In search of an assassin

Updated: Oct 06, 2019, 07:43 IST | Jane Borges |

Author Stieg Larsson of the Millennium trilogy fame, spent 18 years of his life trying to solve the cold-blooded assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. A new book that digs into his archives, might have the answers

Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. Pic /Getty Images
Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. Pic /Getty Images

In a 1986 letter to Gerry Gable, the late thriller writer and crime journalist Stieg Larsson called the assassination of the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme as "one of the most unbelievable and amazing homicide cases I've ever had the unpleasant job of covering". Gable was the editor-in-chief at Searchlight, a radical magazine in the UK and Larsson, 32, was working as an illustrator at the Swedish news agency, Tidningarnas Telegrambyra (TT), harbouring hopes of becoming a crime journalist.

For the next 18 years or so, Larsson would feverishly obsess and research about the unsolved assassination of Palme, who was shot dead a few minutes past 11 pm on February 28, 1986 after he had walked out of Stockholm's Grand Cinema with his wife. Simultaneously, Larsson also penned the bestselling Millennium trilogy of crime novels, which earned him fame, though posthumously. In 2004, Larsson died of a heart attack aged 50. Following his death, all of Larsson's extensive research on Palme's assassination, which included letters, interviews, newspaper cuttings among others, were reduced to cold files.

Cut to 2013, nearly nine years after Larsson's death, Swedish writer Jan Stocklassa got access to these forgotten archives. The result is an unputdownable thriller, The Man Who Played With Fire: Stieg Larsson's Lost Files and The Hunt For an Assassin (Amazon Crossing) translated from Swedish by Tara F Chace. Stocklassa likes to describe his book as a "work of creative non-fiction," which combines Larsson's original research and his own.

When Palme was assassinated, Stocklassa was a 21-year-old student of architecture, living 500 km from the site of the incident, in Gothenburg. Little did Stocklassa know that three decades later, the assassination would occupy a significant part of his life.

He calls the Palme murder mystery a 'nasty virus'.

"Everybody who starts looking into it risks being infected. I definitely caught it... I have been researching for close to 10 years. Stieg Larsson started it on the first day after the murder and went on until he died," the 54-year-old writer admits.

Stocklassa himself stumbled upon Larsson's research quite by chance. "I was writing a different book about murder sites and during my research, I found an unsigned memo about a 'middleman' in the assassination." On digging deeper, he discovered that the author of the note was Larsson and that there was likely that the late author had left behind a lot more research material.

According to Stocklassa, there was no indication that Larsson had been researching the assassination. "Several books have been published on Larsson's life, but none of them mention his interest in the Palme case. When I discovered the existence of the documents it was vital I got access to them because I wasn't able to get further with my own research," he says.

Six months after he found the memo, Stocklassa was standing in front of a sheet-metal door at a rented storage facility on the outskirts of Stockholm. "I hoped to find a few more documents, but when the door rolled up it revealed 20 cardboard boxes filled with Stieg's forgotten archive," he recollects.

Stocklassa says his stubbornness to get hold of the archives, paid off. "After picking up Larsson's cloak and meeting with the people he suspected of being involved, I am convinced that he'd been on the right track already a few months after the murder," he says.

Jan Stocklassa
Jan Stocklassa. Pic courtesy/ Big Shot

Like Larsson, Stocklassa also believes that the Swedish Police had botched up the investigations. "The investigation was too big for the Swedish police, who made crucial mistakes on the first day itself. Among those who contributed to the mess were the top two lead investigators who followed incorrect leads," Stocklassa says.

In the book, Stocklassa writes that Larsson suspected the involvement of the apartheid government of South Africa. "Palme identified himself a democratic socialist. So he detested the South African apartheid regime." he says. While exploring the lead, Stocklassa came across Craig Williamson, an intelligence agent who was willing to be interviewed. "He's confessed to and received amnesty for several killings towards the end of the apartheid regime and told me that he did the dirty work for his government and that his government did the dirty work for Western governments," Stocklassa says.

Since the release of the book, which has now been published in 27 languages, Stocklassa says he's been meeting the police regularly. "They've confirmed to me that they're following the chain laid out by Stieg Larsson and me.

But, the world's largest murder investigation requires more than the four police officers."

Even so, Stocklassa remains convinced that the assasin will be revealed. "And it [the murder] will be solved soon," he says.

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