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True crime. Casually done.

The Lake Bodom Murders

According to my vast knowledge of world cultures, the people of Finland mostly spend their days cross-country skiing down their eastern border, keeping a lookout for Russian battalions. But I’m also informed that, in their downtime, they also like to make the most of their country’s vast swathes of natural beauty.

Finland is an outdoors paradise, filled with dramatic mountains, and vast lakes; there are more hunting, fishing, and camping opportunities than you could ever hope for. Today’s case, however, might make you think twice before pitching your tent out in the forest.

Outdoor adventure can turn to slasher movie terror in the blink of an eye, and with nobody around to help, the consequences can be horrific. That was exactly what happened at Lake Bodom, near the southern tip of the country, just a short drive from Helsinki.

The name of that beautiful place will forever be synonymous with the terrible events that unfolded there over 60 years ago. What began as a bloody story about an attack on a group of teens, spun into the most enduring mystery in all of Finnish criminal history: the story of the Lake Bodom Murders.

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The Crime

Morning and Afternoon

On June 4th, 1960, a group of teenagers were riding on mopeds around the edge of Lake Bodom, in southern Finland. These were — and you’re really going to have to excuse my pronunciation here — Maila Irmeli Björklund, her boyfriend Nils Wilhelm Gustafsson, and another couple named Anja Tuulikki Mäki and Seppo Antero Boisman.

Lake Bodom, where the murder occurred.
Lake bodom by Felipe Tofani is licensed under CC-BY-SA

Both of the girls were 15 years old, and the guys were… 18. Yeah, it was a different time. Regardless, a questionable age gap is the least of our worries today. The two girls knew each other from vocational school, while the boys were both apprentices at a foundry. 

The campsite they chose for this weekend was at Högnäs, a peninsula on the southern edge of the lake. Once they arrived there in the afternoon, they pitched their tent, and settled in for a nice relaxing day in nature, going swimming and fishing before the short nordic nighttime set in. Oh, and the boys did a bit of drinking — it is Finland, after all.

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Evening

It was around midnight by the time the group settled down to bed in their single tent, but we know from Maila’s journal that they weren’t down for long. She wrote “5th day, camping at Lake Bodom. Sepi and Nisse were drunk. Up at 2am. Sepi was fishing.” 

It’s thought that both of the boys were struggling to sleep, so decided to do a bit of late-night angling to pass the time. Now, I don’t actually remember what it’s like to go outside, but I’m told it’s beautiful. 

In such a lovely place, surrounded by gorgeous scenery all illuminated in the moonlight, the two boys must have been feeling pretty damn carefree. The vodka buzz probably helped, but mostly the scenery.

When they were done, they returned to the campsite, and crawled into bed to settle in for the night.

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Morning Scene

It’s now morning, and the peaceful scene of that evening prior has been replaced with one of pure horror. The tent has collapsed, its beige canvas soaked red with blood. Under the fabric, we can make out the form of two bodies. Another lies on top of the tent: young Maila, naked from the waist down and disfigured from countless stab wounds.

Of the four campers, only Nils Gustafsson is still alive. He lies unconscious outside the tent, suffering from similar head injuries to those that killed his friends and partner — their skulls had been fractured from blunt force trauma, and knife wounds criss crossed their arms.

Gustafsson had survived the hits to the back of his head and jaw, but only just; cerebral fluid was leaking from his nose. On top of that, there was a gash on his cheek so wide and deep, his teeth showed through it. 

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Found

The scene I’ve just described is gruesome enough from a distance, but imagine actually coming across it in person. That’s exactly what happened to Esko Johansson and his son, who had gone down to the lake to swim at around 11am. 

Before diving in for a dip, he spotted the collapsed canvas in a clearing, and went over to investigate (hopefully without his kid by his side). By 11:15am, both of them were running back to town as quick as possible to call the police. While they were away, another man named Sigurt Voulasmaa stumbled across the same grisly sight, and went off to make the same phone call.

