- A case of alleged cutting-up
murder in Sweden: legal
consequences of public outrage
- Lennart Sjöberg (1)
- Stockholm School of Economics
and Foundation for Forensic Psychology Danderyd, Sweden
The paper reviews a case of
probable murder of a prostitute in Stockholm in 1984. Two MD's
were tried in the case on the basis of several kinds of evidence.
Most sensational, the daughter of one of the doctors, at the
time barely more than 1 year old, was claimed to have been present
at the murder, the cutting-up of the body and cannibalistic acts,
and also herself subjected to sexual abuse by her father and
his friend. All this is said to have been revealed in stories
she told her mother several years later. The doctors were acquitted
from the murder and sexual abuse charges but the District Court
officially stated that they had been found to be guilty of the
cutting-up of the body. The acquittal gave rise to strong outrage
and was said to show how the ruling male elite protected their
own and gave them a right to prey on women and children. On this
basis, the licenses of the doctors to practice were later revoked
in a complex set of legal decisions and the two doctors were,
and are, severely ostracized. The case became a showcase for
the feminist movement in Sweden and may have contributed to a
lowering of the standards used by the courts for assessing the
evidence necessary for convicting suspects of incest or other
types of sexual abuse of children. The case is used as a basis
for suggesting principles or hypotheses for further research
on human error in forensic settings.
In the summer of 1984, a total
of six garbage bags containing parts of a woman's body were found
in Stockholm, on two different occasions. The woman could be
identified by means of finger prints. It was found that she had
been a prostitute and drug addict, 28 years old Catrine , who
had disappeared some time before. The cause of death could never
be established, too much of the body was missing (including the
head which was never found). Also, the exact time of death could
not be precisely determined on medical grounds and there was
considerable confusion among some witnesses as to when they last
heard anything from her.
The case is known in Swedish
as "styckmordet", roughly translated as the cutting-up
murder, the term I will use in the present paper. The case gave
rise to intense interest in Sweden and it exemplifies many important
forensic psychological and sociological problems and processes.
It is the purpose of the present article to summarize the case
for international readers and to discuss it in the light of what
is known more generally about the dynamics of witness psychology
and court decision making, and also to relate it to the wider
The present paper thus gives
a detailed account of a complex Swedish case, involving alleged
murder. The crime took place in 1984 and the case has since then
been processed in Swedish courts. At the time of writing (December
2001) final decisions have been made by Swedish courts but the
case may be brought up in the European Court, a process also
likely to take several years.
So far, the paper presents
a clinical case study. An attempt will be made, however, to apply
a broader perspective as well. The two most common approaches
to research in forensic psychology are actuarial and clinical.
Both have their drawbacks (Melton, Petrila, Poythress, &
Slobogin, 1997). The actuarial method calls for data on a sizable
number of cases which tend to be described in relatively abstract
terms, and usually provide little of the contextual complexities
that have arisen in each case. Clinical descriptions, on the
other hand, are rich in detail but fewer, and it is often hard
to know what knowledge of general value they produce. A third
approach, pragmatic (Fishman, 1999), attempts to combine the
The case of the cutting-up
murder has intrinsic interest due to many dramatic and unusual
circumstances, but to warrant attention from international readers,
a clinical case study is probably insufficient. In the present
paper, such a case study will be presented, and a concluding
section will deal with what can be learned from the case more
generally. This is by necessity a section which is somewhat speculative,
but if it can contribute to further theorizing it has served
its purpose. It should be added that the discourse is predominantly
psychological, although the wider social and historical context
is briefly treated as well. Representatives of other disciplines
would undoubtedly have chosen other perspectives and perhaps
a very different story would have emerged. However, when things
are seen from the standpoint of individuals and their ways of
functioning, the result is likely to be psychological. An interesting
illustration is provided by the insightful discussion of the
investigation of the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme, by
two political scientists (Stern & Hansén, 2001).
The discovery of the dead woman
got much attention in the media, but there were no definite results
from the police investigation. The reason was in part that other
events required much of the resources available to the Stockholm
Police, especially the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme in
the beginning of 1986. However, after several years, two MD's
were prosecuted for the alleged murder, and acquitted. Yet, the
court stated they had been found guilty of the cutting up of
Catrine's body. Their licenses to practice medicine were later
revoked by administrative court decisions. They had, and still
do, all the time pleaded innocent. It is probable that the public
thought they were guilty, as probably the court had when trying
the murder case, but that they had to be acquitted due to a lack
of solid enough proof. However, Swedish society had turned against
them, and a very strong public opinion demanded that at the very
least, their licenses to practice medicine should be revoked.
The case was to become one
of the most discussed murder cases in Sweden in the decade to
follow, second only to the assassination of Prime Minister Palme.
It has recently again become a focus of debate, much due to a
very thorough investigation of the case by Per Lindeberg, who
published a lengthy book about it in the beginning of 1999 (Lindeberg,
1999). In addition, a translation to English of one of the most
important testimonies, by witness psychologist Astrid Holgerson
(Holgerson & Hellbom, 1997) has recently been published.
Somewhat earlier, Scharnberg had published a thorough and critical
examination of the case (Scharnberg, 1996b) in English. Another
important document (in Swedish), a book by Hanna Olsson originally
published in 1990, is being reprinted (Olsson, 1990). The case
was appealed anew to the Supreme Administrative Court and the
Supreme Court in 1999 and 2000.
Even to-day, the case gives
rise to very strong feelings in Sweden. The very publication
of Lindeberg's book turned out to be controversial and a senior
member of the publishing firm quit her job in protest (or under
the threat of dismissal, according to the publisher's version
of the story). The manuscript had been referred by her to Hanna
Olsson, whose book, mentioned above, was subjected by Lindeberg
to serious scrutiny. Perhaps naturally, Olsson did not feel that
Lindeberg's book was worthy of publication.
Lindeberg's book met with very
mixed reactions, some of them very positive and some very negative.
The book was given very extensive coverage in the newspapers
and also on radio and television when it was published in the
beginning of 1999. A member of the Swedish Academy, professor
Knut Ahnlund, published a highly positive review (Ahnlund, 1999),
and so did Jan Guillou, who is a leading journalist in Sweden
and well-known author (Guillou, 1999). Others were quite negative.
Leading newspaper Dagens Nyheter published, on a full
page, a detailed and highly critical article. In May 1999, this
750 pages long book had sold about 3500 copies, including the
whole of the first printing, a remarkable number for a Swedish
book of this type and size.
I now turn to a summary of
highlights of this complex case. For a more complete exposition,
the reader is referred to Lindeberg's book. The development of
the case proceeded in several distinct phases.
Phase 1: The post-mortem
dissector and his wife's death
A young MD worked at the Department
of Forensic Medicine of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm
(henceforth referred to as the Department). His name was Teet
(2). He was to be the first and prime suspect in the case, already
in the fall of 1984.
However, well before that some
police officers had been suspicious of him, and rumors were at
large. His wife had committed suicide - or was it murder? - in
1982. The suicide had some unusual aspects to it (death by hanging
to the side of a bed, party dress clothing of the deceased),
but the official investigation had concluded that it was doubtless
a true suicide and nothing else. Later, further analysis was
to confirm that conclusion. Yet, police officers at the time
of the suicide noted what they saw as unusual, callous, reactions
in Teet. In addition, he had insisted on publishing a paper on
death by hanging, in spite of advice against it, shortly after
his wife's death. The rumors that he had murdered his wife were
also spread by his previous father-in-law, who had never accepted
that his daughter had killed herself. And similar rumors were
spread by his previous mother-in-law, who also happened to be
employed by the then leading Swedish tabloid called Expressen,
a newspaper which was to play a very important role in the later
campaign against Teet.
