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Kidnapped German Boy Found Dead

Crime: Son of a wealthy Frankfurt banker is slain even though family paid nearly $1 million in ransom. Authorities charge 27-year-old tutor.

October 02, 2002|JEFFREY FLEISHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERLIN — The body of the 11-year-old son of a prominent Frankfurt banking family was found near a lakeside dock Tuesday, despite the payment of nearly $1 million in ransom to the boy's kidnapper, police said.

Jakob von Metzler is believed to have been kidnapped by a 27-year-old law student and tutor who had befriended the family and is now in custody, according to police. Jakob's parents, Friedrich and Silvia von Metzler, paid a $990,000 ransom after receiving a note Friday shortly after Jakob didn't return to the family's gated mansion in Frankfurt after school.

The abduction riveted a country that remembers a string of high-profile kidnappings in the 1980s and '90s. Newspapers and TV ran photos of Jakob. Neighbors left flowers outside the Von Metzler home.

The prominence and wealth of the Von Metzlers made them targets, police said. The family bank--with offices in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York and elsewhere--was founded in 1674. Friedrich von Metzler is an 11th-generation scion and philanthropist who donates millions of dollars annually to museums, theaters and colleges, including the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

Police said the suspect knew Von Metzler's teenage children and used this relationship to lure Jakob from his journey home from public school. A family friend told German TV on Tuesday that the suspect--whose name was not released--tutored the Von Metzler children in English and German.

A servant found the ransom note on the gate of the family's home. Police set up surveillance and on Sunday evening watched as the suspect collected the money at an arranged drop-off point.

Police said they didn't immediately arrest the man in hopes that he would lead investigators to the boy. But he didn't, and he was arrested Monday after police allegedly found some of the ransom money in his apartment. He has been charged with kidnapping and murder.

More than 1,000 police officers and 20 dogs scoured the woods near the family home and a lake south of Frankfurt. The search was fruitless. Police later shifted locations and discovered Jakob's body bundled and lying near a dock about 40 miles north of the city.

The ransom note promised that "the boy would be returned safely after the money was paid," Frankfurt Police Chief Harald Weiss-Bollandt said. "Our main hope was to protect the life of the child.... I can tell you of the dismay of the other children that the 27-year-old had tried to befriend them."

The kidnapping and slaying were reminiscent of the 1988 abduction of 15-month-old Patrick Padberg from his millionaire parents. The kidnapper killed the boy, then tried to collect a $600,000 ransom and was arrested. In 1991, 6-year-old Peter Fiszman was released in Cologne after his family paid a ransom. Five years later, the boy's uncle, Jakub Fiszman, owner of an electronics business, was abducted and found dead after the family paid a $2.6-million ransom.

There were 90 abductions in Germany last year, including 20 cases in which the family paid a ransom without contacting police, said Claus-Walter Herbertz, a lawyer and criminal psychologist who consults with wealthy families and corporations on kidnappings and blackmail.

"If you have the opportunity, you will always pay a ransom," he said. "The parents feel they have a chance to get the child back."

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