For many Christians of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, suicide was a mortal sin. Those who chose to kill themselves could only expect to exchange the miseries of their lives for an eternity in hell. But in Sweden, many found a way around this. Instead of taking their own lives, they engineered it for someone to do it for them. Such an act did not mean they provoked someone into a murder. Rather, the potential suicide themselves took another’s life so the authorities would execute them.
One such person was Christina Johansdotter. In 1740, she was brought before the court of Sodra Forstads Kamnarsratt in Stockholm, charged with murdering the child of her friend. Christina was single, unemployed and living in lodgings. She admitted her guilt freely to the court, although she could not have hoped to escape the death penalty. Unlike adult murderers, child killers always earned execution. When the court asked Christina why she had committed such a horrible crime, a tragic tale unfolded.
Christina had been engaged to a man she loved deeply. But her fiance was now dead, and Christina sank into a depression so deep, she wished to rejoin him in the afterlife. She believed the teachings of the church that dictated if she killed herself, not only would she go to hell but by default never see her lover again. But then Christina was presented with a solution. After witnessing the decapitation of a woman executed for infanticide, she knew what she needed to do to see her lover again and escape hell.
The souls of young children were deemed pure and able to enter heaven without absolution. So Christina asked to borrow a friends’ infant. Instead of showing it off to a visitor as she promised, she decapitated the child. As Christina was sorry for her awful crime, she would be absolved by the church. And so, despite the fact she had ended an innocent life, she could look forward to entering heaven and seeing her fiancé after her execution. However horrifically flawed this thinking was, Christina was granted her wish. She was decapitated with her conscience clear, and her body burnt.