German banker makes desperate TV appeal to wife's kidnappers

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Television was Thomas Bögerl's last resort. The German provincial banker had dropped off a ransom payment in the hope of freeing his kidnapped wife yet, mysteriously, it was never collected. After the police had spent nearly a week fruitlessly searching for her with tracker dogs, he decided to go public with his ordeal.

Appearing with his two children on the country's equivalent of Crimewatch during prime viewing time on Wednesday night, his voice cracked as he delivered an emotional appeal to the abductors for the release of his wife, Maria.

Flanked by his son and daughter Christoph, 24, and Carina, 27, Mr Bögerl looked utterly desperate. Imploring the kidnappers to release his 54-year-old spouse, he begged: "I am making a plea to your humanity: please, please, please let her go." The couple's two children, looking equally sleep-deprived and distressed, faced the camera. "We beg you to help us end this terrible ordeal on a positive note," said Christoph. His sister asked the kidnappers to "at least give a sign" that her mother was alive.

The Bögerl family's 76-second video appeal was unusual, to say the least, for the crime-solving programme Aktenzeichen XY, and it shocked German TV viewers. The show normally asks for the public's help in finding the perpetrators – rather than the victims – of crimes. The family's strategy was a desperate last resort, yet appears to have been partially successful.

Yesterday police said they had received more than 200 phone calls with information that could help what is rapidly turning into one of the most baffling abduction cases in recent German criminal history.

The well-heeled banker's wife disappeared from her home in the southern German town of Heidenheim on the morning of 12 May. Within hours, her husband, who is executive director of Sparkasse savings bank in the Heidenheim region, received a phone call in which a mystery voice demanded a €300,000 (£260,000) ransom for her release.

Mr Bögerl was allowed to speak to his wife on the phone, and she told him her life was in danger. The banker immediately notified the police and then followed the kidnappers' instructions to the letter.

He collected the cash and placed it in a black rubbish bag which he then drove to a specified location on Germany's A7 motorway, where he dumped it. The spot was marked with a German flag – as the mystery voice on the phone had demanded. Yet the ransom was never collected and nothing has been heard of Maria Bögerl since her husband's brief conversation with her during the kidnapper's call.

Mrs Bögerl's black Mercedes A-class saloon was found abandoned on a road outside a convent on Friday last week – two days after her disappearance. Her mobile phone was recovered near the site of the abortive ransom-money drop.

Police have since been deploying a force of 300 officers, backed up by tracker dogs and a helicopter equipped with a heat-sensitive camera, in their hunt for Mrs Bögerl, but so far their search has been fruitless.

Yesterday the case was further complicated by a report in Bild newspaper which claimed that the sack containing the ransom money had been inadvertently collected by a motorway maintenance team 16 hours after it was dropped off. They apparently mistook the bag for rubbish and dumped it in the back of their pickup van. Police confirmed yesterday that the bag had been mistakenly picked up, but insisted they had been able to recover all the cash soon afterwards.

Last year, the wife of another German banker was kidnapped and released after her husband arranged for the payment of a €1.8m ransom.

However, in the Bögerl case parallels are already being drawn with the kidnapping of Jakob von Metzler, the 11-year-old son of a prominent Frankfurt banker, who was abducted by a law student in 2002 while on his way to school. The student (who is now serving a life sentence) collected a €1m ransom after killing the boy and dumping his corpse in a pond.