Foreword to ”Döden är en man” (Death is a Man).
At the beginning of 1994 I received a journalism grant from the National Council for Crime Prevention. My intention was to carry out a pilot project which at a future date could be expanded into a research-based investigation of the way in which the news media handle crime stories. The original issue was not particularly theoretical in character. I simply wanted to compare the news media’s portrayal of a crime that had attracted attention with the facts in the case. To what
extent did the general impression which journalists gave of, for example, the evidence in a case, actually correspond with what, for want of a better word, could be called ”reality”: i.e. the various facts which emerged in the preliminary investigation and the trial?
There were several reasons which persuaded me to choose the case of Catrine da Costa, the young prostitute whose dismembered body was found in black plastic sacks in Solna in the summer of 1984. The legal proceedings against the two doctors, who were prosecuted four years later for murdering her and cutting up her body, developed into what
has sometimes been called the Swedish criminal case of the century. The evidence in the case was disputed and the mass media’s interest in the whole business was almost overwhelming.
In addition, I was later to become curious about this case for more personal reasons. My wife worked for several years as a forensic pathologist at the Department of Forensic Medicine in Solna after the so-called Dissector was arrested by the police. I knew a little bit about the working environment at the department and I knew that some of the Dissector’s former colleagues were highly critical of the legal proceedings. The feeling was that the courts had been influenced by the public mood, which had been shaped by the publicity surrounding the case.
This was to become the other issue examined in my project. Was there anything in the material relating to the Catrine da Costa case which suggested that the courts had demonstrated sensitivity to expressions of public opinion? Were there any signs that the publicity surrounding the case had influenced the judicial process?
For various reasons this pilot project ended up taking far more time than I had ever imagined it would. In the archives of the courthouse alone there are around four thousand pages of trial material. Add to this the documents in the Administrative Court of Appeal and Court of Appeal, and the exhaustive and secrecy-shrouded police investigation of the case,
which I was eventually allowed access to. The large numbers of newspaper articles and radio and TV items about the case made it necessary to impose strict limitations on my choice of extracts from the media coverage.
As the work progressed, the two original questions came to merge into a third question which was more acute and more alarming. Had the two doctors in fact been victims of a miscarriage of justice?
The reason is simple. The secrecy-shrouded police investigation, which I was allowed to study, not only showed very little correspondence with the mass media’s description of the case. It also barely met the requirement of the individual’s rights under the law, which one ought to have been able to demand in the circumstances.
The reader must decide whether or not the facts aired in the book answer this overarching question.
It soon became obvious that the trials of these two doctors are still highly charged conversational topics for many people who came into contact with them in one way or another. In the course of the project about a hundred people were interviewed. Several of the most important interviewees made it clear to me from the start that they had no intention of repeating in public what they had told me behind closed doors. The reason for this will hopefully emerge from the contents of
The warm thanks which I wish to direct to these people will therefore have to find expression in another context. Here I would like instead to thank the National Council for Crime Prevention for the grant which enabled me to get the project under way.
The openness and unpretentiousness on the part of the police with regard to allowing me insights into the original preliminary investigation of the case lead me to hope for their understanding also when it comes to the criticism of the police investigation which is an important part of
the book’s contents.
I am particularly grateful to Professor Leif G.W. Persson, who, with patience and great intellectual generosity, acted as facilitator whenever the project threatened to grind to a halt. Without his support it would in practice scarcely have been possible to carry out.
Many thanks also to omniscient colleagues in the newspaper archives of Aftonbladet, Dagens Nyheter, Expressen, Svenska Dagbladet and TT and their esteemed colleagues in The National Archive of Recorded Sound and Moving Images.
Stockholm, November 1998