Kalinka was 14 when she was killed. Thirty years later, her father captured the man responsible

Netflix’s new true-crime documentary tells the story of Kalinka Bamberski’s death and her father’s extraordinary, 30-year quest for justice against the man responsible. Tom Murray speaks to the father, André Bamberski, who arranged the kidnapping of his daughter’s killer after being failed by the judicial system

Monday 11 July 2022 15:51 BST
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<p>Kalinka Bamberski</p>

Kalinka Bamberski

In the early hours of 18 October 2009, in a French city near the Swiss and German borders, a bound and gagged German doctor named Dieter Krombach was hauled out of a car and tossed into a backstreet. The man responsible was an unassuming accountant from Toulouse, who was convinced that Krombach had killed his 14-year-old daughter 27 years earlier. Putting in an anonymous call to local police, he insisted that he had finally brought a notorious fugitive to justice.

André Bamberski, the accountant in question, is now the subject of an extraordinary new Netflix documentary titled My Daughter’s Killer, the latest in the streamer’s neverending output of true crime. It traces Bamberski’s relentless pursuit of Krombach over nearly three decades and across multiple countries. “It was not about vengeance,” Bamberski, now well into his 80s, told me. “It was about getting justice.”

Bamberski and Krombach were first linked through the same woman. It was while working in Morocco in the early 1970s that Bamberski’s wife Danièle struck up an affair with Krombach, then a handsome and well-respected physician. Bamberski, Danièle and their daughter Kalinka fled the country for Toulouse in the aftermath of the affair, only for Krombach to follow them. The tryst continued, and Bamberski’s marriage broke down. Bamberski remained in Toulouse, and Danièle moved with Krombach to Lindau, a lake town in Bavaria, where Kalinka would spend her summers. On 10 July 1982, Bamberski received a phone call from Danièle. Kalinka was dead. Krombach blamed heatstroke. Bamberski was unconvinced.

It transpired that Krombach had injected Kalinka with a cocktail of drugs. He admitted to administering a mystery compound – which he did not name, but claimed it helped her tan more easily – as well as iron and cobalt to treat anaemia, from which she did not suffer. When he found Kalinka unconscious, he told police he’d injected her with dopamine and Dilaudid, one a neurotransmitter that increases a person’s heart rate, the other an opioid used to treat severe pain. Later, a French investigation would discover that he had also injected her with Novidigal, Isoptin and cortisone, the combination of which was dangerous and inexplicable to medical experts.

Evidence of sexual assault was found during Kalinka’s autopsy. Observers also believe that Krombach was present during the autopsy, and he is quoted in the report making medical observations. German authorities, though, maintain that he remained outside the room. The most disturbing detail, however, is that the young girl’s genitals were removed during the examination and subsequently disappeared. In one of the most difficult-to-watch moments in the documentary, Bamberski tells the camera: “Kalinka got carved up like a pig in a slaughterhouse, but nobody wanted to know how and why she died.”

Bamberski knew none of this until three years after Kalinka’s death, when he finally received a copy of the autopsy report. It was enough evidence for him to conclude that Krombach was responsible for his daughter’s death and sexual abuse but, apparently, not enough for the German authorities. They did not so much as interview the doctor. A criminal investigation was never launched, as the case had already been closed. It was then that Bamberski’s quest for justice began.

Andre Bamberski in ‘My Daughter’s Killer’

We speak over the phone via a translator, and Bamberski greets me with an “enchanté”. He speaks with the triumphant air of a man who has finally been proven right, if slightly embittered against the bureaucracy that waylaid him for so long. It would take 29 years for Krombach to finally be convicted of manslaughter over Kalinka’s death, with a French court sentencing him to 15 years in prison. It was not quite what Bamberski wanted. “It was tinged with a great sadness,” he says. “For someone to effectively kill someone through poisoning, the minimum sentence should be either a life sentence or 30 years. So it saddens me that he wasn’t given the sentence that he deserved.”

He’s left conflicted about the nature of fighting for justice, even if he is satisfied that he’s done his best by his daughter

James Rogan, producer

In 1988, French forensic experts established the cobalt-iron injection as the cause of Kalinka’s death due to asphyxia and cardiovascular shock. It took years to commit Krombach to the Assize Court in Paris for murder and when, finally, he was found guilty in absentia in 1995, Germany refused to extradite him. The French ministry of law also refused to issue an international warrant for his arrest. “Those legal proceedings caused me to suffer so much,” Bamberski says in the documentary. “I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone any more.”

