Written by Jennifer Wlost
Over 900,000 people go missing in the United States each year. Only 50,000 of them are over the age of 18, and half of the missing juvenile cases are reported to be runaways. About 80 percent of missing children are returned home within 24 to 72 hours. After that, the chances of the missing person being found alive plummet to under 10 percent.
In the UK, around 170,000 people are reported missing to the authorities. Contrary to across the pond, however, most missing citizens are adults. The chance of a child not turning up within a week is about two percent. In that case, it is sadly also very likely for them to have passed away.
In Germany, where today’s episode of the Casual Criminalist will take place, approximately 100,000 people are reported missing each year.
In the year 2019, 15,395 German citizens under the age of 18 were a part of that number. When it comes to missing children, the German police has solved 98 percent of mssing children cases that year.
Since March 3rd 1951, the German justice system has accumulated 1.869 cases of missing people and unidentified bodies.
One of them is our topic for today.
– Gone Without a Trace –
It is the evening of February 17, 2019.
In Berlin-Britz, a suburb of the Neukölln district, 15-year-old Rebecca Reusch (pronounciation guide if neccessary: “Roish”) is getting ready to go to sleep.
She had spent the day at her older sister Jessica’s home and is too tired to go home. Jessica is already married and has a small daughter she has to watch, as her husband Florian is at a company dinner party.
Rebecca spends the night on the living room couch. As it is a Sunday evening, she has to go to school the next day.
Jessica sleeps in the upstairs bedroom and Florian returns from the party in the early morning at 5:45 am.
In the morning of February 18, at 7 am on the dot, Jessica leaves the house with her daughter in order to drop the toddler off at the kindergarten and go to her workplace. She is in quite a hurry, and does not check on her younger sister again.
Rebecca wakes up shortly after Jessica has left. She gets dressed in a merchandise hoodie of the popular Korean pop band BTS, ripped jeans and black “Vans” sneakers. In the hallway, she decides to take a picture of herself and sends it to one of her friends via the popular messaging application Snapchat. It is believed that the picture was taken and subsequently sent sometime after 7 am. Because Snapchat pictures are automatically deleted after a few seconds, there is no exact time available.
At 7:15, Rebecca’s mother, Brigitte Reusch, tries to check on her daughter by phone. She does not answer and the call is redirected to the girl’s mailbox.
Rebecca’s phone logs onto Jessica’s and Florian’s Wi-Fi router for the last time at 7:46.
Half an hour later, at 8:25 am, Brigitte makes another attempt at contacting her daughter.
Rebecca, or Becci, as her friends and family lovingly refer to her as, should have arrived at school by now and Brigitte becomes increasingly worried about her youngest child’s well-being. She calls her son-in-law Florian next but he declines her call. He tries to call Brigitte back unsuccessfully. On the third attempt, they are finally able to speak to one another.
The only piece of information Brigitte gets from Florian, however, is that as far as he knows, Rebecca is not at his house anymore.
At 8:42 am, the worried mother decides to send her missing daughter a WhatsApp message, which is delivered, but not read.
When Rebecca did not return home after school, her parents reported her as missing.
– The Investigation –
The German police immediately begin to search for Rebecca. Since she is underage and female, her case is treated with extreme urgency.
The surrounding area of both her parents’ home and the place of Jessica and Florian is searched the same day, as well as the route she takes on her usual daily morning commute to Walter-GropiusSchule.
However, no traces are found, and the police decide to ask the public for help on the 21st Ferbuary, three days after the girl was reported missing.
The first public message sadly turns out to be far from useful, as the picture attached to the posters that are being up around the entire city of Berlin was taken from Rebecca’s Instagram account. The
15-year-old had edited all of her public photos so much that her face was close to being unrecognizable.
Rebecca’s family of course notices this rather large mishap, and another sister, Vivien Reusch, provides the authorities with unedited family photographs and the Instagram pictures are quickly replaced by proper ones that actually depict the way Rebecca looks. A purple blanket went missing alongside her, so a photo of that item it released to the public as well.
