Death is a man. The story of the dissector and the general practitioner
by Per Lindeberg
JOVAN RAJS: This is a subjective judgement
It’s my judgement as the private individual Jovan Rajs.
I think that if you don’t get him behind bars,
then you might as well all go and hang yourselves. And I’m very
Is this being recorded?
JOVAN RAJS: OK, then I don’t want to
POLICEMAN: No, it’s like you say
it’s subjective impressions.
JOVAN RAJS: It is subjective. Very subjective.
Police interrogation of forensic pathologist Jovan Rajs, 8th January 1985.
They took him just after eight o’clock, as he was sitting in the coffee-room along with other members of staff at the Department of Forensic Medicine. The secretary Elizabete Werner came in and said that there were some men from the police looking for him.
Two men in leather jackets with shoulder belts were standing outside in the corridor. He didn’t recognise them. He showed them into an empty office. Police officers who came to visit usually adopted the friendly tone of fellow-workers. These two were very formal and polite, with watchful eyes.
”We have an arrest warrant for you. You’ve to come with us.”
”You’ll have to ask our colleagues in the Violent Crime Squad. We’ve just been told to bring you in for questioning.”
They took him straight out to the car, one man behind him and one in front. He wasn’t allowed to fetch his outer clothing. The office staff stared at them. It was the beginning of December, and a cold, dark morning. The low, institutional buildings in the grounds of the Karolinska Institute were still only sparsely lit. He sat down in the backseat of the car and the door was locked after him. As they rolled out of the car-park he looked back at the brick-built Department of Forensic Medicine. He had expected to see people standing at the windows watching them go, but there was no-one there. Everything looked as it always did.
He had been working there for four years. He was thirty years old. He had six months to go before his doctoral thesis on cardiac changes in drug-addicts would be ready for submission.
Afterwards, he found it difficult to explain what he felt during the journey into custody , other than a mounting feeling of unreality. After all, he had driven this way often enough before on official business, to examine someone who had been arrested. The trip took maybe a quarter of an hour. He was taken by lift direct from the garage up into the cell area, was searched, given prison clothes to put on and locked in a cell. Half an hour later he was taken for questioning. It was nine o’clock in the morning of Monday, 3rd December 1984.
Monika, his partner, had been fetched from her workplace only a few buildings away in the grounds of the Karolinska. She was responsible for the animals used in the Institute’s researches, and started work as early as seven o’clock. Teet always dropped her off outside her department in the mornings before leaving his car in the parking spot in front of the Department of Forensic Medicine. Arriving early for work didn’t bother him. He devoted a lot of time to his work. Despite his youth he was already known as a knowledgeable and experienced forensic pathologist.
The shock had made Monika break down. She wept uncontrollably while the police examined her wardrobe and work-desk, but they found nothing worth confiscating.
A female officer took her to police headquarters for questioning.
Teet’s mother Vera had worked for fifteen years in the Records Division at police headquarters by Kronoberg park at Kungsholmen, and was active in the white-collar union TCO-S. Right up at the top of the building were the cells where Teet had been taken.
It was nine o’clock when she was called in to her boss in the Surveillance Records office. He had two visitors in his room. One of them was a police superintendent whom Vera recognised. She knew he was called Inge Reneborg and that he worked in the Violent Crime Squad. The other person was one of the nurses from the occupational health centre. She fixed her gaze on Vera. Vera looked enquiringly at her boss. He seemed to be extremely embarrassed.
It was Inge Reneborg who broke the silence.
”You have a son who is a forensic pathologist, is that right?”
”Yes, you know him well,” replied Vera cheerfully. She didn’t understand why Reneborg sounded so threatening.
”I’ve arrested him. We have him in custody.”
”Is he on the roof?” Vera asked uncomprehendingly. Without thinking she used police slang for the cells. ”Can I see him?”
”No,” said Reneborg. ”He’s not allowed to see anyone apart from the people who are going to listen to him. It would prejudice the investigation.”
”But what’s he supposed to have done?”
Reneborg hesitated for a moment before replying.
”It’s not just about one murder. We’re pretty sure that he has killed several women.”
Vera stared at him uncomprehendingly.
”Who knows about this?” she asked. ”Do the newspapers know about it?”
”You know how everything leaks out of this building.”
