`The Killing Machine' is held after huge German manhunt

GERMANY'S MOST wanted man was finally captured yesterday after eight months on the run. The arrest of the convict Dieter Zurwehme, a man dubbed "the Killing Machine", brought an end to one of the most extensive and embarrassing manhunts conducted in Germany.

Zurwehme, 57, had escaped during a trip out of prison while serving a murder sentence. During his time at large, he allegedly murdered four people and attempted to rape two teenagers.

At one point in the bungled investigation, police officers shot and killed an innocent tourist wrongly reported to have been Zurwehme.

The chase ended abruptly and unexpectedly yesterdaymorning when he was noticed by a motorist in Greifswald, north-eastern Germany. The man told police that he recognised Zurwehme from photo-graphs that had been published in newspapers.

The murderer was said to have been carrying an air pistol and a knife but put up no resistance when police officers approached him.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said: "A man was arrested this morning after a member of the public called the police reporting that he had seen Mr Zurwehme.

"Two officers were sent in a police car to investigate the report and arrested a man. He was taken back to the police station and his identity was confirmed by fingerprints."

During the eight-month chase, Zurwehme repeatedly shook off police, despite hundreds of sightings in towns and villages across the country.

He boasted that they would never catch him; he even hadthe confidence to allow himself to be photographed by a woman whom he offered to help with building work on her house in return for a hot meal.

Newspaper headlines claimed that he was toying with the police and had been following the manhunt by reading the newspapers.

In June - in the worst mix-up of the case - officers shot and killed an innocent tourist from Cologne who was wrongly thought to have been Zurwehme.

The man, named only as Friedhelm B, was staying at a hotel in Heldrungen, Thuringia when plain-clothes, armed police officers knocked on the door of his room. They shot him dead after he shut the door in their faces.

Zurwehme had been sentenced to life imprisonment for a 1974 murder but escaped during a trip out of prison in Bielefeld last December - his 117th excursion from the prison.

Authorities have been criticised for allowing a man known to be violent out of prison at all.

The search for him was stepped up after he allegedly killed two couples in March in the town of Remagen while robbing them.

He is then thought to have attempted to rape a 15-year-old girl near Hanover.

Police conducted DNA tests, which they said confirmed him as the attacker.

The attempted rape of a 19-year-old woman in the Cuxhaven area in July is also being attributed to Zurwehme.

During the past few months police forces across the country have launched searches involving hundreds of officers in woodlands and fields, prompted by sightings reports from members of the public.

At the beginning of this month, more than 200 sightings were reported in the Berlin area and 300 police officers sealed off the Grunewald forest in an attempt to trap him.

But as well as having several different disguises, Zurwehme is reportedly an expert at living off the land and hiding - and surviving - in the countryside.

A Greifswald police spokesman, Axel Falkenberg, said yesterday it was just "lucky circumstances" that had led to Zurwehme's arrest.