The Blog

Emails and Enigma: The Latest Twist In 'Europe's JFK'

In more than a quarter of a century since his violent death, Olof Palme has retained the ability to command headlines and divide opinion just as he did during his lifetime.

In more than a quarter of a century since his violent death, Olof Palme has retained the ability to command headlines and divide opinion just as he did during his lifetime.

Palme was gunned down on a snowy central Stockholm street in February 1986. The investigation to find the perpetrator has taken a dizzying series of twists and turns in the decades which have followed.

More than a hundred 'confessions', a dozen different conspiracies and one conviction (and subsequent acquittal) have so far failed to bring closure to a case dubbed "Europe's JFK".

It is not surprising perhaps that another theory should surface, albeit in macabre circumstances all of its own.

The death of Eva Rausing, the daughter of a Pepsi Cola executive and the wife of an heir to Tetra Pak billions, was tragic in its own right. A gilded lifestyle could not prevent a descent into drug addiction which ended with the discovery of her badly decomposed body at her Belgravia home in July and the conviction of her husband for delaying her burial.

If not bizarre enough, it appears that she had boasted that she not only knew who had killed the politician but where the murder weapon might be found. Mrs Rausing suggested her husband had confided that a businessman who believed Palme represented a threat to his commercial interests had carried out the assassination.

Despite confessing that some of the information came partly from "supernatural visions", her information has once more obliged officers from the so-called 'Palme Group' at Sweden's National Bureau of Investigation to follow up a lead with as much vigour as they have mustered on numerous occasions in the last 26 years.

It will not matter either that the 'evidence' cited by Mrs Rausing differs from what few firm clues lie in the box files occupying four storerooms at their offices in Stockholm. The police must pursue all leads or possibly risk missing what even they believe to be the slim remaining prospects of solving the first assassination of its kind in their country's history.

My own investigations and articles for various national newspapers and Esquire magazine have taken me through those some storerooms, enveloped me in the mystery and rumour surrounding the case and led me to the very spot on which Palme breathed his last.

What is known is that it took just a single armour-piercing .357 bullet, fired from no more than twelve inches, to kill the politician. It shattered his spine, ripped through his heart and splintered his sternum before he fell to the pavement.

The murder was considered to be the work of professionals perhaps connected to one of the many individuals or groups who might have held a grudge against Palme.

The finger of suspicion has pointed at a bewildering number of targets over the years. They include apartheid-era South African secret agents who were alleged to have ordered the 'hit' because of Palme's support for the ANC. The KGB apparently wanted him dead because of his crackdown on Kurdish separatists while right-wing elements in Sweden's own police force saw the chance to be rid of a Socialist irritant.

Even Palme's own wife, Lisbet, was supposed to be involved. She, so the gossip ran, had discovered her husband's extra-marital affairs. Presumably, her narrow escape, having been hit by the second bullet fired by his assassin before he jogged casually away was all part of a convincing cover story.

The only individual to face a court in connection with the killing, however, was a petty criminal and drug addict, Christer Pettersson. Despite no technical evidence against him, he was convicted only to be freed on appeal.

For people living in Britain and other democracies which have been scarred by self-inflicted violence and external terrorism, it is perhaps difficult to comprehend the impact which Palme's death - and the failure to solve it - has had on the Swedish psyche.

Although he was at times hugely unpopular, this was a man who felt safe enough to walk home from a night out at the cinema with his family without his security detail to a fairly modest home on a cobbled street in Stockholm's Gamla Stan or 'old town'.

His shooting has given rise to much mystery, suspicion and insecurity. Stieg Larsson is just one of the writers whose work contains many nods to the Palme case, among them the name of his heroine.

For all those wanting to write or have an opinion about the murder, there are those who fear being their reputations being poisoned by association. My own enquiries saw me have many anonymous, late night meetings and being threatened by one gun-toting individual to ensure that I did not even refer to our having spoken, let alone mention what we had discussed.

Detectives still tasked with trying to bring the Palme case to a conclusion will be diligent in following up Mrs Rausing's correspondence. They are aware, however, that mean more headaches and headlines are the most likely outcome of this latest twist.