I first learned about Tristan Bruebach on Reddit’s Unresolved Mysteries about two years ago. The case of the thirteen year old boy brutally murdered in a water tunnel that ran under a roadway was so outrageous and upsetting that it surprised me that it had not filtered out to English-speaking true crime buffs. Tristan’s murder had elements that initially reminded me of The Family murders in Australia, but I’d never seen all the elements of Tristan Bruebach’s murder anywhere else. It was a crime that to me was very much sui generis, and later analysis from German investigators echoed my opinion. Nowhere on Earth have we seen another murder like Tristan’s.
I don’t have a lot of time for Reddit these days but I go back from time to time and I somehow managed to visit Unresolved Mysteries on the same day last year when someone posted that the police had a suspect in the murder of Tristan Bruebach. Eager to learn the motives behind the murder, I read up on the suspect – Manfred Seel – and was initially very skeptical. The investigation into Manfred Seel itself seemed odd to me. Seel is accused of murdering two female coworkers in the 1970s, two female prostitutes in the 1990s, another female prostitute in the 2000s, and school boy Tristan in 1998. It was hard to see how this one man could be linked to murders of two women he worked with, then have 20 years of inactivity followed by two murders of prostitutes, with a gap of several years until he killed Tristan. The time frame is problematic, and the killings involved vastly different victim pools.
As mentioned already, Tristan’s murder was very unusual. More on that later but it can be said that it’s not unexpected that a killer who preys on female coworkers is a different killer than a man who selects prostitutes as victims, and both killers would be different than a person who kills pre-pubescent boys. As I began reading about Manfred Seel I found myself surprised because the more I read, the more I could understand how it is that the German police reached the conclusions they did. I am unsure if I wholly buy that Seel murdered Tristan, but the authorities make a compelling case and I hope eventually more information comes to light.
Originally I thought I was going to be writing about how stupid I found the accusations pinning Seel as Tristan’s killer but after spending a couple of months scouring the Internet, whether or not I think Seel is responsible for Tristan’s murder is irrelevant. Even if Seel is not Tristan’s killer, the fact is that now both names are linked together – it’s hard to discuss Tristan without discussing Seel. It’s even harder for me to discuss Seel without discussing Tristan. Tristan’s case is bizarre and what happened to him, and later his family, is tragic. His case was marred with misinformation about his life, salacious rumors that were, irritatingly, repeated by the German press without a lick of proof, and even brought up in the Reddit thread about Tristan. Seel’s story is similarly strange, with unexpected behaviors, foul deeds and even fouler implications.
Obtaining all this information was difficult because so much of it is in the German language. In the end, I was pretty impressed at how much Google Translate has improved over the years, but it’s daunting for English-speakers who are just casually interested in the case to tackle all those news articles and to sort the good from the bad, to find articles that have fresh news and aren’t just a retelling of older information, updated with a bit of new information tacked on at the end. Since I spent so long sorting and reading, I decided to write about Tristan Bruebach and Manfred Seel, source cite as much as I could, and share the links I found to news stories that were helpful and brought understanding to both stories. Maybe this can serve as a small clearinghouse of information about the case for English-speaking readers. In this article I’ve included citation numbers correlating to the source that I got specific information from, and when you scroll down to these sources, I’ve included the English Google Translation for each article originally in German.
Under the cut I will discuss Tristan, Seel, Seel’s other victims and interesting information German profilers and investigators used to track down victims who were killed over 40 years ago. Please know that much of the information under the cut is disturbing. Extreme sexual deviancy, child murder, dismemberment, rape, potential cannibalism and possible necrophilia show up in telling Tristan’s and Seel’s stories. If any of this bothers you, don’t read any further.
Tristan’s Last Day Alive
Tristan Bruebach was a blue-eyed, dark-blond, thirteen year old schoolboy when he was murdered in 1998. Born in 1984, he spent his short life in districts of Frankfurt. His mother Iris died in 1995 and his father Bernd worked full-time at a retail shop in Frankfurt Station (18) to support Tristan. Tristan’s grandmother lived with them, providing additional financial and emotional support to the family. Tristan developed a sense of independence earlier than many of his peers, and this independence led people to leap to all sorts of conclusions about his life when he was murdered. His classmates gave a lot of misinformation to the press, who reported it as truth, linking Tristan to all sorts of criminal elements in Frankfurt-Hoechst. It would take years to put paid to those strange and scurrilous accusations about Tristan.
For a boy who others accused of being a child prostitute or a drug dealer, Tristan’s last day alive was relatively prosaic and well-observed by others. March 26, 1998 was the last day of school before the Easter holidays began. Bernd Bruebach left for work at 4:30 AM. Tristan was accustomed to getting himself up and ready for school on his own, but this day he called his father at work around 8:00 AM asking if he could miss school and go to the doctor, complaining of back pain. Bernd told Tristan to go to school and that they would seek medical care if he later still felt pain. Tristan met up with a friend on the way to school and the two decided to smoke a cigarette before class and ended up arriving to school late, close to second period at 9:00 AM.
Teachers verify that Tristan was at school until 1:30 PM. After lunch, he told his teacher that his back hurt badly and he wanted to go to the doctor. He told her that he had fallen from a tree, but it’s more likely his back pain originated from a rock fight he engaged in the day before. Strangely, the teacher agreed and dismissed Tristan for the day.
