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The man who confessed he was a serial killer
  1. John Launer
  1. Postgraduate Medical Journal, London WC1H 9JP, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr John Launer, Postgraduate Medical Journal, London WC1H 9JP, UK; johnlauner{at}

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In December 1990, two men carried out a bank robbery in a small town in Sweden. It went farcically wrong. The men wore balaclavas and Santa Claus masks, and attempted to fake Finnish accents, but they were well known in the town and were easily recognised. They were arrested immediately. The younger man was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. The other man, a forty-year old called Sture Bergwall, was sent for psychiatric assessment because of a troubled past history. He had been a patient in a secure unit for 5 years in the 1970s, following sexual harassment of boys. He had also once stabbed someone seriously, was on long-term prescription drugs, and was known to use street drugs as well. Instead of going to prison, he was readmitted to the same secure psychiatric unit he had been in many years previously.

In the normal course of events, Bergwall might have expected to be there for the same period as the prison sentence served by his accomplice. In fact, he remained there for over two decades. A year or two after his admission, he began to disclose to the psychiatric staff that he had at various dates in the past committed murder. In the following years, he confessed to around 39 murders in total, some relating to crimes that had been prominently in the news, while others involved unknown victims. He was convicted of eight of the killings, becoming the most notable serial killer in Swedish history, and a focus of huge media attention. In 2001, he finally announced that he would no longer collaborate in further investigations, so it was impossible to pursue the many other murders he claimed he had carried out.

In the years that followed, an investigative journalist called Hannes Råstam scrutinised the …

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