November 30, 2010


The real-life Swedish murder that inspired Stieg Larsson: Long before the books of Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell shone a light on Sweden’s dark underbelly, there was the murder of Catrine da Costa. It's a case that continues to shock, baffle and divide the nation. (Julie Bindel 10:46AM GMT 30 Nov 2010, The Telegraph)

It is not unusual for street prostitutes to be murdered, but the mutilation made this case different. The case, known in Sweden as styckmordet (the ‘cutting up murder’), gave rise to an almost unprecedented public outrage. It has spawned four books, several television documentaries and countless newspaper and academic articles in Sweden over the years.

The discovery of the body parts, and the arrest of two seemingly respectable men for da Costa’s murder, provoked the women of Sweden to organise against male brutality. They marched through the city centres; circulated petitions; and appeared on television programmes protesting against the ill-treatment of women, particularly vulnerable females such as da Costa. The case was to lead to a change in the law on prostitution; men who pay for sex are now criminalised. Yet outside Sweden this dark and twisted tale has received little attention.

Until the da Costa case, Sweden liked to think of itself as a respectable, liberal country where not much happened. Today, thanks to the uniquely dark and grisly novels of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, we know that isn’t the case.

Larsson, a life-long opponent of violence against women, witnessed a brutal rape when he was just 15; the Swedish title of his book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was Men Who Hate Women. And Mankell has often said that the underlying purpose of his Wallander books is to ask the question ‘what went wrong with Swedish society?’ For many, the answer is ‘Catrine da Costa’.

But who killed her? Last July, the statute of limitations on the case ran out, which means no one can ever be tried again for the crime. Half of Sweden believes that they know who killed da Costa, except they got away with it. The other half believes the alleged murderers’ arrest and trial was the worst miscarriage of justice ever to occur in Scandinavia. The suspects may have been cleared, but their names have been blackened.

At the time da Costa went missing, two bright, successful doctors named Teet Härm and Thomas Allgen were working in Stockholm, progressing well in their lives and careers. Four years later, they were on trial for murder, their reputations in ruins.

Although acquitted in court of the murder, the two men’s innocence was by no means confirmed. Dismissing the case, the trial judge even declared that though murder could not be proved, he was convinced that they had cut up the body. Ever since the first finger of suspicion was pointed at them a quarter of a century ago, Härm and Allgen have been suing the Swedish government for 40million krona (just over £3m) in an attempt to finally clear their names. But earlier this year the Attunda District Court ruled that the doctors are not entitled to financial compensation. Kammarrätt, Sweden’s main administrative court, withdrew Härm and Allgen’s licences to practise medicine in 1991. Since then there have been numerous legal attempts to strike the remarks of the judge. Neither suspect has been employed since first arrested.

I travelled to Sweden to ask those involved in the case if Härm and Allgen are the victims of a prejudiced media-led campaign. Or are they cold-blooded psychopaths and master manipulators of their supporters?

Teet Härm was a young forensic pathologist working at Karolinska Institute when the body parts were found. In a photograph taken in the early Eighties, Härm looks pale and thin, with cheekbones jutting out from under small, staring eyes. One eyebrow is higher than the other, giving him a look of perpetual inquisitiveness. He was regularly called upon by police to help solve murders and unexplained deaths.

At 30, Härm had already published papers and spoken at international conferences on his main topic of interest – death by strangulation. Härm had personal experience of this type of death. In 1982, two years before da Costa died, his first wife was found hanged in their bedroom.

Although the death was ruled a suicide by the coroner, police had their suspicions that Härm had murdered her. Ann-Catherine was found hanging from the side of a bed with a ligature around her neck. She was, however, dressed up for a night out. Two months later, Härm submitted his very first paper on strangulation.

He was, by then, considered somewhat of an expert on sexual violence. A paper he published weeks after his wife’s death, entitled ‘Face and Neck Injuries Due to Resuscitation Versus Throttling’ is cited in an American publication, the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence Investigation and Prosecution of Strangulation Cases.

Police officers had noted that Härm’s response to his wife’s death seemed unusual and callous. He was viewed by many as cold, arrogant and, in the words of one former colleague, ‘creepy’. Härm took great interest in his work; would invite friends to view post-mortems; and was a consumer of violent pornography and frequent buyer of prostitutes. He had been known to send unsolicited post- mortem reports to friends, complete with photographs.

His wife was in the process of divorcing Härm when she died. After the discovery of the bin bags, Härm’s former father-in-law contacted the police. He’d reported his suspicions of Härm at the time of his daughter’s death and now thought the young doctor could have killed da Costa.

....which should be called Men Who Hate Men.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 30, 2010 3:54 PM
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