When the authorities arrived, they were able to cart off Gustafsson to the hospital, where he spent a few weeks recovering. The attack had left him with a potential brain injury, and therefore some pretty foggy memories about exactly what went down. 

Still, the police were able to get some key details from him with the help of hypnosis — a common police method at the time. His account of what happened would give rise to one of the most mystifying and infamous cases in Finnish history.

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What Happened?

So what exactly do we know about what happened that night? How did a simple camping trip go so horribly wrong?

Well, we can narrow down the time of the murders to some time between 4 and 6am. The short nights up this far north meant that an attacker would only have a limited window of opportunity if they wanted to work in secret, before any early birds were out wandering the forest.

That’s exactly what happened at 6am. It was about 6 decades before Fortnite, so young boys were still doing strange things like hiking and birdwatching. Two such young lads spotted the collapsed canvas tent from a distance on their morning stroll, but didn’t really think anything of it.

They reported seeing a blonde man walk away from the site at the time, but didn’t think to call the police. As far as they knew, all they were seeing was the morning after a wild woodland vodka party (probably not a rare sight out there on the weekends).

This blonde-haired individual would be painted in greater detail by Gustafsson, who had the somewhat vague recollection of a man dressed in black starting down at him through a hole in the tent. Rather than coming through the entrance of the tent, this man had cut the guy ropes to ensnare the teens inside, before stabbing and beating them through the fabric. 

A fisherman’s son who had been angling relatively near the campsite hadn’t heard any commotion, but he did report seeing this mysterious blonde individual walking down a path that morning. Now, I know what you’re thinking: isn’t everyone blonde in these Nordic countries? Well, kind of — I’ll admit it doesn’t narrow things down much.

The only other details we have are that he was around 5’8”, and likely in his twenties. An observant onlooker at the crime scene might also notice that this assailant had taken the wallets and bike keys of the teens, as well as some of their clothes. Were he to be caught with them in his possession, it would undoubtedly serve as conclusive proof.

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The Investigation

But, if it’s conclusive proof you’re looking for, then don’t go calling the Finnish police circa 1960. As soon as they arrived on the scene, the chances of solving the crime actually plummeted rapidly, which is exactly the opposite of what I look for in a police force.

A host of officers, search dogs, soldiers, and onlookers descended upon the area to contaminate the crime scene with all their wayward trampling. Authorities never even bothered to set up any police tape to cordon off the area. This meant that in the days which followed, any campers who hadn’t heard the news could easily have come and set up on the very same spot! Even all you hardened outdoors folk out there would probably think twice about that…

Despite this immediate parade of blunders, they were able to extract some interesting clues from the campsite. For one, Gustafsson’s shoes had been recovered around half a kilometer south from where the tent was pitched. 

As for the rest of the missing belongings, they were never recovered. The same was true of the murder weapons, thought to be a knife and rock. The Finnish army conducted a thorough search of both the lake and surrounding forest, but it seemed like the killer had taken both with him. 

However, he might have left one key clue behind turned up during the army’s search: an empty drink bottle floating in the water near the campsite. Two fingerprints were lifted from it, and with that, the authorities were now hot on the trail of… probably just some random litterer who threw their Coke bottle in the lake. 

Seems like the guys tasked with finding the missing objects felt they needed to justify their jobs somehow

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A little more substantial than that, and a hundred times more perplexing, was the pillowcase next to the tent: rolled up and held with an elastic band. Investigators found traces of blood and semen on the fabric, but peculiarly none of these could be definitively linked to the victims. It’s possible that a mix of multiple people’s blood and/or semen could have confused the results of the relatively rudimentary testing back then, but we’ll never know for sure.

At the morgue, closer inspection of the bodies offered up nothing much more than some freshly horrific details. Boisman, for example, had suffered stab wounds to the neck, likely dying from blood inhalation. Bjorklund had defensive wounds on her arms; she had been stabbed around fifteen times, some of them probably after she was already dead.

