It was with these few words, tentatively spoken to one of his nurses, that psychiatric patient Sture Bergwall started a remarkable chain of events that ultimately led to the publication of Thomas Quick: The Making of a Serial Killer by Hannes Råstam. I received a proof copy of this book recently with interest. I have read a good deal of British true crime books over the years, but my awareness of Swedish criminal cases extended only as far as Olof Palme (the assassinated Swedish prime minister) and the “Laser Man”, John Ausonius, who used a rifle equipped with a laser sight to shoot a number of people in and around Stockholm, killing one of them. I had never heard of a Swedish serial killer before, and set to reading Råstam’s book with no prior awareness of the fascinating case I was about to encounter.
Sture Bergwall was aged 41 in 1991 when he was first confined to Säter psychiatric hospital in northern Sweden after committing an attempted armed robbery to fund his addiction to amphetamines. He had previously come under periods of psychiatric care in the past, after molesting several young boys and attempting to stab a man to death. Säter was a whole different world, however; an institution for the criminally insane where Bergwall appeared to be very small fry amongst the ranks of hardened criminals and murderers who now surrounded him on a daily basis. He changed his name to Thomas Quick in an attempt to dissociate himself from his past and get a clean start, but it surprised everyone when, in 1992, he uttered the above words to a nurse. In a therapy session shortly afterwards, the “really serious” something he was referring to was revealed to be the abduction and murder of eleven year old Johan Asplund, who disappeared without a trace while walking the short distance from his home to school twelve years earlier. This was one of the most notorious unsolved cases in Swedish criminal history, and to have a confession appear out of the blue like this shocked everyone concerned.
Over the next nine years, Quick confessed to more and more unsolved murders – thirty in all, of which he was taken to trial and convicted of eight of them. As well as murder, he admitted to the rape and cannibalism of some of his victims, who ranged from a nine year old girl to a couple in their thirties visiting from Holland, and which occurred across Sweden and occasionally across the border in Norway. It was a media sensation. Quick talked openly and regularly about the cases, and soon a circus of lawyers, police investigators, criminal prosecutors and therapists sprung up around him. If what Quick claimed was true, it made him Scandinavia’s most prolific serial killer and Sweden’s very own Hannibal Lecter.
In 2001, however, things changed. Quick abruptly ceased to cooperate with the various police investigations that were ongoing into his confessions, and refused to speak the media any further. He retreated into the Säter hospital, changed his name back to Sture Bergwall and remained unvisited there for seven years, until investigative journalist Hannes Råstam became interested in the case and managed to get Bergwall to agree to a series of interviews. After trawling exhaustively through legal documents, video of Bergwall being taken to locations at which he claims he buried his victims, records of therapy sessions and medical notes, he confronted Bergwall with what he had found: that the range of cases did not fit the expected pattern of a serial killer in terms of victim, modus operandi or geographical scope; that there was not a single piece of physical forensic evidence to tie him to any of the crimes, and that all the confessions had been made while under unusually high doses of benzodiazepine.
Confronted with this, Bergwall admitted the unbelievable: he had made the whole story up while high from the narcotic strength drugs that were made freely available to him. Bergwall is known to be a compulsive liar and skilled manipulator, so is this book about Sweden’s most notorious serial killer or Sweden’s greatest miscarriage of justice?
Råstam’s book is certainly intriguing. As a journalist, he has won several international awards for the quality of his work and this is reflected in the dense and detailed research that has gone into producing this book (the proof copy I read had 470 pages). This book has already achieved bestseller status in Sweden, and with the English translation due for release in July, the case is about to become much more well known in the UK. The final copy will also have a foreword by Elizabeth Day, who I understand to be the only British Journalist who has thus far interviewed Bergwall; having read the report on her interview in the online edition of the Observer, I think it will be a suitable addition to the work. As I had a proof I am unable to comment on what the final book will have in terms of maps, illustrations and photographs, but I certainly hope some will be included to enhance the text.
With the increasing popularity of “Nordic noir” crime thrillers, this book is being released at a time when I think it is likely to receive unprecedented interest from a British audience. It is likely to have appeal both to readers of true crime books and fans of Swedish-set crime stories, and it is certainly worth a read if you like your books to be thought-provoking. Råstam sadly died of cancer shortly after he finished his manuscript so he has not lived to see how successful his first and only book has become.
Thomas Quick: The Making of a Serial Killer by Hannes Råstam
Published by Canongate Books
Due for release July 2013
With thanks to the publishers for providing a review copy.
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