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.