Tristan was next seen on a train returning to the Hoechst station. A friend saw him sitting at the back of the train car, as was Tristan’s custom. From 2:00 to 2:20 PM, Tristan’s friend Boris, the same kid he smoked a cigarette with earlier, saw him on the train and tried to get Tristan’s attention but was unable to. A third student who was on his way home also saw Tristan between 2:15-2:25 PM. The student said Tristan was sitting on a bench at the Hoechst station. The last time Tristan was seen alive was around 3:20 PM, still sitting on a bench. A woman who was walking her dog interacted with Tristan. Tristan was a confident, friendly kid and he asked her questions about her dog as he pet the animal. When the woman walked away, she noted Tristan was seated on a bench next to two men, whom she said appeared foreign to her. Tristan also made brief appearances on closed circuit television cameras as he visited different locations in the station. None of these images showed anything of significance but added credence to those who said they saw Tristan alive and moving about the station.
Around 3:30 PM, three students who wanted to take a bus to a sports field decided to use the Liederbach water tunnel as a short cut. The Liederbach tunnel was a 130-meter, walk-thru water tunnel that ran under the Frankfurt-Hoechst station (1). This tunnel had often been used as a short cut for children whose school was at the north end of the station (2). Still, it was a dark and daunting shortcut for younger children and many kids used the tunnel only when in groups. When the three students entered the tunnel they saw a man leaning over a concrete riser on the side of the tunnel.
They could not tell what he was doing but they were unnerved enough that they decided not to continue to walk through the tunnel. It seems very likely that these three kids saw Tristan’s murder without realizing what they were witnessing. Later the three kids gave a description of the man they saw that was turned into a suspect drawing.
At 5:08 PM, the police received a call that a body was found in the tunnel. Two children who attended a nearby school were playing when they entered the tunnel and found Tristan’s body, at around 4:00 PM. They raced back to their school and told a teacher what they had found. It took them a while to convince her that they were telling the truth, but eventually she either believed them or decided to err on the side of caution and the teacher called the police. When the police arrived to search the tunnel, they found Tristan’s mutilated body.
The investigators who saw Tristan’s body never recovered from the sight, stating that Tristan was so battered and bloody they had to make an initial identification via a name label in his schoolbag (15). They had never before seen the sorts of injuries inflicted on Tristan (15). There is some belief that Tristan’s throat was cut just outside the tunnel and he was bled out, then pulled back into the tunnel for further mutilation (15).
Tristan’s throat had been cut, his testicles were removed from his scrotum, and parts of his thigh and buttock area were cut away (2). The killer may have used Tristan’s backpack to carry his body parts away from the scene. Tristan’s backpack was later found in a forested area near Niederahausen in March 1999 (1). Inside the pack was a Czech-language map of Germany (2). When the police found Tristan, they found his shoes placed neatly atop his chest (1). Police found a bloody fingerprint near Tristan’s body (1) but as of now I cannot see that anyone has been linked to that print. Manfred Seel was never on a list of potential suspects. I cannot find if his fingerprints were ever taken and, if they were, if they were compared to the fingerprint found in the tunnel.
The three teens who may have witnessed the murderer stalking Tristan gave the following description of the man they saw: 1.75 meters tall, long hair worn in a braid under a cap, and notably seemed to have scars from a repaired hare lip. This information was given to a police artist who came up with the identikit image to the left (10).
Profilers said that Tristan’s killer was a man likely between the ages of 25-35 with no close friends or family and was a pedophile (10). If Seel was Tristan’s murderer the profile missed him by a mile, getting only his gender correct. Even though they believed that this profile suspect was an antisocial loner, they also believed he knew Tristan in some manner before the attack (1). The notion that Tristan’s killer knew him, when combined with his relative independence and back pain, created bizarre theories about the murdered child.
Because he was a latch key kid, and because he complained of a back ache and wanted to stay home from school, that somehow meant Tristan was being sexually abused, or was working as a child prostitute and/or was involved in the drug trade. According to rumors, his freedom gave him the time to be a prostitute or sell drugs, however irrational that may sound. His backache could be due to vigorous sex or a sexually transmitted disease causing pelvis or lower back pain, or maybe his back hurt because he had been shoving balloons full of drugs up his rectum. These theories implied that Tristan was killed by a regular john who paid Tristan for sex or because Tristan somehow ended up ripping off a drug dealer who killed him in reprisal. After he was murdered, kids told the news that Tristan was a drug dealer and was killed in a turf war, and that he was terribly neglected (15). Neither, of course, was true. The rumors that have cropped up about his murder, achieving urban legend status, haven’t helped much either. School children in the area, many of whom were not alive when Tristan was murdered, delight in talking about the case, insisting Tristan was held captive for three days and that his bones were later placed inside a bag in the tunnel (15).
For all the media problems in the case, the police in Germany worked hard to find Tristan’s killer, looking in particular at a butcher and a veteran from the war in Yugoslavia (18). Police took fingerprints from 7,000 men between the ages of 15-45, an effort that at the time was the largest investigation of its kind in Germany (18). All men over the age of 18 in Hoechst were ordered to give fingerprints (2). But after a while, the case achieved what in the USA is called “cold case” status. No arrests were made, no real leads led to a viable suspect.
