ZDF documentary about the Peggy murder case

IIn the language of tourism advertising, the Höllental east of the small northern Bavarian town of Lichtenberg is considered “wildly romantic”. In May 2001, however, the name got a new sound when nine-year-old Peggy Knobloch was reported missing and the search operations also covered the slopes on the Selbitz river, some of which were difficult to access. Her body was not found until years later. For the filmmaker Marie Wilke, the name “Höllental” became an obvious title for a six-part series dealing with the murder of Peggy Knobloch. It is one of the biggest mystery puzzles since reunification, which has officially been considered unsolved since last year. Because the investigation has been discontinued, and if anything should come of the fate of Peggy after three special commissions and two legal proceedings, then luck would have to help. Or bad conscience. But even then, one could not be sure, because confessions were also found to be misleading.

“Höllental” belongs to the booming genre of true crime stories, which find a large audience in all formats (from podcasts to paperbacks). There are already a lot of edits about Peggy Knobloch, most recently in 2019 a Bavarian podcast (“Secret Files Peggy”, Antenne Bayern), which was awarded the German Radio Prize. From Marie Wilke, one of the most important German documentary filmmakers (most recently “Aggregat”, 2019), one can expect an analytical look at the interplay between institutions and individuals, documents and landscapes with such a subject.

And that is actually the essential quality of the six episodes: a concentrated second-order attention, because the material Wilke works with has always been available somewhere. She only adds it together with interviews, which for her part come mostly from reporters. Only a few protagonists from the police and judiciary have a say. Wilke is not looking for explanations so much as for observations.

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Central, the video recording of a meeting at the crime scene

Peggy Knobloch disappeared on May 7, 2001 in the early afternoon on the way home from school in the middle of a small town with a good thousand inhabitants. Her body was only found in 2016 in a forest a good twelve kilometers away from the alleged crime scene. At this point, Ulvi Kulac, a mentally impaired suspect, had already been convicted after a detailed confession, but the trial was later resumed and ended with an acquittal.


More observations than explanations: memorial stone for Peggy Knobloch in Nordhalben.
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Image: ZDF and Alexander Gheorghiu

As the central document, Marie Wilke presents a video recording of a meeting at the crime scene, in which the course of events is recreated in great detail, and later makes it clear that this “narrative” cannot be taken at face value either. In the second trial, a court expert will admit that a confession cannot be inferred with certainty that it is true. Especially not if the interrogations are conducted in such a way that they “introduce” suspects to hypotheses. So that at some point someone could simply surrender: “I’ll say something, just that I have my Ruah.”

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