The serial killer who never was: a disturbed individual, a flawed justice system, and two stubborn investigative journalists.

AuthorOhberg, Patrik

The story of Sture Bergwall is one that even today's popular Swedish crime writers--Henning Mankell, Liza Marklund, Johan Theorin, Camilla Lackberg, Stieg Larsson, Ake Edwardson--could not have made up.

Bergwall confessed to 30 brutal sex murders, including of children, and even to having ritually devoured some of his victims. But Bergwall just made up his stories to please his psychiatrists and gain access to the drugs to which he was addicted. He would still likely be in jail if it were not for the investigative journalists who tore the lid off a legal system that failed completely.

Sweden regularly comes out near the top on quality of life indexes. And yet the story of Sture Bergwall shows that it is not immune to serious miscarriages of justice.

--The editors

Sture Bergwall was born in Falun, a small city in central Sweden, in 1950. As a teenager he took drugs and struggled with his homosexuality. After Bergwall sexually harassed younger boys, he came into contact with the psychiatric system. In 1970 Bergwall was diagnosed as a pedophile and hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic. A couple of years later, a drugged Bergwall tried to stab a friend. Because Bergwall was still under psychiatric treatment, he was not sentenced.

When Bergwall got out of the clinic, he tried to start over and opened a food concession stand. For a time, his life was more or less stable. But in 1991, Bergwall decided to rob a bank with a friend. Since Bergwall lived in a small city, the bank employees recognized him and shortly afterwards the police stopped by and picked him up. Once again Bergwall was placed in a mental hospital; this time he was diagnosed with a personality disorder.

Up to this point, nothing distinguished Bergwall from any other drug addict with a criminal record and history of mental illness. However, when Bergwall was about to be released from the mental hospital in Sater in 1993, he confessed to the murder of Johan Asplund, a case the police had been trying in vain to solve since the boy disappeared in 1980.

Bergwall's confession piqued the interest of an ambitious prosecutor, Christer van der Kwast, who was eager to solve the case of the missing boy. Bergwall was represented by a famous lawyer, Clas Borgstrom, whom he chose after he decided that his former lawyer had not worked hard enough to get him convicted.

Sweden's legal system is not designed to handle accused people who want to be found guilty. During the following years Bergwall confessed to 30 murders. The prosecutor, Bergwall's psychiatrist, his lawyer and Bergwall himself all successfully convinced the courts that Bergwall has committed eight brutal rape-murders.

After a while, even the Norwegian police became interested in the convicted Swedish serial killer and got in contact with the Swedish prosecutor. And soon Bergwall was believed to have murdered in Norway as well. In 1998 Bergwall was convicted of the 1981 murder of a Norwegian girl, and in 2000 he was convicted of have murdered two young Norwegian women in 1985. Both trials were conducted in Sweden.

However, not everyone was convinced that Bergwall was a serial killer. Some journalists, police officers and psychologists were suspicious. They pointed to the...

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