Two days later, the homicide department takes charge of the investigation, as according to police, it could “not be ruled out anymore that Rebecca became the victim of a crime“. Her family puts up leaflets asking for help, her other older sister Vivien organizes a search party in Berlin-Rudow, her home district.
The police do not remain idle as well and search the area of her sister’s home as well as nearby parks. Even a helicopter scans the area for any signs of the girl.
On the 28th February 2019, ten days after Rebecca was reported as missing, the first arrest is made.
Florian R., Rebecca’s brother-in-law, gets taken into custody. Reason for the arrest are pictures made by the automatic license plate recognition system of Brandenburg, the state which surrounds
the city of Berlin. (German pronounciation challenge for Simon: Automatisches Kennzeichenerfassungssystem)
The pictures show the car of Rebecca’s sister and her husband Florian, a raspberry-coloured Renault Twingo, moving on the A12, or highway 12, toward the Polish border on the day of Rebecca’s disappearance at 10:47 am. In the back seat, a purple fleece blanket is slightly visible. It is once again registered on the same highway the next day at 10:39 pm, going in the same direction.
Due to eyewitness accounts and his wife Jessica’s daily schedule, the police are sure that Florian was the only person with access to the car during those times.
When questioned by the police, Florian R.‘s statements about his car’s movements do not fit the routes recorded. Forensic technicians also search his home but are unable to collect enough evidence to link him to Rebecca’s disappearance. A judge orders him to be released. Still, his car is confiscated, awaiting further inspection.
This verdict, however, is overturned again a few days later when he is arrested again. According to the judge, the reason for this is the ongoing investigation.
On the 6th March, the popular German investigative TV show „Aktenzeichen XY – ungelöst“ („Filenumber XY – unsolved“) airs a segment covering the case of Rebecca. Pictures of her brother in-law and the Renault Twingo are released and several investigators comment on the case at hand.
Michael Hoffmann from the state criminal police office reiterates that Florian R. has not explained his suspicious car rides yet and always failed to come up with a plausible explanation, having since resorted to complete silence. Hoffmann and the leading prosecutor Martin Glage both agree that Rebecca did not leave the home of her sister and brother-in-law alive and that Florian was the only other person in the house beside Rebecca when the crime occurred.
In contrast to his son-in-law, Rebecca’s father Bernd Reusch does not stay quiet about the Renault Twingo’s movements.
„This whole thing is connected to another matter which I can’t say anything about, but it has nothing to do with Rebecca. Florian, just speak! Clear that up so the investigation goes into another direction, the right one! We need to find Becci“, he appeals. But Florian still has not spoken about the matter publicly until this day.
A day after the show, the police finish up combing Florian’s Renault Twingo for clues and return the car to Jessica Reusch. They found hair of Rebecca and fibers of the purple blanket that went missing with her.
Until March 10, a forest in the neighboring state of Brandenburg between the towns Kummersdorf and Wolzig is searched by over 100 police officers with search dogs and specialized cadaver dogs. Another helicopter is dispatched to aid the search party from above. Eyewitnesses reported seeing Florian’s car close to the forest after the episode of Aktenzeichen XY which featured the case. Sadly, nothing is found.
Still, innumerable other search operations follow. The Technicalogical Aid Agency (THW) also supports the police by providing a ground penetrating radar to detect any buried bodies. An echo sounder, divers and even more search dogs are deployed to the area of the German-Polish border, several nearby lakes and forests. As you may have guessed, nobody, or no body, turned up. The search is officially discontinued on April 13th.
– Theories –
As this is always the case with missing people, many citizens – whether led by good intentions or not, remember the Amy Lynn Bradley case – will jump in with supposed sightings or their own suggestions of where the missing person disppeared to.
