Why did Jeremiah die?

Her son got caught in the clutches of a political sect – shortly afterwards he was dead. Since then his mother has been trying to find out what happened. The story of a legal scandal

Erica Duggan (above); her boy Jeremiah only lived to the age of 22

Photos (details): action press



As if someone had painted him. The cheeks, the chin, the nose: all blood-red. His black curls stick to his forehead, his mouth is full of hair. His lips are open, as if they wanted to start talking. For twelve years, Erica Duggan has been looking for answers in this photo. And in dozens of ring binders as thick as a house wall which have accumulated in her office in the north of London. She is looking for answers to the question about what happened on the night from the 26th to the 27th of March 2003, when her son Jeremiah lost his life on Bundesstraße [A-Road] 455 in Wiesbaden.

Did he want to die? Did he have to die?

According to the law, it is not a mother’s task to pursue such questions. It is the duty of the police and the public prosecutor’s office. But what if they don’t do their duty? Jeremiah Duggan, 22 years old, had been dead for less than one day when the investigating officers had reached a conclusion. Jeremiah, they said, was run over by a Peugeot that was driving almost 100 kilometres per hour, and then a VW Golf rolled over him. There is, the report states, “no doubt that Jeremiah Duggan walked onto the road with suicidal intent”.

At the same time, it is not clear where he spent the night. It is also not clear with whom he spent the night. It is not even clear whether he was run over. But for the German police there are no doubts.

Whoever you speak to: they say Jeremiah was a sensitive young man who loved poetry and was interested in politics. He was a British Jew, was studying at the time in Paris; he had many friends, a happy relationship, as his girlfriend states – and a whole host of questions. He often stayed awake late at night, concerning himself with the imminent war in Iraq, which he was very anxious about. Jeremiah got to know a journalist who impressed him. He took him to political rallies and invited him to come along to Germany. To a conference at which the “true reasons” behind the Iraq War were to be explained.

The conference took place close to Wiesbaden. It was organised by the Schiller Institute, which is attached to the international anti-Semitic LaRouche movement. Its founder, Lyndon LaRouche, is a fanatical conspiracy theorist, in whose worldview the CIA, the British monarchy or a “Zionist lobby” that operates secretly are alternately responsible for the destruction of the planet.

Helga Zepp-LaRouche, his wife, manages the business of the sectarian movement in Germany and, besides the Schiller Institute, also presides over the Bürgerrechtsbewegung Solidarität party [BüSo, Civil Rights Movement Solidarity], which is ascribed to LaRouche. At this point it is hard to imagine the pedestrian zones of German cities without BüSo’s cryptic broadsheets and posters. The forerunner party to BüSo – EAP – was once designated a “political sect” by the German federal government. The English expert on right-wing extremism Matthew Feldman calls LaRouche and his followers a “neo-fascist movement” that demonises any opponents “as conspiracists, mass murderers and the absolute embodiment of evil”. That the LaRouche movement could have something to do with Jeremiah’s death did not occur to the investigators.

Erica Duggan has read everything about the organisation, researched tirelessly, spoken to dropouts. “The LaRouche movement”, she says, “is dangerous, manipulative and totalitarian”. She still doesn’t know how Jerry could have got involved with them. “He was absolutely passionate if something was important to him. And at that time the Iraq War was more important to him than anything else. They enticed him.” Jeremiah cancelled the flight to London that he had booked to celebrate his birthday with his father. He wanted to go to Wiesbaden at all costs. Intelligent young adults whose heads are full of doubts are those who LaRouche’s people target. People like Jeremiah. Malleable material.

Following the conference, Jeremiah took part in a so-called cadre training with about fifty young people. From early in the morning until late at night, he was indoctrinated there with LaRouche’s ideology. The participant R. reported to Erica Duggan that in one-on-one conversations participants’ mental integrity was systematically impacted. “I’ve seen how some people ran out of the room completely distraught, how they were verbally attacked and humiliated.” The goal, according to R., is to destroy all individual thoughts and to sow the seeds of paranoia, as long as you’re willing to run along like a sheep in the flock. Did Jeremiah refuse to be a sheep?

44 minutes before he died, he called his mother. “The tone in his voice shocked me. He sounded dreadful, completely panic-stricken”, she says. In a shaky voice, he asked her for help, she says. Mom, I have to see you, now, immediately! “Jerry, I love you. Where are you?” Quite softly he said: “Wiesbaden.” She asked him to spell it. “W, I, E, S ...”, and then the call was interrupted.

What then happened is unclear until the present day. Besides on the statements of the drivers of the vehicles, the police theory is based exclusively on the account of a Frenchman named D., who shared a room with Jeremiah during the cadre training. The two were housed with a couple who has continued working for LaRouche through the present day. According to them, Jeremiah couldn’t sleep and was having a panic attack. He wanted to smoke a cigarette and asked D. to come with him. Intending to turn the light on in the hallway, he inadvertently pressed the doorbell, which ostensibly so startled Jeremiah that he took to his heels. Out of the house, five kilometres down roads, most of which were four-lane without a pedestrian way. In less than 40 minutes. The chief commissioner responsible considered that plausible.

He also did not find it surprising that they did not find Jeremiah’s passport on him, but rather that it was handed over to the police by the director of the Schiller Institute. Nor that the technical expert did not detect hair or blood or any other biological or textile traces of Jeremiah on the two vehicles involved in the accident. Although the emergency physician suggested a post-mortem examination of the body in the death certificate, none took place. Not a single witness, not even those involved in the accident, were officially questioned. Jeremiah’s jacket, jumper, jeans and his shoes were destroyed. Ostensibly by mistake. The public prosecutor responsible in Wiesbaden closed the case.

