Germans criticize handling of Mannheim death inquiry
Stars and Stripes October 15, 2005
German authorities investigating the death of Juliette Hams, a 36-year-old woman found dead in her Mannheim, Germany, quarters last week, still aren’t sure what killed her. And the German prosecutor handling the case is criticizing U.S. investigators for not calling German police sooner and moving evidence at the scene.
Authorities have ruled out homicide in Hams’ death, but an autopsy conducted Oct. 7 was inconclusive. Now authorities say they are theorizing that Hams, the Kenyan wife of a sergeant deployed to Afghanistan, may have died from a lethal interaction between alcohol and medications or drugs.
“That’s only speculation,” said Johann Larcher, the Mannheim prosecutor in charge of the case.
Asked if there were bottles of alcohol or pills in the area where Hams’ body was found, Larcher said, “That’s the problem. American police took many bottles away. These evidences — nobody can secure fingerprints and so on.”
Larcher said U.S. military police arrived at about 5 p.m. on Oct. 6 but did not call German police until 8 p.m. Under the status of forces agreement between Germany and the U.S., German authorities may retain jurisdiction of investigations of civilian deaths, even if they occur on base. In many cases, German and U.S. investigators conduct joint investigations. In all cases, German authorities must be notified.
“There is a rule, if a body is found in U.S. facilities, the U.S. police has to inform the German investigators immediately. That didn’t happen!” Larcher wrote in an e-mail.
Furthermore, he said, evidence in the case was replaced or removed or “taken away at a later time and brought back.”
Spokesmen for the U.S. Army’s provost marshal in Mannheim and the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command denied their investigators had done anything wrong.
“Our military police are professionals who handled the tragic death of Mrs. Hams with compassion and within proper procedures,” Sieg Heppner, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Garrison Mannheim, wrote in an e-mail. “The German prosecutor’s office has not made any complaints to us,” the statement said.
Likewise, Chris Grey, CID public affairs chief at Fort Belvoir, Va., wrote in an e-mail that “CID followed appropriate procedures for notification and crime-scene evidence collection, and did so in coordination with the German police. To date, we have not had any report to the contrary from the German police. … If someone has information that differs from that, we encourage them to report it immediately.”
But Susanne Ebner, a spokeswoman for the Mannheim police, said German police agreed that the Americans were too slow in notifying them. “It was pretty late when we were informed, and they called and said there was a dead woman found,” Ebner said. “We think it should be as soon as possible.”
Ebner also agreed that evidence had been moved but she didn’t see that as especially harmful to the investigation. Possibly, she said, U.S. authorities had removed evidence as they began to investigate Hams’ death, then returned it when they learned the Germans were taking the case.
Ebner said the delay in notification was “unusual,” that German and U.S. authorities conduct investigations differently but that cooperation is generally good.
But Larcher had a different view. “There is a great problem to work together with the CID and MPs,” he said. “They call us, in some cases, much too late.”
Authorities are awaiting toxicology results from tissue samples sent to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Heidelberg. Those results may take six weeks, Larcher said.
Hams’ body was discovered in her bedroom in her quarters in Benjamin Franklin Village on Oct. 6, five days after she was last seen — and five days after she died, according to Larcher.
Authorities ruled out homicide because of no signs of trauma, such as gunshot or knife wounds.
Hams’ husband, 1st Sgt. Pierre Hams, had returned from Afghanistan to deal with his wife’s death. He was working on having her buried in Kenya, said Maj. Philip Ayer, executive officer of the 510th Personal Support Battalion. There was to be no local memorial service, Ayer said.
Pierre Hams, asked through Ayer if he wanted to comment, declined, Ayer said.