The murder of politicians, country leaders and heads of state generates extraordinary amounts of speculation, opinion, and analysis. Even clear evidence and reliable testimonies from trusted witnesses is often not enough for the doubters and conspiracy advocates who have an inability to accept random and uncharacteristic occurrences. That is compounded when courts return not guilty decisions resulting from lack of evidence.

That was never more apparent than the bizarre events that unfolded during the evening of 28 February 1986 when the Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme was shot and killed on a snow covered Stockholm street. He was walking to a subway station with his wife, Lisbet, after visiting a cinema with their son and his girlfriend. Considered as Sweden’s ‘JFK’ incident, the case remains an enigma. His murder was actually nothing like the assassination of JFK in 1963 but the fact that it was an individual perpetrator and both victims were alongside their wives at the time draws a comparison. Before his untimely death Olaf Palme was already an established, significant and outspoken politician. 

Olof Palme was personally involved in the negotiations and containment of armed bank robbers in Stockholm in 1973. On 23 August that year a gang led by Jan-Erik Olsson, (who was out of prison on furlough), entered the Kreditbanken in Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm. They threatened staff and customers with firearms, shot and wounded a police officer then took four hostages.

Olof Palme spoke to the hostages by telephone. The captives had developed a sympathetic relationship with their captors during a six day siege during which time another police officer was shot and wounded. Olaf Palme’s strict terms with the gang were bizarrely criticised by the hostages. The stand off ended when the police assaulted the building. Nobody else was hurt in the process.

Nils Bejerot, a Swedish criminologist and psychiatrist coined the term, ‘Stockholm Syndrome‘ after the police asked him for his professional assistance with analysing the victims’ behaviour.

Olof Palme’s bizarre murder thirteen years later instigated a lengthy investigation. A Swedish criminal, Christer Pettersson, 41 was eventually identified, arrested and nearly three years later, convicted. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Three months into his sentence he was released on appeal and awarded £50,000 in compensation. His defence appeal argued lack of evidence, no murder weapon, and unreliable witness statements including the evidence given by Palme’s wife who claimed she saw Pettersson’s face. She was slightly injured by one of the two bullets fired at her husband. She claimed to recognise Petterssen and picked him out of an identity parade, but the police were accused of prompting her decision. At the time she had no idea who Petterssen was.

The perpetrator had initially approached Palme from behind, seemingly confident of his victim’s identity and used a .357 revolver to shoot him in the back. No spent cartridge cases were found at the scene because fired cases remain inside a revolver cylinder. The two fired bullets were however recovered. Such a revolver had been stolen from Arne Sucksdorff a Swedish film producer in Stockholm in 1977 and had never been recovered. An associate had loaned Pettersson an identical weapon just two months before the murder. He had acquired it from another drug dealer who had admitted to stealing it. The associate confessed to this just before he died. As the weapon was never recovered there was no way of confirming its origin.

The case remains open but it is no longer officially investigated. There were numerous other avenues and suspects who were pursued, many of whom are now dead. Olof Palme’s official standing naturally convinced some that it was a political killing. There cannot be an elected politician or national leader who hasn’t prompted opposition, heated argument and debate. Somebody going to the lengths of killing such a prominent individual is totally different.

Pettersson was a convicted criminal, an alcoholic and a drug dealer. He had served a prison sentence for manslaughter, having stabbed somebody to the death with a bayonet. He was capable of extreme violence. He was in Stockholm, and his alibi at the time of the murder was discredited. That doesn’t confirm his guilt, but no other suspect has come as close.

The murder of politicians whilst thankfully more uncommon in modern society is nothing new. Julius Caesar was slain in one of history’s’ greatest political conspiracies in 44 BC. In the vast majority of incidents where politicians and heads of state have been attacked, they have been stalked or ambushed by disturbed, disaffected individuals. Struck when they have been on official business, frequenting a known route or unwisely exercising habitual routines that perpetrators can study. In this instance there was no predetermined knowledge of Olof Palme’s movements on that evening. It is true that he was recognised by surprised citizens on the subway, some even made polite approaches. It is possible that he always risked an impromptu verbal attack, even perhaps the slim chance of a violent altercation whilst not in the protective company of his security.

Whilst Palme was possibly at risk by just being a recognised politician, Sweden is not a country that is renowned for harbouring violent political activists, in fact the country is part of a Scandinavian culture that is proud to be the very antithesis of such fractured societies. If indeed Petterssen was guilty of his murder and it was a case of mistaken identity he was hardly going to admit to that.

Recent history has seen the brutal assassinations of a selection of world leaders and active representatives who were regularly seen in public. The Indian politician, lawyer and peace advocate, Mahatma Gandhi was cruelly shot and killed in New Delhi in January 1948 when he was about to lead a very public prayer meeting.

