On Sept. 15, 1981, Ursula Herrmann vanished while making the 10-minute bike ride through the spruce forest that linked her village with another in the south of Germany. The 10-year-old's bike was quickly found. Days later came the first strange calls—silence, then the brief jingle that accompanied the traffic bulletin on local radio. A ransom note demanding 2 million deutschmarks followed, along with more calls and a second letter. Then silence. Some 19 days after she vanished came the discovery: Ursula had been buried alive in a box in the forest. As Xan Rice writes for the Guardian, it appears the kidnappers had intended to keep her alive: The box was the size of a coffee table and 4.5 feet deep, and was outfitted with soda and sweets, books, a light and portable radio, and a ventilation system—with one design error.
There were plastic plumbing pipes that ran to the surface but no fan to circulate the air and bring in oxygen. It was estimated Ursula died within 5 hours of being put in the box. There was no sign of movement or struggle inside; it's believed she might have been drugged and died while in that state. Rice details a fruitless hunt for the kidnappers that culminated in the arrest of Werner Mazurek, who was 31 when Ursula died and lived near her family home. He had been a suspect in 1982 but wasn't arrested until 2008, in large part based on the decades-old revoked "confession" of a now-dead "accomplice" that police had dismissed at the time and the testimony of a sound expert who examined a reel-to-reel tape recorder found in Mazurek's home. He was found guilty in 2010. Then began the quest of one man to prove Mazurek didn't do it: Michael Herrmann, Ursula's brother. (Read the full story to learn what happened next.)