Netflix is now streaming ‘The Unlikely Murderer’ about the unsolved murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. Netflix’s new five-part drama based on the book by Thomas Pettersson is well worth watching. The book and the series tell the story of how an unassuming graphic designer named Stig Engström not only killed Swedish prime minister Olof Palme in 1986, but also managed to elude being arrested for the assassination all the way up until his death in 2000. Read more about the unsolved Swedish true crime series with an unlikely murderer.
The opening statement announces that The Unlikely Murderer is based on an unsolved case.
Who killed Olof Palme? Last year, the case was finally officially concluded and the blame was pinned on Stig Engström – an insurance company employee who killed himself in 2000. All the way, there was hot debate in Sweden about whether he had actually carried out the crime.
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The Netflix synopsis
The series opens with Stig Engström, brilliantly played by Robert Gustavsson, stumbling into the building where he works and coming home to his wife acting traumatized. The Netflix synopsis describes the five-part series as “a fictional interpretation adapted from a 2018 book written by Thomas Pettersson, who investigated the case thirty years later, leading him to pin the murder on Stig Engström.”
In The Unlikely Murderer, Engström puts himself forward as the first eyewitness at the scene of the killing, playing the press off against the police and using shards of publicly available information to bolster his story. He is portrayed as a chaotic fantasist whose plan shouldn’t have a chance of working – except that it’s going to, because the police are inept, too.
The assassination of Olof Palme
Meanwhile, eyewitness accounts, including from Palme’s son Mårten, played by David Andersson, report a man fitting Stig’s description hanging near the Palmes as they left the theater that night. Arne Irvell, head of the national police’s homicide division, played by Peter Andersson, is irate at how casually his department has been handling this, not even securing the crime scene properly.
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The assassination of Olof Palme is Sweden’s highest profile murder investigation in the nation’s history. In the first three episodes, Engström is an ensemble player in a drama about politics, the media and what happens when blokes with enlarged opinions of themselves dominate positions of responsibility.
Confident and clueless new chief constable
When it becomes apparent that the Stockholm police have an investigation on their hands that could not be more momentous, the county chief constable Hans Holmér, played by Michael Persbrandt, swans in, confident and clueless, to take it over. Even as the tips flow in and he gets more eyewitness accounts describing the same round, thin-lipped man with glasses, he thinks the assassination was a professional job, as does his “brain trust.” Meanwhile, Stig keeps speaking to the press and looking for stories that feature his “eyewitness account.”
The series shows how Engström keep changing his story after hearing the news or reading the papers, contacting the journalists himself to have his statement and photograph published, while Holmér is obsessed with uncovering an international conspiracy that will make for a sexier news story. His bravado born of inadequacy causes harm, just as Engström’s does.
The Unlikely Murderer is not a wholly invented story. There’s a reason why Engström wasn’t named the prime suspect in Palme’s murder until 2020, 20 years after his death. And even then, authorities acknowledged that the evidence was circumstantial and wouldn’t have withstood scrutiny at trial.
Journalist begins to reinvestigate the case
What the series succeeds in showing is how botched the police investigation was. In the second half of the series, the focus shifts as we see journalist Thomas Pettersson begin to reinvestigate the case years after it’s gone cold.
The series ends solemnly, with Engström having ruined his own already benighted life, as well as taking Palme’s.
Despite being sinfully entertaining, The Unlikely Murderer can’t credibly be accused of taking the tragedy too lightly.
The five-part series, written by Wilhelm Behrman and Niklas Rockström is directed by Charlotte Brändström and Simon Kaijser. The Unlikely Murderer is an absorbing Scandinavian crime drama, that presents a thirty-year-old murder mystery as a solved case.
Unsolved Swedish True Crime Series With An Unlikely Murderer, written by Tor Kjolberg
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