The assassination of Olof Palme: case closed

On a cold February evening in 1986, a man dressed in black approached Sweden’s prime minister, Olof Palme, as he left a Stockholm cinema with his wife, Lisbeth. He pulled a gun and fired twice, killing Palme instantly – and causing a national trauma that lingers to this day, said Mårten Schultz in Svenska Dagbladet (Stockholm). About 20 witnesses came forward, but the killer was never found. Conspiracy theories swirled for decades. Now, prosecutors have finally named the murderer as Stig Engström, a graphic designer who killed himself in 2000, aged 66. There’s no DNA or other conclusive evidence linking Engström to the crime. Krister Petersson, Sweden’s chief prosecutor, admits the case against him is circumstantial, but concluded: “The person is Stig Engström… How he acted was how we believe the murderer would have acted.” After 34 years and more than 600 million kronor (£51m), the investigation has finally been wound up.

The truth is that Engström fitted the bill from the start, said Mattias Göransson in Filter (Gothenburg). Nicknamed “Skandia man” in the Swedish press because he worked in the nearby Skandia insurance headquarters, Engström told the media he had been at the scene of the killing and even claimed that he tried to give Palme first aid. He was a former soldier, and a member of a shooting club, who was known to detest Palme’s socialist politics. What’s more, he matched the killer’s description, and gave varying accounts of his movements that contradicted those of other witnesses. But despite being questioned several times by police, he always managed to evade justice. That’s no surprise, said Gunnar Herrmann in Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich): the investigation was a shambles from the start. First, police failed to cordon off the crime scene properly. Then, in 1989, an innocent man was convicted of Palme’s murder – only to be acquitted later that year. Now, the authorities have finally owned up to their mistakes. But it’s too late for Palme’s widow, who died in 2018, and his three sons, who will now never know what drove their father’s killer.

But at least it may stop the endless speculation surrounding his death, said Aftonbladet (Stockholm). Early on, prosecutors blamed spies from South Africa’s apartheid regime (on the basis that Palme’s government had recently granted diplomatic recognition to the anti-apartheid African National Congress when he was killed). Then, they turned their sights on the PKK – the Kurdish separatist group, which Palme had recently classified as a terrorist organisation – and the far-right (Palme was a charismatic Social Democrat who during his long career helped found Sweden’s high-spending welfare state). One early suspect was later found shot dead in a wood in North Carolina. Alas, all these avenues were dead ends, said Frédéric Faux in Le Temps (Lausanne). Police conducted 10,000 interviews over the investigation’s 34-year course, and 134 people falsely “confessed” to the killing. Many were gripped by an obsession with the case which gained its own nickname: Palmesjukdom (Palme’s disease). It is often said that Sweden “lost its innocence” the day he was assassinated.