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German mother confesses to killing her five sons

A mentally-ill German woman has admitted killing her five sons, authorities said on Thursday, relating the latest in a string of infanticide cases that has outraged Germany.

world Updated: Dec 07, 2007 02:52 IST

A mentally-ill German woman has admitted killing her five sons, authorities said on Thursday, relating the latest in a string of infanticide cases that has outraged Germany and raised questions over welfare.

Police in the northern hamlet of Darry found the bodies of the five boys, aged three to nine, on Wednesday after their 31-year-old mother told a psychiatrist she had killed them, said the head of the police investigation, Stefan Winkler.

"She said she had killed them with an overdose of tranquilisers," Winkler told reporters. He said the children had been smothered with plastic bags and that autopsies showed they had died of suffocation.

Social workers had been counselling the family since August after they were called in by a concerned neighbour, but did not foresee the tragedy, a member of the municipal council said.

"We were aware of a severe crisis in the woman's relationship with her husband. She appeared to be gripped by religious fantasies," Volkran Gebel said.

"We followed the case closely and visited the home. Conditions appeared relatively normal, there was laundry in the washing machine. Nothing gave the social workers cause to suspect that the mother would take her children's lives."

Investigators said the woman's current husband, the father of three of the children, lived with them until Tuesday but had complained about his wife's condition.

The local Kieler Nachrichten newspaper said it would report in its Friday edition that before killing the children, the mother had visited a clinic in nearby Neustadt on Wednesday but had been sent home.

The clinic contested the report, saying it had treated the woman for several hours before releasing her.

"We think the motive for the killing could be found in the mother's psychiatric illness," police commissioner Juergen Boerner said as officers searched the brown-brick house in Darry.

Neighbours said the troubled family were recent arrivals to the village of just 450 residents and that teachers there had been alarmed by the children's ragged appearance.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Berliner Zeitung daily both the state and ordinary citizens must do more to protect children.

"These incomprehensible cases leave us deeply shaken," she said.

It is the latest in a string of infanticide cases that has shocked Germany and raised questions about the ability of welfare services to intervene successfully in domestic crises.

On Tuesday, police arrested an unemployed 28-year-old mother in Plauen in the eastern state of Saxony on suspicion of killing three babies shortly after giving birth.

The woman, who also has two other children, has denied the charges.

Police said they had found one of the babies' bodies in a trunk in a cellar at her apartment and the remains of the other two wrapped in plastic, hidden on the balcony and in the fridge.

The children, all girls, were born in 2002, 2004 and 2005.

Bernd Vogel, a prosecutor in the eastern city of Chemnitz, said there were no clear signs that the children had died violently, but added: "It is highly improbable that they all died of natural causes directly after birth."

The fate of the newborn babies recalled the country's worst post-war infanticide case in which an unemployed dental assistant suffering from cancer was sentenced to 15 years in jail last year.

She was convicted of manslaughter for leaving eight newborn babies to die. Police found their remains hidden in an old fish tank and in buckets and flowerpots in which the woman had planted vegetables.

In November, a 35-year-old woman from Erfurt in central Germany was jailed for 12 years for killing two of her babies and hiding their bodies in a freezer.

Last month also saw a five-year-old girl die of starvation in the care of her parents, who now face murder charges.

The death of the little girl, identified only as Lea-Sophie, sparked calls for children's rights to be enshrined in the constitution in a bid to stem the tide of abuse cases.