Death is a man. The story of the dissector and the general practitioner

Chapter 3

One who was destined to succeed

CHIEF INTERROGATOR: Has it ever seemed to you that Teet was, sort of, what you would normally It’s not right to talk about ”normal” or ”not normal”, but you’ve talked about Teet’s coldness and so on. Has it ever seemed to you that he is actually a normal member of the team, but finds it difficult to show his feelings?

POST-MORTEM ASSISTANT: Yes. Yes, I’ve thought about that myself.

CHIEF INTERROGATOR: What have you decided then?

POST-MORTEM ASSISTANT: I haven’t really decided anything. I mean ­ for example he’s He didn’t have it too bloody easy when he was growing up, I don’t think. Considering that he isn’t in touch very much with his dad. I know for example that he In the beginning when he came here, he thought He said that he envied me, the way I had such a good relationship with my dad, so that we could even work together sometimes. His dad had obviously left the family, when he was ten or something, as far as I could understand. And then he obviously hadn’t been in touch again. Not a word to Teet or anything. All right, if he doesn’t give a damn about his old woman, that’s one thing, but just to abandon the kid. It’s a bit weird. I know that my dad was up here at Leone a year ago and when he was on his way out again, Teet looked at somebody. Then dad said, ”Who’s that, was it somebody you knew?” ”Oh, it was my dad”, he said, then off he went. They never greeted each other.

CHIEF INTERROGATOR: And you think that this could have contributed to his coldness, which he finds it hard to overcome?


From a police interrogation of staff at the Department of Forensic Medicine at Solna, November 1984.


Teet’s father fled from the Russians in Estonia towards the end of the war. That was in 1944. His father was sixteen. The German army of occupation was in flight from the Red Army’s offensive. Faced with the prospect of Estonia once again becoming a Soviet satellite state, thousands of Estonians followed the German troops in their retreat.

The sixteen-year-old ended up with relatives in Germany. At university in Karlsruhe he read economics, before managing to emigrate to Sweden. That was where the rest of his family had fled, and he was able to take out Swedish citizenship there.

But a German high-school certificate and a half-completed university degree were no qualifications to speak of, as long as he had no command of the language of his new country. During his first years there he worked in a shoe-factory in Oerebro while teaching himself Swedish. At university in Stockholm he gradually succeeded in completing his economics degree. He found a job with a family business in the printing trade and married a Swedish girl, the daughter of a master painter.

They had a son. The father was a man with fixed opinions about how a family should function. It was the man who ought to work, and the wife should take care of the house and the children. He worked hard himself. Eventually, he was rewarded with success. He was given a key role in the printing works and became the person who kept the business on a tight rein. Work took up most of his time. Spending time with his family had to come second.

In retrospect people would say of him that he had always had a loveless relationship with his son. His own opinion was that there was not enough time for everything he had to do. He had to choose. And work was the most important thing for him. He was in a new country and it was on his shoulders that responsibility rested. He had to create a position in society for himself and his family.

The son acquitted himself to his father’s satisfaction, even if he sometimes thought that Teet was a mother’s boy. They had placed him in the Estonian school and he was always among the best in his class. He stayed at home in the evenings and there were never any complaints about him. Unlike the other children in the class, Teet was bilingual from the start with Swedish as the dominant language. But the Estonian inheritance was important to his relatives on the father’s side, and jealously guarded by them. This gave the boy, from an early age, a feeling of oddness which would grow stronger when he eventually started attending a wholly Swedish school. Neither Estonian nor Swedish was how he came to see himself.

The son was short, like his father, and slender like his mother. Even as a boy he was quiet and reserved, and when roused or eager his voice would betray a trace of a stammer. There was something disarming in the way he dropped his gaze and was unwilling to look the person he was talking to in the eye. Perhaps it was simply shyness.

Teet’s boyhood friends found his father hard and domineering. It was the mother who held the home together and ensured that her son got the care he needed. Her relationship to her husband worsened later. As soon as Teet had his fifteenth birthday she decided, against her husband’s wishes, to go out to work. She obtained a post at police headquarters in Stockholm and enjoyed her job, but her husband was displeased. A woman should take responsibility for the home and be content with that.

