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Former SS sergeant Adolf Storms, 90, dies amid war crimes investigation

BERLIN (AP) — A 90-year-old former SS sergeant who was No. 4 on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of most-wanted Nazi war crimes suspects has died before he could be brought to trial, German authorities said Tuesday.

Adolf Storms died at his home in the western city of Duisburg on June 28, Dortmund prosecutor Andreas Brendel said. He said he did not know the exact cause of death.

Brendel's office charged Storms in November with 58 counts of murder for his alleged involvement in a massacre of Jewish forced laborers in a forest near the Austrian village of Deutsch Schuetzen.

Storms and other unidentified accomplices were accused of forcing at least 57 of the Jewish laborers to hand over their valuables and kneel by a grave before fatally shooting them from behind.

A day after the March 29, 1945 massacre, Storms was alleged to have shot another Jew who could no longer walk during a forced march in Austria from Deutsch Schuetzen to the village of Hartberg.

Several former members of the Hitler Youth who were helping the SS guard the prisoners on the march provided witness statements, and Brendel said he thought he had strong evidence against Storms.

"I would have liked to have tried the case," he said.

Efraim Zuroff, the top Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said Storms' death before a trial could begin was a "classic example" of the challenges his office and prosecutors face today in continuing to pursue suspects more than six decades after the end of World War II.

"At least he was under investigation and faced indictment," Zuroff said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.

Storms worked unnoticed for decades as a train station manager until a University of Vienna student doing undergraduate research uncovered his alleged involvement in the wartime massacre.

The student and his professor, Walter Manoschek, tracked him down and Manoschek then visited Storms several times. The professor conducted about 12 hours of interviews in which Storms repeatedly said that he does not remember the killings.