Psychologically, we are obsessed with reasons, conclusions, and endings. We tend to ignore simple facts because we are obsessed with engrossing conspiracy theories and motives. Netflix’s fictional series, The Unlikely Murderer, tries to depict a similar notion through the real-life story of the assassination of the Prime Minister of Sweden, Olof Palme, on February 28, 1986. In the series, the investigators ignore the mischievous traits of a plump, submissive, and middle-aged graphic designer, Stig Engström. No one could believe that this seemingly innocuous man could pick up arms and shoot Olof Palme. But according to Thomas Pettersson, he did.
The Swedish series, The Unlikely Murderer is based on a book written by Thomas Pettersson. In his accounts, Pettersson claimed that Stig Engström murdered Olof Palme in 1986. He even created a fictionalized interpretation of how and why Stig committed the murder. While Stig was never charged for the crimes until he was alive, Swedish police and prosecution authorities suspect him. In 2020, Krister Petersson announced Stig as the primary suspect in the assassination. However, he received widespread criticism for his theory, as no one had the answer to the question, “Why did Stig Engström shoot Olof Palme? What was the motive for the killing??
‘The Unlikely Murderer’ Plot Summary
On February 28, 1986, at 11:21 PM, Stig Engström shoots the Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, and his wife, Lisbeth Palme, near a diversion on Sveavägen street, in central Stockholm. After committing the crime, Stig runs towards Tunnelgatan and returns to his office, insurance company Skandia, where he works as a graphic designer.
The police arrive at the crime scene. Olof Palme is announced dead on the radio, which sends a tragic shockwave to the entire nation. Lisbeth survives the attack, as the bullet only grazed her back.
Stig returns to his home in Täby and quickly hides his long blue quilted jacket and a cap with prominent ear flaps. During a police interrogation, Lisbeth and Palme’s son describe the identity of the murderer, who looked like Stig. Stig reads the information in the following morning newspaper and gets into action. He quickly connects with the media and reports that the Palme family had mistaken him for the murderer. Stig claims to be one of the prime witnesses of the assassination and gains media attention. Through his fictional stories to feed the media’s gossip section, Stig gets the name Skandia Man.
Arne Irvell, head of the National Homicide Unit, tries to conduct a detailed investigation, but soon politics creeps in. Hans Holmér, Chief of the Security Service, takes charge of the case. He informs Arne that he is the highest-ranking officer in the country and he should lead the manhunt for the Prime Minister’s murderer. During his investigation, Hans refuses to suspect Stig while Stig roams around freely, cooking his own fables around the murderer and gaining media attention.
Evidences Leading to Stig Engström
Hans Holmér characterized Stig Engström as an opportunist who was on a quest to gain popularity from the assassination of Olof Palme. Hence, he neglected his statements and even his presence at the crime scene. Arne Irvell, on the other hand, after a thorough investigation, suspected Stig because he consistently changed his statements in the media. Arne explained to his juniors that Stig claimed to be present at the crime scene, but none of the prime witnesses saw him there. Except for a woman who saw a man fleeing in a long blue quilted jacket that resembled Stig.
In 2008, a journalist, Thomas Pettersson met Pär Häggström, who was Stig’s boss at Skandia. Through Häggström, Pettersson learned about Stig and his involvement in the case. During 1986-87, Arne requested Häggström to keep an eye on Stig, and Pettersson conducted his investigation based on information gathered from Häggström.
- On the night of the murder, Stig went out for dinner at 8 PM and returned at around 9. He finally left the office at 11:19, 2 minutes before the assassination.
- Häggström theorized that when Stig left the office at around 8, he probably saw Olof Palme entering the cinema hall.
- According to Häggström, Stig lied about the time he left Skandia that night. Stig told the press, court, and police that he left the office at 11:21, but in reality, he was outside by 11:19.
- As per Arne Irvell, Stig saw Palme three times that night. The first time was before the film started at around 9. The second time at around 11 PM when the movie ended. Stig wanted to shoot Palme at that moment, but he stopped because he saw Harry Levin’s daughter, Petronella. At that time, Palme’s son, Marten, saw Stig standing near a shop. The third time was when Stig left the office at 11:19 and saw Olof and Lisbeth walking towards diversion outside Skandia.
- Häggström discovered that the alarm for the back door in Skandia’s office went off on the night of the murder from around 10:35 to 11:22. The door opened to the back alley that led to Grand Cinema. Stig probably would have used the back door to leave the office for the second time that night.
- The police chief investigator, Hans, refused to believe these theories centering around Stig. He couldn’t accept the fact that a man like Stig could get a gun or even use it in public.
- During his private investigation, Pettersson found out about a magnum revolver that was licensed to Harry Levin. Stig was a friend of Harry, and Stig took pride in being a part of Harry’s elite circle. In 1985, Harry showed his gun collection to Stig that included a .357 magnum. Pettersson surmised that Stig stole the weapon from Harry’s collection and used it to shoot Olof Palme. However, it was never found out whether Stig stole the gun or Harry gave it to Stig.