Teet was an unusual person
in several senses. He took a very strong interest in his work,
invited people to watch his autopsies and would even send them
unsolicited autopsy reports. He had some interest in horror movies
with sexual violence in them (3) and lived an uninhibited sexual
life and had contacts with prostitutes (uncertain how many).
His first wife was likewise sexually "liberated" and
also bisexual. At the time of her death, a divorce had already
been decided upon and Teet had established a new permanent relationship.
Some of all this was known to people at the Department. Although
none of it was illegal, it was partly a potential problem for
the Department, especially the contacts with prostitutes which
would have been considered to be very embarrassing to a Department
of Forensic Medicine - in fact ground for dismissal or at least
refusal to renew a contract of employment (Teet had only a time
limited contract running until the end of 1985).
Phase 2: Catrine's body
found, preliminary investigation
The body of Catrine was found
in two separate bags, at different occasions, fairly close to
the Department of Forensic Medicine. Identification was first
impossible but later possible with the aid of fingerprints (her
hands were found in one of the bags). A senior member of the
Department (Jovan Rajs) concluded his official assessment of
the case with murder as the probable cause of death. He also
stated that the cutting-up of the body was at least partially
done in a very professional manner - partly clearly not (4).
Later, the same expert, now promoted to the rank of Full Professor,
had to agree, when testifying in court in 1988, that the cause
of death clearly could not be assessed on the basis of the evidence
available to him. In particular, the missing head made such conclusions
impossible (5). He did agree, however, to the prosecutor's assertion
that cutting-up of bodies almost always had been preceded by
murder. On the other hand, only a handful of cases like this
had taken place in Sweden in modern times (Rajs, Lundström,
Broberg, Lidberg, & Lindquist, 1998), so the basis of that
conclusion was not very extensive, provided that only Swedish
data were to be seen as relevant. Most commentators have since
concluded that murder was not legally established, but there
One legal scholar still argues
that the cutting-up of a body is always preceded by murder and
hence proof of murder (Diesen, 1997). Although it is certainly
very reasonable to assume that a cutting-up of a corpse and its
disposal was preceded by murder, one wonders if it is proof of
murder in the legal sense. There could of course be several reasons
for attempts to hide a corpse, not all of them tied to murder.
On the other hand, there are different types of cutting-up and
in the Catrine case the cutting-up did not appear to be wholly
rationally calculated and only caused by an intention to hide
evidence. Evidence of the case suggests that it was a case of
sadistic, sexually motivated dismembering of the woman's body.
The fact that her remains were left where they were likely to
be found and identified could express a wish by the perpetrator(s)
to experience the thrill of publicity and subsequent police investigations.
Teet was arrested in December
of 1984 both for suspicions related to the death of his wife
two years earlier and for the new case of Catrine. He was held
for questioning by the police for 5 days which was the legal
maximum. He denied having murdered the two women. In fact, he
denied having ever met Catrine. He admitted reluctantly to a
few contacts with prostitutes in Stockholm. His home was searched
but no incriminating evidence was found. In particular, no objects
belonging to Catrine were found, no letters or phone numbers
to her and no prescriptions written to Catrine by Teet. (Other
doctors had written many prescriptions to Catrine, but not the
two who were to become suspects in the case, as far as the police
The Catrine case and the suspicions
against a specialist of forensic medicine made for large headlines
in the press, and not only in the tabloids. It was easy to find
out the identity of the suspect. It sems as if the police were
eager that his identity should not be protected, as is usually
the case until a suspect is convicted and even after that. The
reason was possibly that they wanted to make sure that he must
be fired from his job; his alleged frequent contacts with prostitutes
was very troubling to the police. He was also fired from his
job since the Board of Social Welfare, his ultimate employer,
could not accept a staff member who was suspected of such serious
crimes, and it turned out to be very difficult to find an alternative
placement for him. Under the pressure of these events, Teet tried
to take his life but was saved. However, as a side effect of
his treatment he lost most of his hearing.
In the summer of 1986, the
case was dismissed by the police for lack of any solid evidence
against Teet and any further clues. The closure the case was
very little attended to by the same media who had made a lot
of profit on scandalizing Teet in the fall. His life was now
in ruins, but much worse was to come.
Phase 3: The child and the
Teet had a student in the beginning
of the 1980's, called Thomas . At one occasion he had helped
Thomas to fulfill a course obligation he had missed by being
absent from an autopsy. In gratitude, Thomas and his wife invited
the Teet couple for dinner. This was in 1982, after the death
of Teet's wife and when Teet had established a relationship with
a new woman, Monica (fictive name).
The dinner did not go very
well, largely because Monica came dressed in a very provocative
manner and especially Thomas wife resented this. They were not
to meet socially again, and Thomas wife took an intense dislike
to Teet. When she read, in the fall of 1984, that a post-mortem
dissector was being suspected for the alleged cutting-up murder
of Catrine, she called the police and asked if it was Teet. Amazingly,
the police officer confirmed her suspicion. At that very point
in time, she was extremely upset about her suspicions that her
husband had sexually abused their daughter, who had been born
in the beginning of 1983. The child had some physical signs that
could perhaps be interpreted to that effect by a lay person and
she had been examined several times. The doctors had assured
Thomas wife that there was no ground for her suspicions, but
she did not drop them. Due to these suspicions and other problems
the Thomas marriage had been breaking up for some time. A divorce
was to follow.
Now, some 2.5 years after Catrine's
death an amazing process began. The child made some off-hand
remarks, such as about a doll having no head. The mother got
the idea that maybe her husband, who knew Teet, had been Teet's
accomplice and maybe they had brought the child to witness the
murder and cutting-up of Catrine! She started to question her
daughter very extensively, and made notes and some tape recordings.
More and more incriminating statements were, according to the
mother, made by the child. She finally submitted a 200 pages
long summation of what the child had allegedly said to the police.
She also made very frequent calls to the police as soon as she
felt that some new evidence had occurred in the child's sayings.
The value of this evidence
was assessed by a psychiatrist, Frank Lindblad, and a psychologist,
Margareta Erixon. Their assessment has since been translated
to English and can be found as an appendix in Holgerson (Holgerson
& Hellbom, 1997). It is a loose "psychodynamic and holistic"
type of assessment concluding that the mother is absolutely credible,
and that the child had actually visited the scene of the crime.
For example, the lack of an emotional reaction in the child when
taken to the Department of Forensic Medicine (where it was believed
that the crime had taken place) was interpreted as solid evidence
of her subduing her true underlying strong emotional reaction.
This type of "logic" allows, of course, virtually any
observations to be offered as evidence of a hypothesis. It should
be noted that the psychodynamic approach enjoys a very large
credibility in Swedish society, at least among many members of
the medical and forensic professions, and that the academic credentials
of doctors and professors may go a very long way to establishing
the credibility of even the most outrageous statements. Media
seldom question this type of reasoning.
Yet, the legal value of the
Child's Story, as it came to be known, was very doubtful, as
Holgerson pointed out in her thorough assessment of it (Holgerson
& Hellbom, 1997). It is hearsay throughout. The child was
not interrogated by the police or their experts. The mother did
all the questioning and summarized it in her own words. She monitored
the child to making statements which would incriminate her former
husband and his "accomplice".
