The Kalinka Affair
A father’s hunt for his daughter’s killer
The abduction of Dr. Dieter Krombach began in the village of Scheidegg, in southern Germany. His three kidnappers punched him in the face, tied him up, gagged him, and threw him in the back of their car. They drove 150 miles, crossing the border into the Alsace region of France, with Krombach stretched out on the floor between the seats. The car stopped in the town of Mulhouse. An accomplice called the local police and stayed on the line just long enough to deliver a bizarre instruction: “Go to the rue de Tilleul, across from the customs office,” the anonymous caller said. “You’ll find a man tied up.” A few minutes later, two police cars arrived at the scene, their red and blue patrol lights illuminating the street. Behind an iron gate, in a dingy courtyard between two four-story buildings, Krombach lay on the ground. His hands and feet were bound and his mouth was gagged. He was roughed up but very much alive. When the police removed the covering from his mouth, the first thing he said was “Bamberski is behind it.”
The French septuagenarian André Bamberski to whom Krombach referred was, on the face of it, an unlikely kidnapper. Until 1982, he had been a mild-mannered accountant and the adoring father of a lively young girl, Kalinka. That year, Kalinka attended a French-language high school in the small German city of Freiburg, as a boarder, and spent most weekends and summers in nearby Lindau, with Bamberski’s ex-wife and her new husband, Dieter Krombach. On the cusp of 15, she was extroverted and pretty, with full lips and blond hair falling in bangs over her blue eyes. But she was also homesick: She barely spoke German, though she lived in Bavaria. She was looking forward to August, when she would move back in with her father in Pechbusque, a suburb of Toulouse.
On Friday, July 9, 1982, Kalinka Bamberski windsurfed on Lake Constance, the sweep of clear blue water edged by the Alps and shared by Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. At around five o’clock, she returned home, tired and, according to her stepfather and her mother, complaining that she felt unwell. The family sat down to dinner at 7:30. Kalinka went to bed early, rose to drink a glass of water at 10 p.m., and, according to her stepfather, read in her downstairs bedroom until midnight, when he asked her to turn off the light.
The following morning, sometime before 10, the 47-year-old Krombach, wearing equestrian clothes for his morning ride through the nearby mountains, came downstairs and attempted to wake his stepdaughter. He found her lying in bed, on her right side, dead—her body already becoming stiff with rigor mortis. Krombach would later tell medical examiners that he attempted to revive her with an injection, directly into her heart, of Coramin, a central-nervous-system stimulant, and doses of two other stimulants, Novodigal and Isoptin, in her legs. But he was hours too late. An autopsy would put the time of death at between 3 and 4 a.m.
At around 10:30 on Saturday morning, the telephone rang at André Bamberski’s home, three miles south of Toulouse, and his ex-wife delivered the news of his daughter’s death. The 45-year-old Bamberski sank into a chair, stunned. Kalinka had been a healthy, athletic teenager, with almost no history of medical trouble. How could it have happened? he demanded. His ex-wife, her voice jagged with sorrow, explained that Krombach had proposed two theories: Kalinka could have suffered heatstroke, caused by overexposure to the sun the previous day. Or she could have died from the long-delayed effects of a 1974 car accident in Morocco, in which she had sustained a concussion.
Bamberski was mystified and overwhelmed with grief. He flew to Zurich and rented a car at the airport. As he drove 50 miles east toward Lake Constance, the Alps silhouetted under a three-quarter moon, he continued to grapple with his daughter’s death. “I was devastated,” he recalls. “Kalinka was the joy of my life.” Bamberski checked into a hotel, and early Sunday morning he drove to the hospital to view Kalinka’s body, which lay in a refrigerated drawer in the morgue. Bamberski, a devout Catholic, said a prayer over his dead daughter, who was still clad in the white socks and red nightshirt she had worn to bed two nights earlier. Late that morning, he and his 11-year-old son, Nicolas, who was also living with his mother and stepfather, flew home to Toulouse to await the arrival of Kalinka’s body for burial.
For Bamberski, the shock and horror of Kalinka’s death were compounded by the mystery surrounding it. The notion that his vital, healthy daughter, after a day of ordinary activity, could be found dead in her bed was inexplicable. Though he was a deeply religious man and could find some consolation in his faith, he also felt that God alone could not help him make sense of his loss. Soon his suspicions turned toward the last person to see Kalinka alive: Dieter Krombach.
Bamberski could hardly have envisioned where those suspicions would lead. For the next three decades, he would pursue Krombach across Europe in a relentless attempt to establish responsibility for his daughter’s death. The campaign would leave Bamberski isolated and in legal jeopardy, with his judgment and even his sanity questioned. He would lose touch with friends, family, and colleagues. He would be accused of crossing moral and legal lines, of losing all perspective, of wading deep into groundless conspiracy theories. His one surviving child would find himself torn between his parents. By the end, even Bamberski’s own attorney, one of France’s most respected jurists, would declare himself unable to support his client in his campaign. Bamberski would leave his job, burn through much of his life savings, and devote thousands of hours to pursuing his quarry.
“It is not an obsession,” he would later insist. “It’s about a promise I made to Kalinka, to give her justice.”
In the weeks that followed Kalinka’s death, Bamberski harbored no suspicions of wrongdoing. The Krombachs attended Kalinka’s burial in the church cemetery in Pechbusque, and the couple had seemed as sad and shaken as he was.
As time passed, though, Bamberski started to question the facts surrounding his daughter’s death. In early October 1982, he finally received a translated copy of his daughter’s autopsy report. He learned from the report that a Dr. Höhmann, apparently a forensic physician in a nearby town, had carried out the procedure, joined by the police superintendent of Lindau, the local prosecutor, and, in an unusual breach of protocol, Krombach.