Afterwards, Vera wasn’t sure how long the conversation had lasted. The nurse didn’t need to intervene. Vera neither fainted nor broke down. When it was all over she went back to her room. Now for the first time she understood why her work assignments had suddenly changed during the autumn and why she had had to sit without a job to do and simply wait for further instructions. She wondered if all the others in the Division had perhaps known about it all the time. Perhaps all of them had known except her.
Vera assembled all her personal belongings in a few plastic bags. Without exchanging a word with any of her workmates she took the lift down to the entrance and left the police headquarters. She was never to set foot there again.
The arrest was carefully planned. The decision had been taken the previous week by district prosecutor Torsten Wolff, but as he was away at the very time they planned to pounce, chief prosecutor Anders Helin had signed the arrest and house-search warrant on Friday afternoon. A doctors’ meeting was under way out at Aelvsjoe. As the warrant was being signed, Teet Haerm was just getting ready to act as secretary to the annual conference of the country’s forensic physicians.
Detective Superintendent Wincent Lange was in charge of the Technical Division. On Friday afternoon he gathered his whole staff in a closed meeting and reviewed the situation as the weekend approached. In order to eliminate any risk of misunderstanding or of rumours spreading, he had written down word for word the information he was in a position to give to the technical experts and he now read aloud from the paper he held in his hand.
Most of the technicians had worked many times with both Teet Haerm and the other doctors from the Department of Forensic Medicine, but they hadn’t been aware of the suspicions directed against him. When Wincent Lange finally lifted his eyes from the paper, there was complete silence. Glances were exchanged, someone shook their head, another sniggered at a whispered comment then quickly rearranged his features when his eyes met Lange’s. There were very few questions.
The division of labour before Monday was quickly made clear. As soon as Teet Haerm was arrested and removed from the Department of Forensic Medicine, three men were to secure his office and go through it from floor to ceiling. The three skulls which were kept on a bookshelf were to be checked against the dental chart which the police had obtained. The car in the parking spot outside the Department a white Golf, the 1981 model was to be taken to the technical division and examined there.
Lange himself and some of his closest colleagues would take care of Teet and Monika’s villa out at Taeby Kyrkby themselves.
What they were to look for specifically, Lange explained, was negatives of certain colour photographs showing Teet’s dead wife, terry towels of the Irish Green Hills brand and rolls of sealing tape of 45mm breadth. There might be a skull hidden in the house or the garage. They should also look out for jewellery, articles of clothing or other personal possessions which could have belonged to the prostitute whose dismembered body had been found six months earlier, a few kilometres from the Department of Forensic Medicine in Solna.
Before Wincent Lange went home to spend the weekend at his villa in Enskede, he checked with the Surveillance chief Inge Reneborg. They had no officers out at Taeby Kyrkby to keep an eye on Teet Haerm. They had never kept him under regular surveillance at all outside of working hours during the autumn. The witness statements which had emerged during the investigation had been serious enough.
Reneborg was in contact with one of Teet and Monika’s neighbours, a police inspector and his wife, who promised to keep an eye on the couple in the next villa over the weekend.
There was really no reason to believe that Teet Haerm would receive a tip-off or that he would attempt to flee. Anyway, if he did, it would be tantamount to admitting that he was guilty.
Inge Reneborg received several phone calls from his contact in the course of Saturday and Sunday. No abnormal activity had been reported. The couple had been out for a while with Monika’s two dogs, a dachshund and a chihuahua. Some time later they had driven off in the car without the dogs, perhaps on a trip into town. They had come back, lights had been switched on and off. Now and then Teet or Monika had been glimpsed behind one of the villa’s windows. On Sunday evening they had driven away again without the dogs and come back around 11 o’clock when the cinemas were closing.
Teet Haerm’s arrest had caused great consternation at the Department of Forensic Medicine. The head of the department, senior lecturer Milan Valverius, had immediately demanded that someone from the police or the prosecution service should inform the staff about the background to the arrest. Inge Reneborg tried to persuade chief prosecutor Helin to take that task upon himself, but without success. He had to drive out to the Karolinska Institute himself.
There were many more people in the department’s lecture-hall than Reneborg had expected. Anybody at all who was on duty there that day had turned up. After Reneborg’s curt briefing the staff were given strict orders not to tell any outsiders what had happened. Under no circumstances were they to discuss the affair with journalists.
