Swedish prosecutors identify chief suspect in Olof Palme case

Swedish prosecutors have pointed towards a lone local gunman who is now dead as the probable killer of former prime minister Olof Palme 34 years ago after one of the world’s biggest police investigations.

Stig Engstrom, known in Sweden as the “Skandia man” because he left the head office of the Skandia insurance company shortly before Palme’s assassination on February 28 1986, is the “one suspect we cannot look past”, prosecutors said on Wednesday. The statement comes after an investigation involving 23,000 leads and 10,000 interviews.

The death of the former Social Democrat prime minister has haunted Sweden for decades and has spawned countless theories about why he was shot dead shortly after leaving a cinema with his wife in central Stockholm one winter night.

Known for his leftwing beliefs and support of resistance movements around the world, Palme was a divisive figure internationally and the murder investigation focused on possible links to Kurdish militants and South Africa.

The decades-long investigation has been plagued by mis-steps and questions remain over whether the Swedish public would be satisfied with what prosecutors have presented.

Christer Pettersson, an alcoholic and drug user, was convicted in 1989 of the murder, but freed the following year by an appeals court due to a lack of evidence of motive.

Stig Engstrom outside Skandia’s office in April 1986 Stig Engstrom outside Skandia’s office in April 1986 © via REUTERS

Engstrom, a graphic designer, told media in the days and weeks after the assassination that he was present at the scene of the assassination on Stockholm’s busiest street. However, prosecutors said no other witness had placed him in the aftermath of the shooting.

He belonged to a shooting club and was known to dislike Palme, but prosecutor Krister Petersson said he could not “put a specific gun in his hands” as the weapon used in the murder has not been found.

Engstrom was not interviewed by police at the scene and changed his story over time. Investigators said they first became interested in him in 2017 because his statements on the assassination were not corroborated by other witnesses. 

Police called the Palme probe one of the largest ever undertaken in the world, comparing it with those into the 1963 assassination of US president John F Kennedy and the Lockerbie aircraft bombing in 1988.

Prosecutors tried to understand whether Engstrom was simply somebody who wanted “the spotlight” or was a serious suspect. His appearance on the night in a dark coat and cap fitted with what many of the eyewitnesses said, although there was some disagreement between them.

Leif GW Persson, a Swedish criminologist and author, told TV4 that the announcement was “a very big disappointment”. He added: “[prosecutor Krister] Petersson has not been able to produce anything substantial in this matter other than his own interpretation of what has happened.”