On March 28th, 1998, 13-year old Tristan Brübach headed to school. For some unexplained reason, he asked to be released early, and then spent the next few hours hanging around a train station. Later that afternoon, his remains would be found… him having fallen prey to a vicious and savage killer. For more than two decades, the mystery of his death has continued to haunt the region.
On the outskirts of Höchst, a borough of the German city Frankfurt, sits a tunnel.
Nicknamed the "Liederbach Tunnel" by locals, the tunnel is a small outlet underneath a train overpass. There is a walkway leading through it, which is very dimly-lit, and located next to a flowing river egress.
Even in daytime hours, this tunnel looks incredibly spooky. It's the type of setting you'd imagine in a Hollywood production like "It." It comes as no surprise, then, to hear that the tunnel has become the subject of urban legends, spread by worried children and teenagers trying to scare their peers. For years, many kids tried to avoid the tunnel because of its scary reputation, even though the tunnel provided a valid shortcut to schools, as well as local fields and playgrounds.
However, no children have been able to utilize this shortcut for the past twenty or so years... and that's because the tunnel has actually been gated off since 1998. This has only bolstered its reputation, and led to gruesome folklore about the horrors that await in this dark, creepy underpass: that - once upon a time - a child was ritualistically murdered over the span of days, the victim of a cruel, savage, mysterious killer.
Surprisingly, this urban legend is based on a true story. A story so horrifying - so inhumane - that it has continued to perplex and shock the region ever since it happened, more than two decades ago.
This is the story of Tristan Brübach.
Tristan Brübach was born on October 3rd, 1984, in Frankfurt - the fifth largest German city.
Tristan's parents, Iris and Bernd Brübach, had no other children, so Tristan would remain an only child through his life.
Throughout his youth, Tristan continued to live in the Frankfurt region, with his parents working low-level retail positions. Tristan attended Walter Kolk Primary School, in the borough of Höchst. Following his completion of the 5th grade, he moved on to a master school in the neighboring district of Sindlingen.
Despite being just a child, Tristan was no stranger to tragedy. His mother, Iris, had a long history of drug abuse, and in 1995 - when Tristan was just ten or so - she would commit suicide, leaving the boy without a mother.
Tristan and his father, Bernd, continued to live in Frankfurt, with Tristan's grandmother moving in with them shortly thereafter. She would provide a presence in the small apartment they shared, and help supervise Tristan during the odd hours when Bernd was working.
Since Bernd was now a single father, he had to pick up extra hours at work in order to support the small family. So, often times, Tristan was left in the care of his grandmother, but he developed independence at an early age. He was no stranger to walking around the neighborhood in the afternoon and evening by himself, even though the area they lived in was a bit rough, and Tristan became well-accustomed to using public transportation to get around.
At home, Tristan was known as being very sullen - unsurprisingly so, with the hardship he had endured. He usually kept to himself, and occupied his free time with video games - dedicating hundreds of hours to his Playstation - as well as to his pet rabbit, Hoppelfried. He adored animals, and was known to strike up a conversation with every pet-owner he encountered on the street.
By his preteen years, Tristan had developed a reputation for being very independent - kind of a "street kid," in that regard. He even began smoking cigarettes in an effort to fit in with older children, but was known to be bullied and beat up by a few kids in the neighborhood. That's because, despite all of his efforts to appear more mature to others, Tristan was known as a calm and malleable kid. Many would later recall that he was very impressionable, despite his apparent confidence; a trait which many would later attribute to the early loss of his mother.
On March 26th, 1998 - the last day of school before the Easter holiday - Tristan woke up at around 8:00 AM.
Instead of immediately getting ready for school, Tristan dragged his feet for a few minutes, before calling his father. Bernd had left for work at around 4:30 that morning, and later recalls this phone call with Tristan.
Tristan asked his father if he could skip school to visit the doctor, claiming that he had hurt his back the day prior. Bernd, thinking that Tristan was just trying to skip school, suggested that he go to class and they could revisit the issue later in the day.
Tristan would go to school that morning, but took his sweet time doing so. Apparently, while walking to school, he encountered a friend of his named Boris. The two spent the better part of first period smoking cigarettes just outside of school grounds. When they finally chose to head to class, at around 9:00 AM, second period was about to begin.