In the case of Rebecca Reusch, over 2000 anonymous tips have reached the police roughly 6 weeks after the Aktenzeichen XY episode aired. “This is everything but a cold case”, Michael Hoffmann says. And this has proven to not be just an empty phrase. Now, almost exactly three years after Rebecca Reusch went missing, the tips are still being investigated.
And, of course, numerous theories have surfaced regarding the now 18-year-old’s whereabouts. Some more credible than others, but please decide for yourself.
One of the major points of this episode was the investigation and according to the local police, Florian R. is still considered the prime suspect. Remember the two suspicious car rides we spoke about earlier and Florian remaining silent about their purpose? In the meantime, the police have come up with their own explanations regarding those trips.
Big fat allegedly here, but some speculated that the 29-year-old cook might have lost his wedding ring when disposing of his sister-in-law’s body and later went back to retrieve it when he noticed the loss. However, it was later confirmed that the ring went missing after his arrest.
An alternate explanation rooting in the same thesis that Florian was driving to the site where Rebecca’s corpse may or not be located, states that he made a mistake while getting rid of the body, evidence or both and returned to correct it.
Several highway exits on his route on the day of Rebecca’s disappearance and the day after were thoroughly searched by hundreds of policemen and women. Some search dogs are said to have picked up a trace of Rebecca, near a forest in Brandenburg. Florian has knowledge of the area, since he grew up close to it. In the same forest, a female horseback rider spotted a man fully dressed in black, behaving suspiciously. According to her, he was behaving rather erratically and seemed quite nervous, profusely looking around and often changing directions.
An ex-girlfriend of his also accused Florian R. of domestic violence and sexual assault.
One of the lead theories and also the one that the police continues to at least half-heartedly believe in this, as they confirmed him as their prime suspect once again this month (February 2022). The main theory goes as follows:
Florian and Rebecca were alone in the house after Rebecca’s sister Jessica left for work at roughly 7 am. Florian had a violent outburst for some reason. Whether this was due to lack of sleep on his part (remember, he had come home from a party just a few hours prior) Rebecca oversleeping, or something else entirely is still up for debate, as well as if the outburst even happened. Outburst or not, Florian ended up murdering the 15-year-old girl, possibly even sexually assaulting her before she died.
Afterwards, he wrapped her lifeless body up in the purple fleece blanket Rebecca had brought from her own home, so that it would be less suspicious compared to one of his or his wife’s blankets missing from the house. He then cleaned up the crime scene and drove to a forest in Brandenburg to hide Rebecca’s dead body. Since he knows his way around the area, he is capable of choosing a hiding place which is close to impossible to discover. He was very nervous during his “mission”, however, and ended up drawing attention to him by scanning his surroundings for witnesses. (How the hell can you just miss a grown woman on a whole ass horse? Did she ride a silent ghost horse or is he just deaf? I mean, for someone that, nervous, it’s a huge oversight. Just my opinion.)
He then went back home and proceeded with his normal everyday life. However, Florian remembered that he made a crucial mistake and returns to the corpse to fix it, pick something up again, whatever. He did this in the late evening to avoid any suspicion. Worked out great, mate.
Florian allegedly did not know about the number plate regnition system (to be fair, I did not, either) and when he was confronted about the car rides by the police, hurried to make up some half-assed excuse.
Rebecca’s father Bernd Reusch was also questioned about his son-in-law’s action and later stated: “The officers who questioned me tried to lure me into incriminating Florian, but it did not work. I whole-heartedly believe that he is innocent and I will never change my mind about that.”
And he’s not alone. The entire Reusch family firmly believes in his innocence. The claims of sexual abuse have never been verified and there was no clear, irrefutable evidence of a murder taking place in Florian and Jessica’s house. The only remaining evidence are the car rides, the cadaver dogs metaphorically pointing their paws at an area Florian was familiar with and blonde hair and purple fleece fibers in his car as well as the possible sighting of him behaving weirdly in a forest. Taking into account that this took place just outside of Berlin, however, makes me believe that it just might have been some dude high off his tits on Colombian nose candy or just good old crack.
