Police in Europe were launching an international appeal for help to identify 22 women whose bodies were found in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands over a period of 43 years.
Most of the women met violent deaths – some were dismembered, while some showed signs of abuse or starvation – with the most recent body discovered in 2019.
The women’s unknown identities is frustrating detectives’ hunts for their killers.
Police on Wednesday launched Operation Identify Me – an international appeal with Interpol – seeking the public’s help putting names to the women.
Such a breakthrough would, at a minimum, mean police no longer have to identify the victims by their distinguishing features or apparel — “the woman with the flower tattoo”, “the woman with the artificial nails” — or locations where their remains were discovered.
The oldest of the cold cases dates back to 1976. Her body was found along the A12 highway in the Netherlands. She is believed to have been between 13 and 20-years-old when she died.
Interpol, the international police liaison organisation based in Lyon, France, distributed black-and-white facial reconstructions of some of the victims.
“Most of the 22 victims died violently, and some were also abused or starved before they died,” Dutch police said.
Police hope that learning their names might also provide evidence about possible offenders. It might also allow them to establish whether any of the cases were linked.
“In similar investigations, establishing the victim’s identity ultimately has led to the arrest of a suspect,” Anja Allendorf, from the German police, said.
As well as facial reconstructions of some of the women, it also includes images of jewellery and other items found with their remains, and contact forms for people who may have any information about the cases.
Susan Hitchin, who co-ordinates Interpol’s DNA unit, said identifying the women could help bring closure to their family members.
“It’s horrendous to go all these years without having any news, not knowing what’s happened. And however dreadful it may be to get that confirmation that their loved one has died, it is part of an important process in order to grieve and to move forward,” she said.
“Hopefully a member of the public will able to bring some new elements that the police can use that will ultimately provide the identity to these victims and ideally help lead to the perpetrator, if there is one.”