Teet Haerm’s first interrogation took place without a lawyer in attendance. When the chief interrogator asked Teet if there was any particular lawyer he wanted as his counsel, he named Leif Silbersky. He had met Silbersky in court a few times when he had been called himself as an expert witness, and had come to trust him. But Silbersky indicated that he was busy, and the offer went instead to the lawyer Henning Sjoestroem. While they waited for Sjoestroem to contact the police, the interrogation continued for another five hours that Monday without the suspect having any benefit of legal counsel.
The team of interrogators was led by Detective Inspector Allan Baeckstroem. Also present in the interview room was Baeckstroem’s colleague Lars Jonsson. Both of them had been included in the special team of eight men who had been working throughout the autumn to find conclusive evidence against Teet.
The three people who were sitting each on his own side of the table with the tape-recorder in the interview room that Monday forenoon at the beginning of December 1984 had all known each other well for some time. Allan Baeckstroem and Teet Haerm had worked together on several investigations, but they had never established a good relationship. Baeckstroem belonged to those policemen on the Violent Crime Squad who thought that the short, slight young forensic pathologist with the evasive gaze was an odd, arrogant character. And Teet Haerm mistrusted Baeckstroem, whom he regarded as unimaginative and dull.
Yet none of this was noticeable in the interrogation. Allan Baeckstroem maintained a professional and correct tone and Teet masked his agitation behind a cool and distant demeanour .
The greater part of the interrogation that first day was not devoted at all to the prostitute whose dismembered body had been found in plastic sacks in the summer. Instead, the questions were about the death two years earlier of Teet Haerm’s young wife. He had already talked about this to the police in connection with the death, but now he had to account once again for everything that had happened during the evening and night that Cattis Haerm died. What had he actually been up to that evening? Baeckstroem wondered. What had happened when he came back to the flat? Why had it taken so long before the police were called? And what about the roll of film that Teet was supposed to have found and produced? Where were the negatives now?
Allan Baeckstroem’s questions circled time and again round these issues, as if he was waiting for Teet to contradict himself or quite simply break down and confess that his earlier statements were incorrect. None of this happened. Teet assured him in the same way that he had done two years earlier when it happened that he had had nothing to do with his wife’s death. She had tried to kill herself several times before. This time she had succeeded. He could never have foreseen that she would choose such a way to die. And there was nothing he wanted to change in his statements about what had happened that evening and night.
Not until near the end of the five-hour spell did Allan Baeckstroem broach the subject of the dismemberment murder case during the previous summer. What had Teet been up to during the Whitsun break?
He wasn’t sure. It was impossible to remember now, six months later. He had probably been working on the building site, as they were in the final throes of building the villa. But he wasn’t sure. This was something he would have to try to recollect.
What happened? Baeckstroem wondered. Had Teet gone into the Department of Forensic Medicine at Whitsun? Wasn’t he in the habit of seeing to the rats which had been injected with heroin in the research project he was running with his supervisor Jovan Rajs?
Teet Haerm couldn’t remember this either with any certainty. He would have to consult his notes from the animal experiments. But he recollected that they had concluded a series of experiments just after Whitsun. And he knew that he had gone on vacation the week after the midsummer holiday. He and Monika and Monika’s father had continued working on the house and the site throughout the summer.
At the weekends a caretaker usually saw to the animals, Teet pointed out.
”Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but he’s a jack-of-all-trades.”
”Yes,” said Baeckstroem. ”But I mean are you and Jovan on duty at all over the weekend?”
”No. Not at weekends.”
Baeckstroem changed tack. What about Teet Haerm’s many visits to Malmskillnadsgatan, he wondered. And by that he didn’t mean just odd visits to restaurants for lunch, or simply driving along Malmskillnadsgatan on the way home, he made clear.
”I’m now talking about looking for girls and using their services. That’s what I’m getting at.”
But Teet emphatically denied having had any such contacts. Yes, with one exception. It was sometime during 1981. It had been a kind of revenge for something his wife had done. But otherwise nothing had happened.
”No other occasion?” Baeckstroem asked patiently. It was obvious that he had no intention of changing the subject.
”It has happened that I’ve talked to them because of some kind of jealous reaction at home But that’s all. I’ve always backed away.”
