The Palme Murder: A Brief Overview

The assassination of Olof Palme is the only unsolved murder of a top European politician in the 20th century. A brief overview of the facts.

Friday, February 28, 1986, 11:21 p.m. Location: Stockholm, Sweden.

Olof Palme and his wife Lisbeth visit the cinema Grand that evening. After the movie, they decide to go home on foot, without guards. On the corner of Sveavägen and Tunnelgatan, 300 meters from the cinema, Olof Palme is shot in the back. He is killed instantly. Lisbeth gets slightly wounded when a second bullet skims past her back.

About twenty people experience (part of) the facts as witnesses. The perpetrator flees into Tunnelgatan. He takes the murder weapon with him. Not only Sweden, the whole world reacts in shock.

Victims

Olof Palme, 1984. Photo: Ministry of the Presidency. Government of Spain

Olof Palme is Prime Minister of Sweden from 1969 to 1976 and from 1982 until his death. Although himself coming from a conservative business background, he pursues a politically leftist course with a strong focus on social policy. Internationally, he stands out as an advocate of peace and self-determination for peoples. He is controversial because of his sharp rhetorics, his strict tax policy and his contacts with communist leaders. This leads to polarization especially in Sweden.

His wife Lisbeth is a psychologist. Together with Olof, she has three sons, the middle one, Mårten, is also present in the cinema on the night of the murder.

Police investigation

The police investigation lasts for 34 years. If you pile up all the interrogations, analyses and other investigative material you get a skyscraper 250 meters high. A total of 134 people have confessed to the murder without committing it. And until today, no perpetrator has been caught.

The murder is most likely committed with a magnum revolver caliber 357, fitted with Winchester Western Metal Piercing bullets. The weapon, the key to the mystery, has never been found.

Suspects

A solution seems close at times. Shortly after the murder, Victor Gunnarsson, an eccentric who expresses hatred for Palme, is briefly detained. In 1988, the police arrest Christer Pettersson, a violent criminal recognized by Lisbeth Palme. He receives a life sentence, but is acquitted on appeal in 1989. The evidence cannot convince.

After this, the Palme Group, as the police team is called, searches for international conspiracies with ramifications as far away as the United States and South Africa, for local extremists, for lone madmen, and is deluged with tips and criticism. And always the culprit seems to outsmart the police.

Cold case Palme

On June 10, 2020, the prosecutor unexpectedly presents a new suspect: a man named Stig Engström, who for years has been considered a witness rather than a perpetrator. However, anyone who reads the prosecutor’s argument carefully sees no evidence of Engström’s involvement.

Consequently, the storm of criticism of the investigation does not calm down. But because Engström has since died, the investigation does come to a halt and Palme’s murder turns into a cold case.

Or is a solution conceivable after all?

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