Delusional family loyalty or corrupt police? Since Rebecca’s body was not found and the evidence against Florian R. is mostly, if not purely, circumstantial, he was never formally charged with the crime.
Still, he remains the prime suspect in the still ongoing investigation but has never let something slip, let alone confessed to anything.
The Mysterious Lover
Eventually, the press caught whiff of a certain young man in Rebecca’s life. Maximilian, or Max, was described as a teenager the same age as Rebecca, who did not live in Berlin. Allegedly, he wanted to travel to the German capital city around the time Rebecca vanished. Friends and family, however strongly advised Rebecca against meeting her online friend because of possible catfishes, pedophiles, human traffickers, you know the drill.
The teenager took their advice and seemingly cancelled their meeting. She also remarked that she was not paticularly fond of the young man’s haircut, since his hair was a bit on the longer side. (Had she seen Jack Grealish in the most recent Football World Cup, she would’ve probably thought differently about that. Just quoting a friend here, of course).
Because these news reached the public months after the initial disappearance, it was suspected by the media that this supposed boyfriend had been kept a secret from everyone and her friends had just now decided to spill the beans.
This theory basically states that Rebecca did in fact not cancel her date with Max but went to meet him Monday morning. This would also explain the missing blanket, at least according to Rebecca’s mother.
„She could have brought it as some sort of picnic blanket. You know, to sit on it“, Brigitte Reusch told several newspapers. This idea is also corroborated by a witness who claims to have seen Rebecca calmly walking down the street, blanket under her arm.
So in short, he made Rebecca disappear, most probably through murder.
Suspiciously, Max‘s Instagram profile which he used to communicate with Rebecca was deleted a few days after she was reported to be missing.
The police, however, claimed to have thoroughly investigated the teenager and came to the conclusion that he had nothing to do with the disappearance. The witness who might have seen Rebecca was deemed unreliable because she only came forward with this after the Max story came out on the news. Therefore, the police assume she might have seen someone else and attributed her story to confirmation bias.
„It was not Florian, so it must have been this Max guy, if she is truly dead“, Rebecca’s mother Brigitte stated.
Once again, if the parents of Rebecca are just blinded by the big evil internet or the even worse boyfriends, or whether the police are simply on the wrong track remains up to debate ever since. Parents being overprotective of their teenage daughters getting into relationships would be nothing new, after all. But have the police always been correct about their assumptions and prime suspects?
Max is not the only man associated with Rebecca Reusch. Apparently, she also had a boyfriend for two weeks in Spring of 2018, so roughly a year before her disappearance.
This relationship, however, was regarded as very unhealthy by her friends. She also had a crush on a then 21-year-old man, who rejected her because he felt like he was too old for her. (Finally a guy with some sense. Good job, mate!) She was left heartbroken by his response. Some friends of her were also labelled as “toxic” by the media, but nobody really bothered to elaborate further for some reason.
Rebecca also had issues at school. One woman brought her 10-year-old daughter, who went to Walter-Gropius-Schule as well. The little girl had allegedly told her mother about an argument she had witnessed at school which had left an older blonde girl crying, right on the day of Rebecca’s disappearance.
Because Rebecca was – surprise! – not the only blonde girl at that school, so whether she really saw Rebecca or another girl is still unknown, especially because her mother suggested she saw Rebecca when the 10-year-old told her about what happened. So the possibility that she was coerced into telling the press she saw Rebecca remains.
Still, it is entirely possible that Rebecca had been seen crying. According to classmates and friends, there was a lot of gossip about her circling around. It had gotten so bad that she was in the process of transferring to another school.
One day, a classmate tried to snatch Rebecca’s hat off her head, but ended up accidentally scatching her face in the process, which lead to a huge fight. According to bystanders, “both of them were exaggerating and the argument needlessly escalated into a physical fight.”
