Criminologist revisits cold cases of exonerated ‘Swedish Hannibal’

Swedish criminologist and novelist Leif G. W. Persson
Swedish criminologist and novelist Leif G. W. Persson.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A man named “Sweden’s Hannibal Lecter” has had all murder charges against him dropped after he admitted making up his confessions. Sture Bergwall, also known as Thomas Quick, was convicted of murdering eight people, including three children, between 1976 and 1988 after he told police about how he raped, mutilated and ate his victims.

But in an exclusive interview with Metro, leading Swedish criminologist Leif G.W. Persson said he suspected that Bergwall – then known by his alter-ego Thomas Quick – hadn’t committed the murders he confessed to under treatment at high-security psychiatric hospital Säter.

Persson said he had suspected that Bergwall was innocent as early as 1993.

“I couldn’t know for sure back then, but I voiced my strong doubts. If they had listened to me then you could have saved half a billion Swedish krona,” Persson said.

“I have seen badly handled murder investigations before, but nothing close to this.”

Here are the eight murder victims whose cases have been reopened now that 63-year-old Bergwall has been found not guilty. For each case, Persson weighed in on how he believes each case happened in reality.

Charles Zelmanovits
A 15-year-old boy disappeared in November 1976 after a school party in Piteå in northern Sweden. His remains were found in 1993. Police did not consider his death suspicious.

In the spring of 1994, Bergwall confessed to killing the teenager. He was sentenced the same year despite a lack of technical evidence. The sentence was revoked when the prosecutor for the appeals court dropped the charges Wednesday.

Persson’s theory: “It is probably not even a murder. It was 10 below [zero] that night, the boy was poorly dressed, a little bit drunk; he got lost, fell asleep and froze to death.”

Marinus and Janni Stegehuis
The Dutch couple was found knifed to death in their tent at a campsite in Gällivare County, northern Sweden, in July 1984. Bergwall confessed to the murders in November 1994. He was sentenced in 1996. There was no technical evidence, and an accomplice was named in the sentence but never charged. Bergwall was cleared in 2013.

Persson’s theory: “A single perpetrator, probably a local. There was a body builder in the investigation who committed suicide later on, or it was someone like him who did it.”

Trine Jensen and Gry Storvik
Trine Jensen, 17, was found murdered 10 km south of Oslo in 1981. Gry Storvik, 23, was found murdered south of Oslo in 1985. Bergwall was sentenced in 2000. There was no technical evidence, and he was cleared in 2012.

Persson’s theory: “Many things suggest that it is the same perpetrator in both murders.”

Johan Asplund
The 11-year-old boy disappeared from the Swedish city of Sundsvall in 1980. Bergwall was sentenced in 2001 and cleared in 2012.

Persson’s theory: “Johan’s mother’s ex-boyfriend was tried in a civil court but found not guilty. It was probably he who did it.”

Therese Johannessen
The 9-year-old girl disappeared in 1988 from Drammen, Norway. Bergwall was sentenced in 1998, and cleared in 2011.

Persson’s theory: “She isn’t necessarily dead. She disappeared and she may have been taken to Pakistan. Her mother had a relationship with a Pakistani 10 years before Therese’s disappearance.”

Yenon Levi
An Israeli student, 24, was found murdered next to a country road in Dalarna, central Sweden, in 1988. Bergwall was sentenced in 1997, cleared in 2010.

Persson’s theory: “A lot suggests that a man of Arabic descent had gotten mad and killed the Jewish boy. He may even have had an accomplice. That man was questioned but released and has returned to North Africa.”


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