Phantom of Heilbronn
The Phantom of Heilbronn, often alternatively referred to as the "Woman Without a Face", was a hypothesized unknown female serial killer
Serial killer
A serial killer, as typically defined, is an individual who has murdered three or more people over a period of more than a month, with down time between the murders, and whose motivation for killing is usually based on psychological gratification...

 whose existence was inferred from DNA evidence found at numerous crime scenes in Austria, France and Germany from 1993 to 2009. The six murders among these included that of a female police officer, Michéle Kiesewetter
Michéle Kiesewetter
Michéle Kiesewetter , a German police officer, was killed by neo-nazi terrorists on 25 April 2007 in Heilbronn, Germany. Her colleague was shot in the head and seriously wounded in the same incident...

, in Heilbronn
Heilbronn is a city in northern Baden-Württemberg, Germany. It is completely surrounded by Heilbronn County and with approximately 123.000 residents, it is the sixth-largest city in the state....

, Germany on 25 April 2007.
The only connection between the crimes was DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

, which had been recovered from 40 (latest in March 2009) crime scenes, of numerous different types of crimes ranging from murders to burglaries.
In late March 2009, investigators concluded that the "Phantom" criminal did not exist, and the DNA recovered at the crime scenes had already been present on the cotton swabs used for collecting DNA samples.

The events were fictionalized in the 6th season episode, "Dead Reckoning," of CSI: NY
CSI: NY is an American police procedural television series that premiered on September 22, 2004, on CBS. The show follows the investigations of a team of NYPD forensic scientists and police officers as they unveil the circumstances behind mysterious and unusual deaths as well as other crimes...



An analysis of the mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles called mitochondria, structures within eukaryotic cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate...

 in Austria showed that it is often found among people in Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

 and neighbouring Russia. In Germany, the analysis of DNA may not be used in criminal proceedings to determine personal attributes of a suspect other than sex.

The investigations were concentrated in a special task force "parking lot" at the Heilbronn police department. In January 2009, the reward for clues regarding the whereabouts of the person was increased to €300,000.

The existence of the Phantom had been doubted earlier, but in March 2009, the case took a new turn. Investigators discovered the DNA sequence on the burned body of a male asylum-seeker in France - an anomaly, since the sequence was of a female. They subsequently came to the conclusion that the mysterious criminal did not exist and that the laboratory results were due to contamination of the cotton buds used for DNA probing. Although sterile, the swabs are not certified for human DNA collection.

The cotton swab
Cotton swab
Cotton swabs or cotton buds or ear buds consist of a small wad of cotton wrapped around one or both ends of a short rod, usually made of either wood, rolled paper, or plastic...

s used by many state police departments were found to have been contaminated before shipping. It was found that the contaminated swabs all came from the same factory, which employs several Eastern European women who fit the type the DNA was assumed to match. Bavaria, although a region central to the crimes, obtained their swabs from a different factory. They had no reports of crimes committed by the Phantom.

On November 4th, 2011 a burned-out campervan
A campervan , sometimes referred to simply as a camper, or a caravanette, is a self-propelled vehicle that provides both transport and sleeping accommodation. The term mainly describes vans that have been fitted out, often with a coachbuilt body for use as accommodation...

 in Eisenach
Eisenach is a city in Thuringia, Germany. It is situated between the northern foothills of the Thuringian Forest and the Hainich National Park. Its population in 2006 was 43,626.-History:...

, Germany, was investigated by police after the death of two members of a Neo-nazi terror cell
National Socialist Underground
National Socialist Underground or NSU, is a far-right German terror group which was uncovered in November 2011. The Bosphorus serial murders, a murder series of nine Turkish and Greek immigrants between 9 September 2000 and 6 April 2006, the murder of a policewoman and the 2004 Cologne bombing...

 who committed suicide when police approached their vehicle which they used to get away after a bank robbery some hours earlier. There, the service weapon and handcuffs of the policewoman, who was killed in Heilbronn, was found. The two Neo-nazis have since been made responsible for the killing of Michéle Kiesewetter and a series of murders of 8 Turkish and one Greek immigrant between 2000 and 2006, the so called Doner murders.

In their flat in Zwickau
Zwickau in Germany, former seat of the government of the south-western region of the Free State of Saxony, belongs to an industrial and economical core region. Nowadays it is the capital city of the district of Zwickau...

 which was also set to fire, police found another 15 shotguns.

Associated crimes

On 25 April 2007, a 22-year-old female police officer Michéle Kiesewetter
Michéle Kiesewetter
Michéle Kiesewetter , a German police officer, was killed by neo-nazi terrorists on 25 April 2007 in Heilbronn, Germany. Her colleague was shot in the head and seriously wounded in the same incident...

 was fatally shot in Heilbronn. Her 24-year-old male colleague suffered life-threatening injuries and fell into a coma. He has since woken up, but has no recollection of the event. The weapons and handcuffs of the officers were stolen.

The DNA attributed to the "Phantom" was found at the scene, as well as purportedly at the sites of the following crimes:
  • on a cup after the killing of a 62-year-old woman on 25–26 May 1993 in Idar-Oberstein
    Idar-Oberstein is a town in the Birkenfeld district in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. As a Große kreisangehörige Stadt , it assumes some of the responsibilities that for smaller municipalities in the district are assumed by the district administration...

    , Germany (the DNA was analysed in 2001)
  • on a kitchen drawer after the killing of a 61-year-old man on 21 March 2001 in Freiburg
    Freiburg im Breisgau is a city in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. In the extreme south-west of the country, it straddles the Dreisam river, at the foot of the Schlossberg. Historically, the city has acted as the hub of the Breisgau region on the western edge of the Black Forest in the Upper Rhine Plain...

