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THERE has been a dramatic development in the long-running murder probe into the vicious death of German backpacker Inga Maria Hauser.

The spotlight is now being focused in the area taking in Armoy, Loughgiel and Cloughmills, it has emerged.

Police say they are “tantalisingly close” to a breakthrough and confirmed they will be carrying out house-to-house visits in that area over the next number of days as well as carrying out ongoing work on DNA.

And they revealed a new line of enquiry being probed is that there have may have been two people involved in the death of the 18-year-old whose body was found dumped in Ballypatrick Forest near Ballycastle on April 20, 1988, 14 days after she was last spotted on a ferry travelling between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

23 years ago Inga Maria’s neck was broken and police believe the motive for her death was sexually related.

Detectives investigating her murder have disclosed more details about the progress of the investigation.

Police believe they are closer than they have ever been to identifying Inga Maria’s killer or killers - DNA work will continue and new house-to-house enquiries will be conducted.

Serious Crime Branch detectives have released information about lines of enquiry they are following, along with an unpublished photo of Inga Maria, in an effort to persuade and encourage the small number of individuals they believe have information about the 18-year-old student’s murder to come forward.

Inga Maria travelled to Northern Ireland on 6 April 1988, arriving in Larne on a ferry from Scotland. Police believe that Inga Maria, who was subjected to a vicious and ruthless assault, died shortly after she arrived in Northern Ireland. Her body was discovered in a remote part of Ballypatrick Forest on the outskirts of Ballycastle on 20 April 1988.

New strands of work on a DNA profile obtained from the crime scene are being progressed. This DNA profile belongs to a male person who has not been identified, despite extensive police enquiries and appeals and assistance from the community.

Through a DNA screening process, which is one of the largest ever conducted, police have been seeking to eliminate people from being responsible for this crime scene stain material by comparing their DNA or familial DNA with this profile.

The officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Superintendent Raymond Murray, said: “DNA science is evolving rapidly. We are now looking at a type of DNA known as Y-STR which refers to the male chromosome. Overall, more than 2,000 samples of various types of DNA have been prioritised and checked. The voluntary DNA screening continues and a small number of the analysed samples are inconclusive in ruling people out of our inquiries about the crime scene stain material, so more work needs to be done around these individuals.”

Detective Superintendent Murray also disclosed a number of additional lines of inquiry being investigated: “I cannot rule out the possibility that more than one person was involved in Inga Maria’s death. I also have a report that a man in the rural area east of

Ballymoney was seen soon after the murder in April 1988 with scratches on his face and that there was concern in the community that he had some sort of involvement.

“I want to acknowledge the assistance which the community in north Antrim has given to police in this investigation. We have been able to collect many pieces of the investigative jigsaw but there are still gaps.

“I believe those gaps can be filled by individuals with information, individuals possibly in the rural area east of Ballymoney. The investigation continues to make progress. We are tantalisingly close to making significant progress. We just need those remaining pieces of the jigsaw.

To that end, police plan to conduct a new series of house-to-house enquiries in parts of north Antrim in the coming weeks.

“I am asking for information, as opposed to statements or formal evidence. I recognise that some people may still feel uncomfortable talking directly to police, perhaps because of their past, or their allegiances.

“I am not interested in them for those reasons; I am only interested in what they know about Inga Maria and how it can help the enquiry. To that end, if someone feels unable or unwilling to talk to police, I would ask them to go to a trusted person who they feel would be in a position to pass the information to police.

“The important thing is that we bring this investigation to a successful conclusion, primarily for Inga Maria and for her family who have suffered too much for too long but also for the people of north Antrim who will continue to have this lengthening shadow hanging over them until the killer or killers are caught.”

A police source said that since October last year their investigation has taken on new urgency and up to 600 ‘actions’ have taken place involving seeing people and examining pieces of information.

The source added: “There has been a change in tempo in the last three or four months and we feel very encouraged. We think there is still valuable information in the rural area east of Ballymoney - Armoy, Loughgiel and Cloughmills. We don’t think the well is dry there yet and we would appeal to people to think about the murder in terms of the possibility of more than one person being involved and maybe that will make people think a different way. We know this case has been discussed in detail in that area and we know people in that area have had suspicions both then and right up to now.

“We think there are still some suspicions that have not yet been aired because of family bonds or whatever but we would appeal for people to come forward. The last big jump was when we got the DNA profile and we want somebody to maybe decide that blood isn’t thicker than water to get in touch with us because a young girl did not deserve to be murdered and left buried in a forest.”

And the police source had a message for the killer or killers: “We are not just casting about here, this is a driven line of enquiry. Come to us before we come to you. I hope you can’t sleep at night because of this and I hope you get worried when you see us turning up at your door.”

The source believes that although almost a quarter of a century has passed he believes the killer or killers are still alive.

“We would not want to see the Hauser family cheated of justice by the death of the person responsible. Inga’s father Josef passed away from cancer a few years ago without seeing justice. We keep Inga’s mother Almut up to date with enquiries and it would not be right if she does not see justice.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact detectives at Ballycastle on 028 7035 0929.