Drivers taking a van loaded with 12 occupied coffins to a German crematorium returned from a bathroom break to discover the vehicle had been stolen, local reports said Thursday.
Police in the state of Brandenburg told NBC News that the van was one of three vehicles stolen in the early hours of Monday from an industrial car park at Hoppegarten, near Berlin.
According to local media reports, the drivers were taking a bathroom break on their way to a crematorium in the eastern German city of Meissen when they returned to find their vehicle gone.
And on Thursday afternoon, the thieves were still on the run with their unusual heist.
“We have not found the bodies yet,” police spokesman Peter Salender told NBC News.
The thieves were apparently unaware that the locked vehicle contained 12 neatly-stowed coffins.
Under the headline “Car Thieves Stole My Mother’s Body”, German mass circulation newspaper Bild on Thursday identified the daughter of one of the deceased.
Officials suspect that a gang may have been supplying stolen vehicles to customers in eastern Europe, since another of the three vans have since been found in the western Polish city of Poznan.
“One of the three vehicles that were stolen at the car park has been found in Poland, but we are continuing to investigate in all directions,” Salender said.
"Given that three vehicles were stolen at the same time and because of the fact that one van was found in Poland already, we are led to believe that this is the work of organized criminals in eastern Europe," Ulrich Scherding, spokesman for the prosecutor's office in Frankfurt/Oder told NBC News.
About 8,000 people were evacuated from a town in northwestern Germany after a 550-pound bomb from World War II was found. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.
"Poland has mutated to a transit country for stolen vehicles, so that the vans could end up further east," Scherding added.
According to information obtained by NBC News, the vehicle with the bodies was not equipped with cooling devices.
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