By SCOTT SAYARE
PARIS — In the dark early hours of an October morning in 2009, acting on an anonymous tip, police officers in the French city of Mulhouse picked up an elderly German doctor who had been left — bound, beaten and bleeding — in a street near the municipal courthouse. The man, Dieter Krombach, had been kidnapped outside his home in Germany and secreted across the border into France, where there was a warrant for his arrest in connection with the death of a French girl nearly three decades ago.
André Bamberski hunted a man he said killed his child, Kalinka, and stole his wife, Danièle Gonnin.
Kalinka Bamberski died in 1982. Her father, André Bamberski, and French authorities contend that she was raped and murdered.
Earlier that morning, near Toulouse, André Bamberski lifted a ringing telephone. A voice informed him that the doctor was in Mulhouse. Mr. Bamberski gathered his things and left immediately. He took with him the 20,000 euros (then about $29,800) he had promised the abductors.
Mr. Bamberski, 74, will soon be tried for his involvement in the kidnapping. But the events of that morning were a victory for him, the culmination of nearly 30 years spent in obsessive pursuit of Dr. Krombach, the man who seduced and married his former wife, split his family and, Mr. Bamberski and the French authorities contend, raped and killed his 14-year-old daughter, Kalinka, in 1982.
In the years after the girl’s death, the doctor came to be known in Germany as a sexual predator; in 1997 he was convicted of drugging and raping a teenage patient. Dr. Krombach, now 76, had nonetheless lived largely untroubled in Germany, safe behind a German refusal to extradite him for trial in France.
Now on French soil, however, he is being tried on a murder charge in Paris, where he and his accuser, both weak with age, face each other in a windowless courtroom. Mr. Bamberski, who has joined himself to the state’s case, as is his right under French law, sits before a panel of robed judges, flanked by his lawyers and stacks of bulging files, the accumulation of decades of investigation, occasionally raising a shaky index finger in a request to intervene.
Mr. Bamberski has devoted half a lifetime to seeing Dr. Krombach brought before a court, drawing broad popular admiration in France. In recent years, he made regular visits to Germany to be sure the doctor had not vanished; more than once, he said, he confronted Dr. Krombach at his door, vowing never to leave him in peace.
Mr. Bamberski has believed that the German doctor raped and killed his daughter since first reading an initial autopsy report, in 1982.
“I do not ‘suspect,’ I do not ‘imagine,’ ” Mr. Bamberski, a retired accountant, said in an interview. “I am certain.”
He explained his thinking. “It is not possible that a young girl of less than 15, in excellent health, in great physical shape, and who, in addition, was splendid and very smart, should die, just like that, without anyone knowing about it — that we should forget her,” he said.
On the morning of July 10, 1982, the body of Kalinka Bamberski was found in her bed at the home of her stepfather, Dr. Krombach, in the lakeside town of Lindau, Germany. An initial autopsy established no cause of death.
But investigators found damage to the girl’s vagina, which also contained a whitish substance that was never tested or identified. Examiners noted an injection mark on her right forearm; Dr. Krombach explained that he had injected her with an iron supplement, Kobalt-Ferrlecit, on the evening of her death, to help her tan more quickly in the sun. Only later did he admit to giving the girl a tranquilizer pill, as well. He now says the iron injection was meant to treat an anemic condition.
No blood tests were conducted at the autopsy. And Dr. Krombach, a local notable, was present during the examination, according to the coroner’s report.
Later medical reports found that Kalinka had died after inhaling her own vomit. Mr. Bamberski believes that the iron injection caused a drop in blood pressure and the vomiting that probably killed her.
French judicial investigators summoned Dr. Krombach for questioning in 1984, but he refused to travel to France. A German court ruled in 1987 that there was not sufficient evidence to support charges — which German officials say essentially constitutes an acquittal — and Germany has refused to extradite him, arguing that a European double jeopardy principle precluded a French trial. In 1995, a Paris court convicted Dr. Krombach in absentia on wrongful death charges, though that conviction has since been annulled on procedural grounds.
German diplomats have quietly urged that the current case be thrown out, as well. German officials have declined to assist in locating witnesses for the French trial, and have denied access to some evidence, including medical records for Kalinka.
Mr. Bamberski and his lawyers have sought to cast the German doctor as a sexual deviant, a Lothario who forced himself on young girls after injecting them with Kobalt-Ferrlecit, the iron supplement prescribed for anemia that Dr. Krombach administered to many patients and family members as a restorative.
In the 1997 trial in Germany, Dr. Krombach pleaded guilty to charges that he drugged and raped a 16-year-old patient at his office. He received a two-year suspended sentence and was barred from practicing medicine for two years. Since that trial, several other women have accused Dr. Krombach of similar attacks in the 1980s and ’90s.
Stripped of his medical license, Dr. Krombach nonetheless continued to see patients, according to the German authorities, frequently changing addresses, apparently to avoid detection. He was discovered in 2006 and sentenced to 28 months in prison for fraud and illegal medical practice. He was released in 2008.
“Everything that’s not permitted used to attract him,” said Danièle Gonnin, Mr. Bamberski’s former wife, in court testimony. Ms. Gonnin left Mr. Bamberski for Dr. Krombach in 1975 and would leave the doctor in 1984, exasperated by his infidelities.
In parting, Ms. Gonnin said, Dr. Krombach gave her figurines of the Three Wise Monkeys, symbols of the proverb “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”
“For 28 years, I would have sworn on my life he was innocent,” Ms. Gonnin said. But she has been shaken by her recent discovery that, during their marriage, Dr. Krombach repeatedly drugged her in order to bring a local teenage girl to their home for sex.
Still a trim, handsome man, Dr. Krombach is, however, diminished mentally, his lawyers say, and he frequently contradicts himself in testimony. His slender hands tremble and he stands shakily. He walks with a cane.
Asked what he might do if released, he told the court he would seek treatment for his eye and knee, both injured during his kidnapping.
“I do not have a wife who is waiting for me,” he added. “That is over with, unfortunately.”
The trial is to close on Friday.
After Mr. Bamberski’s coming trial on kidnapping charges, Mr. Bamberski said, he hopes to take up “a normal life.” Still, he takes pride in his long struggle.
“My life would have been much easier if I had had what I call the cowardice to say, ‘Well, she’s dead,’ and then start over,” he said.
Still, if Dr. Krombach is acquitted, he will not pursue him further, Mr. Bamberski said.
He will return to his home in a small village near Toulouse, to the house he has owned for more than three decades, in which his daughter once slept. She is buried nearby.