In 2013, the police began to revisit the case. A new profile was made of the murderer that wasn’t much different from the first. The profilers postulated that the killer was a man between 25-35 years of age, was antisocial, was socially withdrawn with no family or intimate partners, and lived close to the Frankfurt station (13). In December 2013, a documentary about the case aired and 300 tips were called into the police (13). It’s unclear if the tips were useful, but the real importance of this documentary is that it was instrumental in changing how the police looked at the case.
Tristan’s father, Bernd Bruebach, managed to counter some of these theories when he appealed directly to the German public (2). He stated that Tristan had not become involved in drugs nor did he hang around drug addicts and dealers after his mother Iris died. Bernd and Tristan lived with Tristan’s grandmother and the boy was not alone all day and night, left to roam wild and with no supervision. He was just a typical boy, one who may not have wanted to go to school on the last day before his Easter break, who may have been using a bruise from a rock fight as a pretense to stay home. Once police dismissed the notion that Tristan was a wild child who somehow courted danger, they began to rethink their notion of who the murderer might be. They began to believe that the injuries Tristan received were significant to the killer and not the result of a killer reacting to something Tristan had done (18).
Bernd Bruebach died in December 2014, never seeing justice done for his son (10). But even had he lived he would have been robbed of the catharsis of potentially seeing Tristan’s killer brought to trial, since Seel’s crimes were not discovered until after his own death. Bernd died a broken man, having lost his wife and his son.
Unusual and Weird Elements to the Bruebach Case
After Tristan’s funeral the police received a call from a man claiming to be Tristan’s murderer. He claimed to be calling from the Frankfurt-Hoechst station and asked the police to come arrest him. The police asked him for his description and he said he was 1.8 meters tall, with long black hair. Of course the caller was gone by the time the police arrived. If the killer was Manfred Seel, this was most certainly a false confession of sorts, a problem that plagues many cases that get a lot of publicity. Here’s a link to Reddit user madakora’s translation of the call from German to English.
Tristan’s murder was horrible and bizarre but the strangeness didn’t stop after the poor boy was buried. In October 1999, someone attempted to dig up Tristan’s grave. The ghoul dug down over a meter into the grave plot, dumping the dirt onto a plastic tarp they set up nearby, but did not reach or open the coffin (1). Tristan’s grandmother was the person who discovered the grave desecration (2). No one has any idea who attempted to tamper with Tristan’s grave but given some of the unsettling details I will discuss about Manfred Seel, I almost wonder if he decided to reclaim his victim. Strange things have happened in this case – the killer digging up Tristan’s body to steal it would be right at home with other elements of Seel’s profile.
The strangest element to Tristan’s murder is how completely unique it was and still is. My initial feeling that this was a case I had no corollary for was borne out by several investigators who said that Tristan’s murder is unlike any other in the annals of crime history. The most similar cases I could find were The Family murders in Australia, but even those, once I had more information, weren’t really that similar. The Family murderers, a suspected shadowy cabal of Australian elites who kidnapped young men, keeping them drugged and sexually torturing them over time, seemed similar but that was only because so many details online prior to the Manfred Seel revelation indicated that Tristan received grievous anal injury. A couple of the boys and men killed by The Family could be said to have been raped to death, bleeding out after continual rape or bleeding when a foreign object, like a glass bottle, was inserted broken into their rectums.
Online there was and still is a belief that Tristan’s injury to his buttocks was anal in nature. One interesting but ultimately incorrect site posited that Tristan had been the subject of prolonged sexual abuse and that his killer feared discovery if Tristan sought medical care and attacked him to remove evidence of anal rape. The site also postulates that Tristan had secreted some sort of evidence related to criminal enterprise in his rectum and that was also a potential cause of the attack. But Tristan’s anus was not cored out or somehow removed, as some believed. His testicles were removed and thigh and buttock flesh was excised. The idea that he had his anus removed feeds into the drug selling rumors about the boy – inserting drugs into his body to escape detection, selling, or by acting as a drug mule in some manner. They also propped up the idea the child may have been a prostitute, anally attacked by an angry john. None of that is true.
Tristan’s murder really is sui generis. True crime buffs will find it impossible to find a second case that has all the following elements:
–young boy attacked in broad daylight
–young boy attacked in the outdoors in a place of easy discovery
–young boy’s neck is cut
–young boy is bled out
–young boy is castrated, removing testicles from his scrotum
–young boy has chunk of flesh removed from buttock and thigh
–young boy’s body parts removed from scene by killer using boy’s own backpack
–young boy’s shoes placed on his chest after the murder and mutilation
It’s absolutely the only case of its kind. You’ll see elements of what happened to the women Seel is accused of killing all throughout recorded history. You’ll find dozens of bodies where sexual organs were removed or mutilated in a manner identical to what it is believed Seel did to several of his victims (the final victim attributed to him is harder to pin down given how long he kept the body). I am unsure if the completely different nature of Tristan’s murder works for or against Seel being his killer but it’s worth noting that a man accused of killing women, more than half prostitutes, who killed them in familiar though terribly sadistic manners, engaged in a one-of-a-kind murder when he deviated from killing women.
Manfred Seel, Prostitute Killer, Possible Serial Killer
Just the Facts
Manfred Seel had the outward appearance of a completely normal man. He was a husband and father, a business owner, and a fan of jazz music. He was such a fan he performed in local amateur jazz bands (5).
