Sweden names suspect in 1986 assassination of prime minister

Tt News Agency Via Reuters

Swedish politician Olof Palme makes the victory sign after the Social Democrats election victory, Sept. 19, 1982.

BRUSSELS — Swedish investigators on Wednesday identified the man they believe assassinated Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986, solving one of the biggest political murder mysteries in generations. But with the suspect long dead, it appeared that Swedes would have to live on with some uncertainty.

The question of who walked up behind Palme and shot him as he stared into a shop window on a frigid Stockholm evening has stumped police ever since the murder in February 1986. Theories ranged from the apartheid-era South African government, which resented Palme for his outspoken left-wing views, to the Kurdish militant group, the PKK.

But a senior Swedish prosecutor said Wednesday that after a three-year investigation, they believe the answer is closer to home: a disgruntled Swedish graphic designer, Stig Engstrom, a then-52-year-old man who worked at the insurance company outside of which Palme was shot.

[‘Olof Palme and I Were Friends’]

Engstrom died in 2000 in what is believed to have been a suicide. Chief prosecutor Krister Petersson said that investigators did not conclusively link a weapon to the assassination, but with the evidence they have currently assembled, there was enough to move forward with a case against Engstrom, who was vocally opposed to Palme’s left-wing policies — if he were still alive.

“We’ve come as far as we are able to come when it comes to a suspect,” Petersson said during a two-hour news conference in which he and a police investigator laid out the evidence against Engstrom. “I understand that different conspiracy theories will keep afloat in the public domain, as they have in the past 34 years, but we have had our conclusion.”

The investigators on Wednesday compared their effort to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or the search for the culprit in the 1988 downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Fredrik Sandberg


Flowers are placed by a memorial plaque showing the place where Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot dead in February 1986, in Stockholm, June 10, 2020.

Palme was shot with a single bullet to the spinal cord on a Stockholm street with his wife, Lisbeth. They were coming from an evening at a movie theater, and had dismissed their security detail for the day.

Engstrom was a witness who was repeatedly interviewed in the year after the assassination, but police ultimately dismissed him as a suspect even though multiple witnesses said that a man who was running away from the scene of the crime was wearing clothing that looked a lot like his that evening: a dark knitted cap, glasses, a three-quarter length coat, business shoes unsuited for the slippery Stockholm pavement.

Petersson said it was inexplicable that police at the time ruled out Engstrom. In the aftermath of the killing, Engstrom was brazen in his alleged duplicity, narrating his account of his movements that night for Swedish television journalists and even wearing the clothing he is alleged to have worn during the killing — all while complaining that the police were uninterested in his testimony.

“You try to put the pieces into a jigsaw puzzle, you shouldn’t take away pieces from the jigsaw puzzle, but perhaps they’re not so good at putting the jigsaw pieces together, the police,” Engstrom said in a 1986 Swedish television clip that the prosecutor played on Wednesday.

In the clip, Engstrom reenacts exiting the blocky Skandia tower where he worked, walking around the streets of Stockholm and even running down the street in what he claimed had been a frantic attempt to catch the last train home from the Stockholm central subway station.

“My interpretation of this interview is that he’s mocking the police,” Petersson said.

In fact, Petersson said, police found that Engstrom had known a weapons collector who, like Engstrom, hated Palme and his policies. In 2017, the prosecutor said, police found a weapon in the collection that could have been used in the assassination, but they were unable to link it conclusively to the murder. Engstrom had been active in a military shooting club, giving him the experience to carry out a killing. And Skandia building’s records showed that he walked out the front door at 11:19 p.m. the evening of Feb. 28, 1986, two minutes before Palme was killed at the corner of the building.

The conclusions match those of a freelance journalist, Thomas Pettersson, who published much of the same information in 2018 after a 12-year investigation. Pettersson, no relation to the prosecutor, handed over his leads to the police.

“Even if we were to continue to investigate this case for years, we would continue to see that Stig Engstrom is a suspect in this case,” Petersson, the prosector, said. “It is difficult to see how after 34 years we could get further.”

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