Knutby Special

The saga that has gripped Sweden since January hit the headlines again this week as murder charges were formally brought against two of the three suspects in one of the most sensational criminal cases in living memory. But “the pastor and the nanny” are just the lead characters in a story that would have had Agatha Christie wondering why she didn’t think of it first.

For anybody unfamiliar with the “Knutby drama”, as it has become known, the inevitable movie will probably begin like this:

It’s January – a cold, dark night. A quiet village in the middle of Sweden. A hooded figure pads through the snow (close-up on footsteps) and slips into the pastor’s home. Upstairs, the pastor’s wife, 23 year-old Alexandra Fossmo, is sleeping. The intruder enters her room, fires two shots in her head, one in her lower abdomen and leaves a knife sticking out of her neck.

Moments later, the 30 year-old next-door neighbour, Daniel Linde, hears his doorbell. He opens the door and stares down the barrel of a revolver. One shot hits him in the chest and another shatters his jawbone, but miraculously he survives. The assailant disappears. Opening credits…

That was January 10th, and the following day Uppsala police and the national press descended on the village. Despite the villagers’ reluctance to talk, the cult’s secrets gradually began to reveal themselves, and since then, there has been plenty for the papers to get their teeth into. For the taboids, salacious stories of sex rituals, brainwashing and violence; and for the broadsheets, analysis of the workings of a cult, comparisons with Waco and what the whole affair says about Swedish society.

The truth may still be a long way off, but the papers seem to agree on a number of points.

The pastor is one of seven leaders of the 60-strong Knutby congregation, an extreme sect of the more mainstream Swedish Pentecostal Church. Ultimate power is said to be in the hands of 36-year old Åsa Waldau, known as the “Bride of Christ”, who “rules with an iron grip”, while members are expected to give 10% of their earnings to the group.

Two days after the murder, the pastor’s nanny claimed that she did it. But the police weren’t satisfied with this: a highly professional execution performed with a silenced gun – by a children’s nanny? Despite her claims that she committed the crime alone “because it was the right thing to do,” the police believed there was an accomplice.

Nevertheless, she stuck to her story – and indeed is still sticking to it – and led police to the gun, which had been thrown into the water under the long bridge to the eastern island of Öland. And then it transpired that in November last year she attacked Alexandra Fossmo with a hammer – although no charges were brought against her.

Five years ago, the pastor’s first wife died in mysterious circumstances. She was said to have simply fallen in the bath but on reviewing the forensic evidence the police found she had a near-fatal dose of morphine in her body at the time.

On January 30th the pastor was arrested on suspicion of being an accomplice in the murder of Alexandra Fossmo and on March 11th this was extended to include suspicion of murdering his first wife (in the bath) and conspiring to kill his second wife (with the hammer) in November.

The wife of Daniel Linde (the one who was shot in the face – hope you’re keeping up) was then arrested on suspicion of being involved in the attempted murder of her husband. (Her brother, incidentally, is married to ‘the Bride of Christ’.) She was later released, but by then she had revealed that she was having an affair – with the pastor.

The prosecutors have focused on the relationship between the pastor and the nanny and this week a TV documentary revealed that in the two months leading up to the murder, they exchanged over 2,000 text messages – and a phone call fifteen minutes after the crime was committed. In fact, on the day of the murder they sent each other eighteen messages and spoke ten times on the phone.

On Monday both the pastor and the nanny were formally charged with murder. Prosecutors are now working on the theory that the nanny – who has been declared “psychologically unstable” – was manipulated by the pastor and was herself a victim of the “mind control” policies of the Knutby sect.

A quick scan of this week’s rush of Knutby stories suggests there’s a lot more to be revealed.

“Nanny: I was the pastor’s sex slave”, declared Wednesday’s Expressen while Aftonbladet, not necessarily contradicting its rival, announced “Pastor and Nanny planned to marry.” DN reported the discovery that “the pastor changed his first wife’s death certificate”, Svenska Dagbladet noted that “Witnesses support pastor’s innocence” and on Thursday the police said they believed the pastor’s motive was “Three million crowns and a new wife”.

The press aren’t leaving Knutby just yet.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, Aftonbladet, SR, TV4

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The Local, Sweden
Apr. 30, 2004

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday May 1, 2004.
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