Seel was born in 1946. In 1967, he met the woman he would eventually marry, and served in the Army from 1967-1969. In 1970, he began working in a nursing home, the same place two of his earliest suspected victims worked. In 1973, Seel got married. In 1975 he began taking college art classes, specializing in photography. He never graduated but he began to work in a photography business started with a friend. In 1979, his daughter was born. Seel was an alcoholic and made a personal attempt to stop drinking in 1994, going to rehab in 1996. Later in 1996 he traveled throughout Asia and Africa (19). Before his death Seel worked as a landscape architect (7). He died of cancer in August 2014, aged 67 (3). His wife died four months before he did.
In September 2014, Manfred Seel’s daughter found human remains in a garage her father rented in Schwalbach. Inside two small plastic barrels that had been sealed with tension rings, she found human body parts (3). The remains belonged to a single woman, Britta Simone Diallo. Simone’s identity was proven via her fingerprints, which were still preserved and viable even though her body had been subject to extensive mutilation (19). Her left arm was never recovered (2).
Simone disappeared during autumn in 2003 (19). She had worked as a prostitute in the train district in Frankfurt and her fingerprints were on file due to an arrest for a petty offense (19). Frank Herrmann, a detective working for the Landeskriminalamt (LKA), which is a state-wide police organization that answers to the Germany Ministry of the Interior, worked on cases involving other murdered and missing prostitutes and never really thought Simone had been killed, thinking she had simply moved on from the area. The contents of those blue barrels proved him wrong (19).
Simone Diallo’s story contains a lot of uneasy details. Though she disappeared at some point in late 2003, Seel didn’t rent the garage where her remains were found until 2008 (5). The implication is, obviously, that Seel kept Diallo’s body with him and moved it to the garage years after she was dead. He was confident enough that he felt comfortable keeping her remains and then moving them from one place to another. Simone’s remains show she may have been tortured sexually over a prolonged period of time. The evidence also pointed to the notion that this murder was not the first time Seel killed someone (5), due to the damage done to the body as well as the steps taken to conceal the murder and keep the body with him for over a decade. Very specific and terrible things were done to her body. Her arms and legs were severed using a handsaw. Eight nails had been driven into her pelvis and joints, and it’s believed she was alive when this was done to her (19).
Convinced that Simone’s murder was part of a longer, larger criminal life, the LKA appealed to the German public. As I discuss the investigation into Seel’s activities, it is important to note that the only case where there is any forensic evidence that directly links Seel to a victim is the Simone Diallo case (16). But through her case detectives were able to gain more information about Seel. Frank Herrmann spoke to a denizen of the rougher parts in the Frankfurt train station area and she told him she had seen Seel interacting with Diallo before. She said that Seel was known in the area and was a frequent visitor, mostly on Saturday nights. This woman said Seel was so rigid and uptight that they believed he was a pastor or some other sort of religious man. She once got into his car and he frightened her by groping her aggressively. She told her fellow prostitutes to look out for him, and she also said she later saw him at a jazz concert. Herrmann believes her account (19).
She was not alone in providing an account of Seel’s activities in the seedier parts of Frankfurt. Several other witnesses stated that Simone Diallo was observed getting into Seel’s car (5). Others reported that Simone was a severe alcoholic and a prostitute who specialized in S&M clientele. A pub owner said Diallo often hung around his bar but seldom had much money, frequently begging other customers to buy her drinks (19). Diallo cut an unmistakable profile – she was often dirty and disheveled, had missing teeth and purple hair (19). Yet in spite of a life spent living hard and soliciting sex to fund her drinking, people described Diallo as strangely naive, and that she was the sort who would do just about anything for money. Herrmann described her as a “perfect victim” (19).
Once the LKA released information about Manfred Seel, as many as eighty different witnesses came forth with information about him. In response the LKA formed a task forced called “Alaska” to further investigate Manfred Seel. “Alaska” then appealed again to the public for anyone with information regarding potential murder sites, or information regarding places where Seel may have rented rooms or storage spaces (4). The police began to focus on missing prostitutes whose unsolved murders showed elements that matched the damage done to Simone’s body, women whose addictions and risky line of work may have left them prey to a man like Seel (3).
Herrmann believes Gisela Singh’s murder is similar enough to Simone Diallo’s that he considers her a victim of Seel’s as well. Mushroom hunters in a forest near Hofheim found Gisela’s battered body in 1991. Gisela Singh was an unfortunate woman, an HIV+ addict who had worked as a prostitute in the Frankfurt area for around sixteen years and was known for her willingness to service johns who would not use condoms. She was very familiar to emergency services and first responders in Frankfurt, as she overdosed often and was also victim to the abuses street prostitutes experience as an occupational hazard. Herrmann calls her a “perfect victim” too, a woman whose precarious life put her in frequent danger and a person few would immediately notice missing (19). She had a daughter whom she did not raise and was a client at places that attempted to give help to drug addicts but beyond those relatively weak ties, there were few people who would realize she was missing.
The mushroom hunters found Gisela with her stomach cut open and part of her intestine removed. Her pants, socks and shoes were folded neatly and arranged by her head. This clue would be key in eventually linking Seel to the killing of Tristan Bruebach.
Herrmann found another case he believes is a murder Seel committed, that of Dominique Monrose. In 1993, street cleaners found Dominique Monrose’s limbless torso. She was 31 and from Martinique and, like Gisela and Simone, worked as a prostitute. She was also an addict and was homeless, and another perfect victim in that she went missing and no one particularly noticed or was surprised by her absence. Her arms and one leg were later discovered inside a garbage bag and, curiously, animal bones lay scattered on the ground around the bag (19).
