21 mars 2013

Miscarriage of justice: The da Costa case

A thirty year old miscarriage of justice

Published by Dispatch International March 14, 2013. First in a series.

The case of Catrine da Costa must be described as the worst case of corrupted justice in Swedish criminal history. Two young doctors were charged with murdering and dismembering the prostitute in 1984. Four years after her death, the two doctors were acquitted of the murder itself, but were still accused of having dismembered the body. After this a marathon of 18 court cases was brought before various Swedish courts in order to obtain justice. But in each case the doctors have lost, most recently in the Supreme Court last year. This in spite of the fact that everyone aware of the case knows that they are innocent. Nobody knows with certainty how da Costa died. Now, Dispatch International reveals in a series of articles how the law turned into the enemy of justice.

On a warm summer night in the middle of July 1984, a janitor was walking his dog near an exercise park at the Karlberg canal in Solna, a small urban municipality just north of the Stockholm city center. The dog discovered a collection of black plastic bags that were hidden under a shrubbery out of view from the road. The stench of decay was clear from far away, so the man chose to stop a police car he met on the road.

The police officer brought forth the bags and opened up the plastic, but was unable to ascertain if the contents was remains from an animal or a human. The bags were transported to the medical investigation clinic in Solna a couple of miles away, where they turned out to contain the lower parts of a woman’s torso and the upper parts of both thighs. The area was searched in vain for the remaining body parts.

Three weeks later, the police received a tip about an additional two bags some miles away from the first finding place. Those bags contained the upper part of the woman’s torso, her arms and the lower parts of her legs. But the head and the inner organs were never recovered.

The two autopsies of the findings were conducted by the medical investigator Jovan Rajs, who later was to become a key figure as the corruption of justice spread like a prairie fire. At the second autopsy, the junior doctor Teet Härm (30) was also present. His parents had moved from Estonia in 1944 during the Soviet oppression, and Teet was their only child. During the autopsy, Jovan Rajs was in good mood and jokingly said that it must have been a matron who had conducted the dismembering, as the arms had been cut away in such an unusual fashion.

Having found the hands of the dead woman, police files revealed that her name was Catrine da Costa, a prostitute and drug addict aged 28, convicted a few times for minor offenses. The police now pieced together the last days of da Costa’s life by means of her date book. On Pentecost Sunday, June 10th, she had been visiting an architect in Östermalm, Stockholm, where she had injected heroin and afterwards slept for some hours. After that, she and the architect left the house, and he drove her by car to Kungsträdgården, a park in central Stockholm. The clues ended there, although it was later reported that she had been seen after Pentecost as well.

Police now started to walk through the red light districts of Stockholm by night, carrying a photo album. It contained pictures of twelve men, including the architect, a car mechanic whom da Costa used to spend the night with, and several doctors known to be customers of prostitutes.

Some weeks later came what was considered the great breakthrough. A man in his 50s turned up at the police station. His name was Rolf, and he falsely claimed to be working for the military intelligence services. In fact, however, he was the father of the first wife of the medical investigator Teet Härm, who two years before had committed suicide in the couple’s home.

Rolf handed over a long memorandum concluding that the police should take a close look at Teet Härm. That led to the addition of a photo of Härm to the album carried by the police during their nighttime walks. Eventually one prostitute pointed out Härm as a violence-prone customer, while others called him stingy, shy and nervous. None of the 200 women interviewed indicated any connection between da Costa and Teet Härm.

In spite of the weakness of the suspicions, Teet Härm was arrested and jailed in the beginning of December, five months after the first parts of the body had been found. But interrogations turned up nothing, apart from his admission that he had visited prostitutes a couple of times, and Härm was released five days later. An important consequence, however, was that the promising young medical investigator had lost his job. Stigmatized as a murderous monster and easily identifiable in the evening newspapers, he moved to the countryside. Teet Härm later attempted suicide with an overdose of Methadone, which caused him severe hearing impairment.

At the same time that the medical investigator Härm had been disgraced in the media, a huge panic about incest was spreading in Sweden. Fathers were accused of raping their daughters and many were convicted based on flimsy or no evidence. One of the women targeted by the panic was Christina Allgén. She was married to the doctor Thomas Allgén, who was working as a general practitioner in Alingsås, in western Sweden. The couple had a daughter Karin who was merely 18 months old. Christina went from clinic to clinic for a long time with the small girl, falsely convinced that Thomas had violated their daughter. But in spite of extensive investigations, she found no support for her panic.

The Allgén couple had previously had superficial contact with Teet Härm after Härm had helped Thomas Allgén at a study visit to the clinic for medical investigation as part of his training. When Christina Allgén became aware that Härm was appointed a monster by the media, she forebade Thomas from even mentioning the name Härm.

Concurrently, Christina Allgén interviewed her daughter about what the mother thought the daughter had been subjected to. On scraps of paper, the mother wrote “the head of the lady was thrown into a trashcan”. Or ”they were eating eyes and drinking blood ”, and further that ”you can cut ladies like the garden and daddy”. Much of what the 18-month-old girl was made to say by her mother was recorded, and came to play a decisive role in the early processes, along with the testimony of Christina Allgén herself. No one took notice of the young age of the girl, or the leading questions posed to her by her mother. Nobody questioned what a child of that age would really be able to remember.

Thomas Allgén was interrogated about the statements from the daughter for many hours, inquired about incest and his contacts with Teet Härm, but police got nowhere. Then came the assassination of prime minister Olof Palme in 1986, which led to the murder investigation against Härm and Allgén being closed down.

A bit over a year later the investigation was resumed, now led by a police officer who had no experience with investigating homicide cases. That gave Christina Allgén ample playing room, and the new investigator took all she said at face value. The garden of the Allgén vacation house was dug up, just as the Härm’s garden in Täby had been dug up previously, without yielding any piece of evidence.

At this point, all the police really had was the information from Christina Allgén, and the claim from the coroner Jovan Rajs that Härm had buried the head of da Costa. Rajs was technically disqualified due to his being Härm’s boss but the police didn’t mind that. Nevertheless, Thomas Allgén was arrested and jailed in the beginning of October 1987, and by the end of the month, Härm was jailed as well.

The Swedish daily Expressen got wind of the affair, and presented the child testimony of Karin as indisputable truth, set in type otherwise reserved for the outbreak of war, and in the media, the three-year-old accusations against Teet Härm reinforced the image of the two monstrous murderers and dismemberers.

The prelude to the 30-year miscarriage of justice, where law was to stand in the way of justice, had now been carved into stone.

In the next part: The tale of the ultra-feminist mob who, along with outrageously lying and biased media, made sure that the two doctors had their lives destroyed.

Link to Dispatch International: http://www.d-intl.com/

By Anders Carlgren

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