He classmate was taken out of class and questioned by the police repeatedly, but no connection to Rebecca’s disappearance could be established, so no claims were made against him.
A couple of WhatsApp messages which were sent into a group chat by Rebecca then surfaced. “Everyone has a reason to live. Their friends, their partners, their family. I don’t. There is no hope. I just want to die” is just one example. Furthermore, Rebecca wrote about not being able to get out of bed and therefore always asking her friends to come to her house, so she “would not have to move around as much.”
She was never taken into treatment and never diagnosed with any mental illnesses, as her parents and peers considered this normal, teenage mood swings.
“We do not believe she is dead”, Rebecca’s parents still repeat over and over again, “not because of murder and definitely not because of suicide!”
So yes, this theory is pretty straightforward. Rebecca snuck out Sunday night and committed suicide in a very remote location. Why she did not leave a note even though she was obviously quite open about her emotions, how she got there without a car or how her body simply managed to disappear into thin air remains unexplained by the suicide theory, which is one of the main reasons it is disregarded by the police force.
This theory is a rather short one but ties into the prior three.
Either Florian, he henceforth drove in the direction of the Polish border, her internet half-boyfriend Max, for whatever reason (maybe he was a professional?) or her school bullies out of sheer hatred – one of them must’ve kidnapped Rebecca Reusch and sold her in Eastern Europe as a sex slave or for other purposes… right?
Some experts (experts in what field, exactly?) weighed in. “Young women under the age of 18 are very popular goods in these countries”, an anonymous source told a German media outlet.
(Wow, now I’m glad that I’m 19 . What a relief. Guess we can all start becoming careless now. Stranger danger? No thank you, I’m overage. You cannot sell me.)
This theory surfaced for the first time when Bernd and Brigitte Reusch were sent pictures of young lady who bore an uncanny resemblance to Rebecca. They were used on a prostitution forum to advertise certain… services. The police immediately investigated the tip but found out that the pictures belonged to an adult woman from Düsseldorf, a city in Western Germany.
But the theory was not dead. Far from it, actually.
Not long after, she was spotted in Krakow, Poland, by another German citizen. She was being accompanied by an older looking guy, but did not show any visible signs of distress. Allegedly, she was happily chatting away in German.
This supposed sighting of a very much alive Rebecca was given way more credibility because the witness described her as wearing braces – a detail which was not mentioned anywhere in the media nor featured in public photographs, but certainly true.
Sadly, no credible sightings were reported since and the trace went cold.
There is no other evidence for, nor against this theory, as it is very hard to prove without any 100% verifiable evidence, for example, photographic, but also equally hard to disprove due to the lack of evidence that Rebecca is actually dead.
The last and by far the shortest theory about Rebecca Reusch’s disappearance.
As you may have been able to tell, Rebecca’s parents may have been desperately grasping at straws here and there. This theory was the only one proposed by Rebecca’s parents. Coincidentally, the day of her disappearance (February 18th, in case you forgot) is also the birthday of Jung Ho-seok, or J-Hope, one of the world-famous BTS members. As I mentioned in the begining, Rebecca was a huge fan.
“Maybe she went to Korea to see him and the rest of the band”, her mom speculated. I’ll just leave that there.
– Conclusion –
Missing children are always sad cases. I cannot imagine the pain the mother, father, and sisters of Rebecca are still going through.
Even though they have confimed time and time again that they firmly believe in Florian R.‘s innocence, there still must be this looming cloud of suspicion that one of your own family members may be at fault for your loss.
Even though it may be tough, Bernd, Brigitte, Jessica and Vivien still hold the belief that their daughter and sister is still alive somewhere out there.
If you have seen Rebecca or have any hints that may be of value, please contact your local police department. Europol is still on active lookout for her since the German Federal Criminal Police Office asked for help after the human trafficking allegations surfaced.
Wherever Rebecca Reusch may be, I hope she is at peace.