“Police call 110: Only ghosts”: That’s how many “cold cases” there are in Germany

In the new "Polizeiruf 110" from Rostock, the investigation into the case of a murdered plastic surgeon leads to a mysterious cold case.

“Police call 110: Only ghosts”: That’s how many “cold cases” there are in Germany

In the new "Polizeiruf 110" from Rostock, the investigation into the case of a murdered plastic surgeon leads to a mysterious cold case. After intact DNA from a teenager who disappeared 15 years ago was found at the crime scene, the unsolved criminal case is taken out of the filing cabinet - and finally solved by detectives König (Anneke Kim Sarnau, 51) and Böwe (Lina Beckmann, 42). In reality, too, the German criminal police deal with such cold cases every day.

A case automatically becomes a so-called cold case when the police officers reach their limits in their investigation and the crime cannot initially be solved. Contrary to what the term suggests, the investigations are not completely put on hold. This applies especially to murder cases or other serious crimes with a long statute of limitations.

In Germany, specialized “cold case units” are increasingly taking care of such unsolved cases and can now be found in almost every federal state. An inquiry by the magazine "Spiegel" to all 16 interior ministries revealed that at least 3,300 unsolved old cases are currently waiting in the filing cabinets of these special units to be finally clarified.

For several years now, not only active criminal investigators have been entrusted with processing these cases, but also former investigators who, out of retirement, actively support the cold case units with their wealth of experience. As the State Criminal Police Office of North Rhine-Westphalia proudly announced in 2021, a total of 28 former investigators were able to be recruited to support a newly formed "Special Organization 'Cold Cases'".

The work of these special investigators is extremely laborious and the success rates are not particularly high. According to its own information, the Berlin Cold Case Unit, which was founded in 2007, has only managed to identify suspects of long-ago serious crimes in ten old cases. However, to the frustration of detectives, only three of these cases actually resulted in a conviction. In the remaining cases, there was insufficient evidence for an indictment or the identified perpetrators had already died.

However, this extremely low number of solved cold cases should not obscure the fact that the police can boast significantly higher success rates in normal operations. According to the statistics platform "Statista", the murder clearance rate in Germany is on average almost 95 percent.

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