Baeckstroem took up a new line of enquiry. What actually happened during that autopsy in the summer, when the dismembered woman’s remains were examined in the autopsy room at the Department of Forensic Medicine?
Teet, as it happened, had not been around when the first two sacks were found, he explained. He was sure about that. On the other hand, he had been there in the background when the next two plastic sacks with body parts were brought into the Department.
How had Teet himself judged this case, Baeckstroem wondered. The way in which the body had been dismembered, for example. Were there any clues in the hunt for the perpetrator?
Teet Haerm explained that he was unsure. He thought it was difficult to conclude with any certainty how the dismemberment had been carried out. Those forensic pathologists who had been present had come up with several different hypotheses when the case was discussed. But for his own part he thought it was uncertain whether the method of dismemberment really showed that the perpetrator had some knowledge of anatomy or if it was perhaps a case of the sort of practical skill that a hunter, for example, would possess.
It was in fact the forensic pathologist Jovan Rajs who carried out the autopsy, Baeckstroem pointed out. What did Teet think of his supervisor’s professional skills?
”What’s your opinion you can refuse to answer if you want of Jovan’s work with regard to these body parts?”
”I’ve always had the greatest confidence in Jovan,” Teet answered. ”And I know that, without boasting, he’s the best we have in this country in the field of forensic medicine. He is an extremely trustworthy diagnostician. And he has a breadth of experience like few others, having worked abroad.”
When the interrogation was over and the tape-recorder was finally switched off it was clear that they hadn’t got very far.
Teet had confessed to nothing that linked him to anything criminal. He had firmly denied ever having met the murdered woman. And when Allan Baeckstroem looked him in the eye and asked if he hadn’t cut up the woman himself, Teet answered:
”No. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when such accusations are made, that I cut her up.”
The search of Teet’s and Monika’s house provided no technical evidence. Lange and his colleagues confiscated some cameras, photograph albums and slides. Also among the items confiscated were some card-games with pornographic motifs, a copy of the magazine Swedish Hustler, a comic drawing with pornographic motifs, a doll with an electric flex round its throat, a vibrator, a leather whip and a knife with sheath. Also among the items taken to the police were seven video-tapes and two notebooks with titles of video films, three bankbooks, five bottles containing the anaesthetic Xylocain, a photocopy of a post-mortem report on a prostitute whom Teet Haerm had dissected two years earlier, a cervical vertebra, an air pistol with ammunition, a large number of textile fibres from jackets, a blue and white mat measuring 122×190 centimetres and a doctor’s bag inscribed Teet Haerm.
Nor was anything of interest found in Teet’s office at the Department of Forensic Medicine. Various items of specialist literature, about murder by strangulation and sexual crimes, were confiscated, as well as a book about prostitution, a poem, three restraints with varying knots, a human cranium entered in a journal, diverse photographs, some needles for syringes and three one-time syringes. Also among the confiscated material was a document-case containing what the technicians labelled as ”men’s magazines”, a cushion and a mattress from the sofa by the window, twenty slides, a carton of documents with the word ”Sex” on the label and a similar carton with the text ”Digitalis”.
Two technicians went over Teet’s car with minute precision. Apart from jump-leads, a towline, two ice-scrapers, carwash, some spare light-bulbs, a brush, six parking-tickets, various tourist maps and a large green and white terry-towelling sheet with a pattern of dollar signs they also took possession of, among other things, a ticket from the porn shop Sexorama (three fuses for the car were fastened to the back by brown tape), a packet containing a pressure bandage, two army first-aid bandages, a photo of the Yngsjoe murderer Anna Månsdotter (executed in August 1890), a card advertising Roffe’s car breakdown service, two black plastic sacks, a patterned fur travelling rug, a blanket and a folding rule. This, and an array of other small objects, were now examined for fingerprints.
Nothing in the items confiscated from Teet Haerm would link him to any of the deeds he was suspected of. They found no interesting fingerprints, no revealing objects, nothing that indicated Teet’s having had contact with the murdered prostitute at all. Neither did the interrogations during the four and a bit days and nights that Teet was in custody produce anything of value for the murder investigation team. And Teet Haerm never broke down and confessed, as some of the police had been convinced he would do. On the contrary, he denied stubbornly having had anything to do with either his wife’s death, the murder and dismemberment of the prostitute or any other murder.
