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Skull Bones in Brazil Found Damaged : Experts Sift Dirt From Grave in Search for Mengele Clues

Times Staff Writer

Technical experts sifted through dirt from a six-year-old grave Monday, trying to learn what caused damage to the facial bones and skull of a man thought to be Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele.

Romeu Tuma, chief of the Federal Police in Sao Paulo, said there is a “very remote” possibility that someone may have mutilated the face before burial in 1979. More likely, he said, the damage was caused by erosion in the grave.

The grave at Embu, near Sao Paulo, was exhumed June 6 after an Austrian-born couple told police that the body of Mengele was buried there. The couple admitted harboring Mengele in Brazil until his death by drowning in 1979.

Unusual Deterioration

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Last week, Brazilian forensic experts examined the skeleton and discovered unusual deterioration in some bones, including the face, Tuma told reporters Monday.

Tuma said that most of the bones were perfect but that some, including facial bones, were in poor condition. Marco Antonio Veronezzi, a federal police officer working on the case, said a small hole was found under the left eye of the skull.

Experts went to the cemetery over the weekend and reopened the now-empty grave, bringing back sacks of dirt to the Sao Paulo Forensic Medical Institute, Tuma said.

“All the dirt was removed, and it is being sifted and washed,” in search of signs that the bones might have suffered unusual erosion in the grave, Tuma said.

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Asked how likely it is that the face was intentionally mutilated before burial, in a possible attempt to impede identification, he said: “It is a very remote hypothesis.”

Tuma also said damage to the face will not hamper efforts to prove whether the exhumed bones are the skeleton of Mengele, a doctor known as the “Angel of Death” for his role in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews during World War II at the Nazis’ Auschwitz concentration camp.

Tuma has previously said he is sure that Mengele lived secretly in Brazil under false identities, beginning in the early 1960s.

A Hungarian-born woman, Gitta Stammer, told police that Mengele lived with her family in three rural houses from 1961 until 1975. Police said Monday that they now have other information showing that Mengele moved in with the Stammers in 1962, not 1961, and that Stammer had mistaken the year in her deposition.

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Austrian-born Brazilians Liselotte and Wolfram Bossert have told police that Mengele lived alone in a Sao Paulo suburb from 1975 to 1979, when they say he drowned while vacationing with them at an Atlantic beach near Sao Paulo.

Last week, American handwriting experts said the handwriting in letters penned by the man who lived with the Bosserts matched Mengele’s 1938 application to join the SS, Hitler’s elite force. Tuma said police are still looking for fingerprints to match with Mengele’s as further proof.

Hidden Attic

On Sunday, police discovered a hidden attic in the last home of the man they believe was Mengele. A search turned up a strand of hair, an empty box that had apparently contained vitamins, two unidentified medicine capsules, the label from a hemorrhoid remedy and an eyeglass lens.

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Tuma said the hair could be useful in proving that the man identified by the Bosserts as Mengele was the same man whose body was buried in 1979.

Brazilian newspapers Monday published reports that a West German newspaper said it was told by an unidentified Israeli intelligence agent that Mengele is alive in neighboring Paraguay.

Tuma said that Menachem Russek, an Israeli police agent who specializes in World War II criminals, told him that the reports have “no relation to the truth.” Russek is one of a dozen foreign experts in Sao Paulo observing the Mengele investigation.


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