As for the man who inflicted those wounds, officers spent the next several days searching the forest and setting up road checkpoints to try and find him. Their dragnet approach amazingly managed to net a full 88 wanted persons who had been roaming around out there in the countryside to the northwest of Helsinki. That’s pretty good going, but unfortunately none of those captured were the mysterious murderer of the teens. 

All in all, over 4000 people would be interviewed in the hope of finding him, and several likely candidates were identified. So who was the mystery blonde man? As I said before, when the police were trying to get a better description of what he might look like, they employed hypnosis on the survivor,  Gustafsson. 

He gave a description which was eerily similar to that of the fisherman’s son, meaning that the sketch which police had drawn up, of a chisel-jawed man, with high cheekbones and quiffed back hair, was likely accurate. 

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Suspects

So let’s arrange a lineup of all the potential suspects. This is where things start to get even weirder, because we’re about to meet some bizarre characters, most with extremely shady pasts.

Pauli Luoma

The first promising candidate was one Pauli Kustaa Luoma. This wasn’t based on a likeness to the police sketch, but something even more obvious: a dust-covered Luoma had approached a carpenter who lived in the forest to ask for a cigarette at around 10am on the day after the murders — he had bloodstains on his arms and chest.

Case closed, right? Yes indeed, just not our case. See, Luoma was wanted by the police, as he was an escapee from a labor facility at the time. He had a track record of robbery and theft, but was very unlikely to be the one who killed the teens at Lake Bodom, as he had a bulletproof alibi for that evening. 

It’s likely the blood was just his own, from whatever misadventures he went through during his getaway.

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Pentti Soininen

So if it wasn’t the escaped thief, how about an escaped psychopath? Apparently Finland is just crawling with fugitives, and it just so happened that another one was in the area at the time. This was Pentti Soininen, then just 15 years old, and on the run from his care home. 

Nobody really suspected him at the time, but as his violent offenses racked up over the following years, winning him a psychopathy diagnosis, officers interviewed him about his time near Lake Bodom. This proved fruitless, and Soininen was ruled out as a suspect; he wasn’t near the campsite on that night.

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Valdemar Gyllström

We’re now moving on towards the two potential suspects who offer up the most for us to chew on. The first is one Valdemar Gyllström. I swear each new name is getting harder and harder to pronounce. Instead, I’ll just call him by his local nickname: Kioskman.

That was, understandably, because he owned a kiosk in the nearby town of Oittaa, just a little west of where the campers were set up. Now, although Kioskman’s nickname might make him sound like a short-lived superhero from some crap old comic, he was actually a well-known villain around town.  

He was a violent alcoholic with a track record of aggression towards his wife and kids (doubt he’ll be getting a spot in the MCU any time soon). More importantly though, this villain was also known to hold a grudge against any and all campers in the area. 

You know the hillbilly at the start of a slasher movie who tells the teens “we don’t take kindly to new folks round these parts”? That was basically Gyllström. This didn’t just mean dishing out angry glares either; he went as far as throwing rocks at visitors to the forest, putting razor blades inside apples, and: cutting guy ropes…

It seems there’s a clear motive there then. A strange one, but a motive nonetheless: the guy just couldn’t stand campers. Add to that the similar methodology to his past harassment, and it seems like we might have our man. This misguided guardian of the woods was one of the first people the townsfolk cast their suspicions upon, leading to the police searching his property.

As it turned out, in the time between the murders and their search, Kiosk Man had reportedly filled in a well on his property with dirt. Although the police never came up with any of the missing objects during their search, years later his son-in-law later maintained that he was certain they were buried down there.

His wife, on the other hand, argued for his innocence. She told the police that he couldn’t have committed the murders, because they were at home together that whole evening. It’s thought by some that her defense of Kioskman caused the police to wrap up their search much faster than they should have. Perhaps they really had found their guy, and let him slip by.

