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Jan Bondeson, Blood on the Snow

Cornell University Press,  2005. ISBN: 0801442117

Reviewed by Henning Koch in SBR 2006:1

So many experts and so many crackpots have speculated on the murder of Olof Palme that anyone coming fresh to the question would have a hard job making head or tail of it. In his Blood on the Snow, Bondeson has set out to provide a round-up of the conspiracy theories, as well as a reassessment of the actual police investigation. His account makes for interesting reading, and yet this book is a case in point: unless one actually double-checks all of his sources – and there are thousands of them – it is difficult to be sure that one is actually getting accurate information. In the immediate hours after the murder of Olof Palme there was such bewilderment in the Stockholm police that some commentators have speculated that right-wing elements in the police were colluding with the murderer. Bondeson does a fine, forensic job of describing the minutiae of those first few hours after the shooting. Even though up to 20 police vehicles were deployed in the immediate manhunt, no general alert was issued until 02:05 am, some three hours after the murder, when the police released descriptions of two “foreign-looking” murderers aged between 40-45, one of them wearing a blue parka – although witnesses on the scene had spoken of a tall, broad-shouldered lone killer in a dark overcoat. Several witnesses also stated that the Palmes were speaking to the murderer for some moments before he suddenly drew a gun and fired. This was later flatly denied by the investigating team. Bondeson later develops this contra-diction into one of the mainstays of his alternative theory, based on two assumptions: firstly, that the killer and Olof Palme knew each other; and secondly, that their meeting was pre-arranged. While Bondeson presents a plausible scenario, it is difficult to determine its accuracy. Plausibility is not truth. Would Olof Palme really make the catastrophic misjudgement (as Bondeson asserts) of walking with his wife into a dark street in order to meet an associate involved in an illicit arms deal? The police response was dismal – in fact, so dismal that at times one questions whether it could really have been quite as bad as Bondeson suggests. Officers set about their search of the surrounding streets without a description of the killer, and no grid system was employed. No road blocks were put in place, or metro or train stations watched. About a week after the murder, Hans Holmér, the chief of police, issued a drawing made by a witness of a man seen running not far from the murder scene. Immediately dubbed “The Phantom” by the press, this image featured heavily in the media. The police investigation was deluged with 8000 leads, bogging it down for months. Yet “The Phantom” was a fictional creation based on hearsay. The 1999 Palme Commission criticized the release of “The Phantom” as the most serious error of the investigation. Hans Holmér was removed from his post in March 1987, having made no deviation at all from his dogged determination that Palme was murdered by the PKK, a Kurdish terror group. Nothing but circumstantial evidence was ever produced to back up his claim. Subsequent investigators, including the by now ubiquitous Ebbe Carlsson – the king of the conspiracy theorists – continued investigating all manner of leads. Eventually the police managed to find a real suspect. Christer Pettersson, a petty criminal with a number of violent convictions and gangland connections, was again a plausible murderer and many of the detectives involved still believe he was the guilty man. Yet no conclusive case against him was ever proved, no gun ever found, and before the line-up, Lisbet Palme had already been coached by the police, thus rendering her identification of Pettersson quite useless. Pettersson maintained his innocence throughout and was finally cleared. To this day there is no real evidence of who murdered Olof Palme. Bondeson uses Blood on the Snow to present an interesting theory of his own – namely that Palme was dispatched at the behest of middlemen setting up one of the biggest arms deals in Swedish history. The $1.2 billion howitzer deal with India was crucial for the Swedish economy, and Palme had exerted himself greatly to secure it. However, Bondeson speculates that Palme may have threatened to halt the deal when a number of bribes came to his attention. This would have been reason enough for several people to want to assassinate him. This is a well researched book that avoids flights of fancy, concentrating instead on the facts and ambiguities of the case. Yet in spite of Bondeson’s considerable efforts, the achievement of this book is merely to emphasize the impossibility of ever reaching any firm conclusions about this crime that struck at the very heart of the People’s Home.

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