At first puzzled by the physician’s presence at his own stepdaughter’s autopsy, Bamberski was soon stunned by the report’s revelations—and its omissions. Höhmann had discovered blood on Kalinka’s vagina and a “viscous whitish-greenish substance” inside. Höhmann had also noted a fresh puncture mark on Kalinka’s right upper arm, caused by an intravenous injection of Kobalt-Ferrlecit, a controversial iron supplement. In the report, Krombach admitted giving her the injection before dinner on Friday evening, purportedly to help her tan. (Krombach would later change his story and say it had been to treat her anemia.) Höhmann hadn’t conducted toxicology tests on the blood or tissue, nor had the doctor determined whether Kalinka was a virgin. Instead, the report declared that the cause of death was “unknown,” and Höhmann sent tissue and blood samples to a forensics lab. “A definitive judgment” of the cause of death, Höhmann wrote, would have to wait until the scientists had a chance to examine the specimens.
After reading the report, now three months old, Bamberski was consumed with questions. What was Krombach doing at the autopsy? Why hadn’t he mentioned anything about the injection before? And what had the toxicology reports determined? Like any parent whose child has died far from home, Bamberski, it seemed, was tormented by a feeling of having failed his daughter, a sense that he had been unable to protect Kalinka. And it was perhaps that awareness that pushed him even harder to find answers to the questions surrounding her death. Bamberski’s suspicions deepened when he called his former wife and asked her about the tests. She promised she’d talk to Krombach and get back to him, but she didn’t. When Bamberski phoned again two days later, she told him that no tests had been conducted.
Bamberski was incredulous. “Kalinka died with you,” he said. “Your husband is a doctor. Now, three months later, neither of you are interested in the cause of her death?”
His ex-wife answered, according to Bamberski, “Kalinka died because it was her time to die.”
Bamberski disagreed. An alternate and far more sinister explanation for his daughter’s death had now taken hold in his mind: Krombach had raped Kalinka and then killed her with an injection, perhaps to silence her. Two forensic doctors whom he consulted in Toulouse agreed that his suspicions had merit. They pointed to the autopsy report’s references to her torn genitals and the presence of a fluid that resembled semen. “They never tested a 15-year-old girl to determine whether she’d had sexual intercourse?” Bamberski says the doctors told him. “It looks like they wanted to hide something.”
Friends also supported his conviction that something was terribly wrong. “He wanted somebody to tell him, ‘You’re not dreaming,’” says neighbor Elisabeth Aragon, who read the autopsy report that October. “And we had the same suspicions he had.”
Bowing to pressure from Bamberski’s attorneys, the local German prosecutor ordered more tests, and in February and March 1983, a forensic scientist at the Medical-Legal Institute of Munich, Wolfgang Spann, studied the tissue samples. The results cast the first official doubts on Krombach’s story and painted a far darker portrait of the physician than had previously been provided. Spann condemned Krombach for using a “dangerous” substance, one with no value for tan enhancement and one that, even used to treat anemia, should be given only in rare instances. He reported that Kobalt-Ferrlecit—if administered without close supervision, especially after eating—could lead to nausea, fever, vomiting, and, in extreme cases, respiratory failure or cardiac arrest. The presence of food particles in Kalinka’s lungs and esophagus, he wrote, suggested that that was exactly what had happened: After receiving the injection, she had gone into anaphylactic shock, lost consciousness, and asphyxiated on her vomit. Spann determined that Krombach had misled authorities about the time that passed between the injection and Kalinka’s death; the absence of any evidence of an immune response in the surrounding tissue indicated that her demise had been “almost immediate.”
Spann was inconclusive about rape: Under Spann’s questioning, Höhmann, who conducted the first autopsy, had maintained that the tear in Kalinka’s labia had occurred postmortem and that her hymen was not ruptured, which Höhmann believed indicated that she was still a virgin. Still, Höhmann conceded that the “hymen was large enough” that penetration could have taken place.
On the ultimate matter of Kalinka’s death, however, another expert, a professor of pharmacology named Peter S. Schonhofer, was quoted in a French court document, concluding that “the intravenous injection of Kobalt-Ferrlecit had probably led to the death of Kalinka Bamberski.”
That, however, was not enough evidence for the local prosecutor. Without a statement of scientific certainty, he closed the criminal investigation into Kalinka Bamberski’s death. Days later, the prosecutor general of Munich, the highest-ranking government attorney in the state of Bavaria, backed his subordinate’s decision. The officials never explained why, given the evidence of wrongdoing or negligent homicide, they didn’t investigate Dieter Krombach further. In fact, their actions hardly marked the first time that the doctor had escaped scrutiny: It would later be learned that the emergency physician who had pronounced Kalinka dead in her bed had never summoned police to the scene, bowing to Krombach’s insistence that the body be delivered directly to the morgue. Deference to Krombach’s professional stature in Lindau, a heavy workload, the ambiguities of chemical analysis—any or all of these could help explain the extraordinary lapses in judgment. Whatever the cause, Krombach would never again face a legal inquiry in Germany for the death of Kalinka Bamberski. In 1983, the judicial process stopped in its tracks.
Krombach and Bamberski had, in many ways, led parallel lives. Both had grown up in a Europe ravaged by World War II, and both had witnessed the horrors of the conflict firsthand. Krombach, born in 1935 in Dresden, was the son of a Wehrmacht officer; when he was 9 years old, he survived the Allied firebombing that killed at least 30,000 civilians, the subject of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Bamberski, born in 1937, was the son of Polish Catholics who had emigrated to France in the early 1930s. He was living with his grandparents, in the Polish region of Galicia, in September 1939 when the Nazis invaded Poland. There he witnessed starvation, street fighting, and executions by the Nazi SS. In 1945, in Lille, he was reunited with his parents by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The horror of his experiences under German occupation no doubt contributed to his assumption, voiced at times during his pursuit of Krombach, that some vestiges of Nazism—corruption, inhumanity, imperious hostility to the outside world—still infected the country’s politics and judicial system.
