Authors: Hannes Råstam
Hannes Råstam was an investigative reporter for SVT (Swedish Television). He won a number of awards for his work, including the Guldspaden (the Golden Spade), the Stora Journalistpriset (the Great Journalism Award), the Prix Italia, the Golden Nymph and FIPA d’Or. After a battle with cancer, Råstam passed away while finishing this, his first book.
THE MAKING OF A SERIAL KILLER
TRANSLATED BY HENNING KOCH
Foreword by Elizabeth Day
Edinburgh • London
Published in Great Britain in 2013 by Canongate Books Ltd,
14 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TE
This digital edition first published in 2013 by Canongate Books
Copyright © Hannes Råstam, 2012
English translation copyright © Henning Koch, 2013
Foreword © Elizabeth Day, 2013
The moral right of the author and translator have been asserted
Published by agreement with the Salomonsson Agency
Originally published in 2012 in Swedish as
Fallet Thomas Quick
by Hjalmar Soderberg. Published by Harvill Press. Reprinted by permission of The Random House Group Ltd.
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available on request from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 78211 070 5
ePub ISBN 978 1 78211 071 2
Editors: Leyla Belle Drake and Mattias Göransson
Fact checkers: Jenny Küttim and Thomas Olsson
Typeset in Adobe Garamond by Palimpsest Book Production Ltd, Falkirk, Stirlingshire
To my children
FOREWORD BY ELIZABETH DAY
Many of you will find it hard to believe the story you are about to read.
I first came across the extraordinary tale of Thomas Quick, the serial killer who never was, when I read a brief news article in August 2012 about a book that had just been published in Sweden. The book, which went on to be a bestseller, was written by investigative journalist Hannes Råstam and exposed one of the country’s biggest miscarriages of justice in recent times. It told the story of how a patient incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital had confessed to more than thirty murders he never committed.
The man was called Thomas Quick. He was once believed to be Sweden’s most notorious serial killer. Throughout the 1990s, his bespectacled face stared out from front pages and television screens. The newspapers even gave him his own nickname – ‘The Cannibal’.
On the strength of his confessions, Quick was convicted of eight murders. But when Råstam started investigating the case in 2008, he discovered that there was not a shred of technical evidence that existed to back up the confessions. There were no DNA traces, no murder weapons and no eyewitnesses – nothing apart from Quick’s first-hand accounts, many of which were riddled with inaccuracies and had been given when he was under the influence of narcotic-strength drugs.
The book you now hold in your hands is testament to Råstam’s bloody-minded genius, to the fact that he asked questions and kept asking them, even when it became clear that the Quick scandal
reached the highest echelons of Swedish society and even when there were plenty of people who wanted him to stop, who dismissed Råstam’s painstaking research as wild theorising and who didn’t want to admit that something, somewhere had gone so terribly wrong.
Because to admit that Råstam was right was to admit that an innocent man had been wrongfully incarcerated for years. It was to admit that there were murderers at loose who had never been brought to justice for their crimes. That the police, the lawyers and the therapists were all responsible for astonishing lapses of judgement, and an ensuing travesty of justice. And it was to admit that what happened in Sweden could conceivably happen again elsewhere, with equally devastating results.
Perhaps the most extraordinary part of this story is that Råstam was right.
When I read that small news item back in August 2012, it struck me that if I had been watching the tale of Thomas Quick unfold in an episode of a Scandinavian television drama, I would have felt the plot was too far-fetched. But there it was in black and white: this actually happened. I was intrigued. A cursory Internet search showed that Quick, now living under his birth name of Sture Bergwall, was still incarcerated in Säter – the same psychiatric hospital where he had made his ‘confessions’. He had been acquitted of five of the murders and was awaiting the outcome of two further retrials. I travelled to Sweden to meet him and wrote a piece about the case for the
I was aware, throughout my trip, that the feature I was writing would not have been possible without the sheer dedication of Hannes Råstam. He was a brilliant investigative journalist. In Sweden, where he started out as a professional bass player before making a career change and becoming a documentary researcher in his late thirties, Råstam had won a clutch of prestigious awards. He was renowned for his fearlessness in tackling big subjects – from exposing police cover-ups to tracking down sex-traffickers – and for his relentless pursuit of the truth.
