Interpol investigating 21 mystery deaths after 'Woman with Flower Tattoo' case – as cops probe sinister connection | The Sun11/19/2023
DOZENS of women killed in mysterious circumstances around Europe may have fallen victim to human trafficking, an expert has warned.
British woman Rita Roberts was identified as one of the victims this week but cops are still desperate to identify 21 others who were brutally killed.
Dr Susan Hitchin, Coordinator of Interpol's DNA unit, spoke to The Sun about Operation Identify Me.
The unprecedented case is an international effort to identify 22 women who were killed in a string of mysterious murders across Europe.
It involves the cooperation of cops in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands in sharing information about the murders that go back almost 50 years.
Interpol released information about the women, photographs and even some facial reconstruction images to the public, including a picture of Rita Robert's tattoo, in hopes of solving the cold cases.
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The 31-year-old Brit who was visiting Belgium from Cardiff was brutally killed and later discovered in a river on June 3 1992.
There's always the possibility of human trafficking
A relative spotted her distinctive rose tattoo in a BBC article five months after Interpol launched it's operation in May, and the family identified her from there.
And while Rita has been identified – there are 21 others who remain a mystery, as cops try to work from facial sketches and tiny snippets of identifying detail on them.
But many of them may have fallen victim to the same hideous crime – human trafficking, with many of them believed to have been found far from home.
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Dr Hitchins told The Sun: “This is the first time we've done black notices where we've taken extracts of the information on a black notice, and made that publicly available.
"So that we can then raise awareness and get tips from the public. So for example, a tattoo, as we've seen, has led to this identification."
While she explained that cops do not believe the cases are at all linked – they may have something in common.
Dr Hitchins said there is “always the possibility of human trafficking” as a connection of sorts between the victims.
“This is also why these countries came to Interpol, if we can identify these women that can hopefully lead to potential investigative leads on how they were killed.
“We know that some of these women have come from Eastern Europe and further afield, and there could well be human trafficking involved,” she said.
While police were able to track the origins of some of the victims, and even reconstruct their faces digitally – other identifying items and features have been used by Interpol in their case.
One woman, found in a bog in Germany in 2001, could've been there for up to four years.
Experts reconstructed her face in 2002 and released a picture of what they think she may have looked like.
They also released a photograph of the "striking" blue and silver bracelet found nearby when her body was discovered.
Another woman, discovered in Germany in 1986 along a motorway, was also found with potentially identifying objects.
She was wearing a unique ring made of gold, silver and copper wires woven together.
What appears to be a metal denture was also discovered and pictured by police.
One victim, found in the summer of 1997 also in Germany – looked to have owned a decorative tooth gem.
Cops found a round adhesive surface on one of her upper teeth, which had been "professionally applied".
The woman had been raped, strangled, set on fire and moved after her death.
The perpetrator apparently went to lengths to prevent any chance of her body being identified.
Interpol released images of facial reconstruction and of what they believe the tooth gem may have looked like.
A victim found in Belgium in 2009, could have been as young as 14 when she died.
She was apparently killed violently and weighed down in the Albert Canal where her body remained for up to 5 weeks before it was discovered.
One identifying feature the cops spotted were here artificial nails.
Decorated with a distinctive floral pattern, Interpol's image of the fake nail pattern could help lead to an identification.
“At times, it's been an emotional roller coaster, because there are potential leads that we think could lead to something
The DNA expert described the open-ended investigation as “heartbreaking” and an “emotional roller coaster” as investigators come across potential leads that don’t lead to something.
But she said the fact that Rita was identified only months after the operation was launched in May gives them hope that other women might be too.
Information about the women, publicly accessible on Interpol's website, shows certain distinguishing features among the victims.
Dr Hitchins says this – as in Rita's case – could be all it takes to track down their identities and families.
Some were found with distinctive jewellery, clothes pictured on the site or even acrylic nails.
“There was another case of a woman with flower painted fingernails, right?
"That could also be a very recognisable feature for a loved one to see," she said.
“There could be jewellery that someone could recognise that they may have given to one of these victims, anything that the public feel, could remind them of their loved one.
"They would be able to then get in contact with the police and provide a potential investigative lead.”
When asked about the specifics of DNA testing in the cases, Dr Hitchins described the forensics field as "evolving and advancing".
She said Interpol efforts strive to use innovative techniques within the unprecedented, and open-ended operation, to hopefully track down the 21 victims involved.
“There are new techniques. And so the investigators are able to go back and reanalyze some samples.
“And that can also bring new leads, both for the identification of the victim and trying to look as a possible perpetrator.
“We're trying to be innovative. We're trying to use the resources we have to give these women back their names.”
She told The Sun that since the investigation is open-ended – there is no plan to end Interpol's efforts to identify the women.
"It just takes one piece of information, such as a tattoo for a loved one to come forward. So yes, these are all cold cases. But as it's shown, there's always hope.
"We will do everything we can to continue this."
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