The following is a revealing
statement by the mother:
"I have drawn conclusions
of what Britta has said. And I have woven pictures of what can
have happened. And I have sometimes, so to say, been half a step
ahead of Britta and sort of understood what she was aiming at
now and then. And she has eventually arrived there herself".
(p. 88, as translated by Holgerson).
The critical analysis by Holgerson
is also supported by later research on conversational memory
(Bruck, Ceci, & Francoeur, 1999). Mothers were found by Bruck
et al. to have quite imperfect memory of what their children
had said. Just what a child says and means to say is often very
hard to analyze (Hellblom Sjögren, 1997), not to mention
The critical analysis by Holgerson
was not made until the very last court proceedings in 1991, however,
and up to that point the Child's Story went more or less unchallenged.
It made, of course, for a very attractive theme in the media
and the assessment by Lindblad and Erixon, claimed to be fully
accredited experts on child psychology and forensic psychiatry,
seemed to be a guarantee that the story was entirely credible
in all its grisly details - including ritual sexual abuse and
cannibalism. Of course, two doctors guilty of such acts deserved
severe punishment! And how could the words of the experts be
Phase 4: The photoshop
The Child´s Story mentioned
a photographer and many people involved in the case believed
that photos had been taken of the cutting-up and the parts of
the dead body. However, no such photos were ever found.
But, at a late stage in the
investigations (in the fall of 1987), a married couple who owned
a photo shop close to the Department contacted the police. They
said that years before, in the summer of 1984, they had developed
and processed prints of a film roll which contained horrible
images of a cutting-up. Many parts of the body were shown on
these horrible pictures, and probably also a person with bloody
clothes who apparently had taken part in the cutting-up. They,
and their personnel (6), had been very upset by these pictures,
they said, but all material had been given to the customer who
had claimed that the pictures were part of a secret investigation
and that they must tell nobody about them.
The photo shop owners were
shown lineups with the two doctors and they identified Thomas
and, to some extent, Teet. However, the written protocol described
their identification as much more certain than it had in fact
been. A scrutiny of tapes shows that:
! Teet was identified only by the wife, and
then only after much hesitation. It was unclear if she identified
Teet as the person who had been to their shop, or the person
on one of the pictures. She seems to have been guided to this
answer by reactions from the police officer present. Her first
choice was another person. The husband wrongly pointed out one
of the police officers as having been to their shop.
! Thomas was finally identified by both wife
and husband as the customer in their shop, but after much hesitation.
The lineup was conducted in
an unprofessional manner (Holgerson & Hellbom, 1997). The
police officers who led it were aware of who the suspect was.
In addition, in the first confrontation, with the post-mortem
dissector, there were great physical differences between him
and all the others, with one exception. Also, the others were
all police officers. At the second confrontation, Thomas was
distinguished from the others by his smiling expression. None
of the other 7 men smiled but had a very neutral expression.
All these facts break with principles suggested by the British
Devlin commission (Devlin report, 1976), see also Goodman et
al. (Goodman et al., 1999). The large effects of more or less
subtle suggestions and monitoring by the police officer in charge
of a lineup identification test have been amply documented (Cutler
& Penrod, 1995).
In spite of the low quality
of the lineup and the alleged identification of the MD's by the
photo-shop owners, the Administrative Court of Appeal cited this
evidence as the main support for the guilt of the suspects, and
hence a very important justification for revoking their licenses.
Research on lineups has shown
that they are unreliable. Levi estimated conservatively that
the probability of being innocent when chosen in a lineup was
0.247 (Levi, 1997). Since the court is supposed to acquit a defendant
whenever there is reasonable doubt about his or her guilt, conviction
would seem to be quite appropriate if the only or main evidence
cited is that of a lineup identification. The present case has
features well known in research on lineups, such as exaggerated
belief in their efficiency (Levi & Jungman, 1995), and the
ineffectiveness of a defense counsel present at the lineup (Stinson,
Davenport, Cutler, & Kravitz, 1996). People tend to be overconfident
(Lichtenstein, Fischhoff, & Phillips, 1982); such overconfidence
being possibly to some extent a characteristic of the individual
(Bornstein & Zickafoose, 1999). Recent research has made
investigators more and more alerted to the risks of mistaken
identification on the basis of lineups (Wells et al., 1998).
Wells and Bradfield (Wells & Bradfield, 1999) recently wrote:
The two trials
Chief Prosecutor Anders Helin,
who was handling the case, was uncertain, in spite of the Child's
Story and the photoshop owners' testimony, if the evidence was
strong enough to justify prosecution of the two MD's. However,
he went ahead and brought them to trial, and the District Court
of Stockholm tried the case early in 1988. The two doctors were
suspected not only of incest, murder and cutting-up of the body
of Catrine, but also of ritual sadistic abuse (although probably
not of the satanistic kind) and even cannibalism, all on the
basis of statements the mother claimed that her daughter had
made. They were also suspected of having drugged the child. Formally,
the doctors were accused of murder and child sexual abuse, while
the cutting-up of the dead woman's body was a minor offense,
and the period for prosecution of it had expired. Naturally,
the case was given an enormous amount of media coverage.
Several of the lay members
of the court agreed to be interviewed in the media before the
final sentence was decided, expressing confusion and uncertainty,
yet willingness to convict for murder, and the chairperson of
the court had been absent from a crucial meeting. A mistrial
was therefore declared and the Appeals Court, in a highly unusual
move, instructed the District Court that a conviction for murder
would probably not be upheld in the Appeals Court. At this point,
Chief Prosecutor Helin was inclined to drop the case, but the
case was now given new political impetus by an article in Dagens
Nyheter, Sweden's leading daily newspaper, by psychotherapist
Hanna Olsson. Olsson claimed that the suspects were not treated
as they deserved but protected by a male oppressive society which
did not even want to listen to testimony by the oppressed female
prostitutes at the very bottom of society. (It was true that
Helin had said that he wanted to avoid such witnesses, probably
because he considered them unreliable and of little or no help.
Whether that was a correct judgement can be debated but since
these women often were drug users it could have been at least
partly justified. Some deragatory statements made by Helin to
media, on the other hand, were not).
The second trial, with a new
court, acquitted the suspects from murder and child abuse, but
also stated that they were guilty of the cutting-up of Catrine's
body. This was a remarkable move since they had not been formally
accused of the cutting-up. And since the court had not formally
sentenced them for the cutting-up, just stated in writing that
the court was convinced they had done it, they could not appeal!
In the eyes of the public they had, of course, been convicted
of the cutting-up and even Chief Prosecutor Helin (now retired)
still, at the time of writing, officially claims that so was
A decision to revoke their
licenses to practice was finally made by the Administrative Court
of Appeal in 1991 and the final court of appeal, the Supreme
Administrative Court, refused to hear the case, making the decision
The judicial trickery used
by the District Court (8) in fact deprived the suspects of their
legal right of a full judicial assessment of their guilt - and
even if the crime formally was a minor one and the period for
prosecution had expired it was ground for their continued ostracization
and marginalization in society and for the revocation of their
licenses to practice their profession. These were no small matters
to them, and the economic compensation awarded to Teet (some
SEK 300,000 or US $ 35,000) was a trifle compared to the consequences
that were to follow on the statement by the court. The two men
are still ostracized and even people having anything to do with
them have been known to be treated harshly. The mere mentioning
of the name of Teet in an article used in the teaching of medical
students in Stockholm gave rise to outrage and hysterical headings
in tabloids (9).
