Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Profiling, Interactive

Crossing the Line

Austrian map
Austrian map

About five weeks later, in Graz, Austria, which is some distance south of Prague, a prostitute named Brunhilde Masser vanished. She was last seen on October 26, 1990. While prostitution is generally considered a high-risk activity, it is legal in Austria and therefore viewed with fewer stigmas than in the U.S. and other places. Sexual murders were rare, and Austria averaged around one prostitute murder per year at the time. Thus, there was reason for concern over this unusual crime, and that concern increased on December 5 when another prostitute, Heidemarie Hammerer, disappeared from Bregenz, an Austrian tourist city that borders Switzerland and Germany.

Having been in this profession for a decade, Hammerer was considered streetwise about dangerous johns. Nevertheless, no one had heard from her, and nearly a month went by before she turned up. On New Year's Eve, hikers in the woods outside Bregenz came across Hammerers fully clothed body. She was on her back and her stomach was covered with dead leaves. They alerted authorities.

Upon closer inspection, it appeared the victim had been killed and then redressed, after which she had been dragged through the woods. She still wore her jewelry, so robbery did not seem to be a motive. Her legs were bare and a piece had been cut from her slip with a sharp instrument, like a knife. The missing piece was found in her mouth, used as a gag.

Austrian Federal Police
Austrian Federal Police

Cold weather had helped to preserve the remains, so the pathologist determined that Hammerer had been strangled with a pair of pantyhose, presumably hers. In addition, there were bruises on her wrists, which bore the mark of some kind of restraint, such as handcuffs or tight ligatures. She had bruises on other areas of her body as well, as if she had been beaten. No sexual discharge was present on or around the body, although it could have been washed away in the elements. The cause of death was listed as asphyxiation caused by suffocation and strangulation

The one potential piece of evidence was the presence of several red fibers on her clothing that were inconsistent with anything that she wore, and these were carefully collected for lab analysis. The Regional Office of the Austrian Federal Police began an immediate investigation.

Five days after Hammerers body was discovered in Bregenz, hikers stumbled across a set of badly decomposed remains in an isolated forest north of Graz. They called the police, who arrived at once. What was left of the female victim indicated that she had been left lying prone in a streambed, without clothing, and covered with leaves. The pathologist was able to determine that she had been stabbed and possibly strangled with her pantyhose, but the advanced state of decomposition made that difficult to determine with certainty. Her buttocks had been partially eaten by animals and her clothing, handbag, and other personal property were missing. Yet she still had her jewelry. The police soon realized that this victim was Brunhilde Masser.

The Austrian Federal Police assigned to the Styrian region took over this investigation, but they found no one who knew about Hammerers or Massers last customers. Someone had seen a man in a leather jacket with her but did not know him. Very quickly, investigators were at a dead end. No one had seen anything suspicious.

Then in Graz, two months later, another prostitute disappeared. Elfriede Schrempf vanished from her usual corner on March 7, 1991. Two days after this discovery, a man called Schrempfs family to harass them about her occupation. He mentioned her by name, made threatening comments, and then hung up. He called again with the same message, and then was not heard from.

The Austrian police did not know about the murder of Bockova in Prague, but they did have two murders and one missing person case to solve that bore some similar associations.

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