Alexander Horn, a profiler who works with Operational Case Analysis in Bavaria (5) and who leads the “Alaska” task force, also sees a link between Dominique and Simone that shows that Seel killed them both. He believes that Seel kept parts of Dominique’s body with him before dumping her body, and this belief is bolstered by the level of decay found in her body parts once they were discovered. Her left leg has never been found (19). Simone’s left arm has never been found, and her body was definitely kept long after her death. One is left wondering if left limbs had a special significance to the killer.
Yet even finding two earlier victims whose murders exhibited the methods used in Simone’s murder didn’t end the investigation. Frank Herrmann felt that there had to be even earlier victims and said that because Seel was 47 when he killed Gisela Singh in 1991, it seems very unlikely that she was his first victim. Killers don’t generally start engaging in violent murder when they are middle-aged. Mulling this over, Herrmann looked back at older unsolved murders and discovered two more victims he feels certain were killed by Seel (19).
In 1971, Gudrun Ebel was found in a garden shed in Frankfurt. She was nineteen-years-old and worked at the retirement home where Seel also worked. Her stomach had been cut open, and her stomach, small intestine and right ovary were removed (19). As in all such cases where a killer cuts open a human body with any level of finesse, the coroner stated that the killer must have some sort of anatomical knowledge (19). Her family always believed that her killer was a medical student who was obsessed with her but it is unknown if they believed a specific man killed her or if this is a generic theory on their part, based on the statement that the killer had some medical knowledge (19).
Herrmann believes the way Gudrun’s body was cut apart points to her not being Seel’s first victim, either. The cuts were too precise, and the murder too organized to be the first victim. Herrmann believes Seel likely practiced on animals (giving a new horror to the animal bones found around Dominique’s limbs) and recalls that a horse farm nearby at the time had reported sexual attacks on their horses. Still Herrmann believes there was another human victim before Gudrun, though he has not found a candidate. He did, however, find another victim who was found after Gudrun (19).
Two months after Gudrun was found in that garden shed, Hatice Erülkeroglu’s body was found in Frankfurt. She was a 23 year old guest worker from Turkey and had two children remaining in her home country. Hatice quickly adapted to and adopted Western ways, wearing modern clothing, ceasing to wear her Muslim head dress and giving herself the nickname of Maria. She and Gudrun did not know each other but they worked at the same retirement home. When her body was found, her left breast and her labia were removed.
(Long aside: If you investigate this case on your own, you may find that some sources indicated that all five women linked as Seel’s victims were prostitutes. Respected news sources, like this article from the BBC, routinely got the facts wrong. This does not annoy me in a prudish manner, upset that “honest” women were labeled as prostitutes, though I am not a feminist who defends sex work – it’s invariably a terrible profession that leads to violence against women, addiction and social isolation, even when regulated and legalized. Rather, characterizing Seel’s first two victims as prostitutes skews the story in a manner that doesn’t show the escalation and stalking behaviors Seel developed in his killing career and it also is just crappy and sloppy because regardless of how one views sex work, Hatice’s children and Gudrun’s family likely resent their lost loved ones being mischaracterized after being murdered.)
In addition to the six victims most strongly linked to Seel, there are other prostitute murders the police are investigating in relation to Seel. In 1998, Julie Shroeder, age 19, disappeared, as did Gabrielle De Haas, age 32, in 1999. Both were Frankfurt prostitutes and drug addicts (16). Herrmann wonders if two other women are also potential Seel victims – only their heads have been recovered and without the rest of their remains, it’s hard to make a strong link between those two women and Seel (16). As of now, these are the only ten cases authorities have discussed in relation to Seel.
Addressing Problems with the Seel Case
Upon hearing about Manfred Seel, I immediately did what any true crime buff who spent years reading about serial killers and profilers would do: I put on my amateur criminologist cap and sought answers to some questions that made it hard for me to buy that Seel killed these six victims. Specifically, I wondered how it was that Seel managed to have such long cooling-off periods between murders – up to twenty years between attacks. Serial killers don’t often manage to remain stable and calm that long between killings. I also wondered how it was that Seel killed coworkers, then prostitutes, then a boy, then another prostitute, when generally serial killers stay within one specific type of victim. Luckily, I found some answers, and while I may not wholly buy these explanations, I also know that the German police were not just trying to close old cases by attributing them to a convenient patsy (looking at you, Texas law enforcement). They have sound reasons for believing Seel committed these murders. Also, I am not a professional in any capacity in law enforcement so my skepticism doesn’t mean as much as it does coming from someone who is trained as a profiler or an investigator.
Still, even with that caveat, the answers made sense, or came close enough.
The Extremely Long Periods Between Murders
If Seel killed Gudrun and Hatrice in 1971, and did not kill Gisela until 1991, is it likely that he had a cooling-off period of twenty years between the murders? Alexander Horn says that in some cases killers experience a stabilizing influence in their lives that reduces their urge to kill (19). Horn thinks that was at play with Seel. In 1973, Seel got married, he began taking college classes, though he didn’t graduate, and in 1979 his daughter was born. Horn believes these events and activities kept Seel busy enough that they could account for the twenty year lull.
