Swedish police have finally identified the man they believe killed Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986.
Palme was shot in the back as he walked home from the cinema with his wife in Stockholm, shortly after he dismissed his security team for the day.
The assassination took place on Sweden’s busiest road, Sveavagen, and more than a dozen witnesses saw a man fire the shots before fleeing the scene.
Chief Prosecutor Krister Petersson said the man has been identified as Stig Engstrom, a graphic designer known as “Skandia Man” who committed suicide in 2000.
“The person is Stig Engstrom. Because the person is dead, I cannot bring charges against him and have decided to close the investigation.
“This is one of the biggest police investigations in the world. It’s by far Sweden’s biggest criminal investigation ever.”
Asked by The Local if he thought the announcement would be accepted by Swedish people, he said;
“We can’t have this issue tried and we hope that our conclusions will be accepted by the general public, but I am not so stupid I don’t understand that different conspiracy theories will keep afloat in the public domain the way they have done over the past 34 years. But we have a conclusion that we feel that we can stand behind.”
Before the recent breakthrough in the longest-running case in Sweden, thousands of people were interviewed. A petty criminal was also convicted for the killing but the verdict was later dismissed.
The suspect Engström has been dubbed ‘Skandiamannen’ (The Skandia man’) in the media because he worked at insurance company Skandia close to the scene of the murder. He was an early witness in the case, questioned by police several times but only emerged as a potential suspect a few years ago.
In the 1980s Engström also got involved in local politics, representing the conservative Moderate Party. Several people have said that he expressed negative views about Palme but did not think him capable of the murder.
Before becoming a suspect, he was an early witness in the case and was questioned by police several times. He said at that time that he arrived at the scene immediately after the shooting while on his way to the Stockholm metro.
He told police he was wearing a knee-length dark coat, a cap, glasses, and had a small bag around his wrist. This information, together with his height of 182cm, fitted with how many of the other witnesses described the suspect.
Engström himself told police he believed he was the man in the descriptions, and that he had been mistaken for the murderer while running after police. But he said he had seen the perpetrator run away wearing a blue quilted jacket, and that Lisbet Palme had also told him the murderer wore a blue jacket.
However none of the other witnesses remembered Engström acting in the way he describes – being one of the first on the scene, helping to administer first aid to Palme, and pointing police in the direction he saw the murderer run.
Petersson disclosed that Engström’s actions and statements following the murder raised further suspicion. He also noted that the suspect appeared in several TV and newspaper reports on the murder, often criticising the police for not taking his statement seriously. This is despite the fact that his statement which was inconsistent with most of the others was taken several times. He added that the man could have been “mocking the police”.
The chief prosecutor added;
“When we’ve gone through the material, what is odd is the fact that none of the other witnesses on the scene of the crime recognised Stig Engström at all as having been there at the scene. If he was there, he disappeared before he made any impression on any of the witnesses at the scene of the crime. Even though it was chaos at the scene, he definitely did not act the way he claimed.
“What has made the investigation more difficult for us is that more than 34 years have passed since the assassination. A number of witnesses are no longer with us or are very old. Evidence does not improve over time.
“We hoped to get clear indications from the National Forensic Centre but they said based on today’s technology it won’t be possible to tie a weapon to the murder scene, so what we have to work with is more or less the same forensic evidence that was secured at the time.
“We noticed that statements given by witnesses would vary a lot between the initial interviews and what they said once they had read what other witnesses said, so this made our investigation difficult.”