Death is a man. The story of the dissector and the general practitioner
He was often here. Lots of people knew him.
I could never have imagined that he was a murderer.
As a rule, when he paid for sex with Lotta it was in the car:
– He was quite well dressed. He usually had a white shirt on.
Nobody here knew that he worked as a doctor and did post-
mortems. He told me he was a photographer.
Interview with a prostitute in Expressen, 4th December 1984
There was only one conclusion that readers of the newspapers could come to. The police had in all probability managed to catch a murderer.
Already on the day after the arrest the front page of ”Dagens Nyheter”, Sweden’s leading daily newspaper, was assuring its readers that the body-in-the-bags murder from the previous summer was ”in the process of being cleared up”, with the arrest by police of a forensic pathologist. And the headline inside the paper read ”Dissector held for body-in-the-bags murder”.
Even the Malmoe newspaper ”Arbetet” declared that the body-in-the-bags-murder was now in the process of being cleared up, and added: ”As the man denies the charges it has not yet been possible to establish when the woman was murdered.” It was difficult to interpret this form of words otherwise than that the man in custody was the only person who knew when the murder was committed.
The leading Conservative broadsheet ”Svenska Dagbladet” was, at least initially, considerably more cautious. It was underlined both in the headline and in the text of the article that the position as regards proof was unclear and that the doctor denied the charge. ”There is however a witness who may turn out to be of decisive importance to the case”, wrote the paper’s legal correspondent Sune Olsson. According to the police a prostitute might have seen the murder victim with a man on Whit Sunday. ”The police are now appealing to her and anyone else who may have seen something to get in touch.”
It was when the evening papers came out on Tuesday afternoon that the pressure contained in the flood of news increased in earnest. What the leading tabloids ”Expressen” and ”Aftonbladet” had to say about the police’s case against the man was seriously damaging.
According to ”Aftonbladet” the body parts had been found in plastic sacks ”of a special kind used only in the Department of Forensic Medicine”, and this information was repeated the following day in ”Arbetet”.
Both ”Expressen” and ”Goeteborgs-Tidningen” maintained that the police had shadowed the doctor and seen him pick up prostitutes in his car. And according to ”Expressen” it was those same prostitutes who had drawn the police’s attention to the doctor:
”The police obtained notification and a description of the man’s car. It wasn’t long before the man was seen doing a circuit of Malmskillnadsgatan in order to pick up girls. Soon it was established that the man was a doctor and a pathologist, an expert on how to dismember human bodies.”
Already by Tuesday ”Goeteborgs-Tidningen” had printed on their billboards the information that ”the doctor who was a murder suspect had been under surveillance for months”. And inside the paper you could read that the man in custody had visited the murdered woman on numerous occasions: ”He was one of Catrin’s regular visitors”.
”A team of police officers started to shadow the doctor, who was looking for prostitutes on Malmskillnadsgatan.
’We were out there every evening and night’, says Reneborg.”
”Every step the doctor took was noted. His conversations were recorded. After three months of continual surveillance we decided we had enough proof.”
The fact that it was the prostitutes themselves who drew the police’s attention to the doctor was a detail repeated in many of the papers.
According to ”Expressen” suspicions against the doctor had been aroused when the police questioned prostitutes about men who had frequented the murdered Catrine. They had managed to elicit ”names of interesting clients”, ”Expressen” explained”:
”One of those was the pathologist and doctor who is now in custody.”
And the Skåne newspaper ”Kvaellstidningen” emphasised the same theme. The headline right across the front page was: ”Street girls pointed out the doctor”. And it was claimed on the first page that ”time and again the doctor’s name came up when the girls were questioned. This led the police to begin checking up on the man.”
That first day the morning paper ”Sydsvenskan” had nothing about the arrest either on their billboards or on the front page. But in an article inside you could read that ”the doctor being held on suspicion of murder knew the woman. He was probably one of her many clients.”
That the police had gradually begun to suspect the doctor of also having murdered his wife, once he had been definitely linked to the case of the dismembered prostitute, was something that was repeated in several papers. Up to that point the police had assumed that it was a case of suicide, explained ”Dagens Nyheter” and ”Svenska Dagbladet”.
