LONDON — In the course of an hour-long interview about her dead son, Jeremiah, Erica Duggan only loses composure once, even when she is is relating the most distressing of details. It is mention of Jeremiah’s girlfriend, Maya Villanueva, which brings tears to Duggan’s eyes. Villanueva, as is natural, has moved on. This was not a choice given to Jeremiah.
Jeremiah Duggan was a 23-year-old British Jewish student whose body was found by the side of a motorway in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 2003. That is established fact.
Everything else, including the way he died, what the German police did, and the shadowy role of the Lyndon LaRouche far-right political organization — long said to be anti-Semitic — is under dispute.
For 12 years Erica Duggan has fought to find out the truth of how and why her son died, exploring almost every legal avenue open to her. On June 30 she held a press conference in Berlin at which she denounced the German police — particularly Inspector Oliver Schaecher — and insisted that Jeremiah, despite the claims of the German authorities, did not commit suicide.
Last month Duggan got a British coroner to hold an inquest into Jeremiah’s death. It didn’t go exactly as she had hoped
Erica Duggan works in the study of her 102-year-old mother’s north London home. It is crammed full of books and files about her son and the LaRouche movement. Books in German and English jostle for space on the crowded bookshelves, while crates full of papers sit incongruously on the carpet.
Pictures of Jeremiah with members of his family — he was the youngest of three siblings — are propped up on cabinets.
Duggan, a South African-born former schoolteacher, is so familiar with the details of her son’s case that she scarcely draws breath before plunging into her story. And there are still developments.
Last month Duggan succeeded in getting a British coroner to hold a three-day inquest into Jeremiah’s death. The Barnet Coroner’s Court didn’t go exactly as she had hoped: the coroner cast doubt on some of the German authorities’ findings, but didn’t make a definitive pronouncement on what had happened. The coroner report’s language is hedged with “may” and “might.”
And more recently, as reported on June 29 in Der Spiegel, German prosecutors are currently investigating allegations against two known individuals, a Frenchman and a German, “on suspicion of bodily harm resulting in death.”
For Duggan, the fact that her son Jeremiah died in Germany haunts her.
“I’ve done it [pursued the case] for so long because it was so shocking that this happened in Germany,” says Duggan. “My father was a German-Jewish refugee from Berlin. I was always brought up on the idea that we should never forget what happened, so when I discovered that my son was dead and that nobody wanted to look into what had happened, that was the first thing that horrified us.
“And the second thing is that I wanted to find out about these people that he was with, and what they were about. And nobody would tell me. So when I began to find out about LaRouche and who they were, I thought, well, it’s fallen upon me to expose this danger, because they have taken my son from me,” says Duggan.
Prior to his death, Duggan made two phone calls, one to his girlfriend and the other to his mother, expressing fear of the organization after he had revealed that he was both British and Jewish
Jeremiah Duggan was studying in Paris when he was apparently recruited by someone from LaRouche and persuaded to go to a conference being held under its auspices in Germany.
The German wing of the LaRouche movement is headed by German-born Helga Zepp-LaRouche, the wife of its American founder, the 93-year-old political activist Lyndon LaRouche. Zepp-LaRouche heads the Wiesbaden-based Schiller Institute, which held a conference of sorts that Duggan attended the weekend of his death.
“This movement in itself has one particular peculiarity: that it bases all its arguments in politics, which is very attractive to young people who perhaps quite generously think they are subscribing to a left-wing movement. It is not a political movement, it is a cult movement,” Picard said.
The Anti-Defamation League’s website labels LaRouche as an extremist who injects Holocaust imagery into political discussions — using images of Obama dressed as Hitler, for example. Larouche heads, writes the ADL, “a fringe political cult that defies categorization.”
Jeremiah, said his mother, was interested in becoming more politically active during the Iraq War era and was drawn to the weekend conference for that purpose.
But at the May UK inquest, coroner Andrew Walker said Duggan’s identity as a British Jew may have led the group to target him.
