Sweden identifies dead man as main suspect in 1986 murder of PM, closes probe

Stig Engstrom, who died in 2000, named as likeliest perpetrator of unsolved assassination of Olof Palme, marking dead end for cold case

Swedish prime minister Olof, December 12, 1983. (Anders Holmstrom/TT via AP)
Swedish prime minister Olof, December 12, 1983. (Anders Holmstrom/TT via AP)

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden on Wednesday dropped its investigation into the unsolved murder of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme, who was shot dead 34 years ago in downtown Stockholm.

The case’s chief prosecutor, Krister Petersson, said the case was being closed because the main suspect, Stig Engstrom, had died in 2000.

Palme was gunned down on February 28, 1986, after he and his wife Lisbet Palme left a movie theater in the Swedish capital.

Petersson said Engstrom, also known as the Skandiamannen for working in the nearby Skandia insurance company, had a strong dislike of Palme and his policies. He was one of the first at the murder scene and was briefly considered a possible suspect.

“Since he has died, I cannot indict him,” Petersson told a news conference.

People lay flowers at the site where the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot to death in Stockholm, March 1, 1986. (Anders Holmstrom/TT via AP)

Several other witnesses gave descriptions of the fleeing killer that matched Engstrom while others said he wasn’t even at the scene. Engstrom himself claimed to have been present from the beginning, spoke to Lisbet Palme and police, and attempted to resuscitate the victim.

Soon after the murder, Engstrom appeared in Swedish media and developed an increasingly detailed story of his involvement in the events and criticized the police. He claimed those witnesses who had described the killer had in fact been describing him, running to catch up with police officers in pursuit of the assassin.
The police then labeled Engstrom as an unreliable and inconsistent witness and classified him as a person of no interest.

Palme sought to live as ordinary a life as possible and would often go out without any bodyguards. The night of the murder, he had no protection.

Lisbet Palme was injured in the attack and later identified the shooter as Christer Pettersson, an alcoholic and drug addict, who was convicted of Palme’s murder. The sentence was later overturned after police failed to produce any technical evidence against him, leaving the murder an unsolved mystery. Pettersson died in 2004.

Palme, who cut a flamboyant, even boyish figure, had an aristocratic background but was known for his left-leaning views. A supporter of the Palestinian cause and the Palestine Liberation Organization, he was eyed with suspicion in conservative circles and by the United States and Israel.

Among Swedes and in the Nordic region, the social democrat who first came to power in 1969 was much loved, but also hated.

More than 100 people have been suspected of the crime and the unsolved case has been surrounded by conspiracy theories, including foreign involvement, people with right-wing sympathies within Sweden’s police, and an act by a lone shooter.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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