It was clear that his arrest, from a police standpoint, was a fiasco. Everything pointed to the police having felt forced to move in although they in fact did not have sufficient proof. And that they had quite simply taken a chance on a house-search yielding the decisive finds which would confirm that their suspicions about the young forensic pathologist were justified.
Against this background, two aspects of Teet Haerm’s arrest stood out as all the more peculiar. And these aspects would turn out to have a quite decisive significance for the subsequent turn of events.
One peculiarity had to do with the arrest itself. There had obviously been opportunities to arrest Teet Haerm without attracting any attention. The simplest way would have been to take him in a civilian car direct from the villa in Taeby Kyrkby. If for any reason it had been thought important for Teet and Monika to be arrested separately, it would have been simple to take him just after he dropped Monika off outside her work on Monday morning.
Instead, they waited until the staff came together for their morning coffee at the Department of Forensic Medicine and used uniformed police to fetch him. Why?
The other peculiar aspect had to do with the information given to the mass media by the police.
During the months which had passed since the woman’s dismembered body had been found, the police had arrested a suspected perpetrator, who had been released after interrogation. They had also searched the houses of two doctors in Stockholm whom it had been possible to link directly to the murdered woman. None of this had leaked out to the outside world.
But when Teet Haerm was arrested, something else happened.
Immediately after lunchtime on Monday, only a few hours after Teet’s arrest, the TT news-agency journalist Kjell Rynhag did his usual round of the various divisions in police-headquarters looking for newsworthy tips.
When he looked in on Inge Reneborg he got the scoop of the year.
Reneborg told him about the arrest and the police’s suspicions about Teet Haerm. Rynhag hurried to his editorial office. When his first article went out over TT’s teleprinter network it was already 3.21 p.m. The article was 50 lines long, and began:
”Stockholm (TT) A doctor in his thirties has been arrested on suspicion of having murdered the 28-year-old woman whose dismembered body was found in plastic sacks last summer in Solna. He is also suspected of having killed his former wife in Stockholm in 1982. After several months of exhaustive investigation and searching for the ”Body in the Bags Murderer” , a junior doctor was seized and arrested on Monday, on suspicion of murder. The man was seized at his workplace in the Stockholm area.”
Rynhag had followed TT’s policy of not revealing personal details, as far as this was possible without infringing the factual content. His article did not even mention a forensic pathologist, merely a doctor working in Stockholm. It was also pointed out that the doctor denied all the charges.
But after the news had reached the newspaper offices the telephones began to ring in police headquarters.
What had begun as a discreet, understated news item, and was still confined on Monday afternoon’s radio broadcasts to a report that ”a man” had been arrested for the murder and dismemberment of a prostitute, became the sensational headline on Tuesday’s newspaper hoardings.
It was only a question of hours before the doctor’s name and work details became known not only among journalists but also among doctors and other staff in the hospital world. Moreover, as early as Wednesday details were published in a morning newspaper, which made it possible for anyone to find out what the doctor who was suspected of murder was called and what he looked like. During the following week the evening papers competed with each other to come out with one revelation after another about the police’s suspicions regarding the doctor and the witness statements which were incriminating for him.
On Friday afternoon – five days after the arrest – chief prosecutor Anders Helin announced that there were insufficient grounds for requiring the doctor to be kept in custody. The investigation would continue, but the doctor who was under suspicion would be released. With regard to the investigation, however, Helin explained, the doctor would have a travel ban imposed on him. One hour later Teet Haerm was driven out of the back entrance of police-headquarters by two investigators in a car with private number-plates, back to his villa in Taeby Kyrkby.
These five days in December, 1984, which Teet Haerm spent as a prisoner in the cells at Kronoberg in Stockholm, were the catalyst for a course of events which a few years later would lead to a sensational criminal trial with strong political undertones. Without the contribution of the mass media that trial would have been unthinkable.
Even before 3rd December, 1984, a rumour had flourished in the red-light district of Stockholm’s inner city that the police were hunting for a young man in a white Golf, a man who was suspected of murder. But it was only after that date when the newspapers got wind of the arrest that the rumour-mongering was suddenly transformed into something resembling certain knowledge.
Now there was also a name and a face. And it was in the press, not in the police investigation, that the frightening personality of the doctor who was suspected of murder was first described.