Sture Ragnar Bergwall (born 26 April 1950), also known as Thomas Quick in 1993–2002, is a Swedish man previously believed to have been a serial killer, having confessed to more than 30 murders while incarcerated in a mental institution for personality disorders. Quick was convicted of eight of these murders. However, he withdrew all of his confessions in 2008, as a result of which his murder convictions were quashed and he was released from hospital. The episode raised issues about how murder convictions could have been obtained on such weak evidence, and has been called the largest miscarriage of justice in Swedish history. Journalists Hannes Råstam and Dan Josefsson made TV documentaries and books about the murder cases; they claimed that bad therapy led to false confessions, Dan Josefsson claims that a "cult" like group led by psychologist Margit Norell manipulated the police and talked Sture Bergwall into false confessions.
Bergwall grew up in Korsnäs with his six siblings. He adopted his mother's maiden name, Quick, around 1991. After a history of delinquency (molestations of boys and stabbing a man), Quick was sentenced in 1991 for armed robbery.
Confessions and convictions of murder
After the robbery conviction, Quick was confined to care in an institution for the criminally insane. During therapy, he confessed to more than thirty murders committed in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland between 1964 and 1993. The therapy sessions were followed by police interviews. One of his confessions led to the solving of an 18-year-old murder considered to be unsolvable, and another to the informal solving of a murder in Växjö in 1964. This 1964 crime was outside the then 25-year statute of limitations in Sweden, but with the information given by Quick, the case was considered closed.
With no eyewitnesses or technical forensic evidence to connect him to the crimes, Quick was convicted solely on the basis of his own confessions while undergoing recovered-memory therapy on benzodiazepines followed by police interrogations. Details in the confessions were wildly wrong and Quick relied on hints and body language from his interrogators to guess the answers expected of him. Bergwall/Quick had been researching unsolved murders on microfilm in the Royal Library, Stockholm when he was on day release and confessing to a murder in Norway led to a Norwegian newspaper writing his story. Quick requested back copies including earlier reports of the story from Norwegian journalists and could include details hitherto unknown to the Swedish police that they concluded only the perpetrator knew. Nine-year-old Therese Johannessen had disappeared from Fjell in Drammen in 1988 and had not been found since. Ten years later Quick was convicted of murdering her. The crucial evidence was the discovery of burnt bone fragments from what should have been a child. In 2012 laboratory tests showed that the supposed bone fragments were composed of wood and glue fused together - probably hardboard. An analysis had not been performed before the evidence was presented to the court.
Examination of his answers showed that his initial attempts to provide answers to questions concerning, for example murder weapons and birthmarks, were wrong, leading questions were asked in police interviews, and the initial erroneous guesses edited out of the version presented to the court.
The involvement of therapists meant that Quick's early failure to provide anything more than a vague, confused and vacillating picture that gradually sharpened and focused was explained away as the result of repressed memories being retrieved as a result of therapy; e.g. In the judgment for the case of Therese one can read that the psychologist Christianson told the court that "Traumatic events are retained in the memory but there can be protective mechanisms that work in the unconscious to repress their recall." Similar arguments about Quick/Bergwall's "repressed" memories recur again and again in the judgments."
The credibility of Quick's confessions was widely debated in the Swedish media. Critics of these confessions, and the trials, including a policeman involved in one of the investigations, wrote that there was no evidence that tied Quick to any of the murders he had confessed, and that until he could show something he had taken that belonged to one of his victims, the probability was that he was a compulsive liar. In a December 2008 television interview with Hannes Råstam Quick denied taking part either in any of the murders for which he had been sentenced or in the more than 30 murders he had confessed to.
Because the only evidence to support the convictions were his own confessions, that he now retracted, and nothing else remained on which to base the judgments, Sture Bergwall changed his lawyer and the eight murder convictions handed down in six trials were all quashed on appeal, the last one in July 2013. Thomas Quick, who now reverted to his birth name of Sture Bergwall, was set at liberty after having been confined for more than twenty years in an institution for the criminally insane, with conditions that he refrain from alcohol and narcotics.
Between 1994 and 2001, Quick was convicted of eight murders (in chronological order) at six different District Court trials:
- Charles Zelmanovits, Piteå 1976, sentenced in 1994 – no forensic evidence, except for the confession – Sentence quashed: July 2013
- Johan Asplund, Sundsvall, 1980, sentenced in 2001 – no body, no forensics except for the confession. Sentence quashed: March 2012.
- The Stegehuis couple, Appojaure (Gällivare) 1984, sentenced in 1996 – no forensics, but Quick gave information regarding facts that had never been disclosed to the public. His confessions were later questioned, as Quick seemed to have been privy to all information before the trial – retrial granted by the Supreme Court. Sentence quashed: May 2013.
- Yenon Levi, tourist from Israel, Rörshyttan, 1988, sentenced in 1997 – no forensic evidence, but statements included in Quick's testimony such as his incorrect guesses at the murder weapon (in the police interviews, Quick/Bergwall guessed a camping axe, a spade and a car jack before arriving at the correct answer – a wooden club). The incorrect guesses were not mentioned in court. Sentence quashed: September 2010.
- Therese Johannesen, Drammen, Norway, 1988, sentenced in 1998 – bone fragments presented as forensic evidence turned out to be hardboard. Sentence quashed: March 2011.
