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The Ursula Herrmann Case that Riveted Germany

In the year 1981, on the 15th of September, a shocking case of kidnapping took place that riveted the attention of the people of Germany.  Ursula Herrmann was only ten years old when she fell prey to the actions of either a group or possibly one extortionist.

Ursula was on her way home to Eching am Ammersee after visiting her uncle in Schondort am Ammersee at about 7:35 in the evening when she was abducted.  She had to pass by a forest of spruce trees that separated the two villages that were about a distance of two miles from each other. 

When Ursula’s mother found that her daughter had not returned home at the usual time she contacted the aunt that Ursula had visited, to send her home. The aunt confirmed that the girl had left about half an hour ago.

Knowing that something was wrong, Ursula’s father and uncle went in search of her. Unable to locate her, the local firemen, police, and neighbors joined in the search. However, she was still not found.


Three days later the kidnappers, (assuming that there was a group behind the kidnapping), made their demand for a ransom of 2 million DM. It was unclear why the kidnappers targeted Ursula’s family as her father was a school teacher and her mother a homemaker. 

The kidnappers played the sound of a traffic jingle in several phone calls over two days but never spoke. Then on the 18th of September, Ursula’s father received a ransom note by mail. The note asked for confirmation that the ransom will be paid when the next phone call is made. On  September 21, another letter detailing how the ransom was to be paid was delivered.


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The Box

Two weeks had gone by with no word from the kidnappers. The police made another attempt to search the forest with about a hundred men and sniffer dogs. On the fourth day of the search, an officer found a box in the woods buried in the earth. It contained the child’s body. 

It is probable that Ursula was drugged and put into the box. The kidnappers had a plan to keep her alive as the box was spacious enough to be equipped with a seat and a shelf and had items of food, a light, a radio, comic books, a jogging suit, and a ventilation system. 

However, the ventilation did not allow sufficient air to circulate and the girl died of suffocation while she was still under the influence of the anesthesia. Her father wanted to know if she had been physically harmed in any way. An autopsy report showed that she had no injury on her and that she had passed away half an hour to five hours after being placed in the box.


The box weighed about 132 pounds and so it was not possible for one person to transport it to the location in the forest. However, speculation and tips led the police to one man, Werner Mazurek, who was a television repairman and lived close to the Hermanns. Werner owed a bank 140,000 DM, so the police assumed he had a motive.

When the police questioned him he took a day to give an alibi that he was playing Risk with his friends and wife. Police made a search of his house but failed to find any evidence of his involvement in the crime. About four weeks later police questioned Pfaffinger, an acquaintance of Mazurek. Pfaffinger revealed that he had dug the hole and seen a box placed inside at a later date.

 However, when asked to lead the interrogators to the spot in the forest he could not find the location. Later he withdrew his confession and refused to repeat it over several interrogations. He was released without charge.

By mid-1982, the lead detective connected with the case was replaced. The investigation was made wider. More evidence was found by the new police team of the kidnapper using an alert system based on a wire strung on the trees. However, their investigating came to nothing. The investigation slowed down by the late 1980s.

Then, in the mid-2000s, the criminal investigation team began looking once again into previous cold cases, and it took up the Ursula case. Evidence gathered previously was re-examined painstakingly. DNA profiling which was not available earlier was now used on hair samples that were found. Several people were questioned but the investigation resulted in dead ends.

As time was running out to bring a conclusion to the case, the prosecution stepped up its efforts. Pfaffinger had passed away but Mazurek was still living. In 2007, Mazurek was placed under surveillance, and later in October of the same year, a sample of his saliva was taken to compare with the DNA on one found on a screw of the box. There was no match.

 The prosecutors turned their attention to a tape recorder that was in the possession of Mazurek during an earlier search. An expert on sound did tests that verified that it was used in the kidnapping for playing the jingles. Mazurek and his wife were arrested in October 2008. He claimed innocence. The trial went on for 55 days, and on 25th March 2010, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and his wife acquitted.   

Michael Herrmann Makes Inquiries

The German legal system allows relatives of serious crimes to be co-plaintiffs. Ursula’s brother who was now in his 40s became a co-plaintiff. When Mazurek was sentenced all were satisfied that Ursulas’ abductor was finally convicted. 

However, her brother Michael Herrmann felt that the investigations had not revealed everything about the case. He asked for access to all the files comprising of thousands and thousands of pages. He could not accept the fact that Pfaffinger’s confession was not accepted as likely evidence. 

In February 2009, the Augsburg court jury believed Pfaffinger’s confession of having dug a hole in the forest for Mazurek, although he had withdrawn his confession. The court believed that Pfaffinger knew about the involvement of the perpetrators.

In December 2013, Michael sued the convicted Mazurek for 20,000 Euros as compensation for health problems due to the stress he had gone through because of the criminal process. Behind this was Michael’s strategy to get new evidence about his sister’s kidnapping. In September 2017 there was a resumption of questioning witnesses.

In July 2018, Michael accused the civil court of dragging the case for 5 years and not accepting the question of the impairment caused to his health made out by his legal experts. In an open letter, he said that an innocent person has been imprisoned for 10 years and that it was not acceptable to him. He believed that another group was behind the kidnapping and the investigation was poorly done.

In August 2018, the Augsburg court awarded Michael 7000 Euros, 35% of the 20,000 Euros he had sued for. However, in March 2020, the Augsburg verdict was revoked by a Munich Court.

Michael gave new evidence to the court authorities in May 2019, indicating that the culprits of the kidnapping could be students of a school close to the location of the crime, but the Augsburg prosecutor held that the new information did not bring about any change to the argument that the kidnapping could not be rated as murder.

Final Verdict

With the progress of the trial, it gradually became evident that Michael was not the only person with doubts about the original verdict. Bernd Haider, a physicist and sound expert followed the trial through the media. He did a number of tests on a tape-recorder similar to the one owned by Mazurek,  and a year later concluded that the evidence presented by the phonetic experts was not plausible. 

Barbara Zipser who lived in London and was a linguistics expert, did an analysis of the ransom notes and came to the conclusion that Mazurek couldn’t have been behind the kidnapping.  Michael himself was now of the opinion that there is only a 1% chance that Mazurek was guilty. The case against him was built on circumstantial evidence. He is still working on getting his name cleared.

Michael has resubmitted new evidence and theories to the public prosecutor’s office in Augsburg, but the public prosecutor held that the judges had come to the correct verdict and will not be reopening the case.

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