday life of the commissioners. "