I now turn to a discussion
of a number of themes that can be used to throw some light on
this dramatic case.
The case gave rise to an almost
unprecedented public outrage in Sweden. It had several aspects
that make it easy to understand this reaction, even if it could
perhaps not have
been predicted. The brutal
and possibly sadistic treatment of the woman's body was surely
one such aspect. Almost everyone also assumed she had been murdered
and humiliated by being subjected to perverted sexual demands.
She was also seen as a victim in the sense of having lived a
life at the very bottom of society, and having had her children
taken from her by the social authorities. The little girl who
many believed had also been abused and made to witness the grisly
events further added to outrage. The suspicion that the perpetrators
were two high status members of the elite of society, and indeed
two MD's who are supposed to care about people and help them,
not abuse and murder them, added further fuel to the fire already
Suspicions were widely held
that abuse of women and children was a very large social problem,
and the case illustrated, to many, the dangers of a fairly common
male inclination towards indiscriminate and violent sexual behavior
which in turn, in their view, had the function of expressing
and supporting the power relations in a male dominated society.
The treatment of the case in the courts, ending in acquittal
from the murder charge, appeared to further support these views.
In addition, the case developed
according to a dramaturgic logic of very unusual intensity and
efficiency. The evidence against the suspects, of quite varying
quality, came forth in several phases and over a long period
of time. The case tended therefore to rise anew in the media,
over and over again. The outcome was also very uncertain since
the courts did not agree on the final treatment of the suspects
and their - so far - final fate was sealed only after 7 years.
The media were of course very dedicated to covering the case
from all possible angles. The assassination of the Prime Minister
and all the events following that historic event took place during
the same time period and attracted even more media attention,
but the cutting-up murder competed successfully for a large share
of media attention.
The book by Olsson (Olsson,
1990), entitled "Catrine and Justice" (my translation),
mentioned above, played an important role in the events and should
therefore be discussed in some detail. It was published at a
late stage in the process, but before the final decisions in
the administrative courts regarding the two doctors' licenses
to practice medicine. It is a relatively brief text (215 pages)
and quite well written, and it conveys a deeply felt outrage
by its author. She was clearly convinced that the suspects were
guilty of murder and the other crimes they were indicted for,
and from her point of view, they got away with it. And the reader
of her book is similarly convinced, if he or she does not check
the facts any further. Olsson depicts all evidence against the
suspects as persuasive and reliable, while arguments in their
favor are subjected to detailed criticism and then dismissed.
She assumes the role of the prosecutor. Some of her arguments
do carry weight, such as her criticism of the intervention by
the Court of Appeals, and her arguments favoring that homicide
had very likely preceded the cutting-up. However, at times she
gave a misleading picture of the evidential value of testimony
in the case, as when she stated that "The photo shop owners
were very sure about the statements they gave" (p. 104).
As we have seen, this is not at all what came out of a reading
of the protocol from their responses to the lineups they were
exposed to. There was much uncertainty and some mistaken identifications
Olsson's interpretation of
the events is that the "system" protected its own,
e. g. that some doctors were eager to support their suspected
colleagues and that even the prosecutor was very reluctant to
bring up important evidence because he did not want to "smear"
the men. Chief Prosecutor Helin actually did make such a statement.
Also, the Council of Forensic Medicine could have formulated
a better argument than they did. They dismissed the murder suspicions
on the logically correct ground that the cause of death could
not be established but the other possible causes of death they
mentioned were even less supported by any evidence, and the logic
of the case, as well as the meager previous experience of similar
cases, did reasonably lead to the conclusion of homicide. But
still, Olsson did not admit or even discuss that there was valid
doubt about much of the evidence in the case and also great difficulty
for a court to convict for murder in a case where the cause of
death was still in doubt. A further legal complication of great
importance is that two suspects were indicted and that, even
if their guilt had been established, it would probably have been
impossible to determine who had committed the murder.
In such a case, acquittal was prescribed by Swedish law.
The media clearly played a
very central role in the events, and the way they functioned
is not very flattering to the standards of media integrity. The
case was clearly seen by media as having a great commercial interest,
but that is no excuse for misleading media reports. The privacy
of the suspects was not honored; their identity could very easily
be found out on the basis of media information.
The media were very gullible
when it came to the matter of "the Child's Story".
This "story" was never anything more than summaries
made by the child's mother, summaries of alleged conversations
between her and her daughter.
Since media had so gravely
misled the public about the amount and quality of evidence against
the two doctors, it is no wonder that the acquittal brought about
a very angry reaction from many quarters. The prosecutor was
also strongly criticized for not having invited testimony by
the several prostitutes who claimed that they had known Teet
as a customer, that they knew he had been a customer of Catrine,
or even seen him together with Catrine (10). The way the trial
was conducted was therefore seen as an example of male oppression
of women, and the fact that the two doctors were acquitted was
said to be a denial of justice to Catrine.
The media treatment of the
case was not very balanced or factually correct, with a few exceptions.
The media tended to take for granted that the suspects were guilty
of heinous crimes: to recapitulate, very frequent adultery with
prostitutes, ritualistic abuse of at least one of these and a
child, homosexual intercourse (not a crime but morally condemned),
cutting-up of the murdered woman's body and eating parts of it,
all this in the full view of a child aged about a year. The "evidence"
of all these crimes was stories by prostitutes who tended to
talk about what they heard others had said about abuse, but some
of them probably had been suppliers of sex services to the post-mortem
dissector. Further evidence cited were the Child's Story as told
to the mother, some witnesses (especially the photoshop owners)
and forensic evidence from the dead body. Few critical analyses
of all this were available, and what was pubslished tended to
be vehemently attacked and even smeared.
The strong aggression against
the skeptics in some media, and the media siding with the prosecutor
and police, warrant some discussion. Media in Sweden are often
quite skeptical about the police and have by no means usually
accepted police or official versions of other famous crimes.
In particular, the contemporary attempts of the police and prosecutors
to establish credibility of their explanation of the murder of
Prime Minister Palme (first it was a group of alleged terrorists,
then a "lone maniac") has largely failed and the media
give much space to other speculations (11). However, the media
tend to take an "underdog" perspective and in the case
of the cutting-up murder the suspects were members of the elite.
This very fact made the case much more sensational and salient
to media than if the suspect had been, say, a Polish butcher
who could well have become a prime suspect in the case (12).
The media were certainly not trying to protect two members of
the male elite - on the contrary these two persons were given
a very harsh treatment and enormous media exposure to great detriment
to their lives.