When Teet was in final year at grammar-school and had to do a period of work experience, it was his mother who fixed up his work placement for him. First she tried to get him into the State Criminal Police Technical Laboratory, which was still in Stockholm at that time, but they were unwilling to take Teet on, saying that he was too young. Instead, she tried the Department of Forensic Medicine in Solna, and was told that he was welcome to join them.

Teet was seventeen years old. He spent two weeks in the department and was allowed to accompany forensic pathologists and post-mortem technicians as they went about their daily round, and to see for himself how the police and forensic specialists worked together on cases of suspicious death.

As far as Teet’s father was concerned, it was self-evident that he would go on to study at university. With his examination marks he ought to be able to get in anywhere. There were two courses which tempted him above all others. Either the medical course at the Karolinska Institute or technical physics at the Technical University in Stockholm. He applied to both. In the autumn term of 1973 he was accepted to read medicine and began a five-year course. He had chosen one of the most prestigious careers in Swedish society. His father had good reason to be satisfied. Yet it was at precisely this juncture that he broke off contact with his son.

Teet was fourteen in the autumn of 1968, when the students’ union building at Stockholm University was occupied by radical student groups. When public debate about Swedish society was suddenly radicalised at the beginning of the seventies, classrooms in secondary schools and grammar schools also became an environment in which political appraisals came to play an ever-increasing role. The leftist current was strong in those years, especially among the young and well-educated. For Teet and many of his friends, whose parents had fled from Soviet oppression, it was almost a conditioned reflex to shift to the right when the majority of their contemporaries moved leftwards.

Teet himself gave hardly any impression of being especially politically conscious. On the contrary he belonged to a gang of fellow-students, whose numbers varied, and whose members were prepared to oppose their contemporaries who attached themselves to the FNL or one of the other radical groups who, to them, seemed to be Communist-influenced.

During his time at grammar-school Teet became involved with the Conservative Party’s youth wing. Several people who moved in those circles would later make their career in the Conservative Party (Moderata Samlingspartiet), including his childhood friend Peeter Luksep and others with an Estonian background, but also youth politicians such as Lena Liljeroth and her future husband, the Conservative leader Ulf Adelsohn.

One evening in September 1972 a newly-formed Young Conservative school society held its annual meeting at Soeder in Stockholm. It was that evening that Teet met Cattis for the first time. He was eighteen, but looked younger. She was fourteen, but looked more mature. Despite her youth she had already impressed the other pupils as a quick-thinking and colourful debater and she was elected secretary of the new committee, of which Teet was treasurer.

Teet and Cattis continued to meet, but not until the summer of 1975 did they decide to live together. Teet was now twenty-one and had started his first term at the Karolinska Institute. Cattis was seventeen. She had left grammar school after first year and was working as an assistant nurse in an old people’s home.

When Teet told his parents that they had decided to live together, his father was upset. His son ought not to hazard his future for the sake of moving in with a girl who was still a child. He could not allow his son to take such a step, not now, not before he had finished his studies. To get oneself an education was one thing, to start a family was something else. Teet had to wait, his father explained. If he didn’t respect his parents’ wishes enough to complete his education, before starting a family, then his father would have nothing more to do with him.

But for once Teet was neither compliant nor obedient. He had actually reached the age of majority now, he pointed out. It was his life and his decision. And he would complete his education in any case.

Much later, his father would describe his son’s rebellion against the paternal will as something which he could never have imagined in his wildest dreams. Anyway he didn’t understand how his son had had the time to indulge in an intimate relationship with a girl.

”It came as a shock to me. He always came home, he was never out ­ he was home at latest by ten o’clock every evening. He didn’t smoke. And I’ve never seen him with a glass of spirits.”

His father took part with a bad grace in the engagement party, which was arranged by Cattis’ parents, but after the engagement he was as good as his word. He broke off relations with his son altogether, and told his wife to warn him in advance when Teet was coming to visit, so that they wouldn’t have to bump into each other. After all, Teet had shown that he didn’t care what his father thought. So there was no reason at all for them to meet, his father declared, deeply hurt.

The estrangement between Teet and his father prompted Teet’s mother to take the step she had been contemplating for a long time. The divorce was low-key. The husband kept the flat and the car. His wife got the summer cottage and found herself a new flat.

