Sweden

Swedish Prosecutors Say They Finally Know Who Killed the Country's Prime Minister 36 Years Ago

The suspect came forward as a witness after Olof Palme's death, but an investigation has found he may have had political and personal motives for killing the left-wing politician.
11 June 2020, 12:31am
Olof Palme sweden prime minister
Olof Palme. Photo: Rolf Adlercreutz / Alamy Stock Photo

Swedish prosecutors have revealed the identity of the man they believe to have fatally shot the country's former Prime Minister Olof Palme, drawing a line under a mystery that's haunted the country for 34 years.

The suspect, a graphic designer named Stig Engström, won't ever be brought to justice for the assassination: He took his own life in 2000.

"The person is Stig Engström," prosecutor Krister Petersson told a news briefing Wednesday.

He said there was "reasonable evidence" that Engström was the killer but that only a court could rule on his guilt. "Because the person is dead, I cannot bring charges against him and have decided to close the investigation."

Palme, the leader of Sweden's center-left Social Democratic Party, was shot in the back at close range on one of Stockholm's busiest streets while walking home from the cinema with his wife in February 1986. About 20 people were present at the time of the attack — including Engström — but the gunman was able to flee the scene.

The killing of the 59-year-old leader — an unprecedented act of political violence in the peaceful Scandinavian country — triggered the biggest criminal investigation in Sweden's history. More than 10,000 people have been questioned over Palme's death, while more than 130 others have confessed to the shooting.

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A petty criminal, Christer Pettersson, was convicted of the killing in July 1989 after being identified in a lineup by Palme's wife, Lisbet, but the conviction was later overturned.

Engström, who worked at the Skandia insurance company near the crime scene, presented himself to police as an eyewitness to the killing, giving varying accounts of his movements.

But suspicions over his guilt grew when freelance journalist Thomas Pettersson, who had researched the case for more than a decade, concluded in 2018 that Engström was the likely killer, finding that he had been a member of a gun club, and may have had political and personal motives for killing the left-wing politician.

"He has the right timing, the right clothing; he has unique information, he lied, he had close access to guns of the right type," Pettersson told the New York Times. "He had a deep political interest and a deep anti-Palme sentiment."

Petersson, the Swedish prosecutor, said the journalist's findings had played no role in the investigation, although he had reached a similar conclusion to the official probe. He said Engström left his office at 11:19 p.m., just minutes before Palme was shot dead.

Palme's murder has spawned a slew of conspiracy theories, including that the politician had been targeted for declaring the Kurdish PKK a terrorist group; for his fierce opposition to South Africa's apartheid regime; or for uncovering an act of bribery by a Swedish arms company.

Petersson said he was confident of his investigation's findings, but he conceded it still might not put speculation to rest.

"We can't stop anyone from having opinions about what we have found," said the prosecutor.