Bamberski became a chartered accountant. Krombach became a doctor of internal medicine. Both built lives of bourgeois propriety, affluence, and apparent domestic harmony; both married and had children in the 1960s. And in 1974, both found themselves living on the same street in the Moroccan city of Casablanca—Krombach as a physician attached to the German Consulate, Bamberski as an accountant. Their children attended the same international school. And it was there, in that sunbaked North African city, that Dieter Krombach began an affair with Danielle Gonnin, Bamberski’s wife, an attractive thirtysomething daughter of French expatriates who had settled in Morocco in the 1950s.
As Bamberski tells the story, he was unaware of his wife’s infidelities when the family left Morocco in 1974 and settled in Pechbusque, not far from where Danielle had grown up. Krombach had also left Morocco and relocated to Bavaria. Then, in 1975, Danielle abruptly informed her husband that she had found a position in a real estate office in Nice, 350 miles to the east. She said she planned to rent an apartment there during the week and return home on weekends. She refused to give him the name or telephone number of the firm. Suspicious, Bamberski followed her one Sunday evening and watched as, instead of driving toward Nice, she parked her car in the garage of an apartment building in Toulouse. She remained there through the week. When he asked the concierge about her, the man replied, “Oh yes, that woman is Madame Krombach.”
The Bamberskis quickly divorced. Danielle joined Krombach in Bavaria in 1975, and they married in 1977. She initially ceded custody rights to Bamberski, and the children remained with him in France. But in July 1980, Bamberski, a single father yearning again for the ease of the expatriate life, decided to return with the children to Morocco. He insists that the move to Africa was within his legal rights, but it would have painful, and fateful, consequences. Days after he left France, Danielle filed a complaint against him in a Toulouse court, demanding custody. Bamberski was advised by his attorney not to challenge the motion: His ex-wife’s civil case included an accusation of “non-presentation of children.” Resigned to surrendering custody, he settled again in Pechbusque. In July 1980, two years before Kalinka died, the two children joined their mother and Krombach in Lindau. Bamberski agreed to see his children only during vacations.
Bamberski might have been more determined to challenge his wife in court had he known about Dieter Krombach’s darker side. It had apparently revealed itself as early as the 1960s, during his marriage to his first wife, Monika Hentze. She died suddenly at age 24. A statement given years later to German police by her mother alleged that Krombach, then a promising young doctor of internal medicine who had graduated with honors from the University of Frankfurt, had terrorized his wife, beaten her, and threatened to kill her. In 1969, Hentze was stricken with a mysterious illness that rendered her mute and blind and then paralyzed her. According to her mother’s account, Krombach elbowed aside the tending physician at a Frankfurt hospital and administered an injection of what he identified as “snake venom.” Hentze died hours later of a cerebral hemorrhage. No definitive connection was ever made between the injection and Krombach’s wife’s death—it was officially attributed to a thrombosis of the basilar artery, which supplies blood to the brain—but there’s no doubt that Krombach would later put his expertise with pharmacological substances, and hypodermic needles, to sinister ends.
In the 1980s, as he would later admit, the doctor repeatedly drugged Danielle with sedatives so that he could carry on affairs downstairs while she slept in her second-floor bedroom. And for more than a decade, he administered intravenous anesthetics to a series of women in his medical examination room, where he raped them as they lay unconscious. Indeed, Krombach’s abuse of his medical expertise to criminal—and perhaps lethal—ends would inspire lawyers hoping to try Krombach in France to compare his case to that of Nazi Klaus Barbie, known as the Butcher of Lyon. The analogy, however extreme, was reinforced by the impunity that Krombach would enjoy for decades in his home country.
It was just over a year after Kalinka’s death that Bamberski decided to strike back against the man he believed killed his daughter. He traveled to Lindau during Oktoberfest and walked through town passing out fliers from a satchel. They bore a photo of Kalinka and a warning: “People of Lindau! You should know that a murderer, Dieter Krombach, is living in your city. He raped and murdered my daughter on July 10, 1982, and his crime has been covered up by doctors, the police commissioner, and the prosecutors. Please help me obtain justice!” He walked the lakeside promenade and the jewel-like medieval town center, distributing 2,000 copies at homes, biergartens, and outdoor cafés full of lieder-singing, pilsner-swigging celebrants.
Late that afternoon, Bamberski was accosted by Boris Krombach, Dieter Krombach’s 17-year-old son, and Diana Krombach, his 19-year-old daughter, accompanied by two policemen. The police arrested Bamberski, interrogated him, and charged him with defaming Krombach, disturbing the public order, and injuring the reputation of the prosecutor. After 24 hours in police custody, he was ordered to turn over all the cash in his possession—about 2,000 Deutsche marks, or $1,000—as bond. Three months later, Bamberski was sentenced in absentia to six months in prison or a fine of 400,000 Deutsche marks, an onerous penalty that would make it impossible for him to set foot in Germany again until the statute of limitations ran out five years later.
Even as German authorities prosecuted him instead of the man he believed was his daughter’s killer, Bamberski had other circuits to justice. Because Kalinka had been a French citizen, French authorities could launch their own murder investigation on German soil and, if the evidence was deemed sufficient, issue an international warrant for Krombach’s arrest. In 1985, after two years of prodding by Bamberski, French authorities exhumed Kalinka’s remains from her Pechbusque grave. The disinterment failed to provide new clues to her death, but it did reveal one disturbing fact that cast further doubt on the German investigation: Her private parts had been removed completely during the autopsy, and neither of the German forensics labs that had handled the remains could turn up a trace of them. The question of whether Krombach had raped Kalinka before her death could therefore never be determined with certainty.
