`Crime of passion' theory after banker is killed

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Police in Italy and Germany yesterday launched an international double-murder inquiry after a senior functionary in the Bundesbank and his Italian lover were found dead with bullet holes in the back of their necks in a mountain resort town in the Dolomites.

Hans Otto Detmering, a married 61-year-old director in the German central bank's capital markets and securities transactions department, had been staying in the sleepy spa town of Merano with his 49-year-old schoolteacher friend Clorinda Cecchetti for five days. He had just put down a deposit on a flat for the two of them.

Their bodies were found on Thursday night by two joggers on a footpath along the Passirio River which runs through the centre of Merano. Mr Detmering was spread-eagled on top of Ms Cecchetti, as though trying to protect her. She died immediately, while Mr Detmering survived overnight before dying in the intensive-care unit of a local hospital.

At first police suspected a double-suicide pact, but changed their minds when teams of sniffer dogs failed to locate the murder weapon, believed to be a .22-calibre Magnum pistol. Both victims were shot at close range, and the cartridge cases of both bullets were found near their bodies.

Investigators said it was too soon to speculate about a motive, although one investigator in Merano said: ``We suspect we are dealing with a crime of the heart.'' Colleagues at the Bundesbank in Frankfurt said Mr Detmering was almost certainly not important enough to have been killed for political or work-related reasons; they too suspected a crime of passion.

"He worked for 30 years in the bureaucratic machine of the bank," said one Bundesbank official, speaking on condition of anonymity. ``He was not particularly well-known ... It seems very obvious that this was a strictly private matter.''

Within hours of the murders, German police descended on the small town of Koenigstein outside Frankfurt to talk to Mr Detmering's estranged wife and two grown children.

The results of an interview with Else Detmering, who was fully aware of her husband's relationship with Ms Cecchetti, were faxed immediately to the police in Merano. Mrs Detmering, a pharmacist by profession, is believed to have produced an alibi for the night of the murders. Police are looking into the possibility that a professional hit team may have been hired.

According to initial reports, the banker and the schoolteacher first met five years ago. Mr Detmering was preparing to divorce his wife and, according to friends, the couple planned to marry as soon as the divorce came through.