The first couple of hours went by regularly, with Tristan attending the next few periods. It was only after lunch that he told a teacher his back was hurting, and he requested an early release so that he could visit a doctor.
When asked about why his back was hurting, Tristan told the teacher that he had hurt it the night prior by falling out of a tree. However, a friend would later state that Tristan and he had gotten into a "rock fight" the day prior, which is exactly what it sounds like - two teenagers throwing rocks at each other. The friend later claimed that Tristan hurt himself that way, but it's impossible to tell.
Nonetheless, Tristan was granted his early release from class, and left school at around 1:30 PM - less than 15 minutes after returning from lunch. He then hopped aboard a bus, sitting in the back seat, as he always did (according to another classmate, that knew Tristan and saw him leave the school).
When the bus came to a stop, Tristan got out and walked the remaining distance to a nearby train station, where he would spend the next few hours of his life.
The Frankfurt-Höchst train station, located just a few blocks away from the Main River, is one of the largest and busiest train stations in all of Frankfurt. The area is often full of people passing through on their way to work or school, and Tristan soon became just another young face in the crowd.
At around 1:46 PM - roughly sixteen minutes after leaving school - Tristan was spotted on CCTV footage from a shop inside the train station. Standing nearby him at the time was an adult male, but the footage is too blurry to make out a description of the man. In fact, it's impossible to tell if the two are communicating with one another, or are even aware of each others' presence.
Between 2:15 and 2:45 PM, give or take a few minutes, Tristan would be seen by two separate classmates at the train station. These are students that got released on-schedule, and were now making their way home. These classmates couldn't offer up specific details - such as the time or location they saw Tristan - but both claimed that he appeared to be alone.
One of these classmates - a teenage girl that knew Tristan - stated that he might have been waiting for someone, but... she just couldn't say for sure.
Over the next forty minutes or so, there is no word on Tristan's whereabouts. However, at around 3:20 that afternoon, a woman walking her dog at a nearby park claimed to encounter Tristan. This park was just a few blocks away from the Frankfurt-Höchst train station, and this woman claimed that Tristan was sitting on a park bench, smoking a cigarette, when she walked by with a small dog.
According to this woman, Tristan struck up a conversation with her, and seemed to be a charming and friendly young man. He said he loved animals, and pet her dog a couple of times, before she took off.
Later, she would claim to walking for a moment, before getting a look at the young man that she had just encountered. She described two older-looking men sitting down on either side of Tristan; both of whom, she recalled, looked - in her words - "probably foreign."
This would be the last time that Tristan Brübach would be seen alive.
Roughly two hours, at 5:08 PM, police dispatchers received a call from teachers at a local daycare. The dispatchers were told that the body of a young man had been found inside a tunnel, nearby the Höchst train station.
At this point in time - March of 1998 - the Liederbach Tunnel was still open and used semi-regularly by young people. Kids and teenagers used it as a shortcut, but it did not get a lot of foot traffic... just a few kids here and there.
On this day, March 28th, 1998, a small group of kids had been walking in the tunnel on their way to an after-school daycare. It was around 5:00 PM when they passed through the tunnel, and found what was within.
They then rushed to their daycare, and told the teachers about the body they had seen. The teachers, perhaps not believing them entirely, followed them back to the tunnel, where they saw the body of a brutally-battered young man. Almost immediately, they phoned the police.
Police would later describe the crime scene as one of the worst ever discovered in Frankfurt. Some even proclaimed it the most gruesome in post-war Germany. In fact, investigators were unable to physically identify the deceased young man, having to rely upon a label inside the young man's schoolbag, which bore his name: Tristan Brübach.
Investigators were able to determine that Tristan had been beaten and choked unconscious several feet away from his final resting place; likely outside, as he approached the tunnel. They were able to discover that at least one of his shoes had come off during the struggle, which had then been placed on top of his body afterwards.
