Mother goes undercover to find killer

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The Independent Online
IT SOUNDS like the plot of a far-fetched American TV movie: A mother refuses to believe that her daughter died from a self- administered heroin overdose and goes undercover, disguised as a prostitute and drug addict, to find her killers.

But this is the true story of Eleni Fotiadou, 44, whose six- month investigation on the streets of the port city of Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, has led to arrest warrants being issued for eight people on charges of rape and murder.

The Greek public has been won over by this tale of a mother's courage and many believe her claims that, as well as fighting the Thessaloniki underworld, she was also struggling against a police cover-up, or at least official indifference and incompetence.

Mrs Fotiadou's nightmare began last June when her daughter, Paraskevi, walked away from a park bench that she was sharing with her sister to get a drink - and never came back. Two days later, the body of the pretty 20-year-old marketing student was found in a derelict building, a syringe by her side.

At the mortuary her mother was told not to uncover the body because several days had passed. But, her suspicions aroused, she carefully examined her daughter and was shocked to see bruises and cuts from head to toe and what appeared to be a broken nose and jaw.

Mrs Fotiadou refused to accept the explanation that her daughter was just another statistic in the dozens of deaths among addicts in Thessaloniki and challenged the coroner's verdict that she had died from a heroin overdose. "My child's body was full of bruises, bumps and scrapes," she told Greek television. "Her jewellery was gone and her clothes were torn off, which shows that violence had been perpetrated."

She took her suspicions to the authorities, but faced with police "indifference" she decided to conduct her own investigation.

Thessaloniki is a major centre for eastern European gangs involved in the vice trade and a staging post on the route used by Balkan heroin smugglers. Undeterred, Ms Fotiadou swapped the white coat of her day job as a laboratory assistant for a night-time disguise of high heels and a mini-skirt.

"I started dressing like a prostitute and junkie and going to places where I could get information," she said. "I was sure that my child was killed."

A breakthrough came when she spotted a gold cross, identical to one that had belonged to her daughter, around the neck of a well-known drug dealer's girlfriend. With the help of a private detective, she made secret tape recordings of prostitutes who said they had witnessed her daughter being gang raped and then beaten to death with an iron bar.

Ms Fotiadou says her daughter was abducted off the street and that some of the drug addicts she spoke to say police officers had close links to those guilty of the alleged killing.

Police sources, quoted in the Greek press, paint a different picture, saying the girl had a previous conviction for drug use and theft.

But the allegations are another blow to the image of a force already reeling from investigations into whether some officers obtained false residence permits for eastern European prostitutes.

Ms Fotiadou says she has been vindicated, with the public prosecutor who issued the arrest warrants supporting her contention that her daughter was not a heroin addict.

But her six months of undercover work on the streets has left disturbing memories. "What goes on there, the mind of a normal person cannot comprehend," she said. "That's where I started. Because they need their fix, they push some of their women into prostitution, so I went there. The scene there is indescribable."