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Home / News / World /  Olof Palme murder mystery solved after 34 yrs, Swedes finally told who killed their prime minister

STOCKHOLM : After 34 years of conspiracy theories, Swedes have finally been told who killed Olof Palme, their prime minister until his violent death on a Stockholm street corner.

At a highly anticipated press briefing on Wednesday, prosecutor Krister Petersson said the assassin was Stig Engstrom, a former employee of Skandia who committed suicide two decades ago. Engstrom had worked as a graphic designer for the firm. Because he’s no longer alive, the case will now be closed.

With the announcement, police hope that the mystery and intrigue surrounding Palme’s 1986 murder can finally be put to rest.

“This is important for the entire country," Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said. He described the case as a national “wound."

Palme’s son, Marten Palme, told Swedish radio he’s “convinced Engstrom is guilty," after hearing the prosecutor’s announcement. “But unfortunately there’s no conclusive evidence that makes it possible to say with 100% certainty that he is the killer."

Palme’s murder was a defining moment in Swedish history. The national trauma that followed was only made worse by a botched police investigation that led nowhere. There’s been no end of documentaries, conspiracy theories and articles surfacing at regular intervals as Swedes have tried to make sense of the case.

This April 7, 1986 file picture shows Stig Engstrom, also known as 'Skandia-man', photographed outside Skandias offices in Stockholm
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This April 7, 1986 file picture shows Stig Engstrom, also known as 'Skandia-man', photographed outside Skandias offices in Stockholm

Killing a prime minister

Palme was shot shortly before midnight on Feb. 28, 1986. The killer approached the prime minister and his wife on a quiet street corner as they were walking home after a visit to the cinema.

In 1989, Christer Pettersson — a local man with a history of crime — was convicted of Palme’s murder. He was subsequently acquitted, and has since died. The episode was followed by a period of rampant speculation, including a theory that Palme — a Social Democrat with an aristocratic background who helped build Sweden’s welfare state — was killed by right-wing extremists within the police force. Meanwhile, more than 100 people have claimed responsibility for the murder.

Christer Pettersson, outside his home in Sollentuna, was convicted for the murder of Sweden's Prime minister Olof Palme in the District court, but was released after the Regional court trial in October 13, 1989.
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Christer Pettersson, outside his home in Sollentuna, was convicted for the murder of Sweden's Prime minister Olof Palme in the District court, but was released after the Regional court trial in October 13, 1989. (Photo: Reuters)

Skandia man

Engstrom had also been the focus of speculation, and even became the subject of a book written about Palme’s murder. Skandia’s office was close to the scene of the crime, and Engstrom -- known in Sweden as Skandia man -- later claimed to have arrived just after the shooting.

Police talked to Engstrom after the murder, but then dismissed him as an attention seeker. Instead, the authorities were more taken by the idea that Palme’s murder had been part of an elaborate political plot, possibly involving Kurdish nationalists.

After Engstrom saw reports by witnesses that described a suspect matching his appearance, he contacted police to clear up what he said was a “misunderstanding." Engstrom even made media appearances himself to complain that police didn’t take his witness accounts seriously.

Petersson said his team has “tried to understand" why investigators at the time didn’t invite Engstrom to a reconstruction of the crime shortly after the murder. “But we haven’t been able to establish that."

Police didn’t provide a motive for Palme’s killing, but noted that Engstrom had mixed in the kind of right-wing circles that nurtured a deep animosity toward the Social Democrat prime minister.

Alternative theories will inevitably continue to make the rounds. Even Petersson acknowledged he probably wouldn’t have been able to get a conviction with the material his team gathered.

But in the end, the body of evidence against Engstrom was overwhelming, he said.

“I believe this investigation has come as far as possible," Petersson said.


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