Seel was also a chronic alcoholic and the intensity of his drinking could have affected his need to engage in such sadism. Horn also points out that during this time Seel set up his cellar hideaway that his wife and daughter were never allowed to enter and he never accounted for his time spent in there. In the cellar, Seel kept pornography, in print and on the computer, which may have temporarily served to sublimate his desires, though later investigators found signs it inspired some of his murder techniques. Seel’s daughter reported that her mother was very unhappy in her marriage and long suspected the Seel was doing something unpleasant or illegal in the cellar, something he hid from her, but was never sure what it was he was doing when he spent time locked away from his family (19).
The amount of pornography investigators found in Seel’s cellar is staggering. They found five terabytes spread over several computers, comprising over 30,000 images. The pornography was violent in nature, and investigators found images of (hopefully) simulated violence that was identical to what was done to Seel’s victims (19). This seems very damning but surely among 30,000 images almost every violent, sadistic sexual murder could conceivably be reproduced.
Seel used software to hide his online activities but it is known that he was active on two sites devoted to necrophilia. There is also proof that Seel visited and participated on forums devoted to cannibalism (5). Seel also had photography equipment in his cellar, probably left over from his days in his photography business but also potentially used to photograph his activities with his victims. This is a grim possibility, especially given how long it appears Seel kept certain bodies and body parts with him. Given his history as a photographer, it seems very unlikely that he did not photograph his victims (19) and investigators fear that Seel concealed photos of his victims online and the investigators have not been able to find them. Equally alarming was a picture Seel drew of a mutilated woman that mimicked every injury done to Gisela Singh, down to the angles foreign objects were gouged into her vagina (19). This is interesting especially given how investigators found images among Seel’s pornography, images unrelated to the case, that very closely matched the injuries done to Simone Diallo (16).
It’s hard to know if Seel’s obsession with violent pornography sublimated his murderous desires or gave him inspiration, but it is undeniable that even with the long lulls that Seel follows a pattern of escalation. If he did remain fallow for two decades, Seel’s murders showed an escalation in violence and expertise that increased over time. He mutilated and removed organs from his first two known victims. He tortured Gisela and took her organs. He completely dismembered Dominique and several of her body parts have never been recovered. He attacked Tristan in broad daylight, confident enough to expose himself to extreme risk. His last victim he tortured for a prolonged period of time, completely dismembered her, and kept her body with him, risking discovery, for over 10 years. It’s a classic pattern of escalation, and as an amateur I wonder if before he murdered, Seel engaged in rape, increasing in aggression until he eventually killed one of his victims (19).
Additionally, the way he selected victims showed more confidence as he got older and became more experienced. Initially he selected women he had access to in his daily life, women he worked with, and did not have to leave his comfort zone in order to stalk. These victims were riskier to him because they were not “perfect victims” in that they were not addicts or engaged in illegal behavior, but their proximity to him caught his prolonged attention and he could obtain access to them easily. Later he was confident enough to stalk, abduct and murder two prostitutes, leaving a safe environment and entering into a red light area where he was clearly an outsider and far easier to identify as a person of potential interest than he was at the retirement home. Then there was the daylight attack on a boy, a very risky attack that only a confident killer would attempt. Simone, the final known victim and the only victim that Seel is directly linked to without any shadow of doubt, was killed by a man confident enough to keep her body with him for years, never fearing detection. That final murder is not the murder of a novice.
And we cannot eliminate the possibility that there are undiscovered victims. Seel’s long lulls in killing may have been absorbed in family and work life or spent in thrall to violent pornography and communion with fellow necrophiles and cannibals online, but given that he is believed to have killed three prostitutes, it very well may be that this at-risk population has lost other victims who went missing with no one noticing.
How Does Tristan Fit into the MO of a Serial Killer Who Preyed Primarily on Women?
It can’t be stated enough that although eyewitnesses claim they saw Seel with all three murdered prostitutes, that he worked at the same location with two other victims, that there is no physical evidence linking him to any victim other than Simone Diallo. Though Frank Herrmann and Andrew Horn and the “Alaska” taskforce as a whole scoured unsolved murders and compared them to Simone Diallo and found what they believe are commonalities between the way that the victims were killed and the victims themselves, it seemed very unlikely that a man who killed female coworkers and drug-addicted prostitutes would then kill a pre-adolescent boy. But the investigators, Horn specifically, make an interesting case that shows how all these victims link together, in terms of injury and in terms of victim pool.
–Horn insists all six murders were carefully planned and the victims deliberately and purposefully selected. This means each victim sated a specific need in Seel, be it sadism, cannibalism or necrophilia.
–There is something about the the knife used in these murders that points to a single murderer but that point is never elaborated on in any of the sources I read.
–The murderer of all six victims was a sexual sadist, and what was done to Simone Diallo strongly indicates that Seel was such a killer.
–The killer took organs or body parts from the victims, likely to use as a part of a sexual fantasy and keep in his possession to enhance the control element of the murders for as long as he held onto them.
–Simone Diallo’s remains were kept for over a decade, and it is believed Dominique’s remains were kept for at least a few weeks.
–All the murders linked to Seel show that extreme sexual violence was used against the victims and that some were alive while this violence took place. One exception may have been Tristan as he was bled out before the attack began, likely because Seel had limited time and was killing near the busy train station. Tristan’s murder was more rushed due to the exposed nature of the attack (and that makes me wonder why Tristan’s murder fits in at all if Seel was a killer who preferred lots of time with his victims – cannibalism may be the answer, and more on that in a moment).