His concerns were proven warranted in 1997, when Krombach was arrested for drugging and raping a 16-year-old female patient. Five more rape accusers came forward, but were rejected by the German court due to a lack of forensic evidence. Astonishingly, Krombach received a mere slap on the knuckles – a two-year suspended sentence and a ban from practising medicine for two years. Some of the documentary’s most disquieting footage arrives at this moment, when a rare TV news interview with Krombach is shown in which the doctor mocks his victim. “She never said yes, but she never said no either,” Krombach laughs. The presenter points out that he had drugged his victim, to which the doctor replies: “Like they said in ancient Rome: ‘Those who remain silent seem to agree.’” It is a palpable moment of pure evil.

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In 2006, Krombach was foiled once more, after he was identified by a librarian whose local GP had just hired him as a fill-in doctor. It turned out that, since 1997, Krombach had been travelling around Germany as a “locum doctor”, picking up substitute shifts on his old licence. Upon his arrest, he was found with a suitcase full of money and a penis pump. During his travels, Krombach had continued to sexually assault patients. It’s a stark reminder of the importance of Bamberski’s crusade. While the authorities appeared to look away, it was Bamberski who stayed busy tracking Krombach’s every move, making frequent visits to wherever the doctor had relocated.

“Bamberski was the one who saw what was happening behind closed doors,” says My Daughter’s Killer producer James Rogan. “He intuited it from the evidence that he gathered around Kalinka and his own instincts.” As one of Krombach’s survivors in the documentary puts it: “Mr Bamberski, he knew something was off and he was right. Completely right.”

Krombach was handed a 28-month sentence and served just 11 of them. It was at this point that Bamberski decided to take matters into his own hands. He tracked Krombach to Scheidegg in Germany, near Landau, and discovered that the doctor planned to up sticks once more. Sensing his window closing – France has a 30-year limit on legal procedures – Bamberski put up advertisements around Bregenz in Austria, near the German border, seeking assistance in the transferal of Krombach to France. One of those who responded was Anton Krasniqi, a Kosovan living in the town.

Dr Dieter Krombach

Krasniqi is the documentary’s most eccentric character. He says with a knowing smile that if Kalinka was his daughter, Krombach would have received “a short trial – tidy, short, quick”. Krasniqi refused to accept payment for the kidnapping. “He behaved very differently to other people who had come to me before,” Bamberski tells me. Krasniqi enlisted the help of two Russian mobsters who bundled Krombach into a car outside his home and drove him across the border into France. Listening to Bamberski, you’ll find it unthinkable that this understated accountant could have been responsible for a violent kidnapping. “Before taking this big step, I basically decided not to study [and] not to learn what would be the legal consequences for me instigating the removal of this suspect from one country to another,” Bamberski explains. “As a matter of fact, in the end, it was very lucky for me that I hadn’t studied these consequences. If I had, I would not have gone ahead with it. If I’d not gone ahead with it, justice would never have been reached.”

On 22 October 2011, Krombach was sentenced to 15 years in prison for causing intentional bodily harm resulting in unintentional death. It was not the murder conviction that Bamberski wanted, but it would see Krombach spend his remaining years in a jail cell. Danièle had previously defended Krombach, until she discovered during witness testimonies that he had been sedating her in order to have sex with a 16-year-old girl in their home. As for Bamberski, he was given a one-year suspended jail sentence for orchestrating the abduction. “I fully respect that people can be morally against my removal of the doctor from Germany to France, but everyone must respect that – legally – I did nothing wrong,” he tells me. “That was proven by the judicial system.”

Anton Krasniqi in ‘My Daughter’s Killer’

Bamberski has won, but the toll the fight has taken on him can never really be estimated. “The truth is, that he’s still living it,” Rogan says. “He’s still very much into the questions that were unanswered… He’s left conflicted about the nature of fighting for justice, even if he is satisfied that he’s done his best by his daughter.” Throughout our conversation, “justice” is the buzzword with Bamberski. Despite everything, he did not want revenge; he wanted people to know he was right.

I ask where this innate sense of right and wrong came from. “I’m from Poland,” he says. “I’m from a Slavic background, and my parents always taught me to act honestly. I’m proud that I was always totally honest.”

‘My Daughter’s Killer’ is streaming on Netflix now

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