It was the method of dismemberment which had made the police suspicious from the outset. And this had later been linked to the fact that the black plastic sacks had been found in the vicinity of the Department of Forensic Medicine. This was how several newspapers described the ever-growing suspicions directed against the doctor.
According to the morning paper ”Arbetet” the police had always taken it for granted that the murder had been carried out ”by a professional”:
”The body had in fact been expertly dismembered with an exceptionally sharp knife. Probably a scalpel. A knife which doctors use for operations.”
”Dagens Nyheter” claimed that, according to the police, the dismemberment had been carried out in a ”professional manner” and that the body parts had been recovered ”only a few hundred metres” from the doctor’s workplace. ”Aftonbladet” also stressed the professional nature of the dismemberment. ”Expressen” went a step further, declaring that the police could confirm that ”an expert” had dismembered the woman, someone who ”knew how to cut up a human body”.
According to ”Kvaellsposten” the murder hunt had therefore focused on finding ”a surgeon, or at least a doctor”: ”Certain incisions which had been used to dismember the body were too expertly carried out to have been the work of a master butcher or slaughterer.” And ”Goeteborgs-Tidningen” gave the same picture. The dismemberment ”had been carried out by someone with a thorough knowledge of anatomy”.
In a further step this theme of proof was coupled with suspicions that the doctor who was under arrest had tried to mislead the police by manipulating the post-mortem report.
”Svenska Dagbladet”, which had been first to stress the shaky nature of the evidence and the doctor’s refusal to admit guilt, had already changed its attitude by the following day. The police had been hoodwinked about the method of dismemberment, according to the paper.
The suspect had himself been present at the examination of the body parts, when the police were told that the dismemberment had been carried out in an amateurish way:
”But then the picture changed when other information emerged from the Department of Forensic Medicine. Further investigations had shown that the whole thing had been done by a person with considerable knowledge.”
The reason why the information about the method of dismemberment changed, ”Svenska Dagbladet” explained, was that there was another ”very skilled and highly qualified senior doctor” in the background.
”The investigators then came to the conclusion that the dismemberment had been carried out by a professional, who had been at pains to try to conceal his expertise.”
The report in ”Svenska Dagbladet” was repeated later the same day in ”Goeteborgs-Tidningen”, whose journalists at this period seem largely to have put together their articles about the doctor on the basis of diligent reading of the Stockholm newspapers. According to their version, the police felt that the doctor could have manipulated the post-mortem report, so that
”it was established that the dismemberment of the woman’s body had been done by an amateur. But when the police began to harbour suspicions about the young pathologist himself, a new investigation of the body parts was carried out. Experts were then able to state that the dismemberment had been carried out by a qualified expert who had taken the trouble to make the operation look amateurish.”
That the doctor who was under arrest had a particularly outstanding competence which might make it possible for him to commit the perfect murder was something to which several newspapers gave great prominence.
To be sure, the normally well-informed ”Svenska Dagbladet” had explained early on that the accused ”without being a forensic pathologist, had worked in that field.” The form of words used suggested that it was a question of a junior doctor undergoing further training and not a fully qualified specialist. But other newspapers stressed on the contrary that it was a case of a doctor with expert competence.
The whole of ”Aftonbladet”’s front page, two days after the arrest, was taken up by the headline ”Doctor wrote research report on dismemberment case published in prestigious medical journal”. The front page also carried a picture of the document in question, where however neither the authors’ names nor that of the journal were legible.
But nowhere in ”Aftonbladet” was it clearly stated that authorship of a forensic pathology report on a murder and subsequent dismemberment could be regarded as an indication of the doctor using his knowledge to practical effect. The reader was left to draw this conclusion himself.
The newspaper ”Arbetet” now published a facsimile of a two-year-old article which the doctor had written for the professional journal ”Svensk Polis” (Swedish Police), and which was about hangings. Under the headline ”This is what the doctor wrote the month after his wife’s death” ”Arbetet” implied that the doctor, as an expert on the very subject of hanging, murdered his wife by making it look as if she had hanged herself.
