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THOMAS QUICK

Serial killer applies for second retrial

Convicted serial killer Thomas Quick, who recently retracted confessions for eight murders, has formally petitioned the Svea Court of Appeal for a retrial in the case of the murder of nine-year-old Norwegian girl Therese Johannessen.

Serial killer applies for second retrial

Quick argues that new evidence has emerged in the case and that his confession has been shown to be unreliable, with reference to police interviews conducted in March and April 1996 in which Quick’s lawyer Tomas Olsson claims his client submitted clearly erroneous information.

The conviction of Quick for the murder of the Norwegian schoolgirl in 1988 was in part based on an ocular inspection of bone particles recovered from the crime scene.

The Local reported in April that a fresh analysis by the National Laboratory of Forensic Science (Statens kriminaltekniska laboratorium – SKL) concluded that the bone particles were in fact pieces of wood and glue mixed with other synthetic materials.

In the trial at Hedemora district court in 1998, two respected professors, Per Holck and Richard Helmer, gave testimony in which they claimed that the burned particles found at a location identified by Quick were “most probably from a human, probably from a younger person.”

Osteologist Ylva Svenfeldt, an independent researcher specialising in the analysis of cremated Iron Age skeletal remains, was deeply critical of the testimony provided against Quick by the two professors.

“If you’ve worked with burned bone material you can immediately see that this is not bone. I can only interpret this as scientific fraud,” she told newspaper Aftonbladet.

Therese Johannessen’s mother has slammed the Swedish police investigation as “a scandal” and argues that the police have been arrogant and have not considered the possibility that there could be further suspects other than Thomas Quick.

Thomas Quick, who has since changed his name to Sture Bergwall, has been convicted in six different trials for the murders of eight people. During police questioning, he has confessed to committing more than 20 murders, which he claims he committed in Sweden, Norway, and Finland.

But in several programmes broadcast last year by Sveriges Television (SVT) journalist Hannes Råstam, Quick has taken back all of his previous confessions and has stated his intention to seek to get his convictions overturned.

The request concerning Therese Johannessen is the second submitted by Quick through his lawyer Tomas Olsson. The Local reported in December that Quick had been granted a retrial in the case of the murder of 24-year-old Yenon Levi, an Israeli tourist who was found dead near the side of a deserted forest road in Dalarna in 1988.

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SERIAL KILLER

The serial-killer anatomy of a Swedish scandal

It is probably Sweden's worst miscarriage of justice. On Monday, officials decided that Thomas Quick will continue to receive mental treatment but with less restrictions. The Local contributor David Lindén explains how a self-confessed serial killer went on to be cleared of all eight murders.

The serial-killer anatomy of a Swedish scandal
Swedish Supreme Court judge Göran Lambertz, crime sage Leif G.W. Persson, and Sture Bergwall. File photo montage: TT/TL

The National Board of Forensic Medicine (Rättsmedicinalverket) has decided that Quick, who has reverted to his original name Sture Bergwall, will keep receiving treatment but not in a mental hospital. But in order to understand why he ended up standing trial for eight murders that he later said he did not commit, we need a short recap.

From 1992, the already incarcerated Bergwall began to confess to a series of unsolved murders that he, after being in therapy at Säter Mental Hospital – part of Sweden's correctional services –  remembered committing. At the time, he was taking plenty of benzodiazepines, a strong form of psychoactive drugs, to which he said he became addicted. He realized that he would get his hands on more of the drug if he confessed to further atrocities during the therapy sessions. Not all the cases were “strong” enough to go to trial. There was a score of confessions, but some would never make it to the courtroom. Bergwall, who had adopted the name Thomas Quick – a combination of Thomas Blomgren whom he “killed” in 1964 and the maiden name of his mother – was in the end convicted of eight murders.

One detail apparently failed to be examined. Bergwall could not have killed Blomgren. Bergwall was attending his Christian confirmation at the time of Blomgren's murder. This fact, in combination with Bergwall's drug abuse, could have illuminated the weakness of the entire case. But it would land on Bergwall's shoulders to clear his name, not on the justice system's.

After he quit his medication, Bergwall withdrew all his confessions. Swedish prosecutors cannot prosecute without enough evidence to reasonably secure a verdict. Without the confessions, the cases crumbled and the charges were withdrawn. This summer, prosecutors dropped the eighth and final murder charge. Bergwall has since been fighting to get a new assessment of his mental state, and said he hopes to walk free. The saga took one of its last twists this week, as the Forensic Medicine Board allowed him to receive therapy in a more open form.

For an outsider, it can seem rather strange that a junkie addicted to pills could be convicted of eight murders with the help of “hidden memories," only accessible by therapy. There was no shortage of critics during the time the confessions played out either. Retired criminology professor, TV personality, and Sweden's in-house crime sage Leif G.W. Persson bluntly questioned Bergwall's supposed modus operandi, saying it would be impossible for one man “to go around like a bloody slaughter machine all over Scandinavia."

Another critic was psychologist Ulf Åsgård, who had helped the Swedish police catch a real serial killer – “Laser Man” John Ausonius who terrorized Stockholm in 1991-1992 by shooting foreign-born Swedes with a laser-sight rifle.

Yet Persson and Åsgård were ignored.

So how could the Sture Bergwall/Thomas Quick scandal happen?

Let us speculate that there was something in the air in Sweden that made society ready for such a grizzly tale. The shelves of book stores were being filled with foreign gore (this was before the proper birth of the domestic Nordic Noir genre) – Brett Easton Ellis' novel American Psycho, with its yuppie freak Patrick Bateman, had recently been translated to Swedish (Bergwall would later cite American Psycho as "inspiration"). Cinema-goers, meanwhile, were gripping their velvet-clad seats as Jodi Foster and Anthony Hopkins faced off in Silence of the Lambs. Reality offered its ready examples too. In 1994, British police arrested serial killer couple Fred and Rosemary West – a case widely reported on in Swedish media. 

Put simply, Sweden in the early 1990s was ready for a serial killer of its own. In Thomas Quick, there was enough material to fill several horror novels: childhood abuse, necrophilia, and cannibalism. The media lapped it up. 

The Swedes were also rather blue at the time – suffering a financial crisis that was considerably worse than the one that would come in 2008. So in that sense, a "real" serial killer provided a form of psychological relief, and excitement. I would argue that the Swedes were almost envious of other countries' psychos, and wanted their own.

You cannot, however, use culture and sentiment as an excuse for what happened. What was unfurling would become one of the worst legal scandals in Swedish history. Police officers, therapists, and lawyers misinterpreted, ignored and cheated their way through the evidence-gathering, blatantly putting aside the bits that spoke against Bergwall's own version of events. The media also played an important part in the massive hoodwink, because reporters took all the "official" truths for granted. Few were the journalists who questioned the "perfect story." 

An important question is who will pay, if at all, for allowing this to happen?

Sweden's Justice Minister Beatrice Ask has appointed "The Quick Commission", headed by political science professor Daniel Tarschys. He is a former member of the Riksdag and a professor of political science – he is thus not a lawyer. This could mean that that case is investigated from a political and not a legal point of view.  It is unlikely that the commission will yield true power to change any structural weakness it finds to lay behind the many ill-made decisions that saw Bergwall wrongfully convicted of eight murders. 

David Lindén is a PhD student in history at King's College London and is currently a liberal political commentator for Borås Tidning (BT). Previously he was a visiting scholar at University of North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter here.

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