The Ingrid Pitt column: Doctors of death

Ingrid recalls the case of two murdering Swedish physicians that rivalled anything in the Harold Shipman catalogue of horror...

Ingrid Pitt

I was sitting in the doctor’s waiting room leafing through a magazine. An article with the intriguing title of The Murdering Class attracted my attention. It seemed appropriate that it should be about doctors. A few years ago I wrote a trilogy of books about assorted gruesome subjects. A fourth, about ‘deadly doctors’, was abandoned when I left the publisher. The article reminded me of one of the most gruesome twosomes I had researched. I think the doctor theme has come back to haunt me…

A few years ago a couple of doctors in Sweden turned themselves into latterday hybrids of Messrs Hyde and Jekyll with Jack the Ripper overtones;  Dr. Teet Haerm and Dr. Lars Thomas were pathologists working for the police. They both had exemplary records and were looked on as pillars of the community. Haerm was a charming, outgoing type. Good with children and happy to pitch in and help in anything that was going on. Thomas was younger and unsure of himself. He was attracted to the bonhomie and confidence of Haerm and was a willing accomplice. 

When the body of a 30 year old prostitute, Catarina da Costa, was found wrapped in a plastic sheet and stuffed under a sports pavilion, pathologist Haerm was called in. The body had been dissected and the bits and pieces neatly tied in a bundle. The body parts were taken to the mortuary.  After a brief examination of the dismembered body Dr. Haerm opined that it was the work of a butcher. For a week the police hassled every butcher and hunter in the district but drew a blank. Then another body was found. Another prostitute. Haerm confirmed that in his opinion the same person who had cut up Da Costa had done the deed, but now he said that in his opinion a surgeon had perpetrated the dissection. He realised that if he continued to maintain that the murderer was a butcher and the body was examined by another doctor the fact that the body had been carved up by a skilled surgeon would be discovered.  Just to show how open and above board he was, he called in his colleague, Lars Thomas, for a second opinion. 

This was the sort of headline the newspapers loved and soon the Surgical Serial Killer was blasted across the front pages. The working girls on the streets of the red light district hardly needed any warning that they were in danger. They were resentful rather than grateful for the extra interest the police were taking in civilization’s oldest profession. With the reluctant help of the girls the police began to get a profile of the man they were looking for. In spite of all their efforts the police were no nearer making an arrest than when the first body was discovered. More dismembered bodies began to turn up. Haerm was enjoying himself. He had no illusions about breathing life into the decimated stiffs but it was more interesting than doing jigsaw puzzles.

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Haerm, in spite of his disturbingly gruesome hobby, was an intelligent man. He knew that each time he picked up an unwilling playmate he was running the gauntlet of the increased police patrols and the bright eyes of the sisterhood from which he purloined his victims. But that was part of the game – the thrill! Thomas, although firmly under the spell of Haerm, was obviously a weak link. Haerm confided in Thomas that he, Haerm, was in fact a High Priest of an international sect of Druids dedicated to cleansing the world of sin…

By now the two medical ghouls had developed a well-oiled modus operandi: Haerm would patrol the streets until he found a lone working girl. He would tell her about the party he was throwing at his house and promise her a fistful of kronor if she would come and entertain his friends. As soon as she entered the house Haerm and Thomas would overpower the woman, strangle her and then strip the body.  With the body still warm they would take turns in having intercourse with it and then play-act sex games. When the blood congealed they would take the body out to the garage and dismember it. Haerm would then select a part of the body and take it into the house and cook and eat it. This he explained to the credulous Thomas, was all part of the Druid ritual to assimilate the soul of the depraved and cleanse it. 

The police were clueless. Haerm worked assiduously building up a profile of the man who fit the bill of the predatory serial killer. Then the police got a break. One of the girls remembered part of the number plate on a car that she had seen circulating in the area on occasions when one or other of the prostitutes was killed. The police ran a check and one of the cars belonged to their very own Dr. Teet Haerm. He told them a plausible story about wanting to get a feel of the area in which the girls worked to help him with his profiling. Haerm and the detectives had a good laugh about the situation and Haerm went home.

After he left, the detectives stopped smiling and ran more checks on him. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Well maybe his wife committing suicide was a little unusual.  Haerm realised that now suspicion had fallen on him, however fleetingly, he had to clean up his act. The very fact that his name had turned up on the police blotter meant that he was suspended from the pathology department for the time being. He cooperated when the detectives came and made a routine check of his house. They found a photograph of his dead wife with a rope around her neck. He claimed a colleague had sent it to him and he had forgotten about it. As soon as the police left he called Thomas. Haerm and Thomas went to work scouring the garage and house of any clues that might be picked up by a forensic team. 

After so many months without a breakthrough the police were near to shelving the investigation. Then three bodies turned up in rapid succession. Bodies that Haerm and Thomas had confidently expected to be hidden forever. The victims bore all the hallmarks of the serial killer they were hunting.  Unfortunately the bodies offered up no more clues and the search for the killer was put on the back burner. The breakthrough, when it came, was from a totally unexpected source.

A school teacher reported that she suspected that one of her pupils was a victim of abuse.  When questioned the girl said that the abuser was her father, the eminent Dr. Lars Thomas. Thomas at first denied any misconduct.  Questioned further, he broke down and confessed to abusing his daughter – and more. Much more! Once he began he couldn’t stop. Before long he was pouring out the story of his evangelic mission with his friend, the ‘high priest’ Teet Haerm. Haerm was charged with the murders of eight women: Annica Mors, Catarina da Costa, Kristine Cravache, Lena Grans, Cate Falk, Lena Manson, Lola Svenson, Tazuga Toyanaga and his wife Ann Catrine.

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A further body, that of Lena Boyers, was never recovered, but her disappearance was attributed to the work of Haerm. Haerm pleaded insanity but the jury wasn’t impressed and he was sentenced in 1988 to life in prison. The weak link in Haerm’s crusade to make the world a better place, Lars Thomas, was found guilty of the rape and murder of Catarina da Costa and being an accessory after the fact in the other cases. He was also charged with an incestuous act with his daughter. The life sentence handed down to him was the same as that of his partner in crime.

Until the case of Harold Shipman came up, doctors Haerm and Thomas held the dubious honour of being the most active medical serial killers in modern times. “Miss Pitt” sounded like a date with destiny when the doctor called me into his surgery.

Read Ingrid’s column every Tuesday at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.