–Most interesting, Horn does not think that Tristan’s murder was somehow an aberration or a deviation from a specific MO. Horn believes Tristan was accessible and was selected due to that accessibility. Horn also believes that Tristan’s sex was a deliberate choice as well, that he was not killed in error. (If Horn goes into depth on this, I cannot find it but from my own admittedly amateur true crime interest, the fact that Tristan’s testicles were removed from his body shows a specific interest in his genitals. Additionally, placing his shoes on his chest shows a certain interest in Tristan on a personal level – a boy killed by mistake would have likely engendered disgust or disinterest and placing the shoes on his chest indicates that the killer was interested in him as a specific victim and treated him with some manner of respect after he killed him.)
–Other commonalities between Tristan and the female victims is the nature of the attack, the removal of organs and body parts, and the placing of the shoes similar to that which happened in the Gisela Singh murder.
–Alexander Horn states that Tristan, Gisele, and Dominique specifically were chosen as victims because they were helpless and had no social ties (19). This threw me at first because Tristan had a lot of social ties. He had teachers, a father, a grandmother and friends who would all notice and be alarmed if he went missing. But it seems that in Tristan’s case, Horn lumps him in with Gisela and Dominique because Tristan was often alone and fending for himself when his father and grandmother were at work, and was known to walk through the Frankfurt-Hoechst station alone, making him accessible to a killer like Seel (19). If one excluded Tristan’s age and sex, Horn believes he fits in perfectly as a victim type with the prostitutes (19).
Linking Seel to the Murders
Some of this is a bit repetitive but I want to make very clear the reasoning the police used to link Seel to these cases, setting it apart for emphasis. The motives for the murders Seel is believed to have committed are sexual sadism and cannibalism (9), and possibly necrophilia. The violence done to the bodies mirrored some of the pornography found on Seel’s computers, where investigators found around 30,000 pornographic images, though no images of the actual victims were ever found (9). But as mentioned above, a drawing Seel did of a dead body that mirrors what happened to Gisela and pornography found in his collection exhibits similarities between the simulated violence and what was done to his victims.
Simone Diallo is a slam dunk. There is no doubt Seel played a role in her death. So investigating what was done to Simone shows what sort of a killer Seel was. Alexander Horn says that the killer of these six people is a sadist who enjoys controlling victims as much as the cutting and sexual damage done to the bodies (5). Keeping a dead body would give him ultimate control over a victim (5).
The concept of a killer who wants sexual control over a dead body definitely points to Seel. Beyond what he did to Simone, Seel demonstrated more than a passing interest in necrophilia, as he was active on two necrophilia forums. Seel showed an interest in sexually controlling dead bodies and keeping Simone’s body with him for so long points toward necrophilia as well. If he is also the killer of Dominique Monrose, necrophilia is a possibility as evidence shows that her killer kept her remains for a while after she was killed. All six victims have body parts that have never been recovered and five of them, including Tristan, had parts of their sex organ removed, and those parts were also never recovered. If Seel is a sexual sadist whose sadism is sated by keeping and abusing body parts and sex organs of his victims, all six victims linked to him show signs that their murders would have satisfied that need.
Additionally there is evidence that Seel was interested in cannibalism, and had an online footprint that showed he participated on sites devoted to cannibalism. The removal of Tristan’s thigh and buttock muscle, as well as the removal of his testicles from his scrotum, could potentially link his murder to a person interested in cannibalism. On cannibal forums, that part of the human leg is considered a prized cut, a human filet, so to speak (19). Not discussed is that his testicles could also show that he was killed by a cannibal – the testicles of young mammals are considered a delicacy to some and the specific removal of these organs from his body rather than just severing them while inside his scrotum may point to a killer whose mutilation of Tristan was fueled by a desire that transcended just sadism. More horrible to consider is the way Tristan was believed to have been bled out before his murder. Anyone who has ever processed an animal carcass knows that bleeding the animal out beforehand is done before the animal is skinned and butchered. Finally, Tristan was very young and flesh from younger “animals” is more desirable. If Seel exercised his cannibalistic interests, a youngster like Tristan would have been preferable to an adult. A boy would have been preferable to a girl as people seldom eat the ovaries of mammals but the testicles of mammals are a different story (Rocky Mountain Oysters come to mind). If cannibalism fueled the attack on Tristan, that can explain the desire to kill a male rather than a female.
If Seel murdered all six victims “Alaska” has attributed to him and is the sadist investigators described, he eventually had the space with which to satisfy his need to torture and sexually abuse the body parts of his victims. Gudrun and Hatrice were murdered before he was able to set up his cellar and before he had photography expertise but the last three female victims show that they were murdered by a person who had time and space to kill them, which Seel had.
Did Seel Act Alone?
Both Alexander Horn and Frank Herrmann believe that Seel had an accomplice. Though it was not elaborated on, there was something about the evidence found in the garage where Diallo’s body was found that made investigators believe Seel had an accomplice (8). I’ve spent time wondering what that evidence could be. I initially wondered if there was some proof found in how Diallo’s body was dismembered that indicated there were two killers, perhaps one who was left-handed versus one who was right-handed. Mr OTC brought up the possibility of bite marks, two separate sets of tooth impressions left on Diallo’s body. Hopefully one day the authorities will elaborate on what they found that makes them think that Seel had an accomplice.
