Connemara lake body finally identified after eight year wait

The facial reconstruction of Arno Schmitz.

The facial reconstruction of Arno Schmitz.

Gardai yesterday confirmed the identity of a man whose body was found near Lough Inagh in 2006. The announcement follows an eight-year investigation by Galway gardaí in collaboration with national and international agencies and experts to identify the remains, which were found in a wooded area near the Connemara lake.

The man has been identified as Arno Schmitz, a native of Neumünster in Germany who had been living in Ireland for just a few months before he died.

Mr Schmitz’s body was discovered on December 8 2006, and a post mortem in the following days found no evidence of injury or trauma. However efforts to identify the body, which had lain undiscovered for the best part of a year, had initially proved fruitless.

Some items which were found in a small holdall beside the body were to be crucial in solving the man’s identity. Among these was a carton of pink grapefruit flavour Tropicana juice, with a best before date of 24/12/2005, and a pair of non-prescription Ray Ban sunglasses in a case which bore the inscription ‘Mückenheim-Optik’ with an address in Neumünster, Germany. Enquiries in the area initially did not reveal any information on the deceased.

As time passed with no identification of the remains forthcoming, Coroner for west Galway Dr Ciaran McLoughlin, who had carried out the post mortem on the remains, made contact with Dr Caroline Wilkinson, a senior lecturer in forensic anthropology at the University of Dundee in Scotland. The advice of Dr Wilkinson was sought with a view to reconstructing a facial reconstruction. In 2009 the reconstruction image was released to the media.

A review of the case was launched in December 2009 as no new information had been gleaned to aid the investigation. House to house enquiries, and the canvassing of local hotels and guesthouses in and around Clifden and the Lough Inagh area, shed no light on the mystery. The case featured on Crimecall in late 2009, and again in June 2013. Still no progress was made.

Gardaí undertook a further review in December 2013, which resulted in more than 60 lines of enquiry. Further emphasis was brought to bear on the items found with the remains during this review.

It was established that the fruit juice drink had been produced on or about November 3 2005, and it had a shelf life of approximately 52 days. Giving a week from manufacture to distribution, the product could only have been on sale in retail outlets sometime after November 10 2005. This tied in with the belief that the man had died some time in late 2005.

The glasses case led gardaí to believe the deceased had some connection with the Neumünster area of Germany; investigators in Galway, who had been communicating with Interpol on the case, were referred to German authorities, who confirmed that no missing person with a similar DNA profile existed on their missing persons database.

A press release was issued to German media through Interpol in April of this year, particularly to media organisations in Neumünster, accompanied by an image of the facial reconstruction which had been carried out. This resulted in two people coming forward, including a man who said the image resembled his brother, Arno Schmitz, who had moved to Ireland in late September 2005.

Bernd Schmitz’s last contact with his brother was before Christmas 2005 by phone. At that time Arno Schmitz was working in Ireland. He had not been reported missing.

Mr Schmitz’s dental records were acquired and, on September 7, they were furnished to a forensic dentist, Paul V Keogh, in Kerry. Mr Keogh contacted the Garda incident room in Galway the following day to inform them that the records were an identical match to the body.

On September 12, results of a forensic DNA analysis found that comparison of DNA from Bernd Schmitz and the Connemara body strongly supported the probability that they were brothers. This week, Bernd Schmitz was contacted through Interpol and informed that the body of his brother had been identified.

Chief Superintendent Thomas Curley of Galway Garda Station this week paid tribute to the determination of investigators in solving Mr Schmitz’s identity.

“With little evidence to work with and no missing persons report this was always going to a difficult case to solve,” Supt Curley said. “But thanks to the determination of the local Garda investigators and the co-operation of agencies and individual experts we have helped ensure that Mr Schmitz's family have some closure on this tragic matter.”



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