Despite being assaulted and choked unconscious, Tristan had been dragged into the tunnel. While unconscious, he had been dragged to the edge of the walkway, which overlooked a small egress of the nearby river. There, investigators would theorize that his throat had been cut from ear-to-ear, with the wound being deep enough to reach the spine. He was then stabbed numerous times, and investigators would theorize that the young man had been 'bled' into the river, so-to-speak. I apologize for the phrasing, but I'm at a loss for any other words to match the description of events given by police.
After a few minutes of this had passed, the killer of the young man then committed perhaps the most gruesome act of all, and began mutilating the body of thirteen-year-old Tristan Brübach. Investigators would note that the boy's testicles had been removed from his body, and a section of his thigh and upper leg had been cut off.
These body parts were then removed from the scene, likely taken by the culprit. Police were unable to find Tristan's backpack, so it was theorized that the killer had absconded from the scene with it.
After this incredibly brutal assault and mutilation, Tristan's body was then posed to look like he was sleeping in the Leiderbach Tunnel. It is unknown how long, exactly, he had been laying there before his discovery at around 5:00 PM.
The news of this bizarre and gruesome story sent shock-waves through the area, with the case being featured on most of the local news over the next few days. Crimes like this didn't happen often in the Frankfurt region; let alone to children. It would be horrifying regardless of the victim's age, but to have something like this happen to a kid... it's almost unbelievable.
Tristan's remaining family - his father and his grandmother - took his loss incredibly hard. Tristan was the only child of their family, who was known for being so kind and friendly to not only animals, but other people.
It has been said that Tristan's father, Bernd Brübach, never recovered from the loss of his only child. After all, his wife, Iris - who had struggled with drug addiction for several years - had taken her own life only three years beforehand. He was now left to mourn his wife and his son, both of whom he had tragically lost in a very short period of time.
While arrangements were made for Tristan's memorial service and funeral, the investigation into his murder continued.
Police theorized that the time of the assault and murder had taken approximately fifteen minutes, due to the cause and manner of death, as well as the assault that preceded it and the postmortem mutilation.
Police would also state their belief that the killer had left the crime scene and then returned - possibly to retrieve Tristan's shoe, which they theorized had been lost in a struggle outside of the dark tunnel where his body was found. Police found evidence hinting at a struggle outside, and it was believed that the killer had possibly left the scene to retrieve this shoe, before returning to the body and placing it on top of his corpse.
It was announced that a bloody fingerprint was found at the crime scene, which would presumably belong to the culprit. This would end up becoming the investigation's main piece of evidence over the coming months.
As investigators began to collect statements from people in the region, they were soon provided an illuminating - and terrifying story - from three children. These children had been walking to a nearby soccer field at around 3:30 PM, on the afternoon of the murder, and planned on taking a shortcut through the Leiderbach Tunnel where Tristan's body had been found. However, as they described, they approached the tunnel, and spotted an odd-looking man inside the dark underpass.
They observed the man from a distance for around two minutes, and claimed that he was bent over an 'object.' Investigators would state that the 'object' was likely Tristan's body, and the kids had unknowingly witnessed a murder in real-time. Ultimately, after two or so minutes, the kids had (thankfully) decided to take the long way to the soccer field; making the wise decision to walk around the tunnel.
These three children, who were around Tristan's age, were able to provide a description of this man to police, which would ultimately help investigators create a sketch and efit image of the suspect. Their testimony also helped establish a timeline, with investigators theorizing that the murder of Tristan Brübach had happened around 3:30 PM - just minutes after he had encountered the dog-walker in a nearby park.
The testimony of these children was also given further validity when a young woman in the area provided another account of this strange man. She claimed that she had seen him leaving the area of the tunnel at around the same time the murder took place. Her physical description of the man also happened to match up almost exactly with what the three children had stated.
The police would eventually turn the description of this suspect into a sketch; which was later expanded upon, and given an digital recreation.
This suspect had long, unkempt-looking blond hair, which he wore in a braid of sorts. At the time of the murder, he had been wearing a baseball cap. This man had light-colored eyes - possibly blue - as well as light (almost-pale) skin. He stood around 1.75 meters tall - around 5'7" - and had a lean/slender figure.
