Kajsa Norman

Why have the Swedes been incapable of finding Olof Palme’s murderer?

The prime minister’s assassination in 1986 shocked the world. Despairing of the Swedish police, Stieg Larsson attempted to solve the crime himself

Any Swede old enough to remember knows where they were when their prime minister Olof Palme was assassinated. On 28 February 1986, Palme was walking home from the cinema with his wife when an unknown assailant stepped out from the shadows and shot him. We mourned not just the man, but the death of the nation that Palme personified — a safe place where nobody, not even the prime minister, needed protection.

As though to emphasise the inconceivability of the event, the murder investigation became a textbook study of police incompetence. Frustrated by the lack of progress, countless ordinary citizens began to conduct their own inquiries, fuelled by various conspiracy theories.

One of the people who caught the ‘Palme bug’ was the late crime writer Stieg Larsson. Immediately after the assassination, Larsson, then a graphic designer at the TT News Agency, went in search of the killer among the segments of society that he knew and detested most — the extreme right. By the time he died in 2004, Larsson had amassed some 15 boxes of research materials into the murder.

In The Man Who Played With Fire: Stieg Larsson’s Lost Files and the Hunt for an Assassin, the journalist Jan Stocklassa reopens Larsson’s lines of inquiry and, leveraging a storeroom full of his notes and letters, attempts to build on his evidence and solve the case once and for all.

While it was the Millennium trilogy that brought Larsson fame, it was exposing the far right that he considered his life’s mission. Brought up by his grandparents in Sweden’s rural north, Larsson was heavily influenced by his grandfather Severin, a devoted communist. As a result, Larsson’s far-left convictions grew so strong that even socialist Sweden was too right-wing for him. From Stocklassa we learn that when the Social Democrat newspaper Arbetet (The Labour) offered Larsson
a research assignment, he replied:

You know that I’m not a Social Democrat, right? I’m a Trotskyist and I write for the International.

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