The Phantom Cannibal (Part 1 of 2)

They once called him "Sweden's Hannibal Lector."  

Whatever the truth behind this label, he would eventually become one of Sweden's most controversial prisoners, and possibly a victim of zealous prosecutors (depending on who you ask).

For Sture Bergwall, and for the countless others caught up in this bizarre case, it all began in 1991 when the then-41-year-old career criminal was convicted for armed robbery and sentenced to the secure psychiatric unit at Sater Hospital, the largest psychiatric hospital in Sweden.   Bergwall, already had a long history of delinquency with repeated convictions for sexual offenses and violence which apparently stemmed from his own difficulty accepting his sexual orientation.   His sexual offending involved grooming and molesting young boys.  In one case, he had placed his hand over the mouth of a nine-year-old boy to keep him from screaming and, after seeing that the boy was bleeding, fled the scene thinking that he had killed him.   This led to his first psychiatric hospitalization in 1969 and there are no other sexual offenses on his record.   

His criminal offending continued however and he was later convicted in 1974 for stabbing an acquaintance while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs.  Bergwall blamed the frenzied nature of the attack, including stabbing his victim twelve times, something that he would later blame on the influence of drugs.  He then took the bread knife he used and fled the scene (after wiping his fingerprints) leaving his victim behind to get medical help on his own.  Though Bergwall was caught and sentenced to hospital,  his victim would be left with long-term physical and psychological problems due to the attack.

Finally came the bank robbery in 1990.  Bergwall held the wife and son of a bank manager hostage while the manager and Bergwall's accomplice were sent to get money from the ban.  Though police rescued the hostages safely, they later described their captivity by Bergwall as a terrifying experience.   Bergwall was returned to Sater Hospital.

But that was far from the end of the story for him.   Having been diagnosed as being personality-disordered, Sture Bergwall began attending therapy not long after arriving in the hospital.   He was also prescribed benzodiazepines as part of this treatment.    For reasons that are still unclear, Bergwall began confessing to other crimes that he had supposedly committed and for which he had never been caught.   He also underwent a bizarre shift in his personality and changed his name to "Thomas Quick."   Quick was his mother's maiden name while he took the name Thomas after a 14-year-old boy Bergwall had allegedly raped and murdered when he was fourteen years old.

Though Bergwall/Quick's confessions were vague and contradictory at first, the details became clearer under questioning by the police and hospital psychologists.  He would eventually confess to thirty unsolved murders committed in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland over a thirty-year period.   Police were enthusiastic about Bergwall's confessions since this meant closing cases that had gone unsolved for decades.   As for the vague details which became clearer over time, psychologists attributed Quick's suddenly clear recall to "recovered memory therapy" which helped him to remember what he had been previously repressing.   Sven Christianson, a professor at Stockholm University, visited him on numerous occasions to assist him in "recalling" additional details about the different murders that he had committed.  It would also be Christianson who would testify at Quick's various murder trials.

Quick's first murder trial took place in 1994.  This was the previously-unsolved murder of 15-year-old Charles Zelmanovits in 1976.  According to Quick's confession, he and a confederate had raped and murdered the boy, sexually violated the corpse, and then buried it after removing several pieces.  The confederate, according to Quick, later committed suicide.  The second and third murders for which Quick was convicted were Dutch tourists Marinus and Janny Stegehuis who had both been stabbed to death in 1984.  Other murders for which Quick was convicted included the 1988 murders of 9-year-old Therese Johannesen and 24-year-old Israeli student Yenon Levi. 

Though the graphic details of rape and torture were qruesome enough , it was Thomas Quick's claim that he ate body parts from some of his victims that made him a media sensation in Sweden.   Family members attending the trials were forced to hear what Quick described about how his victims died and what happened to their bodies afterward.    Many of them would be traumatized for the rest of their lives.    Despite the lack of physical evidence (the spots he had identified as places where he had buried his bodies yielded nothing), the convincing nature of his confessions, coupled with testimony from forensic experts who believe him to be genuine, were enough to sway the courts.   Sven Christianson testified that Quick was a classic sexual sadist.   "I looked at his background," Christianson said in an interview with GQ Magazine. "If you look at literature on serial killers and rapists, they start early. He was very consistent, these attacks on young guys. And serial rapes. In the hospital he combined violence and rape, strangulation and rape."  