The disappearance fed Bamberski’s suspicions of a conspiracy to protect Krombach. It seemed odd that an obscure physician in a Bavarian town would receive special treatment by the government, but perhaps, Bamberski thought, Krombach had established connections during his two years at the German Consulate in Casablanca; perhaps he had worked in German intelligence. German authorities have always denied that Krombach was protected, and no evidence has ever been found to suggest that he was. What seems more likely is that sloppy forensic work, bureaucratic inertia, and, at some level, a desire to close ranks against foreign interference in a domestic matter had caused the Germans to resist pursuing the case.
In 1988, German authorities complied with a request from French prosecutors and sent lung, heart, skin, and other tissue samples taken from Kalinka’s body to be analyzed at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Paris. Cut into thin slices and preserved in paraffin and chloroform since her death, the material—minus test tubes filled with her blood, which Spann had inexplicably discarded—led three French pathologists to a near certain conclusion. While the available evidence did not permit knowledge of “the exact causes of Kalinka’s death,” they wrote, she had died in a “brutal” manner. “The regurgitation of food particles into the respiratory tract testifies to a profound coma that would have led to a state of fatal respiratory distress.” Asphyxiation and death would have occurred “almost instantaneously” after she received the injection in her right arm. The lack of blood samples made it impossible to find a “definitive link” between the intravenous substance and her death. Unlike in Germany, however, the findings were enough to persuade the French judiciary of Krombach’s culpability.
On April 8, 1993, the prosecutor general charged Krombach with “voluntary homicide,” punishable by up to 30 years in prison. “The elements taken together lead to the conclusion that Dieter Krombach [gave Kalinka Bamberski] a mortal injection,” the indictment declared, “not with a curative purpose, but with the intention of killing her.” The prosecutor asked German authorities to arrest him; they refused. So on March 9, 1995—in what was only a symbolic victory for Bamberski—Krombach was convicted of murder in absentia at the Cour d’Assises in Paris and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
If Krombach was upset by the French verdict, he showed little evidence of it. Indeed, he had no reason to be. Judicial authorities in Bavaria and Berlin signaled that they considered the case against him closed and the French trial in absentia illegal. Still residing by Lake Constance and working as a doctor of internal medicine with a thriving practice, Krombach continued to lead a socially and physically active life; he was a member of an equestrian club, and he kept a sailboat in Lindau’s yacht club.
By his own later admission, he also kept a series of mistresses and audaciously carried on affairs in his own home. In 1989, he and Danielle had divorced and she returned to live in Toulouse, still proclaiming Krombach’s innocence. A little more than two years later, Krombach married his fourth wife, Elke Fröhlich, who was, like his three previous spouses, a decade younger than him. They divorced soon afterward because of Krombach’s infidelities.
The refusal of the German government to extradite Krombach, meanwhile, seemed rooted in any number of motives. Opposition to extraditing a German national for trial abroad had been enshrined in the postwar German constitution, though a legal exception could be made “in the case of extradition to a member of the European Union, or to an International Court, as long as the legal principles of the [German] state are guaranteed.” Repeatedly, however, prosecutors and judges, and ultimately the Minister of Justice in Berlin, fell back on the same justifications for why turning Krombach over for prosecution in France would violate those principles: The forensic examinations were inconclusive, Krombach’s account of Kalinka’s death seemed plausible, and Kalinka’s own mother had strongly maintained her husband’s innocence. German authorities continued to express great confidence in the local prosecutor who had closed the books on the case in 1983.
Bamberski’s zealotry and all of the public accusations of malfeasance and conspiracy may also have hardened the Germans against reopening the case. And perhaps the intransigence reflected the long-simmering rivalry and unresolved bitterness between the governments of Germany and France. Though Europe at the time was integrating rapidly—dissolving physical boundaries, unifying currency—the Krombach-Kalinka affair starkly demonstrated that judicial systems remained independent, even adversarial.
In April 1990, the state prosecutor in Munich again found no reason to reopen the investigation. The German government would maintain for years after Krombach’s in absentia conviction that, because its prosecutor had closed the case, the doctor could not be extradited to France. At the same time, the knowledge that he was safe inside Germany appeared to embolden Krombach. But perhaps it was simpler: He was unable to restrain the dark impulses that lay within him.
On the afternoon of February 11, 1997, a 16-year-old girl named Laura Stehle visited Krombach’s clinic in Lindau for an endoscopic examination. His assistant was at lunch, and Krombach, the patient later recounted, ushered the girl into his examination room. The probe was likely to be painful, he told her before administering, with her consent, an intravenous anesthetic that knocked her out. “When I awoke, he was on top of me, totally naked,” she would later recount to a French television station. “I was shocked. I tried to move. I was completely paralyzed.” Krombach, apparently believing that she would remain silent, dropped her in front of her home. But Stehle went to her parents, who reported the attack. That evening, Bamberski received a phone call from a reporter in Lindau who told him that Krombach was in jail. “Finally, I thought that he’d been arrested for the Kalinka affair,” he told me. “But she said, ‘No, no, he raped a woman in his clinic.’”
Six months later, swayed by the victim’s vivid testimony and by lab tests on the semen taken from her body immediately following the attack, the German judge convicted Krombach of raping a minor, ordered him to surrender his medical license, and sentenced him to two years in prison. Then, citing Krombach’s lack of a criminal record in Germany and his prestige in the community, the judge suspended the sentence and set him free. Following the verdict, outraged protestors gathered in front of the courthouse, including six women who claimed they had been raped by Krombach. All had kept quiet until now, they said—either because of Krombach’s stature in Lindau or because the anesthetic had fogged their memories.