At journalism school, his teachers said that if they sent a group of students to cover a car accident, everyone else would have returned
to their desks and written the article while Hannes would still be at the scene, examining a wheel nut. The lawyer Thomas Olsson, who worked with Råstam on many of his stories and who now represents Sture Bergwall, says this attention to the tiniest element of an investigation was typical. ‘Hannes was devoted to what he believed was the journalistic mission, and, as a consequence of that, extremely careful with the details,’ Olsson says. ‘Every statement or detail was turned around several times and had to be confirmed before publishing. I once told him that if the court was as careful about the evidence as he was, there would be no risk whatsoever that anybody would ever be wrongfully convicted of a crime.’
He respected the facts. And it was this that led Råstam to the Thomas Quick case. There had long been controversy over the convictions in Sweden but no one had ever been able to nail down exactly why.
Råstam was the first journalist to gain Bergwall’s trust. He had a rare capacity to listen and to keep an open mind, and the two men became friends. ‘Hannes was a very intense person with an ability to really listen to other people and also to share,’ said Bergwall when I met him. ‘It was the first time that I remember thinking,
Something’s going to happen
. I felt
Yes! Something’s going to change
, and I was ready to come clean . . . It was so liberating to finally tell the truth.’
In order to establish Bergwall’s innocence, Råstam spent years ploughing through thousands of documents, re-interviewing key players and putting together a complex timeline of events on the Quick case. His friend and journalistic colleague, Mattias Göransson, recalled that it took nine seconds for Råstam’s laptop to calculate the size of his Quick archive. By the end of his investigations, the folder contained 12.5 gigabytes of data and 5,218 documents. To have been able to shape all of that into this coherent and gripping narrative is, in itself, an incredible feat.
Some of what you will read in this book will be discomfiting. A few of the psychiatric transcripts, for instance, are deeply unsettling and border on the bizarre. But this is the language that was used; this is how confused and desperate the whole process had become.
When you read further, you begin to wonder why the close-knit group of people around Quick seemed so eager to believe what he was telling them, and so unwilling to voice dissent from the prevailing view. Råstam would no doubt say it was because they wanted to believe their charge was guilty – the more entwined they became in the case, the more their professional reputations were at stake. In stark contrast, Råstam refused to believe anything until it was shown, beyond doubt, to be the truth. He would keep digging until he got there.
Jenny Küttim, Råstam’s researcher on the Quick case, says that all his work displayed ‘an obsessiveness towards journalistic truth’. ‘He taught me to read all the pages and the footnotes and to read the articles referred to in the footnotes,’ she explains. ‘He taught me to speak to the people responsible and always keep an open mind – never stop collecting facts. He always questioned the context, the conclusions and people’s agendas. That was his strength.’
I wish I had met Hannes Råstam. I wish he could be writing this foreword instead of me. But in April 2011 he was diagnosed with cancer of the liver and pancreas. He was in the middle of writing this book when it happened. For a while, no one wanted to believe the worst. He kept working, with the help of his literary agent, Leyla Belle Drake and Mattias Göransson, who would often sit by his bedside while he dictated key passages. In January 2012, the day after he completed the manuscript, Råstam died.
‘The most vivid memory I have is the last time we saw each other,’ recalls Thomas Olsson. ‘It was early summer and I had gone down to his summer house outside Gothenburg to discuss the manuscript. He had cooked some food and we sat in the sunlight in his garden, drank a beer and discussed the Quick case. After a pause, I asked him how he felt over the uncertain outcome of the treatment of the cancer. He answered, “You know, Thomas, I have lived a good and interesting life. I want to live, but I am not afraid to die . . . and I want to finish the book.” In that moment I understood that he knew he was going to die and that he would do so happy with all the things life had given him.