The Last Dinner

On 15. September 1981, ten-year-old Ursula Herrmann had dinner at her aunt and uncle’s house in Schondorf, Germany. She left their house by bike and started on a bike path along lake Ammersee toward her parents’ home in neighboring Eching, but never arrived. When Ursula’s family realized that Ursula was late, they started searching the bike path from both ends but didn’t find any trace of her, so they reported her missing the same night. A multi-day search by police, firefighters, and volunteers turned up Ursula’s bike in the forested area off the bike path, but Ursula remained missing. In the days after the kidnapping, Ursula’s family received a total of seven phone calls by the kidnapper(s). They didn’t speak but instead played a well-known radio jingle to identify themselves. The family also received two ransom notes explaining that the radio jingle was going to be the kidnappers’ call sign, demanding 2 million deutschmarks, and specific but incomplete instructions for delivering the ransom. The girl’s family was able to raise the money but the calls and letters stopped and so the ransom payment could never be completed.

The discovery

19 days after Ursula’s disappearance, during another police search, her body was found in a wooden box, buried several feet deep, in a forested area about ¼ mile from the bike path. The box contained a makeshift bench, toilet bucket, food and drinks, reading materials, a lamp, a tracksuit in a bag, and was equipped with ventilation pipes. Since the ventilation pipes weren’t functional, Ursula died when oxygen ran out. It is also suspected that she may have been drugged since she didn’t have any injuries.

The investigation

The police investigation into Ursula’s kidnapping was botched from the moment her body was discovered. The crime scene was trampled by law enforcement and volunteers, the box was excavated with heavy machinery, and evidence at the crime scene was not secured. Notably, law enforcement dismissed the importance of a bell wire strung through the trees near the crime scene that is now thought to have been used by the kidnappers to communicate (e. g. that the victim was approaching). The case remained unresolved until the mid-2000’s when the investigation was re-opened. Since the case had been classified as a kidnapping and not a murder, the statute of limitations was going to run out soon and LE made a final push to resolve the crime.

The suspects

Law enforcement had identified three suspects:

Werner Mazurek, an unemployed radio/TV mechanic with a mountain of debt. He lived near Ursula’s family, had the skills to build and equip the box, and his initial alibi fell apart.

Klaus Pfaffinger, an acquaintance of Mazurek, had been seen by witnesses on his moped transporting a shovel. He confessed to digging a hole at Mazurek’s request but later rescinded his confession. Due to alcoholism he may have suffered from cognitive decline and according to his wife, was too lazy to ever dig a hole. He was not able to lead LE to the location of the hole and didn’t seem to have any knowledge of the crime other than what had been reported in the media.

A third suspect, a former policeman and hunter, seemed to have come on LE’s radar but could ultimately not be connected to the crime.

The evidence

For a crime this elaborate, there was surprisingly little usable evidence. A partial fingerprint and DNA found on the box could not be matched to any suspect. The paint used on the lid of the box could not be matched to a manufacturer. Hair found in the box was matched to LEO that were onsite. However, LE had an intangible piece of evidence as well: the radio jingle. It sounded a little “off” and LE suspected that the device used to record and play the jingle, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, had a distinctive defect that would explain the slight deviance in the audio.

The conviction

In 2007, Werner Mazurek was re-investigated and placed under police surveillance. Eventually, his house was searched and a tape recorder was recovered. An audio expert matched it to the jingle recording from 1981, although Mazurek maintains to this day that he acquired the tape recorder at a flea market a few weeks prior to his arrest. In 2010, Mazurek was convicted of the kidnapping and subsequent death of Ursula Herrmann. His alleged co-conspirator Pfaffinger had already passed away at that point. The evidence leading to the conviction was circumstantial – a sheet found at the crime scene had come from a shed to which Mazurek had access, Mazurek had a criminal mind (prior fraud conviction, killing of the family dog in a deep freezer), he had the skills and knowledge to build and equip the box, his daughter recognized some of the reading materials discovered in the box, he had relentlessly listened to the police scanner in the days following his crime, his alibi had fallen apart, etc. However, Mazurek maintains his innocence and no direct evidence such as fingerprints or DNA link him to the crime scene, nor do any witnesses place him there.

The controversy

Several aspects of the crime have sparked controversy over the years, most importantly the tape recorder. Not all experts agree that the tape recorder found at Mazurek’s house can conclusively be linked to the radio jingle recording, which was the linchpin in the DA’s case. A second line of questioning relates to Ursula Herrmann. Her family was not wealthy, and it is possible that she may not have been the intended victim. The kidnapping happened near a boarding school with wealthy students, and her kidnapping may have been a case of mistaken identity. A third question also pertains to the boarding school – could students have been the perpetrators? The school had a carpentry workshop where the box could have been built, the idea that a child kept captive in a book would be interested in eating cookies and reading comic books seems juvenile, and one of the ransom notes had traces of what looked like high school math homework on the backside. Even though the case is officially closed, journalists as well as the victim’s family continue to raise doubts.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top