Krombach shrugged off the accusations. In an interview with a French radio reporter, he blamed the victim. “The girl wanted to sleep with me. … She started taking off her clothes. … It was all over in five minutes.” He ridiculed Bamberski, who—the statute of limitations on his own German charges having expired—attended the trial and provoked an emotional confrontation in the courtroom. “This man is crazy,” Krombach said. “It’s ridiculous for Bamberski to think that I made love to his daughter. I didn’t need to. I was married; I was happy with Kalinka’s mother.”
Two years later, with Krombach free and the judicial processes against him at an apparent impasse in both Germany and France, André Bamberski returned to Germany. He drove slowly through the streets of a small German village near Lake Constance, a few miles from the Austrian border, to the house where Krombach now lived. Then, taking a deep breath, he knocked on Krombach’s door and confronted him face-to-face.
“Bamberski,” Krombach said, staring.
“Krombach, I will always try to bring you back to France to be judged,” he said. “I will not stop.”
“You’re crazy. You’re just out for vengeance,” the doctor replied.
“No, you raped her. I know what you did,” said Bamberski.
“Good. I’ll call the police, we’ll see.” Then Krombach closed the door in his face.
By 1999, Bamberski had quit his job to devote himself full-time to the pursuit and capture of Dieter Krombach. Dismayed by the verdict, angered by the intransigence of German authorities and the lack of urgency in the French government, “he felt that he was being blocked at every turn,” says one of his friends. Yet, Bamberski clung to one hope: that police would seize Krombach during one of the frequent trips he made across the German border to Austria and Switzerland, then extradite him to France. To that end, he visited Austrian and Swiss gendarmeries, police commissariats, and customs posts, handing out photos of Krombach and files of newspaper clippings and judicial warrants. At times he would be treated rudely, brushed off, he told me, “like a lunatic.” Just as often, the police received him politely, listened, and agreed to keep the photos and study the dossiers.
Once, Krombach’s recklessness—and Bamberski’s persistence—nearly led to the doctor’s capture. In 2000, a policeman on a train in western Austria recognized him from a photo Bamberski had distributed and placed him under arrest. Krombach spent three weeks in jail before an Austrian judge accepted his attorney’s argument that the trial in France had been illegal and ordered him released. Months later, in early 2001, the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France, ruled that the country’s in absentia trials were “inequitable” because the accused had no opportunity to present his defense. The court voided the verdict against Krombach and ordered the government to pay him 100,000 French francs, or $20,000.
Adding to Bamberski’s frustration was his sense that Krombach was becoming harder to track. His reputation in Lindau in ruins, his medical certificate confiscated, his fourth wife having abandoned him, in 1999 the doctor embarked upon a nomadic life. He seemed to change homes every six months. Bamberski hired private detectives, built a network of connections around Lake Constance, and followed Krombach himself, carefully documenting each change of address. Many of Krombach’s movements, however, remained obscure. He would frequently disappear during the week and return home on weekends; neither Bamberski nor his detectives could figure out where he’d been.
During much of this period, Bamberski’s own life in some ways mirrored Krombach’s. He felt intensely alone, deserted by people close to him, sometimes on the verge of defeat, and treading on the margins of legality. “All my friends and family, including my father, told me to quit it at this point,” he told me. “They said, ‘You’re not going to achieve anything.’ But I’m a Slav, you see, and the Slavs are very emotional. I cried all the time when I thought about Kalinka. It was a question for me of moral duty. That was the most important thing: to get the truth.”
Bamberski spent weeks on the road pursuing Krombach. During his time at home, he manned a website dedicated to the case and sent hundreds of letters to French senators, judges, prosecutors, and other officials. He had only two sources of moral support during this period: his companion of two decades (who, as Bamberski himself notes with a half-smile, has the same name as his former wife, Danielle) and the Association for Justice for Kalinka, a group formed in 2001 by Bamberski’s neighbors, professors Elisabeth and Yves Aragon, along with Elisabeth’s brother, a Toulouse chemistry professor. The association grew to include nearly 1,000 members, including homemakers, teachers, engineers, doctors, and attorneys. Some had known Bamberski personally; others were strangers who’d read newspaper accounts or seen TV-news reports about the case and felt so outraged by Krombach’s seeming impunity that they offered support. Most of them lived in the Toulouse area, although in time the group’s makeup became more international. Association members developed great loyalty to Bamberski.
“André is an extremely passionate figure, and a romantic,” says the group’s secretary. “He cries about the simplest things, like the sight of a bird sitting in the snow. At the same time, he has a certain stubbornness and a sense of pragmatism. If one solution doesn’t work, he tries another and another. He refuses to be discouraged.”
In fact, Bamberski was so unrelenting in his quest that he eventually launched an audacious campaign intended to embarrass France’s highest authorities into taking action. The campaign consisted of a barrage of complaints filed in court against the country’s leading magistrates and the Minister of Justice, accusing them of corruption in blocking the pursuit of Krombach. Francois Gibault, one of France’s most esteemed jurists and Bamberski’s attorney since 1986, told me that he declined to represent Bamberski on the matter because of the awkwardness of the situation. “I knew a lot of these judges,” he says. “I didn’t want to get involved.”
Still, despite the rashness of Bamberski’s actions, and the lack of any tangible results, Gibault believed that Bamberski’s instincts about a cover-up could well be correct. “It is certain that there were political contacts between France and Germany at a high level” over the Krombach case, he says, though he declined to speculate on what could have motivated the two countries to protect such an obscure figure. Although Bamberski alienated some of France’s highest officials with his allegations, Gibault says that he never let his anger distract him from his ultimate goal or drive him to take shortcuts. “He never lost his head,” the jurist told me. “It would have been far easier for him to kill Krombach, but Bamberski’s aim all along was to bring him to justice.”