On that day, Erica Duggan decided to solve the case herself. “It is still a mystery, and perhaps I’ll have to live with that forever. But one thing I know for sure: Jerry did not commit suicide.” He had never had psychological problems, no depressions, that is on record. Just a few hours before his death he told his girlfriend how much he loved her. He had made lots of plans for the coming week. “He loved his life,” his mother says.

Erica Duggan got the British Consulate involved, hired lawyers and private detectives, had the case examined by an English coroner, obtained expert opinions from motor vehicle experts, medical examiners and forensic scientists. Through the present it is her full-time job, and it has cost her almost all her assets. She gave up her teaching profession long ago.

From participants in the cadre training Erica Duggan learned that Jeremiah is supposed to have got into a dispute after disclosing that he was a British Jew. In the end, they have told her, he was exhausted, desperate, always close to tears. He did a lot of soul-searching about himself and his role in the world, felt that he had been lied to all his life. Evidently the recruiters had done a good job of it. And yet he told an acquaintance that he didn’t trust Lyndon LaRouche. What was the truth and what were lies? Jeremiah was torn.

On the morning of the day he died, Zepp-LaRouche announced the news about Jeremiah’s ostensible suicide to the participants in the cadre training. She described him, one eye-witness states, as a kind of subversive element and emphasised that as a Briton and a Jew he was possibly an agent sent to agitate against her husband’s campaign. She prohibited any further discussion about the topic. She herself also does not like to speak: the ZEIT’s queries to Helga Zepp-LaRouche and other members of the movement have remained unanswered.

Jeremiah’s body was brought back to England one week later. The British forensic expert who conducted a post-mortem examination determined that there was a significant quantity of urine in the dead man’s bladder. Is it conceivable that someone who was not a local ran five kilometres through Wiesbaden in less than 40 minutes – and with a full bladder? The second forensic expert Erica Duggan engaged even ruled out in his expert opinion “that the injuries to the head of the dec. Jeremiah Duggan were caused by the body being run over by a vehicle.”

Independently of each other, on the basis of the photographs taken at the site of the crime, the English accident experts come to completely different conclusions: one speaks of “traces” found on the two vehicles that are “not typical for the impact of a human body.” The question remains, he goes on, “where the head injury comes from at all”. Another records  “that the evidence suggests that Jeremiah’s death (…) was not a motoring accident. I too am of the opinion that the damages to the Peugeot were caused deliberately.”

A forensic analyst of crime scenes who was employed for a long time at New Scotland Yard even states: “I am convinced that this accident was staged, that the death of Jeremiah Duggan took place in another place and that his corpse was then (…) brought into this position.”

Everything that Erica Duggan compiles in her private investigations contradicts the results of the German authorities. But none of it induces the Wiesbaden public prosecutor’s office to reopen the inquiry.

Only in 2009 is momentum regained when the mother of a LaRouche follower brings charges against a certain M., at the time one of Lyndon LaRouche’s bodyguards. His mother, says the person filing the complaint, told her that her son was connected with the death of Duggan. He spent the night at the same place as Jeremiah – namely not in the Wiesbaden flat, but rather in the offices of the LaRouche organisation not far from where the body was later found. Together with others, he “berated, teased, hit [Jeremiah], scuffled with him and violently took away his coat” before his death.

M.’s mother made a similar declaration to the Hamburg sect expert Ursula Caberta. Her son told her that Jeremiah “is rightly dead, he’s a traitor and a spy.” He too described that they “baited” Jeremiah on the night of his death.

After six years battle in which Erica Duggan travelled a number of times to Wiesbaden to present her evidence and was each time turned away by the prosecutors, the authority reopened the investigative proceedings in October 2009. Except for one sole examination of a witness, for a long time practically nothing happened. Only in April 2011 did the public prosecutor order that the mother of the bodyguard be interrogated. She got in touch by letter and denied all information. Reason enough to close the file again.

But Erica Duggan didn’t give up. She was unexpectedly successful before the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt in late 2012 with her Berlin lawyers Serdar Kaya and Christian Noll. The 2nd Criminal Division affirmed the initial suspicion of manslaughter and ordered the investigations to be reopened. The decision is a 13-page slap in the face for the Wiesbaden public prosecutor’s office. Their approach was “already objectively impossible”; “any credible linking factors” were lacking for “a suicidal background.” The division gives the Wiesbaden prosecutors the sound advice “to conduct the investigations (…) with particular vigour.” Since then there are proceedings. In the meanwhile, the accused parties are, in addition to the bodyguard M., that very D. upon whose statement the police based their suicide theory at the time.

In May 2015 the Coroner’s Court, a British court that handles unexplained deaths, ruled that in the case of Jeremiah Duggan suicide is rejected as the cause of death. The body manifested “a whole number of inexplicable injuries” that could not arise from collisions with cars. Upon request from the ZEIT, the public prosecutor’s office points to the complexity of the proceedings, also because of extensive research abroad. An end to the investigations is not in sight.

            On a mild September day, Erica Duggan is walking through a luscious green park close to her house. She wants to take a break from the topic that has been on her mind every hour of her life for twelve years. But she can’t. Every conversation immediately leads back to her boy. To her anger about the German officials who, almost three years after the court decision, are hardly any further along, as she says. Important witnesses still have not been examined; decisive questions still not answered. We need not be surprised about that: the current investigations are being conducted by the very commissioner who twelve years ago had “no doubt” about Jeremiah’s suicide.