According to the witnesses that saw this man, he had a very gaunt and grimy appearance, seeming to be unwashed in the preceding days. Also, most notably, he had what looked to be a harelip just below his left nostril: what was either a cleft lip or a severe scar of sorts.
Additionally, police added a potential profile to the killer of Tristan Brübach - which they hoped would help narrow down the search in some way. According to this profile, the killer would likely:
A.) Be between the age of 25 and 35
B.) Have no real close friends or family (indicating some kind of asocial or antisocial behavior)
C.) Have pedophilic tendencies, or harbor some kind of attraction/resentment towards children
D.) Be familiar with Tristan himself - it's possible that the killer knew Tristan, personally, before targeting him
All of these were details that police would have to work into their investigation in the coming days, weeks, and months - as they attempted to find the killer of Tristan Brübach.
By April of 1998, Tristan's funeral had come-and-gone. He had been buried in a local cemetery, underneath an overhanging tree.
While the boy's friends and family continued to mourn, investigators struggled to make sense of everything. Why had a vicious killer targeted this thirteen-year old... seemingly at-random? And why had this killer mutilated the body so terribly after death? Was it part of a ritual of some kind? Or was the killer a psychotic killer, with an interest in cannibalism, who simply lashed out at the nearest victim?
As investigators mulled over all of these sick possibilities, they were surprised to learn that the potential killer had made contact with them.
On April 7th, 1998 - just days after Tristan's funeral - a man called Frankfurt police from a payphone in the Höchst train station: the same train station that Tristan Brübach had visited hours before his death.
I actually have the audio of this call, which I will play for you. I'll tell you right off the bat, that the audio is in German, so if you are uncomfortable hearing 45 seconds of German audio, just skip ahead a minute or so. However, I think the audio itself may provide useful, and I'll provide a transcript of the call in just a moment. The more pronounced, deep voice is the police dispatcher - while the more distant, distracted-sounding voice is that of the alleged killer.
I do have a transcript of the call, which is courtesy of a Reddit user named Madokara - they did an amazing write-up of this case some time back, and deserve a lot of credit for compiling information for English readers. I'll include this transcript on the podcast website, so you can find it there.
- Police: Police
- Caller: Here speaks Tristan's murderer.
- Police: Excuse me?
- Caller: Here is Tristan's murderer.
- Police: You are (his murderer)?
- Caller: Yes
- Police: And you want to turn yourself over (to the police) or what?
- Caller: Yes.
- Police: Yes? Where are you right now?
- Caller: Frankfurt Hoechst
- Police: Frankfurt Hoechst? And where exactly?
- Caller: Hoechst train station.
- Police: Train station?
- Caller: Yes and I killed him.
- Police: You killed him?
- Caller: Yes.
- Police: Describe your appearance. What do you look like? How tall are you?
- Caller: 180 [centimeters tall, ~5'11].
- Police: 180. Hair?
- Caller: Black.
- Police: Black hair. Long or short?
- Caller: Long.
- Police: Long hair.
- Caller: Arrest me.
- *end of call*
In this phone call, the suspect confesses to being the murderer of Tristan Brübach. He says he plans on turning himself over to authorities, and that he is calling from the Frankfurt-Höchst train station. He then goes on to describe his appearance, stating that he is roughly 180 centimeters tall - roughly 5'11" - and has long, black hair.
He then ends the call by telling the authorities: "Arrest me," and hanging up.
By the time police arrived at the train station, they could not identify or find this caller. It is unknown if they were able to obtain any evidence at the station itself, such as CCTV footage or fingerprints of the caller.
It would be theorized by some in the media that the killer had used this phone call to distract from the description provided by eyewitnesses. If you notice, the two physical details they admitted - being close to six feet tall and having long, black hair - differs from what the young eyewitnesses had described. They stated the killer was around 5'7", and had long blond hair.
It was possible the caller was trying to cloud the investigation, and provide differing details to confuse the authorities.
Some native German speakers would also point out that the caller at the other end of the phone sounds drunk, and/or inebriated on some kind of substance. Since I don't have a good understanding of the language, I'll have to take their word for it, but since you have all heard the audio, you can judge for yourself.
