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Serial killer may have been conjured by DNA blunder

Contamination suspected in 'Phantom' case

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A 16-year hunt for a mysterious female serial killer by German police has seemingly ended in farce, as officials admitted they now believe a trail of DNA from 40 crime scenes could have been left by contaminated swabs.

In 2007 authorities put up a €300,000 reward for information about the so-called "Phantom of Heilbronn", after she was suspected of the murder of a policewoman. They had failed to come close to identifying the woman, despite an alleged killing and burglary spree which stretched back to 1993, and a major investigation that began in 2001.

But now it's suspected that contamination at the plant manufacturing the DNA swabs created a false trail, meaning up to six murderers could still be at large in Germany and Austria.

Police puzzled over the Phantom's apparent taste for both violent murder and minor theft from sheds, her wide travels and the failure of witnesses at crime scenes to provide coherent descriptions of the killer. A photofit released last year, based on a witness description, had male features, prompting press speculation the Phantom could be a transsexual.

Serious doubts about her existence were raised when her supposed DNA fingerprint was found during tests on the burnt body of a male asylum seeker in France, The Times reports. "Obviously that was impossible, as the asylum-seeker was a man and the Phantom's DNA belonged to a woman," a spokesman for the prosecutor's office in Saarbrücken, west Germany, said.

Federal investigators are now attempting to confirm whether contamination created the Phantom. It's reported that DNA samples have been taken from female staff at a medical supplies company. "If the trace does belong to a woman working in the factory, it'll be very embarrassing," the BBC reports a police union offical saying. ®

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