Federal prosecutors, who took over the case on Friday, said in a statement that the gun used in the series of so-called döner kebab killings had been found in the wreckage of the flat in Zwickau, Saxony.
The execution-style killings of nine shopkeepers between 2000 and 2006 in broad daylight in towns across the country from Nuremberg to Rostock, have left police at a loss. Each time a man walked into the shop – two of which were kebab shops – and shot his victim in the face before walking out. Eight of the victims were of Turkish heritage, while another was Greek.
The gun used – a Czech 7.65 millimetre pistol with a silencer – was the only link between the killings. It was found this week among the rubble of the Zwickau flat where at least eight other handguns and a machine gun have also been dug up since last Friday's explosion.
Until then it had been home to two men named by German authorities only as Uwe M. and Uwe B., and a woman called Beate Zschäpe. The trio were known to police in Jena, Thüringia, as neo-Nazis with connections to the Thüringer Heimatschutz group - until January 1998 when their pipe-bomb building operation was raided and closed down.
They then disappeared – until last week when the two Uwes robbed a bank in Eisenach, Thüringia, escaping in a caravan with several thousand euros in cash. When stopped by police, the men apparently shot themselves as officers approached the vehicle, which then burst into flames.
When officials managed to get into the caravan, they found the two police guns taken from the scene of an as-yet unsolved police murder from 2007.
Police officer Michéle Kiesewetter was shot in the head and instantly killed in April that year as she was sitting in her patrol car in Heilbronn, northern Baden-Württemberg. Her colleague was badly injured and was in a coma for weeks, unable to help much with the investigation after he recovered. Their service weapons were stolen from the scene.
Attempts to find their attackers went nowhere for years, led astray by an embarrassing blunder which fooled the police – DNA contamination of cotton buds used to collect evidence at a number of crime scenes meant officials wasted their time hunting the so-called “Phantom of Heilbronn.”
Zschäpe handed herself into police in Jena on Tuesday and was arrested on suspicion of having blown up the Zwickau flat which was destroyed just a few hours after the scene in the caravan with the two men. She is now suspected of membership of a terrorist organisation in connection with murder and attempted murder as well as arson.
Should the Heilbronn police and the kebab killings all be conclusively tied to the Zwickau trio, it would solve some of the most spectacular and stubbornly unsolved crimes in the country.