The Kalinka Affair

May 14, 2012

Special to Crime Magazine

The Kalinka Affair by Joshua Hammer

This is an excerpt from The Kalinka Affair by Joshua Hammer. The full ebook single is available for sale from The Atavist, through Kindle Singles, iBooks, The Atavist app,and other outlets via The Atavist website.When André Bamberski’s daughter died 30 years ago, he was helpless to save her. Suspicions of murder began to surround her stepfather, a German doctor named Dieter Krombach, but Bamberski could only hope the truth would prevail. But when the authorities gave up their pursuit, he knew he had to act. So against the odds, Bamberski embarked on an obsessive quest to capture and punish his daughter’s killer.

by Joshua Hammer

The abduction of Dr. Dieter Krombach began in the village of Scheidegg, in southern Germany. His three kidnappers punched him in the face, tied him up, gagged him, and threw him in the back of their car. They drove 150 miles, crossing the border into the Alsace region of France, with Krombach stretched out on the floor between the seats. The car stopped in the town of Mulhouse. An accomplice called the local police and stayed on the line just long enough to deliver a bizarre instruction: “Go to the rue de Tilleul, across from the customs office,” the anonymous caller said. “You’ll find a man tied up.” 

A few minutes later, two police cars arrived at the scene, their red and blue patrol lights illuminating the street. Behind an iron gate, in a dingy courtyard between two four-story buildings, Krombach lay on the ground. His hands and feet were bound and his mouth was gagged. He was roughed up but very much alive. When the police removed the covering from his mouth, the first thing he said was “Bamberski is behind it.”

The French septuagenarian André Bamberski, to whom Krombach referred was, on the face of it, an unlikely kidnapper. Until 1982, he had been a mild-mannered accountant and the adoring father of a lively young girl, Kalinka. That year, Kalinka attended a French-language high school in the small German city of Freiburg, as a boarder, and spent most weekends and summers in nearby Lindau, with Bamberski’s ex-wife and her new husband, Dieter Krombach.

On the cusp of 15, Kalinka was extroverted and pretty, with full lips and blond hair falling in bangs over her blue eyes. But she was also homesick: She barely spoke German, though she lived in Bavaria. She was looking forward to August, when she would move back in with her father in Pechbusque, a suburb of Toulouse.

On Friday, July 9, 1982, Kalinka Bamberski windsurfed on Lake Constance, the sweep of clear blue water edged by the Alps and shared by Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. At around 5 p.m.  she returned home, tired and, according to her stepfather and mother, complaining that she felt unwell. The family sat down to dinner at 7:30 p.m. Kalinka went to bed early, rose to drink a glass of water at 10 p.m., and, according to her stepfather, read in her downstairs bedroom until midnight, when he asked her to turn off the light.

The following morning, at around 9:30, the 47-year-old Krombach, wearing equestrian clothes for his morning ride through the nearby mountains, came downstairs and attempted to wake his stepdaughter. He found her lying in bed, on her right side, dead—her body already becoming stiff with rigor mortis. Krombach would later tell medical examiners that he attempted to revive her with an injection, directly into her heart, of Coramin, a central-nervous-system stimulant, and doses of two other stimulants, Novodigal and Isoptin, in her legs. But he was hours too late. An autopsy would put the time of death at between 3 and 4 a.m.

At around 10:30 on Saturday morning, the telephone rang at André Bamberski’s home, three miles south of Toulouse, and his ex-wife delivered the news of his daughter’s death. The 45-year-old Bamberski sank into a chair, stunned. Kalinka had been a healthy, athletic teenager, with almost no history of medical trouble. How could it have happened? he demanded. His ex-wife, her voice jagged with sorrow, explained that Krombach had proposed two theories: Kalinka might have suffered from heatstroke, caused by overexposure to the sun the previous day. Or she might have died from the long-delayed effects of a 1974 car accident in Morocco, in which she had suffered a concussion.

Bamberski was mystified and overwhelmed with grief. He flew to Zurich and rented a car at the airport. As he drove 50 miles east toward Lake Constance, the Alps silhouetted under a three-quarter moon, he continued to grapple with his daughter’s death. “I was devastated,” he recalls.

For Bamberski, the shock and horror of Kalinka’s death were compounded by the mystery surrounding it. The notion that his vital, healthy daughter, after a day of ordinary activity, could be found dead in her bed was beyond inexplicable. Though he was a deeply religious man and could find some consolation in his faith, he also felt that God alone could not help him make sense of his loss. Soon, his suspicions turned toward the last person to see Kalinka alive: Dieter Krombach.

Bamberski could hardly have envisioned where those suspicions would lead. For the next three decades, he would pursue Krombach across Europe in a relentless attempt to establish responsibility for his daughter’s death. The campaign would leave Bamberski isolated and in legal jeopardy, with his judgment and even his sanity questioned. He would lose touch with friends, family, and colleagues. He would be accused of crossing moral and legal lines, of losing all perspective, of wading deep into groundless conspiracy theories. His one surviving child would find himself torn between his parents. By the end, even Bamberski’s own attorney, one of France’s most respected jurists, would declare himself unable to support his client in his campaign. Bamberski would leave his job, burn through much of his life savings, and devote thousands of hours to pursuing his quarry across Europe.

“It is not an obsession,” he would later insist. “It’s about a promise I made to Kalinka, to give her justice.”

Total views: 21565