As for Thomas Quick, his long conversations with Christianson, along with studying movies such as The Silence of the Lambs and books like American Psycho, taught him how to project the persona of a serial killer.   He would later state that Christianson had asked him about other serial killer such as Jeffrey Dahmer, presumably hoping that Quick would provide him with insight into the mind of a sadistic murderer.  According to Quick, talking to a Stockholm professor made him feel important, possibly for the first time in his life. 

All told, Quick would be convicted for eight murders though he also confessed to nearly thirty others.  Some of the murders could not be prosecuted since they had happened more than twenty-five years previously and the statute of limitations had already passed. His last murder conviction was for the death of 11-year-old John Asplund in 1980.  Not only did  Quick confess to the boy's rape and murder but also that he ate parts of the corpse. The combined sentences for the murders he had been convicted for were enough to ensure he would spent the rest of his life in Sater hospital under closed confinement.  

Thomas Quick appeared to revel in the publicity resulting from his convictions.  He even wrote a book titled, Kvarblivelse, which was an odd mixture  of poetry, literary and musical criticism, meditations on forgiveness, and bizarre anecdotes describing some of the horrendous things that had supposedly happened to him in his childhood.  These included fantasies about his stillborn brother's body, how his mother reportedlly attempted to kill him, and his relationship with  his father.   Despite calls to have the book banned, Quick insisted that his book was intended for the families  of his various victims.

But not everyone was convinced about Thomas Quick and his convenient confessions.  During his various trials, the Swedish media actively debated whether or not Quick had ever killed anyone.  The parents of one or his victims, 14-year-old Johann Asplund, were outspoken in insisting that Quick’s confession didn’t match what was known about how their son had died.  They also pointed out that many of the details in Quick’s various confessions were obviously made up and that police had consistently failed to find forensic evidence to support what he had been saying.  Even after questioning thousands of people, not one reliable eyewitness was ever found by police.   Some of Quick’s supposed “victims” even turned up later, alive and well.

Quick's brother, Sten-Ove Bergwall, who was already a published author, came out with his own book titled, My Brother Thomas Quick.  This book was meant as a rebuttal to Quick's claims about his family and to vindicate their parents.   In retaliation, Thomas Quick wrote a letter to his brother's new wife claiming that Sten-Ove was a child molester and even told police that his brother had been an accomplice in one of the murders.    After learning that his brother was in hospital awaiting heart surgery,  Quick phoned him in the hospital telling him that he "hoped [his] rotten heart will implode so you die."  

Despite suspicions that Thomas Quick was a compulsive liar whose confessions could not be trusted, psychologists insisted that the various inconsistencies could be explained by his memories of the killings being suppressed and recovered during therapy.  As Sven Christianson testified during one trial, “Traumatic events are retained in the memory, but there can be protective mechanisms that can work in the unconscious to repress their recall.”   Presumably that was enough to convince the courts during his eight separate criminal trials.

Even after Quick’s multiple convictions, Swedish officials continued to insist that no mistake had been made and that he had actually committed the murders.  In 2001, apparently tired of the media spectacle and having to help police investigate murders to which he had confessed, Quick wrote an article for a Swedish newspaper announcing that he would no longer help police in any further cases. 

What followed was seven years of media speculation and accusations of government incompetence over how Quick’s confessions had been handled.   Finally, in December 2008, Thomas Quick unleashed another bombshell.  After years of high-security imprisonment, he recanted every one of his confessions during the recording of a TV documentary.  Denying that he had murdered anyone,  Thomas Quick, who had reclaimed his old name of Sture Bergwall, was requesting that he be released from custody.

And then the legal nightmare really began.

To be continued                

Related Stories

  • On Psychologists and Torture
  • Accused Witch Burned at the Stake in Paraguay
  • Russian Government Charges LGBT Support Group For Suggesting Gay Youths are Brave


The information provided on the is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.

PsyWeb Poll

Are you currently taking or have you ever been prescribed anti-depressants?
Total votes: 3979