“The fact that he attended a conference run by this far right-wing organization… together with Mr. Duggan expressing that he was a Jew, British and questioning the material put before him, may have had a bearing on Mr. Duggan’s death in the sense that it may have put him at risk from members of the organization and caused him to become distressed and seek to leave,” Walker said.
Prior to his death, the student made two phone calls, one to his girlfriend and the other to his mother, expressing fear of the organization after he had revealed that he was both British and Jewish.
“[They spread] anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, coded or not; they have training camps for people from all over the world to come to Germany to imbibe anti-Semitism. And they have intimidated the press in Germany. In fact we are having this press conference and people are still saying, ‘Oh, we don’t really know much about this case.’ And I say, but it’s been going on for 12 years. We are waking them up,” says Duggan a few days before the Berlin press conference.
Duggan acknowledges that her determination to get at the truth has had a devastating impact on her family.
“Everybody has suffered,” she says. “My daughters have suffered, my life has suffered. But my son’s life has completely gone.” Her daughters, she says, have begged her to stop campaigning and though she says she will, it is an improbable decision.
The once apolitical Duggan came to Britain from apartheid South Africa in 1965. Nothing in her background equipped her for the forensic zeal with which she has pursued inquiries into her son’s death.
“From the very start, everything seemed to be wrong — in both countries,” says Duggan.
She discovered that contrary to standard practice, Police Inspector Oliver Schaecher, in Wiesbaden, had removed Jeremiah’s clothes and disposed of them, thus preventing proper analysis. This was confirmed by the German prosecutor.
The German police insisted that Jeremiah had been hit by two cars on the busy motorway where he was found. Inspector Schaecher, says Duggan, told the family that he did not want to look into the LaRouche movement or any connection it may have had with Jeremiah’s death. He made this assertion, she says, because he told the family Jeremiah had committed suicide.
“And if it was suicide, there didn’t need to be an investigation. He told us that there had been witnesses that Jeremiah was seen wandering on the motorway — so we had to believe him,” says Duggan.
‘We are asking the prosecutor why there were no witness statements’
But she then went to Wiesbaden with a member of Amnesty and went to the nearest police station to the motorway. No reports were found at the station of anyone calling in about the student, even though it had been claimed that 20 people had seen him.
“We are asking the prosecutor why there were no witness statements,” says Duggan.
“And then there were supposedly two incidents in which he was hit — one before he died, in which he was wearing a long black coat and knocked off the car’s wing mirror. He then, supposedly, got up and ran off. He didn’t have a long black coat.
“He was then allegedly hit a second time and was killed. This first claimed incident has been thrown out by a court in Frankfurt as not being acceptable,” she says. The Frankfurt court ruled that at the speed cars were going on the motorway, no one could have survived being hit in a first incident to go on to be hit a second time.
But, says Duggan, “the claim of two incidents was used by Schaecher as ‘proving’ that Jerry committed suicide because it showed that he had ‘done it before.'”
According to the British coroner’s report, “there are a number of unexplained injuries that suggest that Mr. Duggan may have been involved in an altercation at some stage before his death.”
Erica Duggan, deep in a world of conspiracy theories and counter-claims, believes her son was killed after making it clear to the LaRouche organizers that he was a British Jew whose beliefs did not accord with theirs.
At the very minimum she is calling for accountability of the German police. There is no independent police complaints commission in Germany as there is in Britain, so there is no higher authority to which to report what she believes to be a litany of mistakes and cover-ups. (The German police has not yet responded to a request by The Times of Israel for a statement on the Duggan case.)
Jeremiah Duggan is buried in an unmarked grave in London’s Highgate Cemetery, not far from the tomb of Karl Marx. His mother, “flat broke” from 12 years of applying to courts and governments in Britain and Germany, hasn’t yet been able to afford a headstone for her son. But she is intent on ensuring that Jeremiah Duggan’s name lives on.