The man known throughout Sweden as Hannibal Lecter has been released and cleared of all charges. Sture Bergwall, a.k.a. Thomas Quick, was set free after his claims of raping children, murdering several people and cannibalizing at least one victim were discredited.
Bergwall was due to be released from a psychiatric ward when he decided that he wanted to remain in a psychiatric facility rather than face the real world. He began confessing to various murders and crimes that kept him locked up for nearly two decades.
"It's fairly typical for a mixed-substance addict as Bergwall to lie to gain privileges," author Dan Josefsson, who has written at length about Bergwall, told Time. "He started telling the psychologists what they wanted to hear, and he was rewarded with drugs and encouragement."
According to Josefsson, Bergwall read up on old unsolved cases, memorizing just enough information to convince police that he had committed the crimes. However, he often mixed up details of the crimes, leading police to question if he was truly credible. Bergwall blamed the mistakes on repressed memories and that was enough to satisfy officials.
"Police and prosecutors were completely into the idea too, even though it lacked scientific credibility," the author said. "It became a sect-like phenomenon where every piece of information was twisted to confirm their belief."
Investigators finally began questioning Bergwall's confessions and determined that he was not guilty of any crime. The news stunned the country and upset the victims' families who thought they had some closure.
"That a person has been convicted of eight murders and later been declared innocent, that is unique in Swedish legal history," prosecutor general Anders Perklev told The Guardian. "It must be judged as a failure for the justice system."
"No one will ever go to court for the death of my son, but I want to see the justice minister or the prime minister step forward and apologize to all the relatives of the victims who have suffered so long and been so badly treated by the Swedish justice system," Bjorn Asplund, father of one of Bergwall's "victims" said. "The real killers are roaming free in our society because of the traveling circus surrounding Thomas Quick."