Investigators are currently looking at a man named Harry Mayer, a life-long friend and business partner of Seel’s. Both men were alcoholics and their friendship was described as close and codependent. Mayer died six months before Seel, and police wonder if Mayer was Seel’s suspected accomplice (19). I attempted to find images of Mayer online to see if he in any way resembled the police drawing of the man those three kids claim they saw killing Tristan in the tunnel – the blond man with a ponytail and a repaired hair-lip – but was unsuccessful.
I’m not sure if I yet completely accept that Manfred Seel killed Tristan Bruebach, or was involved in his murder through an accomplice. I can say that there is far more to link him to the killing than I initially thought possible. But even so there are questions that aren’t answered, or questions that can have several answers at once.
Like how likely is it that a killer can be driven by three major desires: sexual sadism manifested through prolonged torture and control of the victim’s body after death, necrophilia, and cannibalism. None of these are contradictory in how they might affect a murder, but do they not point to different psychological needs? Not necessarily. Cannibals report that dismembering the body for consumption makes them feel powerful and that it gives them a sense of control because they are then able to feel like they have kept the person they consumed with them forever. That Seel could have all of these motives at once isn’t the stumbling block I initially thought, though I’m stumped at the moment coming up with another killer who had all three desires fueling their killing spree. Andre Chikatilo comes close, but the claims of his cannibalism are believed to be false. He liked to bite and mutilate his victims with his teeth but he did not eat their flesh aside from swallowing small parts, like nipples, in his biting frenzy. Cannibalism was not a specific need sated by his murders. As unusual as Tristan’s murder is, it may be that Seel is just as unusual.
I also wonder why, once he knew he was ill, Seel didn’t take steps to conceal or dispose of Simone Diallo’s remains. He had to have known that his own daughter might be the one to find that poor woman dismembered in those two barrels. Even sick, he could have mustered the energy in the early days of his illness to cover his tracks. Dispose of the remains. Wipe the hard drives of his computers and take them to the dump.
I can’t help but think that Seel wanted his crimes to be found out after his death. He left enough proof behind to show what he had done to one woman, to show the variety of his interests, and went to his death certain that before long he would be the focus of an investigation. Did he hope the police would link him to all these crimes? Possibly, and one finds it easy to speculate about how much Seel might enjoy the idea that after death he “controlled” the actions of dozens of investigators as they looked into his life and crimes.
Mostly I am left with an image of a foul, despicable man. The sort of man who enjoyed controlling and torturing people. He had done his best in life to keep his wife and daughter ignorant of his hidden life, but that was born from a need for secrecy. He didn’t keep his actions from them to protect them from the shame and horror – he kept it from them to protect himself. I wonder if the idea of his own child finding Simone’s dismembered body and the impact it would have on her was his final act of sadism.
Sources and Interesting Reading
I will be adding to this reading list and possibly to the entry itself as/if new information comes out. If you have any sources you think are worth discussing, please let me know. Aside from Reddit, I did my best to stay out of message boards and true crime sleuth-style boards because in such places wild rumors abound but am willing to look at any information people may find helpful to see if it adds to the story in a meaningful way.
1) http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/fall-tristan-ein-blutiger-fingerabdruck-als-wichtigste-spur-14242715.html / Translation from German to English
2) http://www.fnp.de/rhein-main/Grausige-Verbrechen;art801,2018097 / Translation from German to English
3) http://www.fnp.de/rhein-main/Mordfall-Tristan-aufgeklaert;art801,2018096 / Translation from German to English
4. http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/serienmorde-in-hessen-fahnder-pruefen-80-neue-hinweise-a-1093727.html/ Translation from German to English
5. http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/manfred-seel-spiegel-tv-auf-den-spuren-des-mutmasslichen-serienmoerders-a-1093309.html / Translation from German to English
6. http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/fall-tristan-bruebach-profiler-alexander-horn-ueber-manfred-seel-a-1092904.html / Translation from German to English
9. http://hessenschau.de/panorama/grausige-details-zum-schwalbacher-serienmoerder-,serienmoerder-schwalbach-100.html / Translation from German to English
10. http://www.fr-online.de/kriminalitaet/fall-tristan-frankfurt-jagt-ein-phantom,25733026,34261656.htmlt= / Translation from German to English
13. http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/15-jahre-nach-der-tat-300-neue-hinweise-im-mordfall-tristan-12706048.html / Translation from German to English
14. http://www.focus.de/regional/frankfurt-am-main/kriminalitaet-neues-taeterprofil-im-mordfall-tristan_id_3424615.html / Translation from German to English
15. http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/tristan-bruebach-brachte-ein-serienmoerder-den-jungen-um-a-1092632.html / Translation from German to English
16. http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/tristan-bruebach-aus-hessen-was-die-polizei-ueber-den-verdaechtigen-manfred-seel-weiss-a-1093098.html / Translation from German to English
17. http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/tristan-bruebach-aus-frankfurt-polizei-untersucht-spur-zu-moeglichem-serienmoerder-a-1092644.html / Translation from German to English
18. http://www.fnp.de/lokales/frankfurt/Tristans-Vater-starb-als-gebrochener-Mann;art675,1281870 / Translation from German to English
19. Der Spiegel 21, 5/21/16 – Magazine article behind paywall
Interesting media and sites related to the case.