Even if it were the case, there’s zero chance of him ever standing trial; in 1969, the Kioskman walked into Lake Bodom, and drowned himself. 

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Hans Assmann

If you thought that last entry was pretty wild, the next one is a cut above. Our second prime suspect was a 36-year old German man named Hans Assmann (simmer down — we’re all grown ups here). Hans also lived in Espoo, just a few miles from the scene of the crime, and had even more local legends woven around him than our last maniac.

One was that he had been a prison guard at Auschwitz during World War 2, although that kind of rumor was probably spread about every German expat in those days. A more believable story though, is that he once belonged to the Luftwaffe. After his death, his sister produced proof that he had in fact received a pension from them. 

He wasn’t shooting down fighter planes during the last years of the war, however. Those he spent inside a Soviet POW camp, after being captured in 1943. People in Oittaa believed that during that time, Hans was recruited as a spy by the KGB. 

Again, I should probably state that this kind of rumor was likely not exactly novel in a country which was always on high alert against Russia, especially at the height of the Cold War. At the same time in the West, the FBI were keeping tabs on anyone they even suspected of communist sympathies, ready to give them a kick with the steel-toed jackboot of freedom. 

Finns and Americans alike were being extra paranoid about the Red Terror to the east. So it’s very possible that Hans was actually just your everyday, average Joe ex-Nazi. That being said, the KGB spy angle might not be so fantastical after all.

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See, there’s one other little detail that might lend the rumor some credence. When Hans returned to Germany after his release in 1945, he met a Finnish woman named Vieno who he’d eventually go on to marry. She was also a suspected spy, on account of the fact that she assumed false names when she visited various countries, and nobody could quite understand why.

But never mind that for now: we’re looking for a murderer, not hunting for KGB spies — that’s my day job, and I don’t really like talking shop after I clock off. As it turns out, we also have plenty of reasons to suspect that Hans was responsible for the Lake Bodom killings.

He turned up at the Helsinki General Hospital on the 6th of June acting strangely. His clothes were stained red, and it appeared there was dirt under his fingernails. While doctors were preparing to treat him for an unknown ailment, he pulled some weird stuff like pretending to fall unconscious, and throwing abuse at the staff.

More importantly though, he fit the description of the mystery blonde man to a T. A future university professor named Jorma Pala was the doctor assigned to see to him, and he was convinced that he had found the guy from the radio reports. He called the police, who came in to interrogate Hans. 

Amazingly though, they never thought to take away his bloodstained clothes for analysis. They just reported that Assmann had a strong alibi which exempted him from suspicion. What was that alibi? Well, at first, it was deemed of such a sensitive nature that it couldn’t be made public, but court documents later revealed the situation: he was “getting some”, as the kids say. 

The married Assmann was off in Helsinki, staying at an apartment with his side chick. Her landlord backed up this story by saying he saw the two of them at breakfast time. Apparently the hostess had woken up at 6am to prepare the morning meal, and roused the lovebirds at 9am to come down for coffee. 

If Hans were to have snuck out to commit a murder, he’d have to have had the stealth skills of… oh, I don’t know — a KGB spy?

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As for the red stains on his clothing, he explained that to the police as the result of some drunken home decorating at a job site. Doctor Pala wasn’t convinced though. Even decades later when writing books on the case, he maintained that Assmann really was covered in blood, and the police made a fatal misstep in taking him at his word.

And most importantly of all: he looked so unbelievably like the police photo fit, you’d have thought he posed for the sketch! Surely nobody is that unlucky, right? This must have been the man the witnesses saw. He coincidentally changed his hairstyle not long after the description went public, but the rest was a strong match. 

For all you Assmann apologists out there however, there remains some reasons to doubt that it really was him who was seen there. See, Olavi Kivilahti, the fisherman’s son, didn’t have the best eyesight. He was nearsighted, and estimated that the mystery man passed by at a distance of about 50 meters.

