Knutby – programmed to kill

Following a break for the Ascension Day holiday, the Knutby trial resumed on Monday with the cross-examination of the first defendant, the nanny Sara Svensson, who has admitted to one count of murder and one of attempted murder.

She claims that she was brainwashed and manipulated by the second defendent, Helge Fossmo, the pastor of Knutby’s extreme religious sect. But the pastor, who was questioned in court on Thursday, denies the allegations, and says that Svensson misinterpreted his intentions.

The media analysis of the case in the weeks leading up to the trial was characterised by a subtle undercurrent of sympathy for the nanny, but the more the papers pored over her evidence this week, the more that seemed to harden into cynicism.

On Monday she provided more details of the night she shot the pastor’s wife, Alexandra Fossmo, as she slept.

“When I fired the three shots I closed the bedroom door and left. In a way I felt relieved. But in the laundry room I turned round and went back to make sure she was dead. When I lifted the sheet I saw that her face was bloody and there was blood in the bed. Then I understood that I had fulfilled my task.”

Tearfully, she then described how she went next door to kill the neighbour, Daniel Linde, with whose wife the pastor was having an affair, “for Daniel’s sake and for God’s sake”.

Inside Linde’s house, Svensson knocked on his bedroom door. After the fourth knock, he opened it.

“I fired a shot. I had a cushion in front of the revolver. I saw in Daniel’s eyes that he was surprised and his whole body jerked. Helge said that I had to be sure so I aimed the next shot at his head. I didn’t have the cushion, I just shot him. He screamed and fell back. I thought he was dead.”

Linde himself was in the courtroom to hear Svensson’s evidence but stared down at the table throughout.

“Today was considerably tougher than when I gave evidence myself,” he told Expressen through a friend.

“The most frightening thing was when Sara said that she heard on the radio that I had survived the attack – and that she became angry.”

That was a side of Svensson’s character that the papers explored following her cross-examination, and on Tuesday the pastor’s lawyer, Ola Nordström, said that there was more to be revealed.

“I want to show that she is like a chameleon who adapts herself to what she believes others want her to be.”

She admits she was jealous of the pastor’s wife, which is being taken by many as a motive for her murder, and throughout the trial she has appeared to be considerably more self-confident than previously. And she blames everything on Helge Fossmo, a stance which Expressen said “reduces her credibility”.

Nevertheless, Svensson maintained that the pastor’s influence entirely changed her.

“I’m weak and afraid of him. He is so unbelievably powerful over me. I became a robot programmed to kill.”

The pastor, Helge Fossmo, had the chance to defend himself on Thursday, and he continued to deny killing his first wife in December 1999 (who was found dead after an apparent fall in the bath) or having any involvement in the murder of his second wife and attempted murder of Daniel Linde.

Svensson remained in the courtroom to hear him explain how his relationship with his first wife, Hélène, deteriorated after they moved to Knutby in 1999. The main reason appears to have been the demands placed on him by the leader of the Knutby sect, Åsa Waldau – the so-called ‘Bride of Christ’.

“I was at her side all my waking hours,” he said. “The Bride of Christ said that it was wrong of my wife to question God’s will that I should be with her [the Bride of Christ].”

The pastor was questioned about evidence from witnesses who said that he told them he dreamed his wife would die in the bath.

“I dreamed that she would die – but I never dreamed that she would die in the bath. I made that up afterwards to improve the story.”

After her death, the pastor changed elements of the post-mortem documentation, removing the details about the toxic concentration of dextropropoxifen found in her blood. This he blamed on the Bride of Christ.

“We didn’t want to tell people that since there could be speculation,” he said.

By the time the pastor met Sara Svensson, he was married to his second wife, Alexandra – and that relationship was cooling. He described it as being more like “sibling love” and, contrary to Svensson’s evidence, denied that he had dreamed of Alexandra’s death.

On the night of November 7th last year, Svensson attacked Alexandra Fossmo with a hammer. The pastor said in court that he thought this was an act of jealousy, but that the matter was not reported because they didn’t want police investigating the congregation.

The prosecutor asked him why he continued to remain in touch with Svensson after the attack.

“I didn’t want to break off contact. I loved her,” he said.

When asked about a specific text message he sent Svensson – which she claimed urged her to commit the crimes – he explained that she misinterpreted it. The message read ‘The first is a must. The second you can do for love’ and he claimed that it was referring to the tithe, the money which members of the congragation gave to the church.

“She wanted to give me her tithe but I said she must give it to the congregation. If she wanted to give me money it should be outside the tithes. The tithe was the first, and the gift to me was the second.”

On the night of the murder, the pastor remained asleep in his children’s room while his wife was shot in their bedroom down the hall. He said he couldn’t explain why the sound of shots didn’t wake him up but the text message he received shortly afterwards did.

Many of the questions from the pastor’s defence lawyer focused on the ‘Bride of Christ’, Åsa Waldau, and her influence on the members of the Knutby congregation.

“I was afraid of the Bride of Christ and I still am,” he said. “Loyalty to the Bride of Christ came before the nanny’s wellbeing. I feel guilty that the nanny feels as she does today.”

After the Whit holiday more witnesses will be questioned in court, and on Thursday, June 3rd, the sect’s leader, Åsa Waldau, will give evidence. The court is not expected to address her as ‘the Bride of Christ’.