DNA nails killer – probably

"Last Thursday morning the telephone rang at the home of Helén Nilsson's parents. It was the police. 'We've probably got the man who killed your daughter.'"

So began DN’s coverage of the story that has dominated this week’s front pages, the rape and murder of a 10 year old girl in the southern Swedish town of Hörby.

Last week a 52 year old man was arrested for her murder, after DNA profiling matched him to a tiny sample of semen found on her body. But what makes the case so significant is that the murder took place 15 years ago.

On 20th March 1989 Helén had arranged to meet her friends outside a shop in Hörby. She never arrived. For six days Sweden held its breath while police searched for her, but on 26th March a member of the public found her naked body in a plastic bag in a forest 25km from her home. It had been concealed by a mound of stones.

As well as the semen, forensic investigators took hairs, both human and from a dog, from the body and concluded that after being imprisoned for several days Helén had been beaten to death with a blunt instrument.

Over the following months and years a number of suspects were questioned, including a Danish rapist, a serial killer and a pair of cousins who were held for almost two months, but none were prosecuted.

The semen sample remained frozen at the State Criminal Technical Laboratory in Linköping. But last year it was sent to an English organisation, Forensic Science Service, which had developed a completely new method of analysis. In the autumn, Forensic Science Service returned a full DNA profile of the man the semen came from.

Armed with this new evidence, police began trawling their files for suspects and came up with 29 men whose DNA they wanted to compare with the profile. Among them was the 52 year old, who had only been on the fringes of the investigation for the last two years after renewed media interest had attracted some new tip-offs.

He willingly provided a sample of his DNA and was among the last five suspects to be tested. Last Wednesday Skåne police were informed that his DNA matched the profile and at around 10pm he was arrested at his home in Småland.

In a press conference the following day, police chief Henrik Malmquist was confident that they had got their man.

“According to the English company which carried out the DNA profiling, the chance is one in fifteen million that it wasn’t the 52 year old in custody who left traces on Helén Nilsson’s body.”

Nevertheless, the man denied the murder.

If at the time of his arrest little was known about the man except his age and where he lived, the days which followed brought a surge of revelations. And the undercurrent was that it was more than just his DNA profile that labelled him as the killer.

At the time of the murder the man was living in the Hörby area, but in 1990 he moved to Småland. He became known as a loner who was often seen with his dog. He had been in trouble for shoplifting and, according to Svenska Dagbladet, “causing a highway obstruction”, after laying nails and screws in a road.

He has a 13 year old son who lives with his mother in another country and he has been campaiging to be allowed to see him. Last year he had a letter about his case published in Expressen and he is said to have sought help from former Prime Minister Carl Bildt.

Monday’s tabloids declared that the man was considered to be a suicide risk and was not being given access to newspapers, television or radio. The stories that emerged throughout the rest of the week perhaps justified that decision.

Tuesday focused on the man’s somewhat vague links with a man who made pornographic films but Wednesday’s headlines will be considerably more damaging. According to a new witness the man is said to have told colleagues that the youngest girl he had had sex with was nine years old.

On Thursday the investigation turned to the man’s summer cottage, following an anonymous tip-off to the newspaper Skånska Dagbladet. The caller apparently provided precise details of where blood-stained clothes and a dead dog were buried. Thursday’s Aftonbladet reported that police had found “important evidence”, including dog hair, in the cottage.

The paper also revealed that the 52 year old is now a prime suspect for other unsolved murders of young girls in the south of Sweden. Top of the list is the murder of 26 year old Jannica Ekblad, who was also killed in 1989. She was found in the same type of plastic bag and with traces of the same type of dog hair as Helén Nilsson, and police have long suspected that the same person killed them.

As for the Helén Nilsson case, police chief Henrik Malmquist would not go so far as to say that it had been cleared up.

“But we have never before been so close to solving it,” he said.


Sweden breaks yearly record for fatal shootings

A man was shot to death in Kristianstad, Skåne, late on Thursday night. He is the 48th person to be shot dead in Sweden this year, meaning that the previous record for most fatal shootings in one year set in 2020 has now been broken.

Sweden breaks yearly record for fatal shootings

“Unfortunately we can’t say more than that he’s in his twenties and we have no current suspects,” duty officer Mikael Lind told TT newswire.

According to police statistics, this most recent deadly shooting means that 48 people have been shot to death in 2022, meaning that Sweden has broken a new record for deadly shootings per year.

Earlier this week, Sweden’s police chief Anders Thornberg said that this number is likely to rise even higher before the end of the year.

“It looks like we’re going to break the record this year,” he told TT on Tuesday. “That means – if it continues at the same pace – around 60 deadly shootings.”

“If it ends up being such a large increase that would be very unusual,” said Manne Gerell, criminiologist at Malmö University.

“We saw a large increase between 2017 and 2018, and we could see the same now, as we’re on such low figures in Sweden. But it’s still worrying that it’s increasing by so much over such a short time period,” he said.

There also seems to be an upwards trend in the number of shootings overall during 2022. 273 shootings had occured by September 1st this year, compared with 344 for the whole of 2021 and 379 for the whole of 2020.

If shootings continue at this rate for the rest of 2022, it is likely that the total number for the year would be higher than 2021 and 2020. There are, however, fewer injuries.

“The majority of shootings cause no injuries, but this year, mortality has increased substantially,” Gerell explained. “There aren’t more people being shot, but when someone is shot, they’re more likely to die.”

Thursday’s shooting took place in Kristianstad, but it’s only partially true that deadly gun violence is becoming more common in smaller cities.

“It’s moved out somewhat to smaller cities, but we’re overexaggerating that effect,” Gerell said. “We’re forgetting that there have been shootings in other small cities in previous years.”

A report from the Crime Prevention Council (Brå) presented last spring showed that Sweden, when compared with 22 different countries in Europe, was the only one with an upwards trend for deadly shootings.

Temporary increases can be seen during some years in a few countries, but there were no countries which showed such a clear increase as Sweden has seen for multiple years in a row, according to Brå.

The Swedish upwards trend for deadly gun violence began in the beginning of the 2000s, but the trend took off in 2013 and has continued to increase since.

Eight of ten deadly shootings take place in criminal environments, the study showed. The Swedish increase has taken place in principle only among the 20-29 year old age group.

When police chief Anders Thornberg was asked how the trend can be broken, he said that new recruitments are one of the most important factors.

“The most important thing is to break recruitment, make sure we can listen encrypted and that we can get to the profits of crime in a better way,” he said.