In early 2006, an important piece of the puzzle about Krombach’s movements fell into place. A woman in Rödental, in central-eastern Germany, went for a routine examination at the clinic of her regular physician, only to learn that he had hanged himself that February. The woman was treated by his temporary replacement, whose odd behavior and unusual backstory made her suspicious. That evening, while looking up the man’s name—Dieter Krombach—on the Internet, she came across a German documentary about the death of Kalinka Bamberski and Krombach’s subsequent rape conviction in Germany. She quickly notified Rödental’s police that Krombach was working at the clinic. Meanwhile, Krombach, apparently suspecting that something was amiss, had already disappeared. The woman then tracked down Bamberski on the Web and reported to him what had happened. Bamberski told her that, through his own research, he knew that Krombach was living in a small apartment in a private home in Scheidegg. The woman passed on the information to the police, and Krombach was located and arrested for practicing medicine without a license.
Between 2001 and 2006, a police investigation later revealed, Krombach had secretly found employment for periods of weeks or months as a substitute physician at 28 different clinics and hospitals across Germany. Having surrendered his medical certificate following his 1997 rape conviction, he would present a photocopy and claim that the original had been stolen. Until he was identified in Rödental, none of his employers or patients had bothered to check his background.
Two psychiatrists examined Krombach at the University of Munich’s hospital before his trial for fraud and practicing medicine without a license. The subject, they wrote, was a chronic liar, a sexual predator, and a narcissist with delusions of grandeur and a belief that he was “outside the law.” He admitted to having a series of “fugitive” liaisons during his marriages, including, most recently, a sexual encounter with the 16-year-old niece of his cleaning lady, whom he had drugged with Valium and another sedative. He showed indications of “repression and denial,” “minimization of his own weaknesses,” “dodging conflicts,” and “the embellishment of his own reality.” Krombach was also a “compulsive” who had serially molested patients and coworkers; if left without supervision in a clinic or other medical environment, he would do it again. After a two-day trial, Krombach was found guilty and sentenced to two years and four months in prison. For Bamberski, who attended this trial as well, it was only a partial and temporary victory.
In June 2008, after spending 18 months behind bars, Krombach returned to the German town of Scheidegg, just inside the Austrian border. Bamberski reactivated his intelligence network in the area, determined not to let Krombach out of his sight. Sixteen months later, in October 2009, Bamberski heard from his sources that Krombach had begun working again as a substitute physician. It was, he later told me, a sign of the man’s utter lack of contrition—or perhaps his desperation.
That month, Bamberski traveled to the town of Bregenz, Austria, which sits on a scenic plateau on the southern shore of Lake Constance, sandwiched between the slopes of Mount Pfänder and fertile terraces that fall off precipitously to the lakeshore. Like many of the towns that line the lake, this resort on Austria’s western extremity was rich in history, with town walls originating in the 14th century, a Gothic tower called the Martinsturm, and the Church of St. Gall, whose Romanesque foundations were built around 1380. It was a 10-minute drive to Germany and just a few minutes farther to the village of Scheidegg, and thus a perfect outpost for Bamberski to keep an eye on his mark.
Checking into the Ibis Hotel near the lake, he drove across the border to Scheidegg in search of information, hoping at least to land Krombach back in prison. Bamberski couldn’t verify how Krombach was supporting himself, but he discovered something else: Krombach’s landlord had put the house up for sale, and Krombach was to vacate before the end of October. Neighbors had heard that he had accepted a job in West Africa and was preparing to leave. With each move, Krombach had become harder to track, Bamberski told me. If Krombach left Scheidegg for Africa, Bamberski might lose him forever.
In early October, the phone rang in Bamberski’s hotel room, and a man who identified himself only as Anton said he had a proposition.
“I’d like to see you … about Kalinka,” the man told Bamberski in English. He went on, “I can help you move him. I can be involved in transporting him to France.”
In Bregenz, Bamberski had raised the possibility of kidnapping Krombach with an Austrian private detective, who declined to help, and talked openly about the scenario with waiters in local restaurants, members of the hotel staff, and others. Anton, he figured, must have gotten word of this from one of his acquaintances.
They met the next afternoon, in fine weather, and talked discreetly on a bench in a public park. Bamberski—though he takes pains not to minimize his role in plotting the crime—stresses that the proposal to abduct Krombach came from Anton, a Kosovar immigrant in his thirties with longish hair and an open, friendly manner. Anton asked for only 20,000 euros, to cover “expenses,” according to Bamberski, explaining, “I’m doing it for humanitarian reasons.” Days later, the pair took a scouting trip to Scheidegg. They parked across the street from Krombach’s apartment, and Bamberski pointed out the terrace where the ex-doctor did his morning calisthenics. Anton advised Bamberski to return to France and await a phone call.
One week later, at 10 p.m. on October 17, Bamberski received a call at home from a woman, presumably an accomplice, who spoke French with a heavy German accent. “Be prepared to go to Mulhouse,” she said, referring to a large town in France’s Alsace region, just across the German border. Five hours later, the same woman called back. “Krombach is in Mulhouse,” she said. “He is at rue du Tilleul, across from customs. Warn the police.”
Bamberski called and reached the night-duty officer in Mulhouse.
“I am Bamberski,” he said. “I had a daughter, Kalinka, who was raped and murdered by Krombach, and there is an international warrant out for his arrest. Please go find him on the rue du Tilleul.”
The policeman replied that a woman with a German accent had called him just a few minutes earlier and given him the same information.
Twenty minutes later, at 4 a.m., the officer called him back.
“We found him,” he said. “And he’s in bad shape.”
Immediately after Krombach told the police his story, Mulhouse police placed Bamberski under arrest and interrogated him for two days and nights. “I never wanted to lie,” Bamberski says. “I said, ‘I’m delighted to find out that Krombach is here, but I didn’t initiate it.’”
“Do you know Anton Krasniqi?” he was asked.
