In September of 1981, Ursula Herrmann left her aunt’s home on a little red bike. She had a ten-minute ride home, but she never made it there. Her disappearance sparked a huge search with police, neighbors, and dogs focused on the nearby forest. After a short while, the only sign of Ursula that they found was a discarded bike.
After Ursula had been missing for a few days, her family began to receive strange calls. These calls seemed to be a harmless prank. Every time her parents answered, the caller would play a radio jingle and then hang up. It appended several times, much to their unease.
Later on, Ursula’s parents were horrified when a letter arrived. Constructed from cut-outs from a local newspaper, the letter told Ursula’s parents that she had been kidnapped and would only be returned to them if they agreed to pay 450,000 pounds. Her parents were not wealthy people, but the neighbors and state agreed to help front the money. According to the letter, a new letter would arrive with a drop-off location for the money. There was only one problem: the letter never came.
When a couple of weeks passed without a word from the kidnappers, Ursula’s family became more distressed. Police organized a more thorough sweep of the nearby forest, looking for Ursula—or her body. While they were outside, they found something: a large wooden box hidden just beneath the ground. On the outside of the box, there were seven sturdy locks. When they pried it open, they realized that Ursula Herrman was inside. Worse, she was dead.
This is where the story gets even more disturbing. As police examined the box, it became clear that it was not a coffin. This box was designed to be a living chamber for her, presumably until her kidnappers received the money they demanded. Inside, there were candy bars and soda, little snacks, and even books to read. But, Ursula never got to read any of the books.
As part of the box, Ursula’s kidnappers had rigged their own ventilation system to keep air inside the box. There was only one problem: it didn’t have a way to circulate the air. Experts believe that Ursula would have died within thirty minutes of being placed inside of the box. Given the fact that there were no signs of duress, they believe that Ursula’s kidnappers likely drugged her in advance. She simply went to sleep and did not wake back up.
The hunt for Ursula’s killers began, but it wasn’t until thirty years later that they actually convicted her neighbor, Werner Mazurak. After a search, police found what they believed to be the recorder used to play the bizarre radio jingle. This was paired with an earlier claim from a friend of Mazurak that he helped him dig the hole for the box and the evidence was used to make the conviction. Mazurak was sentenced to life in prison for the death of Ursula, but some still wonder if they charged the right man.
To hear more on this story, check out our episode on Ursula Herrman on Among the Dirt and Trees podcast.