The Serial Killer Who Never Killed Anyone

“I noticed that the worse or more violent or serious the crime, the more interest someone got from the psychiatric personnel.” —Sture Bergwall

In A Nutshell

Sture Bergwall was Sweden’s most notorious serial killer. He murdered, raped, and cannibalized over 30 victims . . . or at least that’s what he said. As it turns out, Bergwall was a manipulative liar and never actually killed anyone.

The Whole Bushel

He’s a man of many names. He was born Sture Bergwall, but he called himself Thomas Quick. As for the media, they knew him as the Swedish Hannibal Lecter. Locked inside the Sater Mental Hospital since 1991, Bergwall was Sweden’s most notorious serial killer. While he was convicted of eight gruesome murders, he claimed responsibility for over 30 deaths. And the man wasn’t picky. He killed men, women, and children, and his crimes didn’t stop at murder. He was a rapist, a cannibal . . . and one of the most manipulative liars on the planet.

As it turns out, Sture Bergwall never killed anyone.

Growing up, Bergwall had a rather troubled life. He wanted attention and acceptance, but he didn’t find any at home. His parents were strict fundamentalists, and Bergwall was secretly gay. That’s a lot of pressure for a young teen, and things only got worse when he started using amphetamines. Things quickly spun out of control, and several charges of molestation and one assault with a knife later, Bergwall was inside Sater for robbing a bank while dressed as Santa Claus.

Ironically, it was inside a mental hospital that Bergwall realized his dreams of becoming important. “I noticed that the worse or more violent or serious the crime,” he once said, “the more interest someone got from the psychiatric personnel.” That’s when Bergwall devised an incredibly devious plan. Every so often, the doctors let him out on his own, and he’d visit the local library where he brushed up on unsolved murders. When he wasn’t researching in town, he pored over newspapers in the prison library, picking up bits of info here and there, building an elaborate story that would finally win him the spotlight.

Bergwall hit the notoriety jackpot when he confessed to murdering 11-year-old Johan Asplund, a boy who disappeared in 1980 and was never found. According to Bergwall, he’d raped and strangled Asplun, eaten his fingers, and buried him in the woods. But Bergwall didn’t stop there. As news cameras and police officers showed up at Sater, he confessed to more and more crimes. Yes, he’d raped young women and dismembered their bodies. Yes, he killed a nine-year-old Norse girl and an Israeli tourist. He even killed a couple who were out camping in a tent. Thanks to his research, his claims sounded convincing, and what he couldn’t learn in the newspapers, he tricked out of the cops.

Soon Bergwall was convicted of eight heinous murders. He was also one of the most famous people in all of Sweden.

Of course, Bergwall’s stories were blatant lies. They were also chock-full of holes. Any amateur detective with a magnifying glass could see that. When he confessed to killing nine-year-old Therese Johannessen, he originally said she had blonde hair when she really had brown. After claiming to kill Yenon Levi in 1988, he claimed to have used four different weapons in different interviews. After detectives took sperm samples from one of his victims, they discovered his DNA wasn’t a match. Lakes were drained, forests were searched, crime scenes were upturned, and no one ever found a body much less a drop of blood.

Even more shocking, there were photos of Bergwall attending a church service when he claimed he was actually killing a teenage boy hundreds of miles away. Nevertheless, he was still prosecuted and found guilty based solely on his confessions. Not that his testimony was all that believable anyway. Every time Bergwall “confessed,” he was at the Sater Hospital under the influence of high levels of benzodiazepines. Not only does the drug loosen inhibitions, Bergwall claimed they got him “into a condition where I could tell stories and make them up.”

So how did the authorities screw up so badly?

Well, it had a lot to do with bad psychology. The cops and therapists believed Bergwall was repressing all these truly horrible memories, including the time he was sexually abused as a kid (or so he claimed). The only way to unlock his secrets was to load him up with drugs, and let him ramble on and on about his grisly crimes. Sure, there might be some inconsistencies at first thanks to all those years of psychological repression, but eventually, with enough interviews and plenty of benzos, they’d smooth out those conflicting confessions.

That was the extent of their evidence.

Evidently, it was enough to convince the courts, and Bergwall would’ve spent the rest of his days in Sater if a new hospital director hadn’t taken over in 2001 and cut back on his benzodiazepines. Suddenly, without those drugs in his system, Bergwall didn’t feel like talking anymore. He decided to stop calling himself Thomas Quick, and he cut himself off from the media. That intrigued Swedish filmmaker Hannes Rastam, who started digging around and eventually discovered the truth.

Thanks to Rastam’s investigation, all eight of Bergwall’s convictions were reviewed and overturned, and he was released from Sater in March 2014. Only the story isn’t over for the families of Bergwall’s “victims.” Not only did his conviction draw attention away from finding the actual killers, Bergwall forced family members to show up in court and listen to his disturbing descriptions of what he “did” with their loved ones. Sure, Bergwall never actually killed anyone, but in his own special way, he’s an absolute monster.

Show Me The Proof

The Guardian: Thomas Quick: the Swedish serial killer who never was
TIME: Sweden’s ‘Hannibal Lecter’ is Set Free