The investigation to find the killer of Tristan Brübach was, at the time, the largest of its kind in all of Germany. Many liken the investigation to that of America's JonBenet Ramsay, or the UK's Madeleine McCann - the kind of case that consumes the nation.
In the aftermath, more than 10,000 men in the vicinity of the murder were fingerprinted. Most of these were men between the age of 15 and 45, who were voluntarily asked to submit their fingerprints. More than 99% of men in the Frankfurt borough of Höchst would comply.
Investigators would collect more than 24,000 witness statements and testimonies, and even sent the sketch of the potential suspect to more than 80 prisons and institutions throughout Germany. Even with all of this information, police struggled to find any solid leads.
Investigators even inquired into possibilities regarding the suspect's cleft lip - a detail which was provided by all of the young eyewitnesses, who saw this man in the area around the crime scene. They reached out to medical facilities throughout the region, hoping that any of them would have record of some man with a severe cleft lip or scar on that side of his face, to no avail.
The evidence recovered at the scene was thoroughly documented and kept by investigators, who knew that the answer may lay in DNA testing. DNA testing was in its relative infancy at this point, in 1998, but the evidence was preserved in the hopes that it could lead to answers down the road.
This evidence, which included the bloody fingerprint found at the scene - in addition to some other pieces that have been withheld from the media - have been shared with other criminal agencies: such as Germany's Federal Criminal Police, Interpol, and even the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI.
All have been unable to make sense of the information.
Roughly one year after the murder of Tristan Brübach, another piece of evidence was found by investigators.
In March of 1999, the backpack belonging to Tristan was found in a forest roughly 25 kilometers (16 miles) away from the scene of the crime. Inside the backpack, police found a road map of Germany, which was printed in the Czech language. Since Tristan did not speak (or even understand) Czech, this was ruled to be an item that was not his.
When this information was presented to the media, an eyewitness stepped forward. She claimed that at around the time of Tristan's murder, she had been in that same wooded area, and had encountered a bizarre man not far away from where the backpack was found.
This eyewitness described this man as incredibly odd and mentally unstable, and said that he ranted about many bizarre things: such as his involvement in the French Foreign Legion, and a herd of sheep he had recently lost track of. According to this woman, this strange man also mentioned that he had recently come to Germany from the Czech Republic.
Things were finally matching up. However, when investigators began reaching out to French authorities, they discovered that this man had already been identified. The same French authorities said that this man - a legionnaire - had an absolutely solid alibi for the dates of Tristan's murder, due to movement with the French army and hospital documentation.
Despite the finding of Tristan's backpack, and the bizarre potential involvement of this French Legionnaire, investigators were no closer to solving the case than they had been a year beforehand.
As if things couldn't get any weirder or creepier, one of the most bizarre developments in the entire story would unfold roughly a year-and-a-half after Tristan's murder.
It was October of 1999, when Tristan's grandmother decided to pay his grave a visit in the cemetery he was resting in. When she got to Tristan's grave, however, she was horrified to find that it had been desecrated by a vandal of some kind.
Whoever this person was, they had begun digging into Tristan's grave. They had set down a plastic tarp next to the grave, and transferred the dirt over on top of it. They were unable to reach his coffin, but had still dug through several feet of dirt, and left the grave open and exposed.
It was unknown how long the grave had been disturbed, but this action was only discovered by Tristan's grandmother in October of 1999. Investigators could offer up no theories of their own for this bizarre and terrifying behavior.
In the weeks and months after Tristan's death, his case became overwhelmed with a number of theories - most of which were based upon gossip and innuendo.
One of the most popular theories among locals was that Tristan Brübach - who had a bit of a reputation for being independent - had gotten involved in some kind of drug dealing. Perhaps, he had begun hanging around older kids who dealt drugs; and in the process, he had exposed himself to more violent criminals... that kind of thing.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence to back this up. Tristan was pretty independent for his age, but he wasn't spending every waking moment on the streets. More often than not, he was at home, and the rumor that he was involved in gang activities was just that: a rumor. There is no evidence of it.
Of course, this theory evolved a bit over time, and many online commenters would theorize that Tristan had witnessed some kind of criminal act. In retaliation, the criminal party involved had killed him gruesomely, to send a message.
