MAINZ, Germany — A family dispute, a missing woman, and a body that had been stabbed to death found in the woman's car by her parents: These things, authorities in Germany now say, are not as they once seemed.
Far from being the victim, the woman who had been missing had instead found a lookalike on Instagram and killed her with a friend in order to stage her own death and "start a new life," prosecutors and police in Bavaria now say. The case has been dubbed the “doppelganger murder” by local media.
Arrest warrants on suspicion of murder have now been issued for the woman and her friend, police in the southern city of Ingolstadt, around 50 miles north of the regional capital, Munich, announced Monday. The pair have been in custody since days after the body was discovered.
"I can confirm that the accused 23-year-old female obviously planned to start a new life due to family problems," police spokesperson Andreas Aichele told NBC News. She had set up several social media accounts "to find any persons looking as similar to her as possible,"Aichele said.
"Investigations revealed contact to several young ladies during a period of few weeks. Investigators assume that under a pretext she managed to organize a meeting with the later victim. Together with the 23-year-old male she traveled to the Heilbronn region to pick her up and carry out the planned murder," Aichele added.
Under German privacy laws, the full names of victims or suspects are not publicly released.
The mystery began last Aug. 16, when the body of a woman who had been stabbed to death was found by the parents of the 23-year-old German-Iraqi female in her parked vehicle in Ingolstadt, according to a statement from police in upper Bavaria north.
But a subsequent autopsy “raised serious doubts about the identity of the woman,” they said in a statement two days later.
It brought relief to the father of the 23-year-old, but not under the circumstances he expected. “The police came to us ... and said, ‘Good news, your daughter is alive.’ We were so happy. We thought she was dead,” German newspaper Bild quoted the woman's father as saying.
Instead, two days later, police said they had arrested the woman and another 23-year-old of Kosovan descent under suspicion of manslaughter. The two suspects have been in custody since, and the arrest warrants on suspicion of murder were issued late last week.
The dead woman, it turns out, was another 23-year-old woman who police said "looked strikingly similar" to the suspect.
"The suspects came up with the plan to search online for a woman who looked similar to the German-Iraqi, kill her and place her in such a way that the corpse would be mistaken for the suspect," police said in a statement Monday.
“She offered them various benefits in order to achieve a meeting. However, it did not come to a meeting with those women,” prosecutor Dr. Veronika Grieser said.
According to the Bavarian police, the main suspect contacted the victim through social media in early August and arranged a meeting on Aug. 16. She traveled with her friend in her car to the greater Heilbronn area, around 150 miles west of Ingolstadt, to pick up the victim at home, police said.
The victim was lured out of the vehicle and stabbed to death in a wooded area “insidiously and for base motives,” the statement added.
Fiona Brookman, a professor of criminology at the University of South Wales, called the case “very unusual,” not least because females make up 10% or less of homicide cases. Female-on-female cases are even rarer, she added.
Finally, “committing a murder in order to fake one’s own death — I have never come across a homicide of this kind before,” she added.
Andy Eckardt reported from Mainz, Germany, and Aina J. Khan from London.