3. Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme felt safe walking through Stockholm without a bodyguard – a fatal mistake
The assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme on the streets of Stockholm in 1986 shocked a nation. Up until that point, political violence had been virtually unheard of in Sweden. In fact, no ruler had been attacked since 1792, the year King Gustav III was murdered. What’s more, not only did Palme’s cold killing change Swedish society for good, it also remains one of the great mysteries of modern European history. To this day, both the identity of the gunman and, perhaps more importantly, the reason for the murder, remain unknown.
Palme was born in 1927 and showed an interest in politics from an early age. As a young man, he rose rapidly through the ranks of the Social Democratic Party, eventually becoming its leader. Palme served two terms as Prime Minister, firstly from 1969 until 1976 and then again from 1982. His second term was cut short, however. One evening, when walking through the streets of Stockholm with his wife and without any bodyguards, a gunman shot at the couple from close range. Palme died, though his wife survived with minor injuries.
A 33-year-old man, known to authorities for his extreme views, was soon arrested but then released. Then, in 1988, Christer Pettersen was arrested. He was a drug addict with a history of crime, including manslaughter. Palme’s wife even identified him as the assassin. Pettersen was convicted of the crime but soon released on appeal. Above all, he had no real motive for the killing, plus the murder weapon – a distinctive, large-calibre revolver – was never found.
Ever since then, Palme’s death has remained a mystery. Unsurprisingly, numerous theories have been put forward, including many infamous conspiracy theories. Throughout his political career, Palme was outspoken in his condemnation of many authoritarian regimes and dictators, including the USSR. As well as the Soviets, Kurdish activists, Chilean fascists, the CIA and even a rogue faction within the Swedish police force have all been named as the culprits. As well as history books, the Palme assassination has also been used as inspiration for numerous works of fiction, especially in Scandinavia. And, of course, no Swedish Prime Minister walks around without a bodyguard anymore.