The Detroit News
Au pair’s hometown unsettled
Grant case thrusts German hamlet into spotlight
BAD DRIBURG, Germany — The blinds were drawn and no one answered the doorbell, although it sounded as if there were people inside.
Suddenly, Ludger Dierkes rushed out after a TV reporter pulled into his driveway.
“Please get off my property,” he said, ignoring questions about his daughter, Verena, thrust into notoriety in the sensational murder case of Tara Lynn Grant of Washington Township.
“Please get off my property,” he said again.
Verena Dierkes, 19, looked after the children of Tara and her husband, Stephen Grant, who police say confessed to killing his wife on Feb. 9 and cutting her up in pieces.
As The News reported last week, U.S. investigators want to determine whether he had a romantic relationship with the German au pair. The young woman left the United States after Grant’s wife disappeared but before he had confessed to the murder. Authorities do not consider her a suspect in the case.
Local German police say they have not received requests from
U.S. or German authorities to question Verena Dierkes or spoken with the family. “There’s no reason to,” said Franz Josef Koke, a commissar of the local Hoexter district in central Germany.
In Alhausen, a tiny community where the Dierkes family lives, residents appeared unsettled by the arrival of American reporters to their hamlet on the outskirts of Bad Driburg, itself a small town. They describe the Dierkes as a pleasant family. Ludger is a medical attendant and his wife a trained nurse.
“They’re very good people,” said Gesine Schemmel-Middeke, who lives across the road.
She gestured toward a pair of cars where TV reporters sat.
But only Ludger Dierkes came out occasionally to chase away reporters, bringing his camera to photograph them.
“I wouldn’t want this either,” Schemmel-Middeke said.
Verena Dierkes spoke with reporters after Tara Lynn Grant was reported missing, and she initially appeared to corroborate Stephen Grant’s version of events. But in an interview with the Macomb Daily after his confession, she said she felt duped. On the night of Feb. 9, when he appeared to have mistaken Verena for his wife as she came in the door, police accounts indicate that Tara was already dead.
“Nothing like this has ever happened here before,” said Beate Stolte, an Alhausen resident whose daughter knows Verena.
“Everyone’s Catholic here, everyone’s traditional. We are fewer than a thousand (people) here. It’s quiet,” said another neighbor, who declined to give his name.
Like many German villages, Alhausen has a traditional stone shrine to the Virgin Mary, a church with a tall steeple, and a little beer garden.
“Something happened while she was in America,” the neighbor said. “But I have to be careful what I say. I haven’t heard anything firsthand.”
A group of teens on the street where Verena lives nodded when asked whether they knew her. “We’ve been told not to talk about this,” one girl said.
Only the closest neighbors knew the story, and a few thought Tara was still considered missing. A couple of miles away, in the center of Bad Driburg, a spa town best known for its thermal springs, hardly anyone was aware of the case.
It has not been written up in the local newspapers. There is no mention on the chat room of the Web site of the St. Xaver high school that Verena attended.
“People thought it would be a good experience when she left for America,” Schemmel-Middeke said.
But another neighbor, Marinko Salov, has reservations about the au pair system.
“My daughter thinks about it too,” he said. “But you don’t know what kind of family she’d be with. You don’t know those people. It’s a worry for parents.”