Northern Europe, in the wintertime, there are few hours of sunlight. Accordingly, many thriller movies and novels are set in countries such as Sweden, Norway, and Finland, where lots of fictional characters lose their mind and become horrific killers due to the lack of sunlight. Nonetheless, it is not all about fiction.
Matti Haapoja is perhaps one of the most notorious serial killers of Northern Europe. Haapoja was born in Isokyrö, Finland, in 1845. He was convicted of three murders, but the actual ones could amount to twenty-five. The Finnish press massively covered Haapoja’s affairs at the time of the murders, and this made him extremely notorious. Although also in that case the press does play a part, the story of the serial killer who never killed anyone is pretty different from Haapoja’s.
Säter is a small Swedish town located approximately 200 kilometers north of Stockholm. During the 1990s, in Säter there was one of the most important psychiatric facilities in the region. Accordingly, when a man dressed up as Santa Claus who had just robbed a bank was arrested and following his pleas to be confined to care rather than to be sent to jail, the doors of Säter psychiatric facility were opened to him. Although he told the police that his name was Thomas Quick, he was actually called Sture Bergwall.
Sture Bergwall immediately became an interesting patient during the first months spent in Säter. During therapy, he told the doctors about having been sexually violated by his father when he was a kid, and he also said that his father had killed Sture’s younger brother Simon and that he had got rid of the body. However, there seemed to be no evidence about Simon’s existence.
In 1993, Bergwall’s interviews with the doctors, and witnessed by the police, reached a turning point when he confessed Johan Asplund’s murder. Asplund was an eleven years old Swedish boy who had disappeared in 1980. That murder was believed to be unsolvable. Bergwall said that not only he had killed the boy, but he had also eaten portions of his body.
Bergwall went on by saying that he had killed nine-year-old Therese Johannesen in 1988 in Drammen, Norway. He had smashed her head with a stone. Bergwall was brought to the crime scene to localize the little girl’s corpse, but the police were not able to find it.
Throughout his conviction, Bergwall confessed thirty-nine murders he had committed across Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland between 1963 and 1993. Bergwall quickly became the deadliest serial killer in Europe. Accordingly, between 1994 and 2001, he was convicted of eight of those murders.
He Never Killed Anyone
As far as those eight murders are concerned, no forensic evidence was available to fully acknowledge Bergwall’s guilt. All convictions were grounded on his confessions.
In 2008, a Swedish journalist called Hannes Råstam was allowed to talk with Bergwall, who was still in Säter. Thanks to the meeting, Råstam understood that Bergwall was not a killer at all, but that he was simply mad. Hence, he started to review all of Bergwall’s interviews with the doctors, police interrogations, and the subsequent court trials. He found out that bad therapy had led to false confessions, and that Bergwall had never killed anyone.
Råstam also found out that Bergwall, when he was granted day releases during the first months spent in Säter, used to go to the Royal Library in Stockholm to research unsolved murders. Consequently, when he was asked very precise questions about his killing, was not able to provide more than vague answers.
Eventually, Bergwall himself withdrew all of his confessions and all his convictions were quashed between 2008 and 2013. He is now free, and he lives undercover outside Sweden. Bergwall’s case has been deemed as the largest miscarriage of justice in the history of Sweden.
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