The strongest reactions were
directed against the Forensic Council (13) of the National Board
of Health and Welfare whose members had found Rajs's assessment
of the cutting-up evidence wanting. The statement made by the
council was quite sober and factual but it was depicted as an
unjustified and slanderous attack on Rajs by some media. The
council statement was even to be all but ignored in the final
sentence by the Administrative Court of Appeal in 1991. A leading
witness psychologist, Holgerson, was subjected to some very negative
and contemptuous comments in media when she had concluded that
the Child's Story was not credible evidence. It may be noted
that some media, among them even important quality newspapers,
had asserted that the story had been told by the child to expert
child psychologists and psychiatrists, something which was simply
The courts and the government
In all fairness, it must be
said that the legal system was by no means as gullible as the
media. As we have seen, it took strong pressure to make Chief
Prosecutor Helin re-introduce the case after the declaration
of a mistrial in 1988. He had available, at that point, all the
evidence that was to be used by the courts and some of it was
very persuasive to the media and the lay public. Indeed, his
very reluctance and his unwillingness to hear in court some of
the several drug addicts/prostitutes who had provided information
about links between Teet and Catrine, was to be the subject of
outrage and very strong criticisms by Hanna Olsson and other
feminist opinion leaders. As we have noted, the Court of Appeal
had stated, in their unusual intervention (14), that they found
it very unlikely that a murder conviction would be upheld. And
the question of the revocation of the licenses to practice medicine
of the suspects was to be treated by the courts and administrative
bodies in several phases before a final decision was reached
in 1991, also under considerable public opinion pressure.
Strong pressure had been exerted
on the Supreme Administrative Court to take action and they finally
instructed the Administrative Court of Appeal to do so, which
was apparently inconsistent with their practice in cases of license
It is paradoxical that the
interference by the Court of Appeals with the District Court
trial was instrumental in depriving the suspects of their right
of appeal. They were formally acquitted, as noted above, by the
District Court, but the sentence was formulated in such a manner
that they still were regarded as guilty. Only the prosecutor
(15) could then have appealed the sentence. He did not, and has
explained that, since the Appeals Court had already made a public
statement in the case, he considered an appeal to be meaningless.
However, he apparently did not consider that it was also his
responsibility to guard the rights of the suspects, and an appeal
would have given them a chance to question the conclusions in
the District Court reluctant acquittal.
The political leadership of
the country assumed a very low profile in the case. The trade
union of medical doctors (unions are very important in Sweden
and a very high percentage also of professionals are members)
first defended the rights of the suspects to continue to practice
medicine, once they had been acquitted of the crimes they were
accused of, but this attitude of the union led to a split and
very angry protests from a large group of female doctors.
Ineffective defense counsels
The credibility of the psychologists/psychiatrists
is such that few attorneys apparently feel up to questioning
them in court and the weakness of many defense counsels is only
too obvious. Scharnberg has recently pointed to the defense counsels
as a weak link in the Swedish system of justice (Scharnberg,
1998). In the case discussed in the present article, an employee
of one of the counsels even stated in public her belief in the
guilt of the accused.
The defense counsels tended
to be ineffective, possibly to some extent because they were
not prepared to carry out a critical analysis of some of the
psychiatric evidence offered against their clients. Maybe they
were also not really convinced that their clients were innocent
- the whole story was ever present in the media and the media
depicted the case in a manner very negative to the suspects.
The feminist and anti-incest
Olsson had intervened effectively
with her articles and book on the feminist theme (Olsson, 1990)
(16). She took it for granted that the suspects were guilty and
depicted it as a scandal and oppression of women that they had
been acquitted of murder. A strong opinion was then formed by
feminist groups who filed many letters to courts and authorities
where they demanded that the suspects should at least have their
licenses to practice medicine revoked (Lindeberg, 1999). It is
interesting to note that Olsson's book was finished when the
case was still pending and the final revocation of the licenses
was highly uncertain, and that the 1994 re-print, which included
a new preface by Catrine's sister, did not mention what the final
outcome of the case had been. The reader who only consults Olsson's
book is thus left in ignorance of the outcome and his or her
outrage is not mitigated by the events that did take place after
the book was finished.
The enormous interest and outrage
connected with the case of the cutting-up murder must be seen
in the context of rising feminism and incest outrage. In the
1980's the previous sexual liberalism of the 1960's and 1970's
was beginning to be replaced by a moralistic and puritanistic
attitude, perhaps under the influence of the AIDS epidemic (17).
But how should incest outrage be explained? It can be viewed
in the context of the changed roles of men and women and the
weakened status of the family, changes which took place in the
1970's and the 1980's. Women no longer stayed at home and kept
a constant watch over their children, they had to leave them
to daycare centers to pursue their own professional careers.
The role of a homemaker was frowned upon in contempt and economically
harshly punished by new tax legislation. These momentous changes
of long standing norms could have given rise to feelings of guilt
and anxiety among women, in particular, over the fate of their
At this point in time, the
anti-incest movement was at a high point and had still not been
subjected to the critical analysis which was to come later in
the 1990's (Öhrström, 1996). Many people believed that
incest was a very large problem and that a very large share of
all children, especially girls, were at risk. Many also believed
that incest could be diagnosed by psychologists and psychiatrists
on the basis of tests and behavior observations, that there were
"symptoms" of incest.
Even accusations about satanistic
ritual abuse and organized cults were beginning to appear in
Scandinavia, as usual under the influence of events in the USA.
There are, of course, by now many stories of satanistic incest
cults which have been rejected as untrue (La Fontaine, 1998).
In Sweden, there have been a few cases. In Norway, there was
the case of Bjugn where a small community was tormented by widespread
accusations starting in a pre-school and quickly spreading to
leading members of the community (Kringstad, 1997). Nobody was
convicted in the Bjugn case but the County Board demonstrated
its belief in the guilt of at least some of the suspects (or
maybe only in one of them) by awarding financial compensation
to the children. Some of the children in Bjugn, but not all,
have later retracted their accusations, and the physical examinations
which were the most solid base of evidence in the eyes of medical
experts, that some abuse had occurred, are by now no longer considered
credible by a unanimous expert opinion.
The Bjugn case illustrates
how the administrative authorities, in contrast to the courts,
are likely to believe in the truth of outrageous accusations.
In the cutting-up murder case, the National Board of Health and
Welfare even argued officially that the demands for solid evidence
should be lowered in trying whether a doctor's license should
be revoked as compared to criminal proceedings. This suggestion
was, however, rejected by the Supreme Administrative Court. As
another example, the Union of Psychologists published a statement
denouncing Holgerson's contribution as a witness psychologist.
The rise of psychologists
Starting in the 1960's, the
traditional core family pattern of differentiated gender roles
began to break up (Barnett & Hyde, 2001). Parenthood was
something that could and should be taught by experts. Experts
and specially educated staff of daycare centers were better equipped
to take care of children than were parents. Nobel laureates Alva
and Gunnar Myrdal, very influential Social Democrats, had delineated
this movement and its ideology in a much discussed book already
in the 1930's (Myrdal & Myrdal, 1934). Of course, collectivistic
approaches to child upbringing and the idea of "social engineering"
were at the core of these ideological beliefs, shared by many
brands of socialism.
New and greatly expanded professional
groups of psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers institutionalized
the demands to be put upon parents, and these demands were not
small, nor were they precise. The new breed of experts claimed
that they could formulate the demands a parent must meet, such
as "see to the needs of the child", "defining
boundaries", avoiding something nebulously called a "symbiotic
relationship", etc. The Government willingly and readily
accepted the claims made for a scientific basis of such concepts
and norms, and also awarded to psychologists, for the first time,
official certification by the National Board of Health and Welfare
in 1978. Hence, the Government officially accepted that the activities
of psychologists were based on respectable and reliable science.
Similar claims made in the
USA have been strongly criticized (Dawes, 1994; Hagen, 1997).
Therapy in the sense of a "talk cure" can probably
be just as well delivered by an intelligent and mature person
with no formal education in psychology or psychiatry (Strupp
& Hadley, 1979). The diagnostic power of personality tests
and clinical judgments in forensic applications has been challenged
and little evidence in support of strong claims made by the clinical
profession has been presented. Yet, the claims continue to be
made, and continue to be believed (Sjöberg, 1998-99).
