Berlin: A German "serial killer" confessed after nearly 20 years on the run to murdering three boys, police said on Friday as they attempted to link him to further slayings in France and the Netherlands.
The 40-year-old German known as the "masked man", who had worked as a youth group leader and had already been questioned in the case four years ago, admitted to killing boys aged eight, nine and 13 between 1992 and 2001.
He also confessed to sexually abusing "several" minors. Police suspect him in more than 40 cases.
"Neighbours described him as socially inconspicuous, nice, helpful, neatly dressed, reserved and intelligent," chief profiler Alexander Horn told reporters.
The man, who was not identified, told investigators after his detention on Wednesday in Hamburg, northern Germany, that he drove one of his victims to Denmark and buried his body in a sand dune.
Authorities said they believe he also killed an 11-year-old French boy, Jonathan Coulom, who disappeared from a camp in Saint-Brevin in western France in April 2004 and whose body was recovered six weeks later.
French authorities in Saint-Brevin however said late Friday that no link has been established between the suspect and young Jonathan, while adding that the two countries would conduct all necessary investigations.
The man is also a prime suspect in the death of 11-year-old Nicky Verstappen in 1998 in the Netherlands, although he has denied involvement in either case.
"We want to determine whether we are aware of all of this man`s deeds or whether he may have committed other crimes," the head of the regional police investigation unit spearheading the case, Karsten Lemke, said.
The unit was established to hunt the killer of a nine-year-old called Dennis, who vanished during a school field trip on September 05, 2001.
Mushroom pickers discovered his lifeless body about 40 kilometres (25 miles) away two weeks later but the killer`s trail had long gone cold.
However earlier this year, a witness who saw a television programme about the case recalled seeing a station wagon parked on a forest path at about 4:30 am in early September 2001 with a boy who resembled Dennis in the back seat and a man in the front, investigators said.
The witness, who was a soldier at the time, was training for a marathon before he had to report for duty that day.
The brawny, bespectacled man in the car, who looked to be in his early 30s, matched a description police had received of the suspect from sex abuse victims.
One of the victims, who said he was abused at his parents` home in 1995, came forward to say that a counsellor at his summer camp a few months before the attack had asked him in detail about his living situation.
Investigators followed up on the tip, leading them to the man now in custody. He is expected to go on trial this year.
Police had long suspected a serial killer living in Germany to be responsible because of similarities in the way the murders were carried out.
They said they had followed up on more than 8,000 leads and investigated more than 1,000 sex offenders searching for the murderer.