AN END TO THE CONSPIRACY THEORIES?

No other event in Swedish history has generated more conspiracy theories than the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986.  His assassination scarred the Swedish psyche and shattered the nation’s innocence.  It was Sweden’s JFK moment.

The 59-year-old Palme was a controversial figure in some quarters because he wasn’t afraid to speak out against violence in other countries and inequalities closer to home.   After being shot on a Stockholm street (on the way to the cinema with his wife), theories as to who was behind his murder have raged for thirty-four years.  I briefly touched on some of these in Meet me in Malmö; they ranged from lone killers to groups who had political axes to grind.  Over the years, 134 people have confessed to the murder, and one man, Christer Petterson, was convicted of the crime.  Given a life sentence in 1989, he was acquitted by a court of appeal later that year.

Now, Chief Prosecutor Krister Petersson announced last week that the country’s longest-running investigation is closed.  Petersson pronounced that the killer was a suspect dubbed “The Skandia man” because he was working at the Skandia insurance company close to the murder scene.  This particular suspect, Stig Engström, only came under police scrutiny in 2017 – seventeen years after his death.

So, is there a compelling case against Engström?  He was at the scene of the crime.  He admitted he was there and he himself approached the police after the event.  At the time, he wasn’t regarded as a suspect – more of an attention seeker – though he was questioned several times by the police.  He does sound to be a conflicted man who had drink and financial problems.  Brought up in India until he was twelve by Swedish parents, he did poorly at school before joining the army.  Later he worked for the Swedish Broadcasting Company and then as an advertising consultant to Skandia, the position he held at the time of the murder.  The case against him appears to hinge on inconsistent accounts he gave of his movements around the murder, and the fact that he had access to guns.  (Though over 700 guns were tested over the years, not one was found to correspond with the two bullets found at the scene.)  Furthermore, security guards at Skandia reported that he returned to the office around 11.40pm in a shaken state.  Possibly seeing someone shot dead in the street might have accounted for that.  The motive, according to Petersson, was that several people said that he had expressed negative views about Palme, though they also thought he wasn’t capable of killing.   How many negative views have we ourselves expressed about politicians without resorting to assassination?  I don’t think my editor would accept such thin evidence for a conviction in one of Anita Sundström’s murder cases!

Petersson produced no forensic evidence and admits that his historic decision will not necessarily be accepted by the general public.  I’m not a great one for conspiracy theories – unless I can shamelessly utilise them in a story – but one thing does immediately spring to mind: why would Engström have been carrying a gun to and from his office in an insurance company?  And while thus armed, he just happens to come across Palme and his wife on an unplanned visit to the cinema.  I have a feeling that because Stig Engström is conveniently dead (and can’t clear his name), Petersson’s final judgement won’t stop the speculation.