The new "experts"
were given great power as consultants in the courts and the social
authorities, and their statements could easily decide the fate
of families. The state was eager to intervene and children were
taken, every year in the thousands, from their parents and put
in foster homes. (This practice is still carried out). In the
foster homes, they were rarely attended to by the authorities
who seldom found complaints about such homes credible. And the
power of the social authorities was such that they need not heed
to court decisions. E.g., if a father was prosecuted for incest,
tried and acquitted, his child (often all his children) would
still have been taken by force from the family and placed in
a foster home, and that decision would not be rescinded just
because the suspicions against the father had turned out to be
unfounded by a Court of Law. A few such cases were successfully
brought to the European Court, but that is a very slow and uncertain
process. Settlements between Sweden and the parents happened
sometimes, and were quite cheap for the state, or the Swedish
authorities just ignored European Court sentences
All of these cases were not
cases of incest, but also of alleged neglect. The debate about
the Swedish "kinder-gulag" has been intense since the
1980's when some cases were given wide publicity, e.g. the so-called
Alexander case (Wolff, 1986). This case illustrated in a convincing
manner how the social authorities stuck to their policy, even
in the face of overwhelming evidence of their having made a mistake.
Psychologists often play an important supportive role in such
a process by investigating, often testing, the child and coming
up with "scientific" conclusions supporting interventions.
In one recent case, a father
has been denied to see his daughter on the basis of flimsy "evidence"
partially consisting of testings of the girl with projective
tests. One is a well-known American test, the Children's Apperception
Test, and the other a local variant, the so-called Erica Method,
which builds upon observations of a child's play. The latter
method has no research foundation at all worth mentioning (Sjöberg,
1997, 2000). The former method has recently been object of very
serious criticism (Knoff, 1998; Reinehr, 1998). The man, who
is a senior medical researcher, appealed to the Swedish Psychological
Association and asked about the scientific basis for these methods
which, being used by one of its members, had been instrumental
in destroying his life as he saw it. After a very long wait and
many reminders, he was informed by the Association's Chairperson
about some research on the Rorschach test with adult patients.
The Rorschach is rightly criticized for its doubtful validity,
but even if it were to be granted that it has some validity,
it would not be transferable to very different projective tests
used for different purposes and with children, not adults. The
case shows quite clearly that the Association embraces such test
use as was practiced in this case, and also that it feels that
there is no need for specific support of tests in the concrete
applications they are put to.
Forensic psychological perspectives
The case will now be analyzed
both from the standpoint of the judgments actually made and the
more general background which probably affected all or most of
the people making those judgments.
The case is quite complex and
developed over a long period of time. There was no physical evidence
against the two doctors, nor were there any witnesses to the
alleged murder and cutting-up of the woman's body. Opinions about
the case differed widely, but it is fair to state that the majority
opinion of the courts was that it was likely that the accused
were guilty, although the evidence was not strong enough to convict
them. The main evidence for their guilt was:
- The child's story as told
to and reported by the mother
- The line-up judgments made
by the photoshop owners
- In addition, especially Teet's
personality and behavior had some unusual aspects to them that
made it seem quite possible or even likely that he was guilty.
These bases for inferring guilt
are fragile. First, the child's story was merely hearsay and
it is very doubtful that a child can remember such events that
took place very early in her life. Considerable research on child
testimony has show that there is a danger that children are led,
by adults, to make false accusations (Ceci & Bruck, 1995).
In this case, the child's mother had ample opportunity, over
a prolonged period of time, to guide her daughter into constructing
a false memory. It was also likely that the mother had a motive
for doing so due both to her strong dislike and suspicions against
Teet and the pending conflict with her former husband. This is
not to say, of course, that the mother did not herself believe
that her daughter=s memories were correct.
The line-up was conducted in
a non-professional manner. It can not be excluded that the police
officer in charge more or less unconsciously guided the witnesses
to identify the two doctors. Also, the identification that was
made was quite uncertain and not made consistently. It has later
been found that illegal photographs of autopsies were by no means
unique in the area (the photoshop was quite close to the Medical
School) and the vivid memories that the photoshop owners had
of gruesome pictures may have stemmed from quite a different
source than the cutting-up of Catrine´s body.
The personality arguments,
especially concerning Teet, may have contributed in an important
way to the courts' assessment of the case, even if they are peripheral
in the official statements made by the courts. However, the facts
that a person was a customer of prostitutes, showed quite a lot
of interest in very violent movies, and took an intense interest
in his work as a post-mortem dissector do not speak for his being
a murderer. All the cited attributes of the man are, or were,
by no means unique. What is unique is being a murderer. In Sweden,
the homicide rate is very low, only about 300 cases per year
in the whole country with a population of about 9 million. The
probability that a person is a murderer is therefore exceedingly
low. The base rate fallacy is well known (Tversky & Kahneman,
1974). People make probability judgments without taking due consideration
of the base rate, and are much influenced by the representativeness.
In this case, Teet may well have seemed to be a likely killer
on the basis if the attributes cited, yet such an inference would
have been quite misleading and unfounded.
The development of the case
shows a strongly hypothesis-driven process. From the very start,
the police officers in charge seem to have had grave suspicions
about Teet due to the peculiar circumstances surrounding his
first wife's suicide. Also, they were annoyed and troubled by
his being a customer of prostitutes which was considered to be
unacceptable behavior by someone working in forensic medicine
and hence in close cooperation with the police. Teet's behavior
also aroused annoyance and even suspicions in other people, especially
Thomas wife. What we see here is the gradual build-up of Teet
as a likely killer, and the media supported the process.
The media, in fact, displayed
a common tendency to "psychologize". Several commentators
found it easy to construct and contribute to the scenario of
the two doctors being guilty as accused. Again, Teet's unusual
personality and behavior was fruitful material for constructing
a scenario of guilt. The people of the courts were not unaffected
by the media coverage, and besides they had probably themselves
similar tendencies to construct scenarios and draw premature
conclusions from them.
Finally, it is pertinent to
inquire whether a different forensic psychological practice would
have helped in the case and would have mitigated the wider implications
of it. The answer is definitely yes. The initial analysis of
the credibility of the child's story was quite speculative and
gullible, as shown above. The problem here seems to have been
closely connected to the psychodynamic framework of the two consultants.
Current research on human memory and suggestibility prescribes
a much more skeptical attitude than they displayed.
In addition, what was known
about eyewitness testimony and line-up identification errors
should have prescribed a different practice in conducting the
line-up or, since that did not happen, a skeptical attitude to
the evidence it produced. In addition, it would have been valuable
to conduct some research on base rates. For example, just how
common was it for photoshops in the area to work with gruesome
pictures of autopsies? The case was presented at the time as
if such an event was completely unique but now it seems that
it may not have been.
The literature on human judgment
errors is vast. Some of the phenomena documented there, such
as biased probability judgements due to heuristics, are quite
relevant in the case. Such errors could have been made by both
judges and the media and, indeed, even by defense counsels.
Could these errors have been
avoided? Perhaps not, after all. In the final hearings by the
Administrative Court in 1991, Holgerson and Hellbom forcefully
criticized both the gullible report on the child's story and
the line-up identification. Yet, the two doctors had their licenses
revoked. This may have been due to the courts affording more
belief to the original report about the child's story and the
line-up results, or it could also have happened wholly or partly
due to the very strong opinion pressure in the case.
