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‘Phantom killer’ cotton swabs were not made for crime scenes

Police in search of the "phantom killer" from Heilbronn bought cotton swabs that, according to packaging instructions, were expressly not for use at crime scenes, the producer told Stuttgarter Zeitung on Monday.

'Phantom killer' cotton swabs were not made for crime scenes
Photo: DPA

The company that produced the cotton swabs in question, Frickenhausen firm Greiner Bio-One, made the claims in reaction to investigators discovery that cotton swabs used in the “phantom” crime scenes were likely contaminated with the DNA of a woman who worked at the product packaging company.

Investigators have believed for some time that DNA collected at string of crime scenes connected to someone the German media has dubbed the mysterious “phantom killer” and the “woman without a face.” She was considered to be dangerous and brutal, and had supposedly baffled law enforcement for some 15 years in connection with a string of six murders and robberies – including the brutal murder of a 22-year-old Heilbronn police officer in 2007.

According to the Heilbronn public prosecutor’s office, the state office of criminal investigation (LKA) had been working with several other state criminal authorities since April 2008 – when internal investigations began under suspicion that the DNA evidence could be contaminated.

Greiner Bio-One nevertheless maintained that the swabs were free of DNA evidence from the start, citing certificates guaranteeing the quality of the swabs that had been delivered to police locales in the state of Baden-Württemberg.

In a press conference on Friday, the compnay’s medical supplies manager, Heinz Schmid, said the packaging description indicated the swabs were “not suitable for microbiological investigation.” Instead, they were meant for inspection of foodstuffs, hygienic tests and general medical testing.

But this brand of cotton swab was consistently sold to state criminal investigation offices in Germany and Austria.

“What the LKA did in detail with these swabs is something we don’t know,” Schmid said, adding that Greiner Bio-One delivered supplies mostly to police offices, where no scientific investigations were ongoing.

Meanwhile, the police union (GdP) said that the “phantom” debacle was an opportunity to learn. GdP federal chairman Josef Schneider said on Monday in Stuttgart that the case, which “from the very beginning left many questions unanswered,” was an indication that police must not only do quality controls of investigation materials but also critically analyse the “internal state” of police affairs.