It’s possible that at least some of the details he gave were just him filling in the blurry blanks. Is it possible that he already had the image of the local legend Hans Assmann in his mind when doing so? It’s a stretch, but stranger things have happened.

But how then, would the victim Gustafsson have been able to give a matching description from his recollections? Well, maybe they weren’t really his recollections after all; neuroscientists have gone on the record to state that the kind of amnesia he was suffering from could not have been bypassed using hypnosis, as was carried out by the police. 

Had he somehow found out about the description of the blonde man given by the fisherman’s son? It’s unlikely, and would have required some major slip of the tongue on the police’s side. Still,  not entirely outwith the realms of possibility. 

Even if that were the case though, what would Gustafsson’s incentive be to lie about the whole thing? Well, we’re actually not at the end of our lineup of suspects just yet — there’s one final unlikely addition we need to consider.

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A Surprise Arrest

It’s now 44 years after the murders, March 2004. Most have given up hope of finding any conclusive resolution to the story, and its one survivor is now in his sixties. The Finnish public was shocked when, with little warning, Gustafsson himself was brought in by the police, and charged with the horrible crime committed against his friends all those years ago. 

This new development was based on modern forensic analysis of a key piece of evidence, the shoes found stashed 500m away from the campsite. Remember I told you that old-timey blood analysis would struggle to extract anything useful from a cocktail of different samples mixed together? Well, modern analysis has no such drawbacks.

It found that Gustafsson’s footwear had on it the blood of the three other victims, but none from the man himself, suggesting whoever had committed the crime would likely have been wearing them at the time. This and some undisclosed new DNA evidence led to the spinning of a new narrative, in which Gustafsson had come into conflict with his friends, enacted a horrifically bloody (and disproportionate) revenge, and finally went to extreme lengths to cover up his crime.

After spending 59 days in jail waiting to discover what would happen to him, Gustafsson was released when the judge deemed him to not be a flight risk. He would have to wait another 14 months however, before getting to properly defend himself against the accusations in court.

The trial commenced on August 4th, 2005.

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The Trial

Prosecution

As I said, the prosecution’s case rested on the shoes. Not only was there no blood from Gustafsson on them, but there were some striking blood patterns which seemed to prove beyond a doubt that the killer was wearing them during the murder (a fact long assumed by investigators). This meant that either a raging town drunk or KGB hatchet man decided to swap shoes with the 18-year old before killing him and his friends, or that the killer was actually the rightful owner of said shoes.

It was also suggested that it was in fact Gustafsson who the two young birdwatchers spotted leaving the camp early that morning. He was the tall blonde figure, heading off to hide the evidence of his crime in the woods.

Without an obvious motive to go on, the prosecution essentially whipped one up out of a few limited ingredients. Regardless, it’s certainly worth hearing them out. See, a new witness had just come forward to tell of how, when they went off walking alone, Gustafsson and Boisman had stumbled across another campsite a mile or so round the lake.

The witness was a woman who was staying there, and she said she spoke to the young men that night. Apparently Gustafsson had overindulged on the alcohol, and was trying to fight his mate. Still, how many of you have gotten in a shouting match with a friend after a few vodkas? That’s standard UK pub behaviour, and not necessarily proof of murderous intentions.

How about proof of a guilty conscience though? It was alleged that two different individuals had actually heard the accused admit his guilt in the years which followed the crime. One was a lead investigator, although the statement Gustafsson made in front of him was so vague that it didn’t prove much. Another was a female acquaintance who said she overheard him bragging about escaping justice around a decade later.

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That about accounts for all of the major pieces of evidence, so let’s take a look at the narrative which was pieced together from them. Some time in the evening, Gustafsson made sexual advances on Björklund, who rejected him. He wasn’t happy, and his resulting outburst caused the others to kick him out of the tent.

Rather than settling down for a drunken sleep on the ground, Gustafsson returned shortly after, and was confronted by Boisman. The two got in a fight, and the suspected murderer ended up getting a good smacking, potentially causing his broken jaw and other facial fractures. 