This theory, much like the first, has no basis in truth. In fact, investigators have openly dismissed it.
This leads us to perhaps the most popular theory - at least, among websleuths. These theories center around Tristan being the victim of sexual abuse and/or prostitution. As you can tell, this theory is a really big bag of worms - which I have trouble addressing - but I will attempt to.
Many of these theories can be originated from Tristan's original cause for trying to skip school: claiming that he had back pain. Many online commenters claim that back pain is indicative of some kind of sexual trauma, and I personally don't have any evidence to disprove it. However, Tristan was a pretty active kid, and back pain could also be indicative of a kid going through puberty and growing incrementally.
Other theories regarding sexual abuse tie into Tristan's independence, and the eyewitness descriptions which stated that Tristan seemed to be waiting for someone around the train station on the day he was murdered.
I'll explore a couple of these theories in-depth in just a bit, but I want to explain how much gossip was surrounding Tristan's case - not only in the region it happened, but in the press. Many struggled to reconcile the pictures of Tristan - who was just entering his teenage years, and still very much had a child's face - with the rumors surrounding him being a "street kid," so-to-speak.
This kind of rumor-mongering began to turn Tristan's case into an urban legend in the area. Many of the facts began to be twisted - with some thinking that Tristan had been tortured and killed over the span of days - and out-of-context details continued to run riot.
Eventually, the case began to grow cold. Investigators began to focus on other cases, and the media was left with nothing but theories to occupy their coverage of the story.
It was discovered that an American woman had apparently been feeding tips to authorities, hinting that a man - who was living in Germany at the time - was the killer. This went on for a prolonged period of time, until it was discovered that she was just trying to get back at her ex, lying to investigators over a period of months. She was eventually fined for filing a false police report and giving false testimony, but that lead had consumed many man-hours, as investigators faithfully followed up.
Reporters began trying to link Tristan's case to two disappearances from the region: Annika Seidel and Melanie Frank.
Annika Seidel was an 11-year old girl that disappeared from Kelkheim in September of 1996 (roughly 10 kilometers away from where Tristan had been killed). She had never been found, but an eyewitness had claimed to see her standing nearby a vehicle that had Eastern European license plates.
Then there was Melanie Frank, a 13-year old that had disappeared from the suburb of Wiesbaden in June of 1999 - more than a year after Tristan's murder, and roughly 35 kilometers away. In that case, she had been sent to a local store to buy cigarettes for her mother, and some eyewitnesses said that it looked like she had been waiting for someone outside. Like Annika, she had disappeared, but her body would be found some time later - in August of 2008.
These leads proved fruitless for investigators looking into the death of Tristan Brübach, and his case would remain dormant for more than a decade.
In 2013, investigators would re-launch their investigation, in the hopes of solving this cold case that had long plagued them. They claimed to have a handful of new investigative leads, which - they hoped - would breathe new life into the hunt for the killer. However, less than a year after this re-launch, their attention would be focused in a singular direction.
Manfred Seel was a German man, who had been born in 1946.
In 1967, the same year that he met his future wife, he enlisted in the German Army - service that would last for the next two years. In 1969, following his departure from the armed services, Seel began working at a nursing home... where he would find his first two victims.
You see, in addition to being an alcoholic with a severe substance abuse problem, Manfred Seel was also a burgeoning serial killer - a fact that he would hide for decades. For the rest of his life, in fact; keeping his secrets hidden inside the basement and crawlspaces of his home, as well as in rented garages and storage units.
Manfred Seel's wife would pass away in the first half of 2014, and he would actually die of cancer just four months later. When his now-adult daughter began going through their possessions, she was shocked to find human remains inside a storage unit that Seel had been renting for some time.
Upon informing the police, it was discovered that Manfred Seel - this charming, lovable old man who seemed friendly to everyone and loved photography - was a serial killer. The young woman whose remains were found inside a barrel, inside this storage unit, had been tortured and dismembered over a prolonged period of time by this amiable old man.
