She Lived For Five Years With Her Mummified Mom

In Munich, a bizarre case of a woman who refused to bury her mother is raising a series of practical and legal questions.

She Lived For Five Years With Her Mummified Mom
Florian Fuchs and Sven Loerzer

MUNICH — When police found the corpse in the bed of the master bedroom, it was already long mummified. For five and a half years, a mentally ill woman kept her dead mother in the mother’s apartment in Munich’s Blumenau district.

Now, as police and social workers try to reconstruct the case, a series of questions arise. How can it be that the authorities didn’t step in earlier? Why didn't the body decay? And did the retired woman, who died in March 2009 at the age of 77, die a natural death?

Meter readers who rang at the door regularly from 2009 didn’t report not seeing the old lady — simply following procedure that if no one answers, they just make an estimate of consumption for the heating bill.

Police spokesman Werner Kraus said on Monday that the autopsy had still not been completed, refusing to indicate whether there were suspicions of either murder or suicide. "We just can’t exclude any possibility right now," Kraus said.

According to Süddeutsche Zeitung sources, the 55-year-old daughter had a career as an engineer, but had taken early retirement. When her mother was still alive, the divorced woman tried to commit suicide and was thus known to the police.

What made her decide not to bury her mother is unclear, and the woman has since been placed in a psychiatric ward. Among the charges she faces are violation of burial laws. The police will also investigate if she had illicitly been receiving her mother’s pension money from 2009.

No flies

According to social services, building management contacted the Sozialbürgerhaus (or SBH, where social services are consolidated) on Oct. 31 because neighbors hadn’t seen the old lady for a long time. Everything happened very quickly after that. Orientation counseling at the SBH — the first port of call for new cases — was able to reach the daughter by phone in her mother’s apartment. She claimed her mother was bedridden and needed care, but that everything was otherwise in order.

The case was passed on to district social service offices which tried, at first with no luck, to establish contact again. When it emerged that the daughter spent part of her time at another apartment, a district social worker was able to reach her on Nov. 10. During their conversation, the daughter refused all offers of support, which made the experienced social worker suspicious. He insisted on visiting the mother and they made an appointment for Nov. 13.

When the daughter failed to show up for the appointment, the social worker called the police who had the apartment door opened. When the police found the dead woman she was covered to the neck with a blanket. Because of the blanket, flies couldn’t get at her body, explained Thomas Althaus, deputy head of death investigations with the criminal police. "That certainly helped to prevent putrefaction," he said.

According to Matthias Graw, head of forensics, mummification happens — among other circumstances — when a body dries out. Bacteria can’t function properly if there are no body fluids. Ideal conditions are dry, warm, moving air. Police confirmed that the daughter had kept her mother’s apartment impeccably clean and had aired it sufficiently. Apparently the mummification didn’t engender smells that would have alerted neighbors.

As for the daughter, "anybody who spends any length of time in a room that doesn’t smell particularly pleasant stops noticing the smell after a while," said forensic pathologist Graw.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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