Still not content to just chalk the night up as a loss, Gustafsson returned a second time. Now he was armed with a knife in one hand and rock in the other. It was he who cut the guy ropes, then fell upon the trio in a frenzy of striking and stabbing. It’s possible that one of them managed to kick out through the canvas, scoring another hit on his face which could have been the cause of his injuries. 

After the heaped mass under the tent stopped moving, Gustafsson enacted perhaps the most sadistic part of his revenge: he kept stabbing at the body of Björklund — twisted retribution for rejecting him earlier. All in all, he stabbed her 15 times.

After the fog cleared, Gustafsson realized he would soon be in trouble when the day trippers returned to the forest. Thinking fast, he decided to grab various items from the victims to imitate a robbery. He did away with them somewhere nobody would ever find them. Who knows where, because… well, nobody ever found them.

Before getting rid of the knife, he proceeded to carve into his own body to simulate an attack on himself. With that taken care of, he returned to the tent shoeless, before lying down and waiting for the police to eventually arrive. Medical expert witnesses were called by the prosecution to argue that he had in fact exaggerated the scale of his injuries at the time.

This allowed him to cast himself as an innocent, traumatized victim for over four decades, before the law finally caught up with him…

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Defence

Wow, that’s some story. If it really is the case, then Gustafsson would have to be one of the most ruthless, quick-thinking, and devious killers we’ve ever covered on the show. But the defense team had plenty lined up to try to prove that wasn’t the case.

They argued, for example, that if the drunken teen really had taken a beating strong enough to break his face bones up, then he would struggle to take on three people in a scuffle, even given the fact they were stuck in the tent. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever been punched before, but it hurts. Is it really believable that with such a mix of head trauma, self-inflicted wounds, and drunkenness, Gustafsson would have had the energy and presence of mind to execute such an expert cover-up? 

And never mind a punch to the face; we already know that the man had some more pressing medical emergencies to deal with. Namely the gaping hole in his face and crack to the back of his skull. The defense called their own medical witnesses to counter the claims of exaggeration. They presumably just took the stand for a few seconds to say “Mate, there was literally brain juice dripping out his nose.” 

I mean, if young Gustafsson was able to fake those symptoms, he must have had no problem pulling a sickie at school. And on top of that, his broken jaw and facial bones matched those of the other victims, meaning they were all likely done with the same technique and weapon, and most importantly: from the same angle. 

The blood evidence offered up some similar support; the accused’s blood was inside the tent too, meaning he was either attacked while sleeping next to his friends or the prosecution’s alleged scuffle happened inside. Also, the rest of his clothing was curiously absent of any blood splatters like those which peppered his shoes. 

And remember the new DNA evidence teased by the police in the leadup to the trial? Well, it never really materialized in any significant way. The mystery pillowcase with traces of blood and semen wasn’t even included, as it continued to stump pretty much everyone involved. So much so that it seemed they were all content to just pretend it didn’t exist for the sake of convenience.

Then there’s the logical issues with the narrative itself. If Gustafsson really wanted to hide the shoes, why not dispose of them in the same way as the still-missing objects? How did he walk all the way back to camp without leaving dirt all over his relatively clean socks, or at least on his feet? And if he really were acting out of frustrated rage, why would the woman that rejected him get a worse attack than the man who humiliated him and beat him down?

To top it all off, the fisherman’s son who gave he report of the strange blonde man was adamant that it was not Gustafsson. The birdwatchers, given the fact they caught a fleeting glimpse, could neither confirm nor deny. 

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Result

You’ll have noticed that I just sprinkled enough seeds of doubt to grow a whole orchard, and that typically doesn’t go well for the prosecution. In a resolution issued on October 7th 2005, judge Lama Heikki Mikkola acquitted Gustafsson on all charges. The jury asserted that there simply wasn’t enough evidence to prove the prosecution’s narrative, which seems pretty clear given all the unresolved questions. 

