The shock of the rare burst of violence was multiplied by its odd circumstances: In a picturesque and normally placid little German city, three bodies lay in a hotel room, each one killed with a crossbow.

More than 480km away, another gruesome discovery made the case still more confounding. Searching the home of one of the three people who had died in the hotel, police found two more bodies.

German authorities are now trying to piece together a mystery that has attracted international attention, and identify the motive or motives behind five deaths in a country whose homicide rate is about one-fifth that of the United States.

In the first case, a 53-year-old man and two women, ages 33 and 30, had booked a three-bed room for three nights at a small hotel on the outskirts of Passau, a small city on the Danube in southeastern Germany, bordering Austria, that is known for its baroque old town and onion-domed church.

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On Monday NZT, a maid knocked on their door, and, hearing no answer, let herself in. She found the bodies of the man and of one of the women lying on a double bed, and that of the younger woman lying on the floor, along with several crossbows.

Yesterday, police officers went to search the apartment of the younger woman, in Wittingen, a town in northern Germany. There they found the bodies of two other women, whose ages and causes of death have not been released.

Authorities have not identified any of the five people killed.

Initial autopsy results from the crossbow victims in Passau showed that none of the three had been drinking alcohol or taking other drugs at the time of their deaths. There were no indications that they had offered resistance, Walter Feiler, spokesman for prosecutors in Passau, said.

The crime scene evidence indicates that "the couple in bed were each killed by a shot to the heart," and then more crossbow bolts were fired into their bodies, Feiler said. "The third person, in front of the bed, was killed with a shot to the neck."

A guesthouse is pictured at the river 'Ilz' in Passau, Germany.
A guesthouse is pictured at the river 'Ilz' in Passau, Germany.

The younger woman appeared to have shot the others, prosecutors said, before turning the weapon on herself. Two letters, apparently written by the couple found on the double bed, indicated that the killings may have been a joint suicide, the prosecutors added.

Investigators were trying to determine whether the five deaths were related, and if so, how. Autopsy results for the two women in Wittingen were expected today NZT.

Crossbows are listed as a sporting weapon in Germany and can be bought by anyone 18 or older.

A police car stands in front of a building where the bodies of two women have been found in Wittlingen, northern Germany.
A police car stands in front of a building where the bodies of two women have been found in Wittlingen, northern Germany.