“I know an Anton, but Krasniqi, no, that’s the first time I’ve heard that name.” Police had been summoned to the scene of the kidnapping in Scheidegg by a neighbor, who had noticed a pair of broken eyeglasses, shoes, and blood on the street. Nearby they had recovered a phone bill with Krasniqi’s name on it.
Police that day retrieved 19,000 euros in cash from Bamberski’s hotel-room safe—cash that Bamberski had agreed to pay Anton Krasniqi. Krombach’s attorneys demanded that their client be released from custody and returned to his home in Germany. But French authorities reinstated the charges against him and ordered him remanded to prison in Paris to await trial for the murder of Bamberski’s only daughter, Kalinka Bamberski.
Bamberski père, in trying to bring Krombach to justice, had accomplished his goal of nearly three decades. Yet he had also crossed ethical lines, driven by his desperation and obsession. Now both their fates would be left to the legal system Bamberski had wrestled with for 30 years.
Constructed in the 1860s on the site of the former royal palace of Saint Louis, the Palais de Justice on the Ile de la Cité is one of Paris’s most elegant buildings. Its architects designed it in the Second Empire style, with a white marble facade, a gray mansard roof, two turrets, and exterior sculptures, all framed by a gate adorned with an elaborate gold seal. Contained within the walls is the Conciergerie, a former prison where Marie Antoinette was held before her execution by guillotine.
On the morning of October 4, 2011, Dieter Krombach, frail but still handsome at 76, was transported from a prison hospital to a large, high-ceilinged courtroom inside the Palais and led by gendarmes into a box of bulletproof glass. Krombach’s murder trial had begun at the end of March. “Can we take vengeance ourselves?” defense lawyer Yves Levano had asked the victim’s father in the courtroom that month. “Dieter Krombach was attacked, beaten, attached to a fence in a state of hypothermia.” The trial had been adjourned after a week, however, because of the defendant’s ill health. Krombach had suffered from hypertension and heart ailments for several years. Now, after medical tests that autumn found Krombach to be in reasonably good health, the president of the Cour d’Assises, Xavière Simeoni, had ordered him to assume his place again in the dock.
Seated at the front of the courtroom on an elevated bench were three black-robed magistrates, including the president of the court. They were joined by a nine-member jury, situated to the judges’ right. The prosecutor, Krombach’s German and French attorneys, and the court stenographer also sat toward the front. André Bamberski, a civil plaintiff in the case (under French law, this allowed him to question witnesses), watched from the first row of the gallery, joined by his son, Nicolas, his Paris-based attorney, Gibault, and a lawyer from Toulouse, Laurent de Caunes. Separated from Bamberski by an aisle was his former wife, Danielle Gonnin, who had been called upon to testify by the prosecution.
In the front row were Krombach’s two children from his first marriage, Diana and Boris. Katya, 19, Krombach’s daughter from his fourth marriage, to Elke Fröhlich, was also there in support of her father. About 60 members of the public had come to watch the trial. Dozens of members of the press, mostly from French and German newspapers, filled the balcony. (Cameras were not permitted.) Gendarmes lined both walls. A firefighter trained in emergency care stood beside the defendant’s booth, ready to administer medical aid to Krombach.
For the next 15 days, Krombach’s trial proceeded at a stately, often tedious pace, interrupted by moments of high drama and emotion. Krombach’s lawyers argued that the trial was illegitimate, since German prosecutors had already dismissed the case and Krombach had been brought to France by an illegal abduction. But the court declared that Krombach had never been properly tried in Germany and that the “private action” of an individual could not impede an act of the state. The court heard testimony from the French and German toxicologists and pharmacologists who had examined Kalinka’s tissue samples, the doctors who had conducted the 1995 exhumation of her remains, and five French medical professors who had carried out a complementary forensic examination in 2010.
In that pretrial appraisal, the medical professors had determined that the injury to Kalinka’s labia could only have happened while she was alive, overruling the autopsy doctor’s finding that it was a postmortem tear. They also declared that the fluid in her vagina could only have been semen. The violence against her, they determined, was “sexual.” In addition, analyses of Kalinka’s lung and heart tissue, using methods that did not exist in the 1980s, revealed the presence of benzodiazepine, a powerful anesthetic—conclusive evidence, they said, that Kalinka had been drugged the night of her death. Three German victims of Krombach described how they had been anesthetized and raped. A psychiatrist who had examined Krombach in prison portrayed him as a classic narcissist driven by the desire to influence others through “charm or chemical means.” Incapable of empathy or self-criticism, the psychiatrist testified, Krombach blamed others and denied his crimes, rearranging the facts to suit his self-image.
The court heard from family members, as well. Boris Krombach swore that his father was innocent and insisted he would never have laid a finger on Kalinka. André Bamberski’s despair, he said, “transformed itself into hatred.” Danielle Gonnin, on the other hand, seemed a changed woman—drawn, grim, and shattered. The court had already heard dramatic testimony that March, in another courtroom in the same Palais de Justice, during which she backed away from her previous defenses of Krombach. She described him as “a seducer” with an irresistible will. “If he decided he wanted something, nothing could stop him,” she testified. “He chose me because I was married, which represented an additional challenge for him.” He was especially attracted to girls in their early teens, she claimed. She called the attraction “the lure of the forbidden.”
During her October testimony, Gonnin recalled waking up around nine o’clock, far later than usual, on the morning Kalinka was found dead. She said that she suspected Krombach had slipped her sedatives the night before. During a 2010 judicial inquiry, Gonnin had learned that Krombach had often put her to sleep with sedatives so that he could entertain his mistresses in their Lindau home.
Addressing Krombach, she said that the forensic report was no longer enough for her. For 29 years she had asked no questions. Now, she said, “I want to know the whole truth.” Later on in the trial, Nicolas Bamberski, who had kept his feelings suppressed for decades, tried to express his family’s sense of betrayal. “How could you be satisfied with an unexplained death and have never tried to figure out what happened?” he asked Krombach. “I never saw you make any effort to find an explanation.”