A taskforce named "Alaska" was assembled to lead the investigation into Manfred Seel's actions, hoping to scope his other possible crimes and victims. The investigation would quickly spiral, detailing a long and sordid history that involved the kidnapping, torture, sexual assault, murder, and dismembering of multiple young women. He had done so as recently as 2003, but his crimes dated back to the late 1960's and early 1970's, when he had left the army. His first victims had been coworkers of his from the nursing home he was employed at, but he would eventually progress to targeting sex workers - with long periods of inactivity between his crimes.
These murders were extremely violent, and seemed to not only be planned out in advance, but well-documented by Seel himself. Police would find sketches and drawings in Seel's possessions, which pointed to him keeping track of the torture and dismemberment that many of his victims received.
In addition to these violent crimes, he also seemed to have an interest in the bizarre and extreme side of things. In his possessions, police would find more than five terabytes of porn - most of which was extremely graphic and violent in nature. And while looking through his internet search histories and chat forum activity, police would discover that Manfred Seel had an interest in not only cannibalism, but necrophilia.
All of this turned Manfred Seel into a type of boogeyman for the Frankfurt region, where he had lived for most of his life. As you can guess, this dark and violent history pointed investigators towards one of the most brutal unsolved murders in German history: that of thirteen-year-old Tristan Brubach from 1998 - a year in which Manfred Seel was still an active serial killer.
In 2016, the investigation into Tristan's murder began circling Seel as the potential culprit of the crime. This was based upon the type of wounds Tristan had received - the cuts to his body, the theft of body parts, as well as the postmortem mutilation - all of which was incredibly similar to the type of abuse Manfred Seel had inflicted upon his victims.
Police would even announce in a press conference that they believed Seel to be the killer, bringing the case back into the limelight once again. However, this would quickly spiral over the next several months, as the case against Manfred Seel began to sour... for this one particular crime, at least.
Investigators could find no evidence that Manfred Seel had ever targeted children, let alone young boys. As far as they could uncover, after more than two years of exhaustive digging, Seel had targeted young women, who were all adults at the time of their death. He seemed to have a specific victim profile, and Tristan Brübach - a young boy - seemed to stand in direct opposition to that.
In addition, police could find no evidence that Seel had targeted his prey in public, during daytime hours. It seemed like he extensively stalked his victims, targeting each specifically, before abducting them and inflicting torture over a duration of time. He wasn't the type to randomly attack a victim in the middle of the day - in the middle of public, no less - and rush through his actions.
Additionally, Manfred Seel seemed to be physically different from the supposed suspect. At the time of Tristan Brübach's death, he was also well into middle-age, with short-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and a dark beard covering most of his face.
During their extensive investigation into Manfred Seel, police could only find three of his fingerprints, and none of them matched up with the bloody fingerprint they had recovered from Tristan's crime scene.
More than a year after announcing that Manfred Seel was the likely perpetrator of Tristan Brübach’s murder, investigators had to backpedal. They quietly announced that they were no longer investigating Seel as a suspect in the crime, due to the evidence that pointed away from the deceased serial killer. However, the two cases have become linked in the two years since the original police announcement, and many still believe that Seel was the undisputed culprit of the violent murder. That is not the case, and I hope this section has done enough to separate the two.
As of this moment, there is no evidence that Manfred Seel was the killer of Tristan Brübach.
Over the years, many theories have continued to linger in the case of Tristan's murder. Since the investigation was re-opened in 2013, two distinct theories have risen to the top of the pack, and I will examine both of them as best as I can.
The first regards the possibility that the killer was someone that Tristan knew, or was familiar with. This theory has survived through many incarnations of the investigation, and has basically been around since news of the murder was made public.
This theory hinges upon the idea that Tristan - a very independent 13-year old - was often going places on his own and was left to his own devices. Despite this being widely over-exaggerated - his own family insisted that he spent more time at home than outside of it - it has been theorized that Tristan ran afoul of someone in his social circle.
This was perhaps someone that had become an acquaintance of his in the months, weeks, or even days before his murder. It's possible that he met someone, and didn't tell anyone - because the mere association with an older man would be frowned upon by his friends and family... especially if the man was unstable, criminal, or homeless (as has been theorized in the years since).