Gustafsson raised another court case seeking compensation for his imprisonment, eventually managing to get just shy 45,000 euros for his trouble — not bad for a couple month’s work. He believed he was still due more compensation for dragging his name through the mud.

Throughout he whole affair, the tabloids had been plastering his face all over their front pages and speculating on his guilt. He understandably wanted to have a go at those vultures as well, but his request to sue for defamation was denied.

Consider for a second what we’ve just seen unfold. It’s very likely that, based on some paper-thin evidence and investigative hunches, the sole survivor of a brutal knife attack was hauled off to court to be accused of the crime. Over the course of the affair, he even had to look at the same tent in which the bodies of his friends and girlfriend once lay, pitched once again inside the courtroom.

Assuming he really is innocent, 45k seems like a majorly cheap payout for all that stress! 

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Kiosk Man Returns 

So that was a surprising little detour, right? But a dead end, as it turned out, so where to go from here? Well, it’s worth retreading some old ground before we finish, as I’m not quite done with our diabolical duo of suspects from before. First, let’s return to the first suspect, for Kioskman 2: Sociopathic Boogaloo. 

As it happens, Gustafsson wasn’t the only person who was reported to have confessed to the crimes. Kioskman also took the blame during several conversations with acquaintances, the last being a drunken exchange with his neighbor at a sauna one evening in 1969. It just so happened that he killed himself the very next day.

Police had followed up on these reports over the years, but gave little credence to them, as the man was known to be extremely troubled. They just assumed that this famously drunken, violent guy was being a drunken, violent idiot. It is possible he was just leaning into the townsfolk’s existing suspicions, for reasons which probably only make sense to the sort of people that hide razor blades in apples. 

You might not be so fast to let him off the hook, however, when you hear that his wife, who had originally given him his bulletproof alibi, revealed that she had only done so because Kioskman threatened to kill her if she didn’t comply. Really she had no idea where he was. 

None of this inspired any major action from the detectives, so you have to wonder if this was maybe just a case of idle town gossip being jumped on by the press. It’s not like Kioskman was short of enemies, after all.

One of his most vocal opponents was local politician Ulf Johansson, who later wrote a book called… [deep breath] Legenden om Bodom: Århundradets Mordmysterium…  putting forward the case for the ornery shopkeeper’s guilt. Within its pages, he purported to prove that this violent local nuisance had previously been committed to a mental institution.

Safe to say that his name is still in competition for that top spot on the list of suspects.

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The Assmann Cometh

And contestant number 2, as we all know, is everyone’s favorite possible KGB agent: Hans Assmann. The model Aryan has been the subject of the majority of the cold case digging over the years, and as it turns out he was an even more suspicious character than we first thought. 

The German’s brushes with the law in the years before and after the killings reveal a character who had a strong propensity for violence. For example, in 1961 police jailed him for severely beating his wife Vieno in public, kicking her even after she fell down in pain. Thankfully, Vieno was able to get out of that horrific situation after another 9 long years.

Free of Hans’ control, she revealed that he often spent time in the area where the crimes occurred, meaning he was very familiar with the terrain. If local suspicions are to be believed, he was also no stranger to murder. He was a person of interest in the murder of a teenage girl killed in a hit and run while riding her bicycle, and in another case where two young girls were killed… while camping.

If the perpetrator of the Lake Bodom murders was an experienced killer who knew how the investigation might go, perhaps some of the evidence, such as Gustafsson’s shoes, was intended to divert the police’s attention. That’s just speculation of course, so let me give you something a little more concrete. 

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Hans Assmann passed away in 1997, but before he did, he called a journalist to his sickbed to record his memoirs. The result was a book which detailed the often cryptic conversations which transpired between the two. When asked about the Lake Bodom murders, Hans replied: “I suppose you expect me to talk those tent and knife things[…] I have to disappoint you, I will not speak about the details, I will not admit nor deny things.”