The present situation of
In the wake of the cutting-up
case, there have been many other cases in Sweden where suspects
have been convicted on the basis of weak evidence. Just how many
is not known, but there is ample enough documentation (Scharnberg,
1996a, 1996b; Öhrström, 1996). Scharnberg documents
50 cases. Media are strongly interested in reporting any news
about sexual abuse of children and some cases where day-care
personnel have been suspects have been given enormous publicity
A small group of witness psychologists,
working in a tradition established by Trankell (Trankell, 1972)
had specialized in the critical scrutiny of evidence offered
by witnesses, often children. Their activity was, and still is,
highly controversial, as illustrated by strong emotional reactions
to an excellent book on these themes by Hellblom Sjögren
(Hellblom Sjögren, 1997; Sjöberg, 1998), exemplified
in a book review by legal scholar Diesen (Diesen, 1997-98) in
a leading scientific law journal in Sweden.
Lindeberg's book about the
case was published in January 1999 and was immediately given
a very unusual amount of media attention. Several newspapers
published not one, but several, reviews and debate articles about
it, and the reactions were quite polarized. Some well known authors
and journalists gave the book high praise and others condemned
it as a reflection of "contempt for women". Some participants
in the debate argued that even if the two MD's were innocent
of murder they should have their licenses revoked because they
had committed perverse sexual acts. It may be added that license
revocation, being a very serious event to those affected by it,
is quite rare and requires very serious crimes. Being a customer
of prostitutes is currently illegal in Sweden (18) but was not
so in the 1980's. Incest is of course a serious crime and was
so also in the 1980's but the charges at this point were not
the important point in the legal proceedings leading to license
revocation, and they were probably not seen as well substantiated
In 1999, the two MD's, filed
an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court in order to try
to have their cases re-opened. Media also reported on some important
new clues in the case which apparently had been brought to the
attention of the police due to the publicity given to Lindeberg's
book. It was said that there is reliable testimony certifying
that Catrine was alive well after the date when she was murdered
according to the prosecutor's statement in the 1988 trial (Annerud,
1999). In three articles published in June, 1999, in the leading
tabloid Aftonbladet, Cantwell reported that the police
were working very hard to find a new suspect and that they were
convinced that the two doctors were innocent (Cantwell, 1999).
The crucial testimony that Catrine was alive well after Whitsuntide
1984 was allegedly forgotten due to the tremendous pressure on
the police after the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986,
and the subsequent personnel changes and re-allocation of resources.
It also seems that a mistake was done in filing one of the key
testimonies regarding Catrine's alleged activities after the
Whitsuntide holiday, leading to its dismissal. A thesis by two
law students of the University of Stockholm (Styrlin & Nyberg,
1999) (20) is critical to the fact that the whereabouts of Catrine
at that time were not investigated more carefully by police and
prosecutor. Finally, Catrine is known to have injected narcotics
of some kind on the Sunday before the alleged murder took place,
but traces of a drug were not found at the autopsy to the extent
necessary to confirm the "official" day of death.
In 2001, both the Supreme Court
and the Supreme Administrative Court denied the two doctors a
new trial. According to them, the new evidence about another
perpetrator was not strong enough, and the technical legal arguments
about the District Court sentence were rejected on the ground
that a sentence of acquittal could not be appealed. The doctors
now consider bringing their case to the European Court.
Does the case contribute
to forensic psychological knowledge?
How can something of general
value and interest be learned from a case such as the present
one? In my view, the best way to use the case is to deduce tentative
principles or hypotheses that it suggests and illustrates.
Thus, six principles and topics
for further research may be formulated on the basis of the case,
and they may be of value in accumulating knowledge from this
and other cases:
1. Stigmatizing those who
behave in an unusual way. The process of stigmatization (Goffman,
1963) of the doctors took, as its starting point, the suspicions
aroused in some key actors by the unusual behavior and personality
of one of them. It is possible that deviating people are at risk
when other factors are at play which demand that a culprit be
found. Deviations can be quite innocent, yet a basis for ominous
scenarios. Consider the case of preschool teacher Michaels (Bruck
& Ceci, 1995) who was accused, and convicted, of severe sexual
abuse of children. She may have acted in an unusual way at times
(talking to herself). There is sometimes a small step, in the
minds of many, from being a bit unusual to committing severe
and perverse crimes. Hence it is hypothesized that deviant behavior,
no matter if it is innocent in itself, may form a basis for the
construction of ominous scenarios, if the opportunity arises
to do so.
2. Neglect of base rates.
The behavior of one of the doctors was unusual, but not that
unusual. It was certainly within the boundaries of normality,
which murder of course was not. The conclusion of murder involved
highly unusual behavior, and the strength of the evidence was
clearly below a reasonable verdict of guilty. Yet, many concluded
that the doctors were guilty and their lives were ruined. Base
rate neglect has been well documented in research on judgment
and decision making (Kahneman & Tversky, 1984), and the phenomenon
quite possibly has many potentially fruitful applications in
3. Premature closure.
In spite of the relatively large resources spent on the case,
some clues were neglected and investigations were concentrated
against the two doctors. It appears that a feeling developed
very early among prosecutors and police officers on the case,
that the doctors were guilty. Nobody knows, of course, who was
guilty but in order to increase quality of the investigation
it would have been important to approach it with a more open
mind. The situation is similar to the problem of deciding if
a person is lying. This is more difficult than most people think
(Vrij, 2000) but it can be achieved to some extent by keeping
an open mind. The importance of expectations and made-up scenarios
for a low quality investigation is an interesting hypothesis
which is brought up by the circumstances of the case.
4. Rhetoric as a way of
escaping from responsibility. The case does not show Swedish
justice at its best. It was clear that the courts and authorities
conceded more to public outrage than they should have done and
what happened is still, in December 2001, a source of considerable
embarrassment. Chief Prosecutor Helin claims to have forgotten
mistakes he made, and can offer no explanation of them. The present
Chief Prosecutor (Bjarne Rosén) refuses to re-consider
the case with the argument that Athe doctors have been acquitted and
they cannot be more acquitted than that (21).
This is similar to the argument made by the Prosecutor-General
in 1991 that the statement by the District Court that the doctors
were guilty of the cutting-up could have no legal consequences
and hence that the doctors should not be allowed a new trial.
In both cases the rhetoric is quite cynical and misleading since
the doctors have indeed suffered the consequences greatly. Rhetoric
involves the shifting use of words in a more or less clever way,
so as to persuade or at least silence somebody with embarrassing
demands or claims. The use of shifting perspectives is common
in discussions about various socially Ahot@ topics (Sjöberg & Montgomery, 1999).
Its prevalence and particular uses in legal contexts constitutes
an interesting topic.
5. Exaggerated belief in
recovered memories. The present case is in one sense only
one of many where recall of events, in this case by a child,
has been attributed what is probably grossly exaggerated credibility.
