Thursday, 22 December 2016

Im Namen meines Sohns (4 Stars)

The title of this German film means "In the name of my son". It's the true story of one of the most spectacular cases of a serial killer in recent German history. The names of the characters in the film are changed, which I find strange, because in the end-of-film texts the real people involved are named. I'll use the real names in this review, rather than the fictional names used in the film.

In 1992 the 13-year-old Stefan Jahr disappeared from the boarding school where he was staying. Four weeks later he was found dead. The police investigated the case thoroughly, but they found no leads. Stefan's father Ulrich suspected the head of the boarding school, but the police couldn't find any evidence. When the case was closed a few years later as "unsolvable" Ulrich accused the police of knowing who the killer was and covering it up because it was an important member of the community. After giving a series of television interviews blaming the police Ulrich was sued for slander, but he got off lightly with a warning.

The years went by. Ulrich was approached by a Russian private detective who offered to help him, not charging him his full rate because the case interested him. The detective discovered a pattern that the police had missed. In 1995 and 2001 two other boys of approximately the same age had been found dead. One had disappeared from a boarding school, the other from a school holiday camp. Both had blond hair, like Stefan. The police had never connected the cases because they happened in different parts of Germany, hundreds of miles apart. Further investigations revealed that in 1998 a boy had been killed in Holland, in 2004 in France, both of them blond, both of them taken from holiday camps. The killer was obviously someone who had contacts with schools and holiday camps over a large area. As for the three-year interval, nobody can understand what goes on in the head of a madman. Children spoke of a masked man who visited tents and bedrooms at night, but nobody took it seriously.

Finally, in 2011 a children's worker called Martin Ney was arrested. Stefan had been his first victim, when Martin was 21 and still a student. Over the years he had worked in many camps, carefully planning attacks that he often didn't carry out until years later. He was charged with three murders, including Stefan's. Not all the cases could be proved, so the court restricted itself to the murders for which there was sufficient evidence.

This film is more than anything the story of Ulrich Jahr. It shows how a murder can ruin a person's life. After his son was killed he became obsessed with finding the killer. He lost his job, he neglected his younger son Oliver, and his wife left him. He spent 19 years of his life living only to find the killer. When he succeeded his life was over. Nine days after Martin Ney was convicted of murder Ulrich Jahr died of a heart attack, happy that justice had been served.

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