Not a solid no, by any means. Even on his deathbed, with nothing to lose but perhaps his reputation, he wouldn’t confirm either way. This intentional ambiguity drew the renewed ire of the public, who laid into the police for not pursuing the angle properly. 

Then, when unsealed court documents revealed that his supposedly rock-solid alibi turned out to be a pinkie promise from the landlord and hostess — distant relatives of Hans — the authorities were slaughtered in the papers. Another book was released a few years later which added fresh fuel to the fire, and crystallized a bizarre theory which had slowly been gaining credence as the years went on.

It was written by Professor Jorma Palo. He never quite forgot his encounter with the man on that strange evening at the hospital in 1960. A full 43 years later, he ended up publishing a book giving a rundown of all the evidence to suggest Assmann’s guilt. The doctor revealed that he kept the clothing left behind by the German, and was astounded that the police never came back to retrieve it. 

His most shocking assertion of all though, was that the KGB rumors surrounding Assmann were all true. This meant he secretly enjoyed immunity for the crimes for the sake of diplomacy with the USSR. That sounds pretty outlandish, and it was condemned as such by the Finnish authorities. 

However, given the climate of the 1960s, and Finland in general, having just settled their own conflict with the Ruskis a couple decades prior, it’s pretty obvious that they would at least be some KGB spies dotted around the country. By 1980, it’s thought that the Soviets had over 200 operatives in the country.

The only question is, was this particular guy one of them? And if so, was he able to leverage his position to avoid prison? We’ll never know for sure, but I’d like to leave you with one last image to ponder. 

In the early 2000s, a picture from the joint funeral of the Lake Bodom victims surfaced. Among the packed crowd, a face is visible: chiseled jaw, blonde hair, sharp cheekbones. It’s hard not to conclude that this very well could be Hans Assman himself, attending the funeral of the Helsinki kids despite having no good reason to be there.

If the image of a murderous KGB spy attending the funeral of three teens, who he may have brutally slaughtered just days earlier, doesn’t send a chill up your spine, I don’t know what will.

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Wrap Up

By this point, you’re pretty much right up to date with the story, and sadly still no closer to a proper resolution. It’s easy to see why it’s such an enduring case in Finnish culture, but unless we get some more deathbed confessions or the like, it looks set to forever remain as cold as a Nordic winter.

In the absence of any convictions, we’re left with three main theories. 1: famous anti-camper Kioskman finally went too far with his campaign of terror. 2: The only survivor was the culprit, and managed to wangle out of a conviction in court (not likely, I’d say). And 3: an undercover KGB agent, who once fought for the Axis, leveraged his sway with the Russians to dodge arrest for his violent crimes. 

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… number three the most likely? Let me know what you think, or if you think there’s another possibility which may have slipped the attention of us all. Who knows, maybe the Finns will give you a nice shiny medal for breaking the case. 

One last thought: for any of you out there with a bit of an outdoors phobia, I apologize for sending that into overdrive today. Just remember that the vast majority of camping trips are nothing but roasted marshmallows and good times.

Still… there’s no way in hell you’ll catch me out there anytime soon.

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Dismembered Appendices

1. If the name of the lake has been ringing bells for you throughout, then you might just be a heavy metal fan. A Finnish band from the Espoo area named Inearthed was looking for a new moniker after signing with a record label. They turned to the local phonebook for inspiration, and chose a certain location with strong macabre credentials. The headbangers out there will better know them as Children of Bodom.
2. If you have the time for a deep dive into an absolutely bizarre biography, consider looking even further into the life and times of Hans Assmann. In the aforementioned book, he apparently verified that he had in fact been an Auschwitz guard and SS trooper, but grew disillusioned with Naziism when he fell in love with a Jewish woman. This led to his exile to the Eastern Front and subsequent capture. Unless the journalist was taking some major artistic license, the KGB angle isn’t so wild after all…

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