Bounty put on serial killer's head

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THE FBI is already involved, and now Germany is considering further help from overseas in the hunt for a killer who has outsmarted the national police force, leaving a trail of death across the country.

Five people have been killed because of Dieter Zurwehme, a convicted murderer who walked out of his open prison last December. The 57-year old, who was serving a life sentence for a murder committed in 1972, is thought to have killed four of the latest victims.

The fifth was shot dead by the police in a tragic case of mistaken identity. The circumstances of that incident are being investigated by the FBI, although the events in question are hardly a mystery.

Answering a tip-off from a hotelier in Thuringia, two gun-wielding plainclothes policemen went to the scene. Judging by the bullet hole through the door of the hotel room, they wasted little time in establishing a positive ID. The middle-aged man inside, a tourist from Cologne who looked nothing like Zurwehme, slammed his door in the officers' face and was felled by two bullets, one lodging in his heart.

That was in June; the suspect is still missing and the trail has gone cold. In desperation, the German police are contemplating offers from professional bounty-hunters from the United States. Their success rate, it has already been established, is better than that of the German police.

They might even handle the task more sensitively. Apart from the unfortunate holiday-maker, a pavement painter was dragged from Dresden's pedestrian zone last month, and then a jazz musician was handcuffed and taken to jail in Dortmund last week. Both were later acknowledged as further cases of mistaken identity.

In the meantime, Zurwehme remains at large and committing crimes. After killing two elderly couples in March, he was quiet for a while. But twoweeks ago he struck again, attempting to rape a 15-year-old girl. He has been traced to these crimes with the help of fingerprint and DNA analyses.

Hundreds of armed police, tracker dogs and helicopters with night-vision equipment have combed the forests of middle Germany. There have been 900 sightings, and the authorities follow up every lead.

Last weekend they searched woods on the edge of Berlin, even though Zurwehme is believed to be hiding hundreds of miles further west. That is if he is still in Germany. According to the prison that was his home for the last quarter of a century, Zurwehme speaks good French and Dutch.