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.


Swedish terror attacker sentenced to psychiatric care

A court has sentenced the far-right extremist Theodor Engström to psychiatric care for the knife attack he carried out at the Almedalen political festival this summer.

Swedish terror attacker sentenced to psychiatric care

The Gotland district court found the 33-year-old Engström guilty of murdering the psychiatrist Ing-Marie Wieselgren, but did not agree that the murder counted as a terror attack.

It did find him guilty, however, of “planning a terror attack”, for his preparations to murder the Centre Party’s leader, Annie Lööf. 

“The murdered woman had a significant role [in society], a murder is always serious, and this had consequences both for Almedalen Week and for society more broadly,” the judge Per Sundberg, said at a press conference. 

The judge Per Sundberg announces the sentence on Theodor Engström on December 6th. Photo: Karl Melander/TT

But he said that the court judged that Sweden’s terror legislation was too restrictively drafted for her murder to count as a terror offence. 

“Despite Ing-Marie Wieselgren’s well-attested position within psychiatry, the court considers that her position as national coordinator at the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions is not such that her murder can in itself be considered to have damaged Sweden. The act cannot as a result be classified as a terrorist crime on those grounds.” 

The court ruled that Engström’s crimes deserved Sweden’s most severe sentence, a life sentence in prison, but found that due to his disturbed mental state he should instead receive “psychiatric care with a special test for release”. 

In its judgement, the court said that an examination by forensic psychiatrists had found both that there were “medical reasons” why Engström should be transferred into a closed psychiatric facility and that “his insight into the meaning of his actions and his ability to adjust his actions according to such insight were at the very least severely diminished”. 

It said that under Swedish law, a court could send someone to prison who was in need of psychiatric care only if there were “special reasons” to do so. 

“The court considers that it has not been shown that Theodor Engström’s need of psychiatric care is so limited that there is a special reason for a prison sentence,” it ruled. 

Lööf wrote on Instagram that the judgement was “a relief”. 

“For me personally, it was a relief when the judgement came,” she wrote. “Engström has also been judged guilty of ‘preparation for a terror attack through preparation for murder’. This means that the the court is taking the threat towards democracy and towards politicians as extremely serious.”

The fact that the court has decided that Engström’s care should have a “special test for release” means that he cannot be discharged from the closed psychiatric hospital or ward where he is treated without a court decision. 

The court must rule both that the mental disorder that led to the crime has abated to the extent that there is no risk of further crimes, and that he has no other mental disorders that might require compulsory psychiatric care. The care has to be reassessed every six months.