A 16-year hunt for a female serial killer nicknamed “The Phantom” has collapsed after German police admitted they had been misled by a DNA mix-up. Police had linked DNA evidence from 40 crimes — including the famous homicide of a policewoman in the southern German town of Heilbronn — to the same woman.
The police thought they’d been looking everywhere. But it turns out they should have been looking down — at the cotton swabs they were using to collect DNA samples. On March 26, German police revealed that the cotton swabs they use may have all been contaminated by the same worker at a factory in Austria — and that the Phantom of Heilbronn never existed.
Suspicions arose after the suspect’s DNA turned up during an investigation into the identity of a male body, believed to be an asylum seeker who had disappeared in 2002. The man had had his fingerprints taken for his asylum application and police found, to their surprise, that DNA from the fingerprints matched up with the phantom serial killer’s DNA.
“Obviously that was impossible, as the asylum seeker was a man and the Phantom’s DNA belonged to a woman,” said Ernst Meiners, a spokesman for the Saarbruecken public prosecutor’s office.
A second check did not find the Phantom’s DNA in the fingerprints: “That aroused suspicions that the materials were contaminated.”
According to experts, even though cotton swabs are sterilized before being used to collect DNA samples, sterilizing removes bacteria, viruses and fungi, but it does not destroy DNA. The Phantom case is now considered the most embarrassing lapse in German DNA analysis yet – even though it is a relief for German police to find out that Phantom female serial killer doesn’t actually exist, it is hard to justify all the wasted hours, and 40 criminal investigations that are now back to square one.
-article by Allan Hall from telegraph.co.uk rewritten and adapted by admin-