The Swedish serial killer who never was

Sture Bergwall resides in a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane three hours’ drive north of Stockholm. A high wire fence circles the building. CCTV cameras track the movements of the outside world. The narrow windows – some of them barred – are smudged with dirt and thick with double-glazed glass. In order to visit, you must enter through a succession of automatically locking doors and walk through an airport-style security gate. You must leave your mobile phone in a specially provided locker and hand over your passport in return for an ID tag and a panic alarm. Two members of staff, wearing plastic clogs that squeak across the linoleum, escort you through the corridors.

In the visitors’ room, Bergwall sits straight-backed on a small red chair, dim light glinting off rectangular-framed spectacles, his feet planted slightly apart in grey socks and Velcro-strapped sandals. He has been a patient in Säter hospital since 1991 and although he is 62, the flesh on his hands is still pink and unworn, the result, one imagines, of a lack of exposure to sunlight. His hair – what is left of it – is white…

Until relatively recently, Sture Bergwall was Sweden’s most notorious serial killer. He had confessed to more than 30 murders and been convicted of eight. He called himself Thomas Quick. Assuming this sinister alter ego, he claimed during a succession of therapy sessions at Säter over the years that he had maimed, raped and eaten the remains of his victims, the youngest of whom was a nine-year-old girl whose body has never been found.

But then, in 2001, he stopped co-operating with the police. He withdrew from public view and changed his name back to the one he was born with. In 2008, Hannes Råstam, one of Sweden’s most respected documentary-makers, became intrigued. He visited the former Thomas Quick, now known as Sture Bergwall, at Säter, trawled through the 50,000 pages of court documents, therapy notes and police interrogations and came to the startling conclusion that there was not a single shred of technical evidence for any of Bergwall’s convictions. There were no DNA traces, no murder weapons, no eyewitnesses – nothing apart from his confessions, many of which had been given when he was under the influence of narcotic-strength drugs. Confronted with Råstam’s discoveries, Bergwall admitted the unthinkable. He said he had fabricated the entire story.

The book recounting this extraordinary tale has just been posthumously published in Sweden – Råstam died aged 56 from cancer of the pancreas and the liver in January, the day after the manuscript was finished. In Thomas Quick: The Making of a Serial Killer, Råstam unpicks in painstaking detail the way in which the deeply troubled Quick was able to gain key information surrounding each case from psychiatrists, police officers and lawyers, before cobbling together the rambling and confused testimonies into a coherent narrative that could stand up in court.

RTFA. Fascinating stuff.

If you’re much of a cynic, if you’ve spent any reasonable portion of your life examining the lack of reason in most police-work, none of this will surprise you. But, it’s still a helluva read.

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