Not here, perhaps, but in Germany (where neo-Naziism is even more of a fringe activity than it is in North America). And the funny thing is this: as a small group of low-rent serial killers who were on the police’s radar committed almost a dozen shootings, including ten murders, over seven years, the police clung to an idée fixé of who the killers would be: a completely wrong idea.
It took blind luck, and a confession out of the blue, to break the case; it took an examination of this firearm to confirm that the break was the right one.
Germany today still has essentially the same police organizations and traditions that existed under the Weimar Republic, and that the Nazis co-opted into their 12-year police state, and that were denazified under the Bonn republic. They have always had all the policies that all European centralizers have long associated with proper order and social control: national identity documents, police registration of persons, strict (and ever-tightening) firearms laws, centrally managed police, and crime labs where no expense was spared.
None of this helps if (1) your murderers are reasonably careful, (2) avoid exposure to the grid where possible, and (3) aren’t the murderers you expect to be looking for.
When a spate of brutal murders of Turkish immigrants kicked off in the early oughts, the police were taken aback by the violence of the attacks: in most cases, two men faced the victim and shot him multiple times in the face with a suppressed pistol. The murders looks like gangland hits, with an unusual twist: the killers kept using the same gun, something pros generally don’t do. (A previously used murder weapon is pretty much the pinnacle of “incriminating evidence,” after all).
The Federal Government’s highly efficient crime labs made excellent use of ballistics evidence. They determined that two handguns were used in the murders, one in 6.35 mm caliber (.25 ACP for us Yankistanis) and one in 7.65 mm (.32 ACP). Those were the two calibers most widely distributed in Europe in the years before gun control became universal, and pistols firing them had been made in the millions from 1900 to the present day. Two world wars, the chaotic collapse of Communist dictatorships, and the sanguinary Balkan wars of the 90s all combined to scatter pistols far and wide.
But the Germans caught a lucky break. The recovered pistol slugs tied some shootings to a very generic 6.35 mm pistol, but evidence let them tie nine of the killings — almost all of them — to a single .32 pistol. (Some victims were shot with both pistols). This was of limited use to them, without a suspect or suspected murder weapon in custody. But they learned something not just from the unique characteristics of the slugs fired in that pistol, but also from the class characteristics: the bore diameter as impressed on the bullet, and the unique pattern of lands and grooves marked there, revealed that the pistol was a rarity, a Czech CZ-83. (The .32 ACP’s page in firearms identification books is chaos: some .32s have right turns, some left; some a .308 barrel, some .311; some five lands, some six; and some one turn in 240 mm, some 250 — roughly 10″ — and some 400 mm, roughly 16″. The combination of characteristics impressed on the murder slugs fingered only one specific firearm, the 1:250mm RH CZ-83 [link to .pdf manual]). Accordingly, the police began calling these serial killers — there were at least two — the “Ceska murderers,” a politically correct term that replaced the original media-coined term, “Kebab killers.” (In German, Dönermörder). You see, the victims were almost all Turks, and the cops were fixed on the idea that ethnic Turkish organized crime was whacking them. “Döner” or kebab is an all-purpose pejorative for anything Turkish. (One victim was Greek, and may have been mistaken for a Turk. The last victims were German police officers). Al Jazeera, of course, blamed the “Kebab Murder” term on, wait for it, racism by the German police.
The CZ-83 was a pistol made for export to all those small police forces who wanted a modern pistol without changing their 7.65 x 17 SR caliber. Derived from the far more common CZ-82 service pistol (which fired the 9 x 18 mm Makarov cartridge, to suit the Czechs’ then-masters), the CZ-83 is fundamentally the same pistol but chambered in Western calibers: 9mm Browning Short (9 x 17, aka .380 ACP) and the above-mentioned 7.65 mm. Of those, the 9 mm chambering is overwhelmingly more common.
Traditional police work was at a dead end with the pistol, unless they lucked into finding it, ideally in the hands or home of one of the killers. Witnesses reported that the killer had a suppressor on the pistol. None of the crimes had taken place in front of video surveillance (Germany, with its Nazi and Stasi surveillance history, has been slower to camera up than Britain, for example). So instead the cops kept investigating the victims, their families, friends and business associates, looking for the link to the Turkish mafia.