”Arbetet” also took the trouble to specify which number of ”Svensk Polis” the article had been published in. And in the picture accompanying the article itself they had admittedly concealed the author’s name and photo, but had left the word ”av” (of), so that no-one need be in any doubt that the doctor’s name and picture would be easy enough to discover in any well-organised library.
”Expressen” also latched onto the article in ”Svensk Polis” and the fact that it was published shortly after the wife’s death. The paper was also in a position to repeat a cynical comment the doctor was supposed to have made:
” ’This is very topical for me just now’, joked the dissector as he handed in the article at the paper’s editorial office.”
The evening papers devoted a great deal of space to describing the doctor’s personality and trying to draw up a psychological profile of him.
The evening paper ”Expressen” adopted a unique position here. From the very first day the doctor (the ”dissector”, as ”Expressen” chose to call him) was described in a way which would strongly influence the general perception of his personality.
The dissector stood out as a ”psychological riddle”, according to ”Expressen”. Obviously he was, on the one side, industrious, meticulous and competent, but at the same time he also had a fixation with violence: ” ’He is fixated on violent crime’, say the police investigators.”
”Expressen” was also the first newspaper to describe with inside knowledge the reasons for the police’s suspicions that the dissector had in fact murdered his wife two years earlier.
The police knew that the dissector had ”very intimate knowledge of how to carry out the perfect murder”, said ”Expressen”. The dissector had
”written a thesis on death by strangulation and suffocation. This is the expert knowledge which the police believe the man has used to murder his wife.”
The young wife was described by the ”Expressen” journalist Leif Braennstroem as a victim of the man’s promiscuous sexuality. When the couple were married the young doctor seemed like a mother-in-law’s dream, wrote Braennstroem:
”Later, the picture would change. He became a more and more assiduous visitor to Malmskillnadsgatan. There he would pick up prostitutes. But his wife continued to stand by him although, as far as the police could make out, she knew about his double life.”
His mother-in-law had become suspicious and had herself checked up on what the dissector had got up to after her daughter’s death. When she saw a photograph of the murdered prostitute Catrine, she had suddenly recognised the unknown young woman who had attended her daughter’s funeral two years earlier.
The mother-in-law had also told Braennstroem of ”Expressen” that her daughter and Catrine had gone for a walk together along a street in Stockholm and had bumped into the dissector. In his surprise he allegedly blurted out: ”Oh, so you know each other!”
From a photograph of the dead wife lying in a coffin ”inside the post-mortem room” the mother-in-law had noticed that one of her daughter’s hands was injured. Yet there was nothing about this in the post-mortem report.
”Expressen”’s main description of the dissector that day was in a prominent article in the paper’s inside spread. Against a background of suggestive shots of Malmskillnadsgatan by night, with car headlights reflecting off the wet asphalt, two prostitutes talked about their dealings with the doctor who had been arrested.
When ”Expressen”’s special correspondent Arne Winerdal showed them a picture of the dissector, the prostitutes reacted with ”a mixture of rage and relief”, he noted:
”Everyone who sees the picture of the murder suspect recognises him in an instant.”
The headline ”HE COULD JUST AS EASILY HAVE MURDERED ME” stretched over the whole of the inside spread. In the text of the article the doctor was described as a regular client of a prostitute called ”Lotta, aged 20”. He had made a rather vague impression, been quite well-dressed, often wore a white shirt, claimed to be a photographer.
”Lotta, aged 20” had actually never been frightened of the man:
”The only strange thing about him was that he was so changeable. He was often nervous and had trouble concentrating. He seemed to be distracted somehow. But suddenly he could be quite different. In a moment he would change and be self-confident and sure of himself. It was quite a transformation.”
But once she had actually been scared of the man whom she believed to be a photographer:
”It happened out at Solna. We had had intercourse, but he didn’t want to pay. He had that self-confident, cocksure attitude. Suddenly he slapped me in the face with the flat of his hand. Once, then again. Then I got frightened. But I still couldn’t believe he was a murderer.”
But ”Expressen” had discovered even more incriminating information about the dissector.
”The police know that the suspect has been violent towards prostitutes. One woman was attacked by him two months ago. He took her by the throat and threatened her with a knife, but the attack was never reported to the police.”
