What can the story of the Phantom of Heilbronn teach you about the benefits of financial advice?

The American businesswoman, Angela Ahrendts, once said: “Ask questions, don’t make assumptions”.

This is true across many walks of life when facing a new challenge, gaining new information, and seeking the knowledge necessary to support our important decisions in life.

It is as prudent an approach in the world of investing as it is in the field of policework.

A criminal mastermind known as the “Phantom of Heilbronn” eluded police for nearly two decades while being linked to 40 different crime scenes across Europe, before the Phantom’s case was finally solved.

Read on to learn about the Phantom’s story and what it can teach you about the benefits of receiving financial advice.

The Phantom of Heilbronn’s DNA was found at 40 different crime scenes between 1993 and 2009

As a result of a move to freely share DNA crime scene evidence across European police agencies — the murder of a German policewoman in the small city of Heilbronn led to the rise of a notorious serial killer with a legacy of crimes across Germany, Austria, and France leading back to 1993.

The same DNA was found at all these crime scenes, leading to the belief they were all committed by a single unidentified female suspect who the press dubbed the “Phantom of Heilbronn”.

The Phantom’s DNA was found on:

  • The victims and murder weapons of multiple cases of homicide by strangulation
  • A heroin needle that a child stepped on in southern Germany
  • A bullet casing used in a fratricidal killing between two Romani brothers
  • Evidence across a series of armed robberies in France.

Police soon developed a detailed and complex profile of this evasive female serial killer. She was:

  • Highly intelligent
  • Trained to a professional degree
  • A drug addict
  • Well-connected across the criminal underworld
  • Able to command respect and silence from her collaborators.

When three men were murdered along the Rhine River in Germany, two suspects were arrested. Upon canvassing their vehicle, the police found the Phantom’s DNA, and tried to get the two men to reveal her identity under interrogation. They stayed silent.

Another case linked to the Phantom’s DNA was a burglary that had eyewitness accounts of a male thief fleeing the scene. This led police to further expand on the Phantom’s profile, as they were certain her DNA was female, so it was now possible that she could be transgender. 

The ongoing case and the influx of new details completely perplexed police. Police spent upwards of 16,000 hours of overtime in pursuit of the Phantom until a further revelation led to the case unravelling and finally being solved.

An impossible case in France made police realise the Phantom simply couldn’t exist and a new investigation revealed the truth behind her identity

In 2009, police in France discovered the Phantom’s DNA in the burned remains of a male asylum seeker, who had previously submitted fingerprints to government agencies allowing the police to correctly identify him.

The police knew the Phantom was genetically a woman and it was clear this victim was male. He couldn’t be the Phantom, and a second test confirmed this as it didn’t match the Phantom’s DNA samples.

This led to a thorough police review of the Phantom investigation. They soon discovered a common denominator — every crime scene involved the use of the same brand of cotton swabs to collect samples, and these originated from the same medical supplies factory.

It was eventually determined that the Phantom’s DNA belonged to an elderly Polish factory worker, who had worked the production line where the swabs were produced. Her DNA had contaminated the swabs and found its way into various crime scenes across Europe.

The case ultimately led to massive police reforms as investigations had to reconsider the previously held assumption that DNA evidence was practically infallible, with many previously closed cases being reopened and re-examined.

Making assumptions can lead to mistakes that can be detrimental to your long-term plans

In working with a financial planner and receiving carefully considered, informed advice, you can help yourself avoid making mistakes linked to misguided assumptions.

This could involve:

  • Investing mistakes that may be built upon assumptions guided by psychological biases such as confirmation bias, herd mentality bias, or loss aversion
  • Opting to cancel vital outgoings such as insurance cover or pension contributions due to assuming they are non-essential expenses when considering cost-cutting
  • Assuming the best place for your savings is to keep them stored safely in a savings account.

It is important to understand the bigger picture, how decisions can affect your long-term plans and goals, and how they interact with each other. 

A financial planner allows you to get the appropriate level of insight into your financial wellbeing and allows you to clearly examine how your choices can affect your overall outlook.

If European police agencies had decided to slow down, reduce the emphasis they put on DNA, and carefully examine the evidence, while communicating clearly with each other, they may have solved the case of the Phantom of Heilbronn much earlier.

Rather than asking the right questions, they made assumptions and led with that, ultimately leading to a huge waste of police funding and time.

Financial planners don’t act on “gut feeling” or make risky decisions that aren’t suited to your needs. We carefully examine the evidence, build well-informed strategies, and clearly communicate every step of the journey.

We don’t put your “eggs in one basket” or form our decisions around the benefits of a singular product or a short-term trend that investors are jumping on.

We look at historical data, long-term trends, industry insights, and build diversified, evidence-based portfolios for our clients that aim to generate the growth needed to reach long-term goals while adhering to a client’s tolerance for risk.

If the Phantom’s investigators had received the right advice, they might have opted to review alternative possibilities, and consider the principle known as “Occam’s Razor” — that posits the simplest explanation is likely to be the correct one.

Get in touch

If you are finding yourself influenced by online information or the advice of friends or colleagues, and are unsure if you’re being led towards making well-informed decisions, it could be worth asking the right questions and seeking professional advice by emailing us at mail@delaunaywealth.com or calling us on 0345 505 3500.

Please note

This article is no substitute for financial advice and should not be treated as such. To determine the best course of action for your individual circumstances, please contact us.