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Who killed Petra Kelly?

by Mark Herts­gaard

MOTHER JONES January/February 1993 Issue

Last Octo­ber 19, Ger­man police entered an unim­pos­ing row house on the out­skirts of Bonn, and made a grue­some dis­cov­ery: the decom­pos­ing, bul­let-pierced bod­ies of Petra Kel­ly, a founder of Ger­many’s Green par­ty, and Gert Bas­t­ian, Kel­ly’s long­time com­pan­ion. Con­spir­acists sniffed a dou­ble mur­der, pos­si­bly by neo-Nazis or by gov­ern­ment agents. After inves­ti­gat­ing, how­ev­er, police raised an even more trou­bling pos­si­bil­i­ty. Moth­er Jones inter­viewed author Mark Herts­gaard, who recent­ly trav­eled to Bonn to look into the case.

Describe the dis­cov­ery of the bod­ies.

Police were sum­moned by the concierge, who had gone inside at the request of Kel­ly’s grand­moth­er and Bas­tian’s wife [he was still mar­ried, though he had been with Kel­ly for more than ten years. No one had heard from the cou­ple for sev­er­al weeks. When police entered, the elec­tric type­writer was still on down­stairs. In it was a let­ter that Bas­t­ian was writ­ing to his attor­ney. The sub­ject was utter­ly banal, a minor legal mat­ter. Bas­t­ian had stopped typ­ing in the mid­dle of the Ger­man word mussen, for “must.” He had typed mus ... The police went upstairs and found Bas­t­ian sprawled in the hall­way. By his hand was his gun, a der­ringer spe­cial, which holds only two bul­lets. One had been shot down­ward into the mid­dle of his fore­head from above. In the bed­room they dis­cov­ered Petra Kel­ly’s body on the bed. The oth­er bul­let had been fired into her left tem­ple from a dis­tance of no more than two inch­es, and had killed her instant­ly.

So who killed them?

We’ll prob­a­bly nev­er know for sure, but the Bonn police are almost cer­tain it was not a third par­ty. They’ve tak­en no posi­tion on whether it was a joint mur­der-sui­cide, but they seem to have no doubt that Gert Bas­t­ian pulled the trig­ger both times. The only fin­ger­prints in the entire house were Kel­ly’s and Bas­tian’s. Bas­t­ian had pow­der burns on his hand. That fact, com­bined with the pecu­liar tra­jec­to­ry of the bul­let that killed Bas­t­ian, con­vinced police that he had killed her and him­sell

Does­n’t the unfin­ished let­ter sug­gest a plau­si­ble alter­na­tive expla­na­tion-that he heard some­thing, pos­si­bly an intrud­er?

Pos­si­bly. There’s one oth­er fact that might sup­port that the­o­ry: the upstairs sec­ond-floor bal­cony door was unlocked. But there were no strange foot­prints or signs of entry.

Isn’t it unusu­al to shoot one­self down through the fore­head? Might not an intrud­er have shot Bas­t­ian from that angle?

Yes. But the larg­er ques­tion remains: How did the pow­der burns get on Bas­tian’s hand? Police found no oth­er bul­let holes in the house, and they relat­ed the angle of the shot to his mil­i­tary back­ground. Of course, every secret ser­vice in the world knows how to stage a mur­der-sui­cide, but it would have had to have been a per­fect mur­der.

Why even sus­pect a con­spir­a­cy?

Petra Kel­ly was known all over the world as the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of green pol­i­tics; Bas­t­ian had been her insep­a­ra­ble part­ner since the ear­ly 1980s — first, and most vis­i­bly, against the deploy­ment of nuclear mis­siles, and lat­er on a whole series of oth­er polit­i­cal activ­i­ties.

Had they threat­ened the neo-Nazis in any direct way?

Bas­t­ian had writ­ten some let­ters in the news­pa­pers.

Any signs Kel­ly was sui­ci­dal?

No one who knew her well gives that the slight­est cre­dence.

What was Bas­t­ian like?

He had an odd his­to­ry. In World War II, he fought for the Nazis, failed in pri­vate busi­ness after the war, and went back into the mil­i­tary in 1956. He was a mem­ber of CSU — the far-right par­ty — until 1963, when he began a long polit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion that by the 1980s land­ed him with the Greens. He lat­er resigned, protest­ing that they were being too soft on com­mu­nists by just focus­ing on U.S. mis­siles.

Why was Petra so attract­ed to him?

He was the fourth father fig­ure in her life. Her actu­al father aban­doned her at the age of 7. When she was in Brus­sels after col­lege, she had a well-pub­li­cized affair with the pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mu­ni­ty — an old­er man by at least 20 years, mar­ried. Lat­er came anoth­er affair with an Irish labor leader — also much old­er, also mar­ried. At the time of their deaths, Bas­t­ian was the last — he was 69, mar­ried; she was 44.

Could Bas­t­ian have been sui­ci­dal?

Their clos­est friends felt it pos­si­ble. In the spring he’d been hit by a taxi and end­ed up on crutch­es for months. He had a feel­ing of frail­ness and mor­tal­i­ty. There were pro­fes­sion­al trou­bles, too. They had no office space, no mon­ey. Bas­t­ian was essen­tial­ly Kel­ly’s father and wife. “Bag­gage-car­ri­er” is the trans­la­tion of a Ger­man word that describes the role he played for her. She respond­ed to hun­dreds of let­ters a week. He han­dled all their logis­tics. In fact, he was hit by the taxi while run­ning out to get her some bananas because she had­n’t eat­en all day — even though it was he who was to give a speech that night. Petra had often said that with­out Gert she could not make it in life. Behind her charis­mat­ic pub­lic pres­ence was a per­son very anx­ious about life, des­per­ate­ly, afraid of being alone, who did­n’t even ride in dif­fer­ent taxis than he. She had said to a friend, “I’m destroy­ing Gert’s life and I can’t do with­out him.” But she could­n’t stop. He was clear­ly depressed about the rise of vio­lence and the nation­al­ist sen­ti­ment in Ger­many, the breakup of Yugoslavia. It seemed to both of them that after the advances of the 1980s, his­to­ry was going back­ward. He wrote a let­ter decry­ing this, say­ing it remind­ed him of the Ger­many of his youth. So the psy­cho­log­i­cal sce­nario is that he was depressed and tired and sick and could not go on, and real­ized that if he were to go, he had to take her with him.

Was there any kind of sui­cide note left behind?



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