And when the police arrested the man early on Monday morning it was, according to the paper, ”only a few hours since his last visit to Malmskillnadsgatan.”
”Expressen”’s description of the doctor as a split personality with a fixation about violence reappeared as early as the following morning in ”Svenska Dagbladet”, which claimed that the doctor had lived a double life. The police had discovered to their amazement that the skilled and successful researcher had sought out prostitutes evening and night, but also during the working day.
The prostitutes had no idea that he was a doctor. ”He told one of them that he was a photographer”, explained ”Svenska Dagbladet”, which repeated almost word for word ”Expressen”’s description of the doctor’s deviant personality:
”A woman reported that the doctor behaved strangely. He could be indifferent and ’preoccupied’, but he could also change and become charming or even very arrogant. One prostitute says that the doctor appeared haughty and refused to pay. When she protested he began to hit her, blows to her head. But it stopped with that.”
And even ”Goeteborgs-Tidningen” pointed out that ”the prostitutes have also noticed that the doctor’s mood could change suddenly and for no apparent reason.”
The same newspaper quoted Superintendent Inge Reneborg:
”Our questioning of the prostitutes reveals that the man could appear strikingly self-confident one moment, only to become extremely nervous the next. He seems to be pretty unstable.”
”Goeteborgs-Tidningen” declared that ”the image that has emerged is of something of a Jekyll and Hyde character.”
This portrayal of the person who was now generally called The Dissector was to become the enduring image of the doctor who had been taken into custody. Several years later, when the trials had got underway, it would be plucked yet again from the cuttings archives and treated as irrefutable evidence of the doctor’s peculiar personality.
”Dagens Nyheter” had from the outset taken a strong position on the question of the doctor’s guilt. But already on the second day a clear desire to tone down the significance of the arrest could be discerned. And during the next few days DN took up a significantly more cautious stance pending the prosecutor’s decision on whether the doctor should be kept in custody or set free.
Several other papers would follow DN’s example.
On Wednesday afternoon two days after the arrest chief prosecutor Anders Helin and Inge Reneborg, head of the investigative team, held a press-conference which was attended by around fifty journalists. Teet Haerm’s defence counsel Henning Sjoestroem also turned up.
Both Helin and Sjoestroem seemed disconcerted by all the publicity that had attended the arrest. Anders Helin was highly critical of the way in which the journalists had written about the man under arrest. But it was the lawyer Sjoestroem that the journalists listened to.
”Henning Sjoestroem certain: Suspect doctor freed” was the headline carried the next day by ”Dagens Nyheter”, which explained that the chief prosecutor had admitted that the available evidence was not sufficient to mount a prosecution.
The front page of ”Sydsvenskan” carried the headline ”Doctor’s reputation destroyed Sjoestroem attacks police”, and this theme was repeated with variations in other newspapers too. After the press conference it emerged that the police had intervened without actually having sufficient proof. And Henning Sjoestroem accused the police of having leaked information to journalists in the hope that witnesses with information to impart would turn up.
There was one thing on which the lawyer and the prosecutor were agreed at the press-conference. The publicity had ruined the doctor’s future prospects. He had already been found guilty by the press, Anders Helin explained.
On the same day, in ”Aftonbladet”, freelance journalist Lars Ragnar Forssberg launched a sharp attack on the police, whom he saw as having deliberately ”hawked masses of titillating details to the press”.
During the autumn, long before the arrest, Forssberg had heard several journalists talking about the doctor whom the police suspected of having murdered his wife. But no-one, at least until now, had heard anything about the same man having murdered and dismembered a prostitute.
”The police steer information,” Forssberg wrote. ”They let out whatever advances their case. They keep to themselves anything that might help the accused.” And the motive for this was partly to flush out new witnesses and new clues, and partly that they wanted the accused person found guilty in advance:
”Those police officers who, with the tacit support of certain prosecutors, let this traffic continue act as gravediggers of our justice-based society”,
wrote Lars Ragnar Forssberg.
On Friday the prosecutor’s allotted time ran out. The doctor had been in custody for five days and nights. Now he had to be either placed under arrest or set free. It was the moment of truth for chief prosecutor Anders Helin.
