The Swedish Prime Minister was shot from behind on the night of 28 February 1986 while walking home from the cinema with his wife Lisbeth. He died at the scene. A second bullet narrowly missed Lisbeth.
At the time, Palme’s assassination was considered very sensational and sent shockwaves around the globe. It was the next high-profile attempt on the life of a head of state since John Fitzgerald Kennedy was gunned down by Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963.
Immediately after Palme’s murder, the resulting task force began putting their suspicions on Kurdish separatists with ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), of which there was a large number living in exile in Sweden. However, Stieg Larsson was also running his own investigation. The future author of the Millennium series of novels was at that time employed by the TT News Agency, a major media outlet in Sweden. Palme getting gunned down on the street was big news. It was known that he had many enemies on the far right and Larsson’s suspicion naturally rested on them. He had grown up with his grandfather who was a passionate Marxist that witnessed the evils of Nazism during the Second World War. This imbued Larsson with an left-wing activist streak in later life.
Larsson’s investigation into the possible role of the far right in Palme’s death took up much of his spare time. He provided tips to the police, but only a few officers actually took him seriously. Soon, their PKK angle proved to be an empty lead and several right-wing extremists fell under the radar. Stieg Larsson had flagged several of them, including Victor Gunnarsson. Identified in police files as “The 33-year-old”, Gunnarsson had ties to a number of right-wing militant groups. However, evidence putting him at Sveavagen, the main crime scene, was scant and he was released. Following that, he suffered incessant harassment which led to him immigrating to the United States later on.
Subsequently, a career criminal Christer Petterson was convicted of the assassination of Palme in 1988. He appealed against the verdict the following year and was acquitted. Till today, the killer and the murder weapon had not been found. But the investigative work of Stieg Larsson continued, leading to the formation of Expo, an anti-racist publication. In his lifetime, Larsson accumulated a massive archive of data on prominent right-wing figures, several of whom were likely to have been involved in the Palme assassination.
Unfortunately, Larsson passed away in 2004 from a heart attack at the relatively young age of 50. Nine years later, his archive came into the possession of former diplomat Jan Stocklassa. The latter was researching material for a book about places where murders took place when he quite by chance stumbled into the Palme investigation. Larsson’s archives had mentioned Dr Alf Ennerström as a person of interest. Coincidentally, Dr Ennerström had once lived in an apartment where an infamous murder case had happened.
During his time at the Von Sydow apartment, Dr Ennerström was an active campaigner in right-wing circles. He collected donations for Palme’s opponents and was acquainted with a young man known as Rickard. The latter’s real name has been suppressed and Stocklassa later gave him the alias Jakob Thedelin. It is Stocklassa’s belief that Thedelin may have fired the fatal shot at the Prime Minister.
Another known right-winger, Bertil Wedin, was also mentioned. In Larsson’s archive, there was a 30-page memo on the former military intelligence officer. Wedin had served with the United Nations forces in the Congo in 1963 and later worked for one of the Wallenberg family companies in London. He had close ties to senior officials in the South African Apartheid regime that was subjected to international sanctions. The Swedish government led by Palme was among the biggest supporters of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress at that time. A year before Palme was shot, Wedin moved to Kyrenia in Turkish-occupied Cyprus. In the years following the end of Apartheid, a plausible link between South African intelligence officers and Olof Palme’s death emerged, and Wedin was implicated.
Although Swedish authorities never formally interviewed Wedin, Stocklassa managed to track him down. Posing as a reporter for Dagens Nyheter, Stocklassa got Wedin talking. With some help from an unexpected source, Stocklassa managed to discover that Wedin was in contact with alleged gunman Thedelin. He also managed to get in contact with several South Africans who were linked to Wedin.
Getting Thedelin to talk was the biggest challenge and required something that belongs in a James Bond film. Before Thedelin could reveal more, he disappeared and was subsequently discovered to have moved to Israel, where he could easily gain citizenship for being a Jewish convert.
With the Swedish government removing the statute of limitations, it is hoped that Olof Palme’s real killer can finally be brought to justice after evading police for over 30 years. All this and more are documented in Jan Stocklassa’s book The Man who Played with Fire which inspired the film of the same name based on the first part that mainly concerned Stieg Larsson’s life and work. The second part documents Stocklassa’s attempts to track down the person’s of interest in the case, which took him to places like Prague, Cyprus and South Africa. Needless to say, those trips were fraught with risk. It was also in Prague that he met someone who may well be a real life version of Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium series of novels and she may have pointed everyone in the direction of the real killer. It is hoped that this dark chapter of Swedish history can be closed after so many years, not to mention numerous conspiracy theories.
This book reveals Stieg Larsson’s motivation for exposing far-right militants as well as his workaholic nature that may have brought on a fatal heart attack. It also puts Olof Palme’s murder in the greater scene of things happening in the world at that time. The Cold War was in its last legs, the Iran-Contra affair was in danger of bringing down Ronald Reagan’s administration and South Africa was facing international sanctions for the Apartheid regime. As Johannesburg ran low on oil, Iran stepped in and supplied it. With the money from South Africa, Iran purchased arms from the United States, who then funded the Nicaraguan Contra rebels who wanted to overthrow the left-leaning Sandinistas. Palme was critical of the Americans’ meddling in other countries and was also soft on Moscow, which made him Public Enemy #1 in the eyes of the conservatives. His view of the world may well have cost him his life, and his death irrevocably changed the course of Swedish history.