Body of Israeli teen murdered and dismembered 37 years ago exhumed
Nava Elimelech, who was 12 at the time, disappeared in 1982; her remains drifted onto the shore in Tel Aviv several days later; although gag order was put on new information, police source says no one would risk exhumation without substantial evidence
The remains of 12-year-old Elimelech, who was murdered some 37 years ago was exhumed Sunday after police said they have made new discoveries in the case. A gag order was put on the new details.
Elimelech was last seen leaving her home in the city of Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, on Saturday afternoon, March 20th, 1982. She left a note for her parents who were resting, saying "I went to visit a friend, don't worry."
Elimelech was wearing red pants and a matching shirt. Her sister was the last one to talk to her when they met under the building, on the girl's way out to visit her friend.
The parents became anxious soon after, when the friend's mother called Elimelech's home and said she had never arrived for the planned visit. The family called the police, but efforts to locate the girl only started that evening.
Thousands of people joined the police search, Elimelech's photo was distributed, and police dogs sniffed the nearby dunes in vain.
Ten days later, the gruesome tale began to unfold: a bag containing the head and the thigh of a teen drifted to a beach in the north of Tel Aviv, and quickly identified as the remains of Elimelech. Several days passed and more body parts drifted to shore, as the country was engulfed in hysteria over the haunting details of the case.
The Tel Aviv Central Police Unit was responsible for the investigation, but no lead was found. Life guards, boat owners and regular visitors to the beach were all questioned, but no one had seen a man carrying suspicious looking bags wandering around the beach.
"We thought that Nava Elimelech's murder was committed in an act of revenge against her family," Azaria Zamir, then chief of the Bat Yam police station, told Ynet.
"The method of dismembering the body, putting it in bags and dumping it in sea was intentional, it seemed," added the former police officer, but said that the lead ended with nothing.
Zamir remembers the day when Mazal, the mother, was taken to identify her daughter's body. "This was the most difficult situation, more than the event itself," he said.
"On the same day when we found the body parts, Mazal asked and pressured me to allow her to identify the body. We didn't have a lot of details at that stage, and so, out of pressure and the wish to honor her request, I've decided to let her identify the body," Zamir continues.
"I asked the pathological institute to prepare accordingly, to fix the bed in a way that only the head will show. We didn’t need more and didn’t have a lot more."
"When we reached the pathological institute, we stood there with a doctor, a youth-squad officer and a social worker, and they brought the bed in and revealed the head. Mazal Elimelech said, 'yes, this is my Nava' and then all of a sudden said 'I want to see her whole body. I washed the girl, I know about every spot and everything.' We all stood there shocked," Zamir said.
"I had to respond quickly and solve the matter, so I said 'Mazal, we have a problem. We don't have all of it,' and then she collapsed," he described.
Nava's 90-year-old mother, Mazal Elimelech, told Ynet that the family has agreed "to do anything to get to the truth, just to know who the killer is, who did this atrocity."
"I'll give my life, my family's life, our joy, anything to so we can get to the person who did it," said the mother.
She added that she doesn't have an idea who could have killed her daughter, but says she believes the friend Nava went to visit and the mother of the friend know.
"I'm almost certain that the friend and her mother know everything, but don't want to tell the truth. The girl (Nava) left the apartment and Tali (the friend) called me and I told her that 'Nava left a note, she's on her way to you," says Mazal.
"Tali said she was worried, that Nava never came, and after that she was caught, and she started screaming 'why cry over spilled milk.' Why did she have to say those things?" asks the mother of the victim.
"The lead on Nava's friend Tali and the rest of her friends was investigated, there was a big team that only worked the family and friends lead. No, I don’t think Tali had anything to do with it," Zamir, the former investigator, said.
Several years later, the then chief of staff Rafael "Raful" Eitan hinted that Palestinians were behind the murder, as a kind of initiation to join a terror organization. The theory was quickly buried.
Researchers maintained that the killer wasn't acting on his own, since the body was sawed and moved from the murder scene to different beach locations. But no lead was discovered.
With no key suspect, the case was forgotten until 1998, when the ex-wife of a man named Yehuda Shelef claimed he had confessed to her for the murder of Elimelech. Police arrested him and his brother, searched his home and excavated the yard but found nothing, and the brothers were released.
That was the last the Israeli public heard of Nava Elimelech.
In past cases when an exhumation was ordered, the police had already had a key suspect in hand. "No officer would have taken a chance with an exhumation without having substantial suspicions," said an unnamed source who knows the investigation details.
Such dramatic orders were given in the murder case of Noa Eyal, who's murderer Daniel Nachmani was arrested 21 years after the 1998 murder, following new DNA evidence.
Elimelech's mother signed a document permitting to exhume her child's remains on Sunday, from a cemetery located in the Bat Yam and Holon border.
"No one told me anything," the mother says about the new information that led to the exhumation. "I wish I knew, and I hope they will know."
Mazal says that despite the long years, her daughter is still present in her life. "The house is full of pictures. I keep imagining the door opening, and in comes Nava, coming back from school. I still have this hope, I can't sleep at nights. She was a special girl, so kind hearted."
Eliezer Yair, who was a teacher at Elimelech's school for years, said that she was "a charming and good-natured girl, pretty and responsible, who always told her parents what she was up to."
"She wasn't the adventurous kind," Yair added, "she came from a good home with supportive parents and a supportive family. She was a hard-working student and very sporty, all the teachers were in love with her, since she had such a friendly character. Nava was a kind soul."
"We were shocked, all the students and staff. We didn’t know how to process it — first the disappearance and then the finding of the body. I was a gym teacher and we held a race in her honor every year after that, with her family present."
Retired police commander Isaac Gatenyu was part of the investigation team in 1982, and said "the case was the biggest, and most sensitive case of the Israel police at the time."
"My role was to go through sex offenders, I checked hundreds and investigated dozens," Gatenyu said, and estimated the killer is either a sex offender or a terrorist.
"Today there are more things that can be done. We sent evidence to England for examination, but nothing came out of it," said the former investigator.