- Stig was employed by the Army Ordnance Administration during his service in the army. He was a member of their shooting club, and thus, Pettersson concluded that Stig probably knew how to shoot a gun.
With these significant pieces of evidence in hand, Thomas Pettersson published his book. During The Unlikely Murderer series, it was revealed that Stig had discarded the blue quilted jacket and ear flap cap he wore on the night of the murderer. In 2020, Krister Petersson publicly announced Stig Engström as the prime suspect in the assassination of Olof Palme. However, the investigators failed to explain Stig’s motive behind the murder.
Stig Engström’s Motive for Assaulting Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme
According to Thomas Pettersson’s accounts and information grasped from The Unlikely Murderer series, the motive behind the murder was not intentional but psychological.
Stig Engström was a neglected individual who lived a life in the shadows. He suffered from a childhood trauma that could also be a cause of his alcoholism. Stig was born in India to Swedish parents, Ruth and Folke Engström. For some unclear reasons, Stig’s parents left him in Sweden to stay with his Uncle Erik and Aunt Siv. At that time, Stig was 12 years old and suffered a separation from his parents. He never explained the trauma caused by separation, probably because it was a wound that was never traced. The emotional trauma and the feelings of rejection at an early stage made him inhabitant, reserved, and insecure.
Stig was bullied in school. The fellow mates in his dorm mocked Stig for not being able to play bridge. Later, Stig learned to play bridge and became a part of an elite group in Täby who loved to play bridge. Häggström explained that Stig loved to brag about the titles of his elite friends. However, Stig’s old friend, Harry Levin, often embarrassed Stig in front of the group.
Amidst such embarrassment was a man who was trying to find existence and recognition in life. Stig’s second wife, Margareta, told Pettersson that Stig liked politics because politicians had an influence, and Stig craved it.
As a result, Stig Engström’s motivation was not part of any exciting conspiracy theory involving “Stay Behind,” the PKK, the KGB, or the CIA. Instead, according to the series, it was a psychological act by an unstable man. Stig was looking for attention and recognition, which he never got in his life. His parents rejected him, his friends considered him useless, and his own firm never lauded his efforts. He wanted to commit the perfect crime and get away with it, and the assassination of Olof Palme happened to be his medium.
Later in The Unlikely Murderer series, Stig’s friend Harry mocked him again and called Stig a forgotten star witness. Harry explained that Stig hadn’t been in the media for three years and was probably forgotten. Stig unleashed his anger on Harry, and without wasting any time, he fabricated a new story and called the journalist to publish it. Even when Stig visited a psychiatrist, he proudly told her that he was a prime witness to the assassination of Olof Palme. Whenever the police arrested an individual for the murder, Stig would look at the report and smirk. As if he was telling himself that these fools would never be able to catch him.
The man who dwelled in shadows committed the perfect crime and died with it. Stig was mentally unstable; however, the symptoms were minute and untraceable. Only Häggström pointed out Stig’s violent and changed behavior when he was denied promotion in the office.
After Margareta left Stig and divorced him in 1999, Stig couldn’t survive another separation in life and died in his apartment in June 2000.
‘The Unlikely Murderer’ Ending Explained
In 1999, after his divorce from Margareta, Stig called his first wife and tried to gain her attention by telling her that he was Skandia Man. He wanted to have kids and thus recalled his first wife’s son Rikard. One could sense that Stig, at that moment, was on the verge of breaking down. He confessed to Harry’s daughter, Petronella, that she was close to saving him that night. Stig remembered the night again and recalled Petronella coming out of the Grand Cinema. It was the second time Stig saw Palme when Stig sneaked out of the backdoor.
Petronella had always been kind to Stig, and thus her presence made him change his mind. Stig died in his sleep, feeling guilty about the third time he encountered Olof Palme. He once tried to tell the psychiatrist that he felt guilty for the acts of that night. Even Arne Irvell explained that if Stig hadn’t seen Palme the third time, he wouldn’t have committed the grave sin.
In 2020, chief prosecutor Krister Petersson, leading the Palme unit, decided to close Palme’s murder case. While gathering evidence, he contacted Stig’s wife, Margareta. Maria Johansson from the Palme Unit inquired Margareta about two anonymous tips made from Idre on the evening of March 5, when Stig and Margareta were on holiday in Idre. The tips tried to create an alibi for Stig and were probably helping Stig. Krister wanted to know if Margareta was an ally in Stig’s grand scheme and made these calls from her cabin in Idre. Margareta denied any connections.
With limited evidence in his hand, Krister Petersson presented his prosecutorial decision to the public on June 10, 2020. In his conclusion, Petersson categorized Stig Engström, the Skandia Man, as the prime suspect in the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. But because Stig died in 2000 and could not be prosecuted or brought to trial, Petersson closed the case because the suspect was not alive.
The Unlikely Murderer is a 2021 Swedish television series based on the book written by Thomas Pettersson.