- Trine Jensen, Oslo, 1981, sentenced in 2000 – no forensic evidence. Sentence quashed: September 2012.
- Gry Storvik, Oslo, 1985 – no forensic evidence, confession; the semen found in victim did not belong to Quick. Sentence quashed: September 2012.
In Sweden a defendant always gains access to the full police investigation prior to the trial. Quick's lawyer Claes Borgström has been criticised for failing to protect his mentally disturbed client's objective interest in being judged not guilty.
Confessions and subsequent withdrawals
In the years following 1990, when Quick was sentenced to closed psychiatric confinement, he confessed to several well publicised unsolved murders. His first murder, according to his own accounts, occurred in Växjö in 1964, when Quick was only 14 years old. The victim, Thomas Blomgren, was described by Quick as being the same age but not as strong and tall as himself. At the time of his confession, the murder was already subject to the statute of limitations which Bergwall/Quick later admitted was a reason for confessing; but later, it transpired that Quick had a watertight alibi. On the day of the murder he was attending his own confirmation with his family at the Pentecostal Church.
The second alleged victim was Alvar Larsson, whom Quick claimed to have murdered at Sirkön in the lake Åsnen outside the town of Urshult. According to Quick's sister, Quick never left Falun at the time of the murder.
The credibility of Quick's confessions had been widely debated in the Swedish media since 1993, up until 2008, when Quick withdrew all of his confessions. There have been consistent doubts about the reliability of his statements, and some of his confessions have been proven to be fabrications – The two African refugees Quick confessed to murdering in Norway were found to be alive and well.
A DNA sample from a crime in Norway was subsequently found to be a mismatch, and there was no technical forensic evidence to link Quick to any of the crimes. Another dubious circumstance is the fact that no witnesses have ever testified to seeing Quick in the proximity of any of the crime scenes, even though more than 10,000 people were interviewed for intricate details.
Critics of these confessions and the trials claim that Quick never murdered anyone, but that he is a compulsive liar. Among the critics are the parents of a child he confessed to having murdered in the late 1970s. In response to these accusations, Quick himself wrote an article for the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter in 2001 in which he said that he refused to cooperate further with the authorities concerning all open murder investigations.
In November 2006, Thomas Quick's trials were reported to the Swedish Chancellor of Justice by retired lawyer Pelle Svensson on behalf of the parents of a murder victim who wished to have the trials declared invalid. Several principals in the fields of law and psychiatry, among them Swedish criminologist and television crime commentator Leif G. W. Persson and two police officers involved in the investigation of the murders who refused to involve themselves further in the investigations all claim that Quick has a history of mental illness, but it was unlikely he was guilty of any of the crimes to which he had confessed. The handling of the Quick cases has been described as the "most scandalous" chapter of Scandinavian crime history, branding it as glaring incompetence, naiveté, and opportunism within the police and judicial system.
Quick withdrew all of his confessions in 2008 during the recording of a TV documentary, made by prize-winning investigative journalist Hannes Råstam, who died shortly before his book version was published.
Quick's attorney contended that the prosecution withheld important investigative material from the defence (which the prosecution adamantly denied). Quick's attorney claimed that his client is mentally ill and was being given prescription drugs (benzodiazepine) when he confessed to the killings. These arguments were some of the grounds for quashing all the eight murder convictions in six trials and six appeals.
Thomas Quick, now having reverted to his birth name Sture Bergwall, recanted his confessions and requested the Svea Court of Appeal order a new trial for the murder case of Yenon Levi at Rörshyttan. In December 2009, the court of appeal granted a retrial of the Yenon Levi case. In the judgment, the court found that the lower court had heard that Quick correctly identified the murder weapon. However, information had been withheld from the court that initially, Quick had made many erroneous attempts to identify the murder weapon before finally giving an account that corresponded with police findings.
Quick moved for a judgment of acquittal, and was acquitted in September 2010. Quick's counsel also declared his intention to ask for a retrial of the Therese Johannesen case, claiming that Quick had an alibi for the day when Therese Johannesen was abducted and murdered. SKL (Statens kriminaltekniska laboratorium The Swedish State Forensic Laboratory) found in March 2010 that two exhibits claimed by the prosecution to be bone fragments were, in fact, pieces of hardboard. A retrial was granted, and Quick formally acquitted when the prosecutor dropped the charges.
On 30 July 2013, Quick was acquitted of the last of eight murder convictions.
Sture Bergwall has been released from Säter's institution for the criminally insane and most of the treatment plan has been made confidential and subject to secrecy. However, from the uncensored portions released to the press, it is apparent that Bergwall has not taken medication for several years and is assessed as not requiring any.
A 2015 documentary film, The Confessions of Thomas Quick, recounted Bergwall's life and his murder confessions and retractions, including interviews with Bergwall and other participants in the events. In it Bergwall explained that he made the confessions to gain attention due to profound loneliness. The documentary claims that Bergwall knew little about each murder, but was fed details during questioning, enabling him to build up enough information to persuade people he had carried them out. It also claims that as a result of his confessions Bergwall was given privileged treatment in the hospital, including drugs and therapy on demand, his own office with computer and Internet access, and restaurant meals when going out to visit murder sites, and that this may have encouraged him to continue confessing to more and more crimes.