In the aftermath of the murder, police began trying to retrace Tristan's steps - especially from the day in-question - but there were large gaps that they could not explain. Why had Tristan insisted upon being released early from school? Why had he gone to the train station, and waited around for what seemed like hours? Was he waiting to meet someone, as described by some classmates that saw him that afternoon?
These were all details that nobody could provide - not even Tristan's father, who was often working late hours, and away from home.
Most intriguing was a statement provided by one of Tristan's teachers, who described seeing him in the company of older men in the weeks prior to his death. In these descriptions, these "older man" sound like older teenagers or young adults. But one man in particular seemed to fit the description of the suspect seen by other eyewitnesses: the blond-haired man with the harelip, spotted by several eyewitnesses near the crime scene at the time of the murder.
This leads us to the final theory, which I consider to be one of the most terrifying of all. This is the theory that sounds the most like a creepy urban legend that would be passed down by teenagers, but it actually has some basis in reality.
In the months after Tristan's murder, testimony provided by dozens of witnesses - mostly children - described a strange older man hanging around the train station in the time period that Tristan had been brutally murdered. According to these descriptions, which began to flood in after the investigation had already begun to falter, this was a homeless man that lived nearby.
Like I just described a moment ago, one of Tristan's former-teachers had described seeing him in the presence of older men. One of these men, a blond-haired man that matched the description of the suspect, was described as very unkempt and disheveled - perhaps even homeless.
Another classmate of Tristan's would later provide statements (as an adult) which claimed that this man was a local vagabond, who was known to local kids. This former-classmate said this man looked exactly like the police sketch of Tristan's killer, and described him as being an intimidating individual that was known to follow and terrifying local children. According to this classmate, this strange man had followed him across the street on more than one occasion, crossing whenever he did and then following him for several blocks.
This terrifying possibility is given more credence when you factor in the testimony of children from a local daycare - the daycare that had actually called in the discovery of Tristan's body, surprisingly. According to kids at this daycare, a man matching the description had been seen lurking in a section of woods nearby, indicating that he lived within. In the time period around Tristan's murder, this man had asked a group of children to buy something for him in town, and even offered "gifts" to children.
Almost every time, the kids had run away and reported this behavior, but it wasn't until Tristan Brübach was murdered that adults began to take this gossip seriously. By that point, the man had disappeared, and investigators only had vague statements from children as any evidence.
One of the only concrete details that seemed unanimous, among all of these children, was that the man did not have any kind of funny-sounding accent. This implied that he was a local, and not a foreigner, as originally-theorized.
The murder of Tristan Brübach remains a very unique case, which remains unsolved.
When I describe it as "unique," I mean that there is really no other case like it. Usually, when you read about a horrific murder, there are usually details that match up with another case - if not nearby, then somewhere else in the world. However, the specifics of this story are truly one-of-a-kind: a young man, attacked in broad daylight and in public, is stabbed and brutally beaten, followed by an gruesome period of brutal mutilation and dismemberment.
There are some cases that share a couple of similarities with this case, but not all of them. Hell, not even most of them.
Investigators in Germany have attempted to pair Tristan's case with murders and assaults in more than 80 countries, but have found no discernible links. There is no other single case that matches up with Tristan's, not in modus operandi, not in victim profile, etc. As you can imagine, this has led to years of frustration, in which this violent crime has continued to loom large over the population of Frankfurt - even Germany, itself.
The tunnel that Tristan was killed in has since been closed off, but the story continues to haunt those in the region. His story has become an urban legend among local children and teenagers, who exaggerate or embellish certain details to scare one another.
Tristan's only surviving relative - his father, Bernd Brübach - passed away just a couple of years ago. He died in December of 2014 at the age of 59, having never remarried or had any other children. At the time of his death, he remained hopeful that justice would be obtained for his murdered son.
A reward still exists for information that may lead to Tristan's killer, with a 20,000 euro reward up-for-grabs for anyone that can help wrap up the investigation.
However, until such a time, the story of Tristan Brübach remains unresolved.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Published on December 9nd, 2018
Other original music created and composed by Ailsa Traves
Sources and further reading
Reddit (/u/Boefbearnaise) - “[Solved] The killer of Tristan Brübach has been found”