Allan Baeckstroem, the head of the investigation team, had saved the police’s strongest clues for this day’s interrogation, which began at half-past nine in the morning and continued for three hours. The material which he and his colleague Lars Jonsson now presented to Teet Haerm and his lawyer included the information about numerous sexual contacts which the police had obtained during the autumn from prostitutes. The two policemen also presented the post-mortem report on the dismembered woman which had been written by the Senior Forensic Pathologist, Jovan Rajs, Teet Haerm’s research supervisor. In the report Rajs claimed among other things that the method of dissection implied that the perpetrator was knowledgeable about surgery and orthopaedics, as well as anatomy and post-mortem techniques.
His report concluded with the words:
”Moreover it should be added that, according to the experience of specialists in the field of forensic medicine, murderers of the type who killed Da Costa have shown a strong tendency to repeat the deed in a more or less similar way with a more or less similar victim.”
Teet Haerm explained that he agreed to a large extent with his supervisor about the conclusions of his report. There was only a single point on which he would perhaps have expressed himself rather more cautiously than Rajs did. And as for the information from the many prostitutes whose photographs the police showed him, he declared in no uncertain terms that in any case he didn’t recognise them. If he had seen them before it must have been in connection with their possibly having been examined at the Department of Forensic Pathology. He stuck to what he had said earlier: it was true that he had often been to Malmskillnadsgatan, but only on one single occasion had he paid for sexual services and then only out of a primitive response motivated by jealousy.
When the interrogation was over it was clear that during those five days and nights, which were now almost over, the police had got no further forward than they had been at the beginning of the week when they first announced their suspicions.
There was no evidence that Teet Haerm’s earlier statement about his wife’s death was false. Nor had the police succeeded in showing that he had had anything to do with the death and dismemberment of the prostitute Catrine da Costa, or even that he had met her. The painstaking searches of his house, his car and his office had yielded no results to bear out the police’s suspicions.
At three o’clock on Friday afternoon chief prosecutor Helin’s time ran out. Just a few minutes before the stroke of three Anders Helin announced that the doctor was to be set free. This did not mean that he was absolved from suspicion, Helin emphasised. He had been forbidden to travel and the police enquiry would continue.
Apart from the stories carried in Saturday’s newspapers about the doctor being released from custody, there had been a sudden silence surrounding the dismemberment murder case. What did drag on was the mass media’s frightening description of a violence-fixated Jekyll and Hyde character who, behind a façade of apparent respectability, represented a deadly risk to the prostitutes he sought contact with.
It was not only individual commentators like Lars Ragnar Forssberg who were critical of the publicity surrounding the doctor while he was in custody. The press ombudsman, on his own initiative, investigated the case from the point of view of journalistic ethics, and eventually declared that several major newspapers had grossly overstepped the mark. They had been in too much of a hurry to make the doctor out to be guilty. They had singled him out in a manner which had caused him great personal injury.
The ombudsman certainly criticised the Malmoe newspaper ”Arbetet” for carrying a large picture of the doctor’s villa in Taeby Kyrkby, but on the other hand failed to take issue with it over the way in which it indirectly revealed the doctor’s identity and likeness to its readers by publishing a facsimile of an article written by Teet Haerm. Nor was ”Svenska Dagbladet” criticised for uncritically repeating ”Expressen”’s assertion that the doctor had slapped a prostitute.
”Aftonbladet”, ”Arbetet’, ”Dagens Nyheter”, ”Expressen”, ”Goeteborgs-Posten”, ”Goeteborgs-Tidningen”, ”Kvaellsposten” and ”Sydsvenskan” had all, according to the ombudsman, broken the rules of ethical journalism. Only ”Svenska Dagbladet” escaped criticism.
Nevertheless this was not a particularly profound judgement on the factual information about the doctor which was conveyed by the media.
If it had been, a number of important corrections would have been required.
For it was actually not true that the police had shadowed the doctor night and day. The sporadic surveillance which the investigators Baeckstroem and Jonsson had carried out, when they followed Teet Haerm’s car, had never uncovered any peculiarities. On the contrary, on one occasion Teet Haerm had caught sight of them and waved to them from his car. Viewed as a surveillance operation, the whole thing did not appear to have been very successful.
