Who murdered Palme? Three months later, not even a clue

Nearly three months after Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated on a street in downtown Stockholm, his murder appears to be a complete mystery. The investigation has turned into a domestic political drama in Sweden with the angry resignation last week of the senior prosecutor attached to the case. He accused police of withholding information from him and of violating legal norms in their treatment of a man who, at one time, was considered a prime suspect in the murder.

From all outward signs, Swedish authorities have no leads and no idea who killed Palme, despite round-the-clock work by 300 investigators who sifted through more than 20,000 tips given to police after the killing. The number of police working full time on the case was recently cut to 75. Police officials said that all of the work for which extra police were needed had been completed. With the police investigation apparently bogged down and beset by dissension with prosecuting authorities, the Swedish government is now preparing to appoint a special independent commission to investigate the assassination.

Palme was the first West European head of government to be assassinated since 1945. According to Swedish newspapers, five ordinary murders, where only circumstantial evidence was available, have been committed and solved since Palme was shot on Feb. 28. Late last week, Stockholm police finally cleared Victor Gunnarsson of all suspicion in Palme's assassination. Mr. Gunnarsson was briefly held as a prime suspect in the case in early March, but released shortly before a scheduled arraignment because the testimony of a key witness proved unreliable.

Although he was never charged, Gunnarsson continued to be interesting to the police for nearly two months. He was cleared after volunteering, through his lawyer, to confront several dozen witnesses at police headquarters. Pressure by police to put Gunnarsson before more and more witnesses led to an open feud with the prosecutor who said the procedure, based on very doubtful probable cause, could violate the rights of the suspect. The interlude also showed that although the police had many witnesses who claimed to have seen occurrences surrounding Palme's shooting, they were unable to piece together any useful evidence.

The investigation had already started to take on an undertone of desperation when, in late March and early April, Swedish-built Viggen reconnaissance jets flew repeatedly over downtown Stockholm taking pictures with high-resolution cameras and other sensors in the hope of finding some evidence related to the murder on a rooftop or in an abandoned lot. By then, however, the Swedish capital had experienced several periods of snow and thaw that would have destroyed any traces of what happened on the night of Feb. 28. Other high-tech methods -- a West German computerized composite picture of the assassin and another man said to have shadowed Palme before the shooting, and an analysis of the bullets presumed by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation's crime lab to have killed the Swedish leader -- have apparently proved fruitless. Both Swedes and those who knew and respected Palme around the world are left with a gnawing void that is slowly being filled with suspicions and speculation.

At an informal gathering held by an attorney in a Stockholm suburb, a part-time student and postal worker, who is an active Social Democrat, speculated that Palme's killing must have been an inside job by Swedish intelligence. Others at the party said that theory would make a great thriller novel. That same weekend, a schoolteacher visiting from western Sweden said, at an unrelated time and place, that Palme's death was too perfect a crime to have occurred without official connivance. Palme's bodyguards, from the Swedish Security Police, the nation's counterintelligence service, had been dismissed at the prime minister's own request the night he was killed walking home from a movie.

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