    , Germany
  • on a syringe containing heroin in October 2001 in a wooded area near Gerolstein
    Gerolstein is a town in the Vulkaneifel district in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. It is the seat of the like-named Verbandsgemeinde. Gerolstein is headquarters to a large mineral water firm, Gerolsteiner Brunnen...

    , Germany
  • on the leftovers of a cookie in a trailer that was forcefully opened on the night of 24 October 2001 in Budenheim
    Budenheim is a municipality in the Mainz-Bingen district in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Unlike other municipalities in Mainz-Bingen, it does not belong to any Verbandsgemeinde.- Location :...

    , Germany
  • on a toy pistol after the 2004 robbery of Vietnamese gemstone traders in Arbois
    Arbois is a commune in the Jura department in Franche-Comté in eastern France. The Cuisance River passes through the town, which has some pretty streets lined with ancient houses...

    , France
  • on a projectile after a fight between two brothers on May 6, 2005 in Worms, Germany
    Worms, Germany
    Worms is a city in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, on the Rhine River. At the end of 2004, it had 85,829 inhabitants.Established by the Celts, who called it Borbetomagus, Worms today remains embattled with the cities Trier and Cologne over the title of "Oldest City in Germany." Worms is the only...

  • on a stone after a burglary on 3 October 2006 in Saarbrücken
    Saarbrücken is the capital of the state of Saarland in Germany. The city is situated at the heart of a metropolitan area that borders on the west on Dillingen and to the north-east on Neunkirchen, where most of the people of the Saarland live....

    , Germany (the DNA was analysed only 2006)
  • after a March 2007 burglary at an optometrist’s store in Gallneukirchen
    Gallneukirchen is a small city in Upper Austria, Austria and is part of the district "Urfahr-Umgebung" with an official population of 6281.- History :...

    , Upper Austria
    Upper Austria
    Upper Austria is one of the nine states or Bundesländer of Austria. Its capital is Linz. Upper Austria borders on Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as on the other Austrian states of Lower Austria, Styria, and Salzburg...

  • after 20 burglaries and thefts of cars and motorbikes between 2003 and 2007 in Hesse
    Hesse or Hessia is both a cultural region of Germany and the name of an individual German state.* The cultural region of Hesse includes both the State of Hesse and the area known as Rhenish Hesse in the neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate state...

    , Baden-Württemberg
    Baden-Württemberg is one of the 16 states of Germany. Baden-Württemberg is in the southwestern part of the country to the east of the Upper Rhine, and is the third largest in both area and population of Germany's sixteen states, with an area of and 10.7 million inhabitants...

     and Saarland
    Saarland is one of the sixteen states of Germany. The capital is Saarbrücken. It has an area of 2570 km² and 1,045,000 inhabitants. In both area and population, it is the smallest state in Germany other than the city-states...

    , Germany; Tyrol
    Tyrol (state)
    Tyrol is a state or Bundesland, located in the west of Austria. It comprises the Austrian part of the historical region of Tyrol.The state is split into two parts–called North Tyrol and East Tyrol–by a -wide strip of land where the state of Salzburg borders directly on the Italian province of...

    , Austria; and Upper Austria
    Upper Austria
    Upper Austria is one of the nine states or Bundesländer of Austria. Its capital is Linz. Upper Austria borders on Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as on the other Austrian states of Lower Austria, Styria, and Salzburg...

  • on a car used to transport the bodies of three Georgians
    The Georgians are an ethnic group that have originated in Georgia, where they constitute a majority of the population. Large Georgian communities are also present throughout Russia, European Union, United States, and South America....

     killed on 30 January 2008 in Heppenheim
    Heppenheim is the seat of Bergstraße district in Hesse, Germany, lying on the Bergstraße on the edge of the Odenwald.- Location :...

    , Germany (the DNA was analysed on 10 March 2008)
  • after a burglary on the night of 22 March 2008 in a disused public swimming pool in Niederstetten
    Niederstetten is a town and a municipality in the Main-Tauber district, in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. It is situated 14 km southeast of Bad Mergentheim, and 19 km west of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.-Sights:...

    , Germany
  • after four cases of home invasion
    Home invasion
    Home invasion is the act of illegally burgling or entering a private and occupied dwelling for the purpose of committing a crime Home invasion is the act of illegally burgling or entering a private and occupied dwelling for the purpose of committing a crime Home invasion is the act of illegally...

     in Quierschied
    Quierschied is a municipality in the district of Saarbrücken, in Saarland, Germany. It is situated approx. 11 km northeast of Saarbrücken.-External links:*...

     (twice), Tholey
    Tholey is a municipality in the district of Sankt Wendel, in Saarland, Germany. It is situated approx. 10 km west of Sankt Wendel, and 30 km north of Saarbrücken....

     and Riol
    Riol is a municipality in the Trier-Saarburg district, in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, near Trier....

    , Germany in March and April 2008;
  • after an apartment break-in in Oberstenfeld
    Oberstenfeld is a town in the district of Ludwigsburg in Baden-Württemberg in Germany. It is located about 40 km north of Stuttgart.-Geography:...

    -Gronau during the night of 9 April 2008
  • after the robbery of a woman on 9 May 2008 in a club house in Saarhölzbach
  • in the car of an auxiliary nurse who was found dead at the end of October 2008 near Weinsberg
    Weinsberg is a town in the north of the German state Baden-Württemberg. It was founded ca. 1200 and is situated in the Heilbronn district. The town has about 11,800 inhabitants. It is noted for its wine...

    , Germany


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