Nor was it true that Teet Haerm had been seen picking up some prostitutes in his car. In actual fact none of the investigators had with his own eyes seen Teet Haerm as much as contact a prostitute.
Nor was it the case that the police had begun to suspect Teet because prostitutes had mentioned his name and claimed that he knew the murdered woman. On the contrary the police, despite having mounted a very comprehensive investigation, had completely failed to find a link between the murder victim Catrine and Teet Haerm. Indeed, this was one of the major holes in the prosecutor’s extremely fragmentary chain of evidence.
What on the other hand was true was that Teet Haerm’s photo had been included in an album together with a dozen other snaps of suspected perpetrators and during the autumn of 1984 they had been shown to about two hundred prostitutes in Stockholm’s inner city.
A surprisingly large number of them thought they recognised him from Malmskillnadsgatan. Thirteen of these women told the police they were sure that they had had this man as a client. The descriptions of this man varied substantially. Someone said that he seemed shy and desperate for a show of affection. Other talked of suggestions that they might have sex in lifts in the car park, or of his interest in being whipped or doing the whipping himself. One woman maintained that the man in the photo wanted her to arrange an underage girl as a sex object. The same woman also described how the man suggested that she should masturbate him on an escalator in the department store NK a block away from Malmskillnadsgatan. She had definitely turned down that suggestion, she explained.
As the statements from the prostitutes constitute the most damaging evidence against Teet Haerm, we shall return to them later. For the moment it will suffice to point out that the police files contained no description similar to that in ”Expressen” concerning the doctor’s alleged schizophrenic behaviour towards prostitutes.
It is also important to know that, long before the arrest at the beginning of December 1984, there was a rumour on Malmskillnadsgatan that the police were hunting for a young doctor in a white Golf and that the doctor was suspected of having carried out the murder and dismemberment that same summer. These rumours were sufficiently detailed for a female lay assessor with ambitions to write detective stories to contact the CID’s technical squad as early as mid-September three months before the arrest and tell them that people had said to her that Teet Haerm was suspected of murder.
The report in ”Expressen” that the police ”knew” that Teet had threatened a prostitute with a knife was a complete invention. No such incident had ever come to the police’s attention.
That Teet was in Malmskillnadsgatan the evening before the arrest (as ”Expressen” claimed) is unlikely, as it can be proved that on that particular evening he saw ”101 Dalmatians” with his partner Monika at the Riviera cinema in Sveavaegen, then drove home with her to Taeby Kyrkby. Their arrival was noted down by Reneborg’s contact in the house next-door.
That the sacks in which the murdered woman’s body parts were found were of a special type used at the doctor’s workplace is one of the items of information which were contradicted only a few days after ”Aftonbladet” published them. The claim that the murdered woman was present at the funeral of Teet’s wife (as ”Expressen” claimed) was also contradicted, although not in ”Expressen”.
The claim that Teet cracked a cold-blooded joke when he handed in his article about hanging to the Swedish police a few weeks after his wife’s death as ”Expressen” reported is emphatically denied by the editor who received the manuscript. On the contrary, Teet told him that it had been difficult to finish the article as his wife had died only a few weeks earlier.
The claim that Teet Haerm, as a junior doctor at the State Forensic Medical Laboratory in Solna, could have been able to tinker with a post-mortem report by a colleague who was not only his superior but also an acknowledged expert, so that the police could be fooled as was claimed in several newspapers – founders on its own implausibility. Quite simply, it was not practicable.
But even after these inaccuracies had been deleted from the press reports, there were undoubtedly a mass of questions still to be answered. What kind of person was this, in reality was he a murderer of women, or an innocent wrongly suspected?
The fact that there was no clear evidence was one thing. But of course this was not to say that the police were wrong. Perhaps Teet Haerm was still guilty of murdering his wife and murdering and dismembering a prostitute.
Perhaps he could even be the unknown serial killer whose possible existence had been a subject of speculation in recent years among a number of policemen in the Violent Crime Squad, as they sat in their coffee-breaks discussing the various cases where prostitutes had been murdered and the perpetrators had never been identified.