The child=s story was produced under wholly uncontrolled
circumstances and by her mother, not by a professional. The two
experts that did testify to the credibility of the story stepped
on very thin ice indeed. It should, in all fairness, be added
that this was in 1984 and the whole modern debate about recovered
memories had hardly begun. It is possible that a the child=s story would have met with more skepticism to-day,
but it is not certain. Gudjonsson found indications of skepticism
about recovered memories in a recent study in the UK (Gudjonsson,
6. Folk psychology in the
courts. The problem of recovered memories is just one example
of the power of intuitive, or folk, psychology notions. It just
seems to be very credible that memories can be repressed, and
later recovered in great and dramatic detail. Maybe it is less
likely to the layman that such accounts can be wholly false when
created under the influence of an authority figure such as a
psychologist, a police officer or a parent. What makes a testimony
about remembered events credible? How do judges, prosecutors,
police officers and defense counsels reach their conclusions
about the matter? Granhag and Strömwall recently carried
out a survey and found that members of the legal professions
entertained quite erroneous notions about what constitutes a
credible memory report (Granhag & Strömwall, in press).
The notions they have are probably quite important for the conclusions
they reach, and hence central to the functioning of the courts.
The topic is in urgent need of further research.
The cutting-up murder case,
second in importance of Swedish homicide cases in the 20th century,
appeared on the media agenda in the middle of the 1980's when
incest and child abuse concern was at its peak. Its many grisly
details made for excellent media sales, and honest outrage was
felt and expressed by many people over the alleged crimes of
murder, child abuse and cannibalism. There is nothing to be said
against such outrage, on the contrary it was justified given
that the media story and the prosecution's case against the suspects
was true and proven. However, that was hardly the case. The evidence
boiled down to the highly questionable "Child's Story"
- supported only by a low quality psychological analysis - and
line-up evidence which also was very uncertain. No physical evidence
was brought forward. The suspects all the time claimed they were
innocent. The time contingencies alone made it quite unlikely
that the murder could have been carried out as stated by the
prosecutor. On the other hand, there was at least one other suspect
which seemed to be much more likely as the perpetrator (see note
12). On top of all this, the legal system worked in unusual and
highly questionable ways in this particular case, probably to
a large extent because of the public sentiment against the suspects.
The final outcome of the District Court trial, acquittal with
stigmatization combined with later license revocation, was disastrous
for the suspects and could not be appealed due to formalities.
Forensic psychological work
of higher quality throughout the case could possibly have contributed
to a more reasonable and just process. It would have been most
important to have a higher quality process from the very beginning
since the case involved a build-up over a prolonged period of
time, when expectations were formed which led to new expectations.
It may be quite difficult to change the direction of a process
once it has started in a certain direction. In the present case,
there was some very good forensic psychological work, but it
came in the very last phase when opinions about guilt were probably
quite difficult to change - in addition to the tremendous public
outrage which demanded action against the doctors.
1. I am grateful to professor
Robyn Dawes, Dr. Astrid Holgerson and Per Lindeberg for their
comments on the manuscript.
the forenames of the two doctors and the victim are given in
this edition of the paper.
theme was rather prominent in media, and some of the videos were
shown in court. It was probably unavoidable that the "snuff
movie" urban legend also was to be invoked, implying an
interest in movies showing real murder of people. No such movies
have ever been documented and the legend can be traced to a clever
producer in the 70's who made quite an economic success out of
spreading this rumour about his movie (Stine, 1999). What Teet
saw was "splatter movies", i.e. violent movies with
no claim to show real events.
It was to be argued that the perpetrator was a professional and
also very clever, and wanted to confuse the police so he made
some cuts look like he was unprofessional. Or - a less common
argument - two people had been involved in the cutting-up of
the body. What type of "professional" knowledge and
experience was at stake here was not very clear. Maybe a butcher
or a hunter could have done it as well as a specialized MD.
missing head might indicate some professional knowledge on the
part of the perpetrator and his intent to make it impossible
to establish the cause of death. On the other hand, the fact
that hands were found shows that the perpetrator did not care
about trying to hide the identity of the victim. The perpetrator(s)
also did not care about trying to conceal her remnants as such
since they had been disposed of in nature in such a way that
they would surely be found.
other members of the staff of the photoshop, who also allegedly
had seen the pictures and reacted strongly to them according
to the shop owners, could remember anything about these pictures.
7. In most cases a first appeal
is always granted in the Swedish system, while a second appeal
is very seldom granted and then only for reasons of general legal
statements by one of the members of the court attribute the outcome
to a combination of pressure both from time and probably from
public outrage against the suspects, and from a need to compromise
since some members of the court wanted to convict the suspects
9. Teet had co-authored an
article about rape. When informed about this, a tabloid ran a
headline stating that "the post-mortem dissector is now
teaching students how to rape women at the Medical School".
10. The latter claim also came
from two police officers but has later been shown to be false
It may be noted that the only trial for the murder of Olof Palme,
so far, took place in 1989 and that some of the key actors in
the cutting-up murder case were involved also in the Palme murder
trial. The suspect - a "lone maniac" - was convicted
by the District Court, which was however not unanimous, and acquitted
by the Appeals Court. In the latter court, witness psychologist
Astrid Holgerson played a crucial role in critizing the testimony
by the chief eye witness, Palme's wife, who also happened to
be a psychologist. Chief Prosecutor Helin was also involved in
both the Palme murder case and the cutting-up case.
12. This man, who died in 1988, had already
committed several murders in Sweden, one of them a cutting-up
case, had no alibi and had been seen among Stockholm prostitutes
at the time when Catrine disappeared. He was very dangerous,
especially when under the influence of alcohol, but the police
dismissed him as a suspect at a very early stage, on no known
factual grounds. They had their eyes on Teet from the very beginning.
13. Its members were three
senior specialists in forensic medicine and two senior judges.
14. This intervention was to
be strongly criticized by the Attorney General (in Swedish "Justititiekanslern"
who is not a cabinet member) about a year later. This office
is in charge of assessing any complaints about the legality of
decisions made by authorities, including courts, and they seldom
find any fault with those authorities.
15. To be fully correct, the
family members could also have appealed. Thomas´wife actually
did so, but later retracted her appeal. Catrine's family were
considering an appeal but later claimed that the prosecutor had
told them they were not allowed to file an appeal. They then
tried to get permission by the Supreme Court to file a late appeal,
but such permission was not granted.
16. Olsson was to be promoted
Honorary Doctor by the University of Umeå for her contributions
to the case. Such an honor is very rare in Sweden and is usually
awarded only to outstanding scholars or to people who have supported
scientific research. Olsson's honorary degree illustrates well
the climate in Swedish society at the time.
17. Teet's young son was denied access to school
until he and Teet had been tested for the HIV virus.
18. Yet, prostitution per
se is not illegal.
19. Here, views differ as in
so many other aspects of the case. Olsson argues that it was
the specific details cited by the prosecutor that made acquittal
necessary and the Court may well have convicted at least the
father if the indictment had been formulated in a more general
manner (Olsson, 1990). However, the incest suspicions had been
thoroughly investigated and found to be insufficiently supported
and Olsson's speculations at this point seem very far-fetched.
20. The authors are very critical
also of Lindeberg's book which they find highly subjective. It
is, at the same time, very easy to find their own text subjective,
on the opposite side, e.g. in their acceptance of the "testimony
of the child".
21. Swedish TV Channel 1 program, 21 December
2001, available at "www.svt.se/granskning". The program
contains interviews with the prosecutors and some police officers
who investigated the case in the 1980's. The last person known
to have seen Catrine alive was one of her clients, and his whereabouts
at the time of the alleged murder were never investigated in
depth. The program illustrates that Swedish media even in the
end of 2001 pursue the case with great interest, in spite of
what seems to be a definite closure due to the decisions made
by the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative court earlier
in that year.
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