The most important thing for her was not to lose contact with Teet. In reality, she hadn’t been particularly happy about her son’s choice of girlfriend either, but she was keen to stay on good terms with both of them. And she was sure that her son wouldn’t let her down.

Teet and Cattis were married at the end of September, 1976. It was a civil marriage, but the wedding photo was unconventional. The bride wore a black dress and stood beside her bridegroom, who was also dressed in black. He sat and she stood. It was Cattis who had decided how the photo should be posed, and she had also chosen the colour of her dress. Teet on his part had made a number of practical contributions before the wedding. He saw to it that a marriage settlement was drawn up for both of them. In addition, each of them wrote out a will. He was twenty-two years old and she was eighteen.

They had been lucky enough to find a semi-modern two-roomed flat in a back building in Krukmakargatan, next to Zinkendamm’s sports ground on the south side of Stockholm. Teet’s studies went completely according to plan. In order to supplement his funds for studying he occasionally did night duty as an auxiliary at the Soeder hospital a few blocks away. He spent two summers as a locum junior doctor up in Norrland along with Cattis, who worked as an assistant nurse.

After three years he received his bachelor’s degree, and contacted the Department of Forensic Medicine in Solna, where he obtained a short-term post as a junior doctor.

A forensic physician called Bertil Falconer was to be his first mentor. Falconer proved to be an inspiring exemplar of this highly specialised branch of medicine, and in Teet he saw promising material for a forensic pathologist. Knowing how important it was for a newly-appointed junior doctor in the department to make the right contacts in the police, he talked to detective inspector K.G. Ohlsson, an experienced murder investigator in the Violent Crime squad in Stockholm, and asked him to introduce Teet at police headquarters.

As far as one can judge everything went well for Teet during this first period at the Department of Forensic Medicine. He learned quickly and showed himself to be almost pedantically meticulous, a not unimportant quality for a competent forensic pathologist. Through Falconer and his colleague Jovan Rajs, Teet was also enabled to take part in some of the research projects in the institute of forensic medicine which was in the same building as the pathology department. Rajs invited him to do some research on heart traumas resulting in death, and on the typical injuries suffered by the victims and the perpetrators of murder by strangulation.

It was difficult to get ambitious younger doctors to stay on at the Department of Forensic Medicine. The work load was often extreme. There might be fifty post-mortems to carry out in a day. Many newly-appointed junior doctors had jumped ship as soon as they found something better, but Teet seemed to be both interested and industrious.

Since Falconer and Rajs were both keen to have him back on completion of his doctor’s degree, they saw to it that he was allowed to carry out his final stint of practical work at the Soeder hospital in Stockholm, and they made it clear to him that he would be welcome back as soon as he had obtained his doctor’s certificate.

When the staff at the department held an improvised leaving party for Teet, Cattis was invited along too. His colleagues gave him a doll with a lamp-flex tied round its neck, as a joky reminder of the study of typical defensive injuries found in cases of murder by strangulation which Jovan Rajs and Teet had worked on together. Much later, during the police search of his house in December 1984, this doll was found among Teet’s belongings and was cited during one of his trials as evidence that the Dissector’s predilection for scary mascots exposed his deviant personality.

Contacts with his old student crowd had become more and more sporadic as his studies took up more and more of his time. He carried out his practical work on the wards successfully. When at last he was finished, he applied to the Department of Forensic Medicine again and was taken on as a doctoral candidate in the field of forensic medicine at the Karolinska Institute with Jovan Rajs as his supervisor. The topic of his doctoral thesis was studies, based on animal experimentation, into drug-induced chronic lung and heart changes. The aim was to achieve a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the deaths of the many drug addicts who died every year in a large metropolitan area like Stockholm.

Despite his youth and his relative inexperience, Teet’s precision and his strong professional ambition had won the respect of his older colleagues. A doctor at the Soeder hospital who had been Teet’s supervisor during his time on the wards knew the forensic pathologist Robert Grundin at the Department of Forensic Medicine. The two of them decided to put Teet’s name forward for membership of The Society, an ancient and exclusive men’s club on the British model with premises next to Blasieholmstorg in the banking quarter. Teet was about to take his place in the establishment. The future looked bright.

The first three chapters of ”Death is a Man” have been translated by Harry D. Watson for English-speaking visitors to ­

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