But there was no link. The Ceska Murders had been committed by members of a band of underground neo-Nazis, whose trials continue in Germany to this day.
The CZ-83’s actual path from legitimate commerce to being used to shoot foreigners in the face is unclear, even after reading trial reports. Some reports in English (as well as German and Turkish) are available at a (left-ish) trial blog, which explains its raison d’être as follows:
In the fall of 2011, it was revealed that a neo-Nazi group was responsible for a series of murders which at first seemed unimaginable. Over the course of almost a decade, the Nazis of the “National Socialist Underground” shot and killed several people of primarily Turkish descent, carried out two bombing attacks in districts inhabited primarily by migrants, and robbed several banks. That their killing spree was discovered is not the result of the investigations by the police and the domestic intelligence agencies: those agencies worked on the assumption that these crimes, which they referred to as “Kebap killings”, had been perpetrated by “Turkish criminals.” Rather, the crimes were discovered due to confession videos presumably sent out by the main accused Beate Zschäpe after two of her co-perpetrators – Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos – had been found shot dead after a bank robbery.
The main focus of the trial will be on establishing whether the charges brought by the Federal Prosecutor General against the accused Beate Zschäpe, André Eminger, Holger Gerlach, Ralf Wohlleben and Carsten Schulze can be proven.
Böhnhardt and Mundlos were found dead in a trailer home that had been burned. The murder CZ-83 was recovered from that fire, along with other weapons, including the HK P2000 pistol of a murdered policewoman. It is speculated that the reason they killed her was to take the weapon.
The CZ-83 had had its serial number defaced, but an expert was able to recover it. Unfortunately this did not bring any further enlightenment about the weapon’s provenance.
Trying to track down the travels of the firearm before it came into the murderers’ hands is proving difficult for the court. The prosecution theory brings the pistol from Switzerland to a Nazi cell in Jena in the former East Germany as follows:
The court also read out the minutes of an interview conducted by Swiss authorities with Hans-Ulrich Müller, who according to the indictment was responsible for transporting the Ceska pistol from Switzerland to the mixed scene of Nazis and common criminals in Jena, from where it then found its way, via accused Wohlleben and Schultze, to the NSU. Müller had refused to come to Munich, but had testified to Swiss authorities.
The court has learned (in July 2016) that other neo-Nazis had been approached for firearms, and that the police had infiltrated that network.
Blood and Honour leader Jan Werner from Chemnitz in 1998-2001. On 25 August 1998, Werner had send a text message “What about the bang?” to a cell phone belonging to secret service informer Carsten Szczepanski. This indicates that Werner was tasked with buying a gun for Zschäpe, Mundlos and Böhnhardt and trying to enlist Szczepanski’s help, and thus also that there was an opening to effect an arrest of the three who had gone underground – a chance the Brandenburg secret service chose not to use.
And… 14 July 16:
They also moved … that two witnesses be called to testify in order to show that (Blood and Honour Chemnitz) and Ralf Marschner (Blood and Honour Zwickau and informer to the federal domestic secret service) were tasked with providing guns to Böhnhardt and Mundlos. Finally, the secret service case file on Marschner is to show that the secret service knew the whereabouts of the three who had gone underground, but had not given that information to the police.
The defense has tried, but has not succeeded, to shake the story of the “Ceska’s” perambulations. They’ve also tried a rather desperate attempt to disconnect the accused from the specific murder weapon.
A weapon expert with the Bavarian criminal police, summoned upon a motion of the Wohlleben defense, stated that the Ceska murder weapon weighed a bit over 700 grams, the silencer about 240 grams. The defense is of the opinion that, as Wohlleben and Schultze had given differing estimations of their relative weights, this proved that they had held a totally different weapon – another desperate attempt by the defense in light of the crushing evidence against their client.
The trial has been going on for over a year; Spiegel reported on Day 333 of the trial in January (Awful German Language link).