A German woman accused of killing nine newborn babies has confessed to being the mother but cannot remember how they were killed because she was drunk when she gave birth.
Police with sniffer dogs searched back gardens in an east German village after the skeletons of the babies were discovered, buried in flower pots and a garage fish-tank in what is said to be Germany's worst post-war case of infanticide.
Prosecutors said the 39-year-old womanadmitted part-responsibility for their deaths just after she had given birth to them. She said her husband had spent long periods away because they had marital difficulties, and did not notice her pregnancies. She has three children aged between 18 and 20 and an 18-month-old with a new partner.
"The accused woman gave only very vague indications regarding the circumstances of how the children were killed," Anette Bargenda, the Frankfurt an der Oder prosecutor said."She remembered giving birth to the first two children and recalled disposing of the second child in a balcony flowerpot but could give only hazy accounts of the others.
"The first child was wanted, the second so-so and the third child was too much for her," Ms Bargenda said. "Regarding the dead children three to nine, she said she couldn't remember how the killings happened because when the birth contractions began she had drunk a considerable amount of alcohol."
The skeletons were discovered by relatives helping clear up a garage in the garden of her parents' house in Brieskow-Finkenherd, near Frankfurt, on Sunday afternoon. The mother, who was arrested on Monday and named only as Sabine H, faces charges of manslaughter. The nine infants were believed to have been born and to have died between 1988 and 2004.
The discovery has shocked Germany. "We are looking at a crime on a scale that has never been seen in the history of the Federal Republic," Jörg Schönbohm, Interior Minister of Brandenburg state, said. "We must ask ourselves how this incredible crime remained hidden all these years. It is a question relatives, neighbours, doctors and the authorities have to answer."
State prosecutors said Sabine H, a jobless dental assistant, had initially buried the bodies of the infants in the flower pots which she kept on the balcony of her small flat in Frankfurt. She gave the pots to her parents saying she did not have room for them.
Neighbours yesterday described her as a "normal girl" who often wore loose-fitting clothes. "I only saw Sabine a few days ago," one said. "She was with her youngest daughter and she looked just the model of a caring mother." But Bild quoted former friends of Sabine H who claimed she had been unable to cope with prolonged periods as a single parent and had frequently resorted to drinking and sex with different men to escape her predicament.
"She often took men home from the pub for one-night stands," one woman told the newspaper. "She was usually completely drunk when this happened, but she was alone and couldn't cope."
There has been a string of gruesome finds in Germany. Last week, a dead baby girl was found in a public lavatory in Magdeburg and a baby boy was found on a recycling company's conveyer belt in Guetersloh.
In June, a walker in Lower Saxony found a baby in a plastic bag whose throat had been cut. In Austria, the parents of four infants whose bodies were discovered in a freezer and entombed in concrete-filled buckets have been arrested.