The President of France, Charles de Gaulle actually survived a number of attempts on his life. The most well known was in June 1962 when he was ambushed in his car on the way to Orly airport. He and his wife narrowly escaped a fusillade of automatic gunfire as they drove through a Paris suburb. The organised attackers lying in wait knew he was coming.

The assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on 22 November 1963 is well known and documented. The perpetrator, Lee Harvey Oswald was well prepared. The myths surrounding this killing are truly astounding; it has formed the foundation for conspiracy theories. The American author Jim Marrs, now deceased, wrote with great influence and enthusiasm about the so called conspiracy around the assassination of JFK. He linked 103 ‘suspicious’ deaths to individuals associated with JFK following his murder in Dallas. 

The CIA figure regularly as state endorsed assassins in the minds of conspiracy ‘truth seekers’ in high profile murders and assassinations. They top the list, but MI5, MI6, Mossad, the Russian FSB,(formerly the KGB) and the French DGSE are also regularly implicated.

Senator Robert Kennedy was a shot and killed during a political rally in Los Angeles after winning the California Primary in June 1968. His killer, 24 year old Palestinian, Sirhan Sirhan was positioned waiting for an opportunity as he hid amongst the throng of people close to Kennedy.

British politicians, Airey Neave and Ian Gow were both killed in bomb explosions detonated by IRA terrorists in 1979 and 1990. Both men were well known and refused to live within available but constantly protected existences. Their killers had studied their routines. When the Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto was shot and killed at a political rally in Rawalpindi in December 2007 her movements on that day had been well broadcast.

The MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed outside a library in Birstall, West Yorkshire on 16 June 2016. The perpetrator, Thomas Mair, 53, was witnessed in the act and he injured a witness who tried to stop him. Whatever twisted and extreme rationale Mair had he was aware that Jo Cox was attending this constitutional surgery. He knew she would eventually emerge and how vulnerable she would be to his cowardly murderous act.

Olof Palme’s murder was quite different. His decision to travel to a cinema with his wife by a combination of walking and using a subway without his bodyguards was an impromptu and in the moment action. Their son had suggested that they went for drinks after the show, but his parents opted to set off or home as it was late. There was no posted itinerary or even discussion outside their family group. If they were attacked by a political assassin the killing process had to be organised in seconds, in the dark, and on an unplanned killing ground with a route to escape. All this had to be without any prior knowledge of the targets decided movements or timings. The police studied CCTV footage of the couple’s movements, there was no evidence of them being followed.

In court Pettersson vehemently denied killing Olof Palme. Before he died in 2004 however, associates claim that he confessed to killing Palme but insisted it was a case of mistaken identity. Pettersson admitted to lying in wait for another drug dealer with every intention of killing him. He knew this dealer frequented the location. It would appear that Olof Palme dressed in a dark coat and of similar build convinced Pettersson that he was his intended target. A witness had seen somebody matching Pettersson’s description acting anxiously in a shop doorway just minutes before the shooting. When Olof and Lisbet Palme innocently approached the location the killer walked up from behind, confident of his target. He shot Palme in the back, the bullet passing through his stomach. Another round passed through his shoulder. The attacker then escaped up a well known stepped walkway called the Tunnelgarten. He actually turned and faced Lisbet Palme as he set off. A witness to the shooting chased the shooter up the route of the Tunnelgarten in the dark but he failed to see his face and he got away. All the descriptions of the assailant matched Pettersson’s age, height and build.

Whoever killed Olof Palme on that dark Stockholm street had a motive. If it was Christer Pettersson he definitely had a motive but it wasn’t to kill a politician. This murder attracted wild speculation and distracting theories. At some point, the CIA were involved in the minds of some truth seekers. Olof Palme’s murder proved to be no exception in the endless quest to lay the blame on global security agencies.


When the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were shot and killed in Sarajevo in June 1914 their deaths inadvertently sparked the First World War. Their official state visit route was well posted in advance but their security arrangements were appalling. Their killer was a Bosnian student, 19 year old Gavrilo Princip. He was part of a group of young Bosnian dissidents desperate to improve the plight of their annexed country. Whilst they were supported by an illegal Serbian terrorist organisation embedded within the regular Serbian military their actions were wrongly associated with wider political agendas and Serbia as a nation. Their mission was very local and for their own annexed nation but the outcome and fallout was global. The CIA were formed in 1947 but if they existed in 1914, somebody would undoubtedly have tried to bring them into the frame. 

A close friend of Olof Palme and political colleague in the Swedish Democratic Party was Bernt Carlsson. He was appointed UN Commissioner for Namibia in July 1987. He was killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland on the 21st December 1988.