Authorities say human remains found by a mushroom picker in a German forest belong to a 9-year-old girl who vanished in 2001.
Peggy Knobloch never made it home from school on May 7, 2001, and her disappearance sparked a massive manhunt. Witnesses told police that they'd seen Peggy within 50 yards of her home on the day she disappeared, The Telegraph reported, and police and soldiers combed the surrounding woods for weeks in search of her.
The investigation reached as far as Turkey and the Czech Republic after some of the almost 5,000 tips police received indicated Peggy may have been kidnapped.
But it appears Peggy was killed or buried about 9 miles from her home in Bavaria, authorities told The Telegraph. Police said Peggy was probably killed elsewhere, and her killer or killers moved her body to the thickly wooded area.
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“Obviously wild animals picked up the scent and dug up the remains,” Thomas Villwock of the local prosecutor’s office told the newspaper. “They were discovered by a mushroom-picker on [July 2]. Personal items were also found that pointed towards Peggy.”
DNA tests confirmed the remains are Peggy's, the newspaper reported on July 5, while the missing girl's mother identified a watch her daughter was wearing on the day she vanished.
Authorities cautioned that the investigation is still ongoing. The discovery of Peggy's body hasn't yet yielded clues about how or why she disappeared, and experts said it will not be easy to glean information from an autopsy.
“The bones were in the forest for 15 years," said Herbert Potzel, the chief state prosecutor. "Details of the cause of death are not yet available."
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Ulvi Kulac, a local man who suffered from learning disabilities, was arrested and convicted of Peggy's murder in 2004. But Kulac's conviction was overturned in 2014 after defense attorneys proved Kulac confessed under duress.
Kulac was interrogated more than 40 times without an attorney present, the Independent reported, while the BBC said the then-convict served 10 years in a psychiatric hospital until he was cleared of wrongdoing.
Authorities interviewed several other suspects over the years, but have not found compelling evidence that any of them were responsible for Peggy's death.
Over the years, the media has compared Peggy's disappearance to the case of British girl Madeleine McCann, who vanished in May 2007 when she was 3 years old. Madeleine disappeared from her own bed while her family was on vacation in Praia da Luz, Portugal, and the resulting media coverage made Madeleine's disappearance "the most heavily reported missing-person case in modern history," a Telegraph columnist wrote in 2008.
Peggy's case, which was also the subject of heavy press coverage and intense scrutiny in her native Germany and Europe, resulted in her being dubbed as "the German Madeleine McCann."