For the elder Bamberski, the answer to his son’s question was awful and simple: Friday night, after the rest of the family went to sleep, Krombach encountered Kalinka in the kitchen, slipped her a sedative, raped her, and then executed her with a lethal injection of Kobalt-Ferrlecit. The motivation for the crime? “He killed her because he lost his head,” Bamberski told me. “He thought about the consequences that were in store and he got scared.” Acknowledging that the scenario didn’t fit Krombach’s usual pattern of drugging and raping patients he barely knew, Bamberski suggested that the doctor was motivated by a desire for control over women, and that he had been driven to act against his own stepdaughter because time was running short. “Kalinka had asked to move back to Toulouse, and to no longer stay with Krombach. She was about to escape from him: That could have been a motive. But one will never know. One can never know.”
The trial concluded at three in the afternoon on Saturday, October 22. It ended with a statement from Krombach: “I swear before the court and before Madame Gonnin that I never harmed Kalinka.” Then the three magistrates and nine jurors filed into a secluded chamber to deliberate. Bamberski passed the hours in a café across the street. At seven o’clock, the police summoned him to the courtroom. Krombach stood and faced the magistrates’ bench. His face betrayed no emotion when the president pronounced the verdict: guilty of “voluntary violence leading to unintentional death, with aggravated circumstances.” The crime was punishable by 30 years in prison; Krombach received a 15-year sentence.
Bamberski hugged his longtime companion, who had sustained him during his decades-long campaign, his eyes welling with tears. His insistence all along that Krombach had murdered Kalinka to silence her had been rejected by the court, and there was no mention of sexual violence in the verdict. But he was satisfied that Krombach had been exposed as “a sexual pervert” and that, barring legal manipulations, he would almost certainly die behind bars.
On a Friday afternoon in mid-January 2012, Bamberski and I met at his home in Pechbusque, near the bucolic cemetery where Kalinka is buried. I was buzzed through the front gate, and I briefly encountered his companion, Danielle, in the driveway. She nodded at me, uttering a brisk “Bonjour,” then ducked into her car and drove off. “She doesn’t like journalists,” Bamberski told me at the door. “She doesn’t believe that our private matters should be made public.”
Bamberski led me inside and sat in his easy chair. The living room was framed by sliding glass doors that connected to a tiled wraparound terrace, which in January was still decorated with a Christmas tree covered in gold ornaments. A winter fog rolled over the Garonne Valley during the night, and the steep wooded slopes just below the house were shrouded in gray mist. Bamberski, now 74, looked youthful for his age, with a stocky build and a nearly unlined, ruddy face framed by a shock of white hair. Yet his voice, clear and mellifluous, betrayed a slight quaver. There was a tremor in his movements when he talked about the death of his daughter and the decades of obsession that followed.
We talked for a while about what had happened since the murder trial. Bamberski told me that he felt “like a great weight had been lifted,” an observation shared by close friends. (“He has been liberated from a duty,” says Elisabeth Aragon, his neighbor. “He’s changed since the trial. He’s more relaxed: He’s playing golf. But he’s still vigilant.”)
Bamberski continues to keep a close eye on Krombach: He maintains an office in the back of his home brimming over with 30 years’ worth of folders, articles, letters, trial transcripts, forensic reports, police dossiers, psychiatric evaluations, and other documents. He knows that his daughter’s killer receives a handful of regular visitors, among them Krombach’s daughter, Katya, and a representative from the German Embassy in Paris. He understands that Krombach has made at least “15 petitions” to be released from prison and that each one has been rejected. The German’s lawyers filed an application for an appeal, and a retrial is set to commence on November 26, 2012. Bamberski’s biggest fear is that he will make a successful plea to serve the remainder of his sentence in a German prison. If that should happen, he has no doubt, he says, that “the Germans will set him free.”
After his arrest in Mulhouse on suspicion of kidnapping, Bamberski was released on bail but placed under judicial control. He surrendered his passport and is now prohibited from leaving France. German prosecutors have filed an international arrest warrant against him—putting him into the same legal jeopardy that Krombach faced for a decade. (Krasniqi, who allegedly engineered the abduction, is currently living under judicial control in Mulhouse.) An investigation, begun in October 2009, is progressing, and the findings will soon pass either to the local court in Mulhouse or go to the Cour d’Assises in Paris.
According to his attorney in Toulouse, Bamberski will almost certainly be tried for conspiracy and kidnapping, and he could wind up in jail for up to 10 years. Yet Gibault believes that the strong support shown for Bamberski by the French public could result in a lesser sentence. “The war that he fought, for honor, for the memory of his daughter, was a very noble combat,” Gibault told me. One member of the Association for Justice for Kalinka says that she and others in the group believe it likely that Bamberski will receive a suspended sentence and a tongue lashing. “The judge will see it as a case of conscience. I cannot imagine he will go to jail,” she says.
Bamberski, however, said that he’s willing to accept time in prison as the cost of delivering Krombach to trial. “I don’t regret” the kidnapping, he admitted. “Something had to be done. You know the expression? I made the omelet, but it was also necessary to break the eggs.”
I asked if he would take me to see Kalinka’s grave, but he begged off. “I had a difficult night last night,” he told me, suggesting that our seven-hour recapitulation of the case the day before had stirred up long-buried emotions. “Je m’excuse, but I can’t go there today.”
He generally visits the grave several times a month, but the one visit that is planted most firmly in his mind took place just after Krombach was convicted of her death. Placing flowers on the simple granite slab in the rustic cemetery behind the Pechbusque Catholic Church, Bamberski bent down and spoke a few words to his daughter, dead now for nearly 30 years. “Kalinka, you see?” he told her. “I promised that I would give you justice. Now you can rest in peace.”