Don’t walk between the bark and the tree.
“Delia struggles and kicks. Alexander thinks to himself that it has to end, it all has to end.”
Name: Delia Björklund
Killed: Aged 24
Delia is newly washed and wearing her favourite little summer top, the one she usually wears with jeans, but Alexander has chosen track suit pants instead. She is lying under a children’s Bamse the Bear blanket. The room is filled with the scent of spices from candles which are burning.
It will be a hot summer day, at least 25 degrees, in the small southern Swedish community of Vislanda.
The little boys wake early as always. The three-year-old immediately goes into his parents’ bedroom and studies the shape of his mother. Only her feet and part of her right cheek are visible.
Mummy’s sleeping, daddy, says the boy.
Yes, mummy’s sleeping, so we’ll leave her, answers Alexander and looks at the clock.
It is almost eight o’clock. He has to pack the children’s food, nappies and some clothes, but first he has to go down to the shop and withdraw some cash so they have money for the bus fare. He can’t find the bus pass.
It has been a long night and he has thought of several desperate ways out but now he has decided.
Now he knows what he has to do.
Delia was a lively, outgoing young woman who moved to the island of Gotland when she was 19 to study archaeology. A neighbour introduced her to Alexander, who was two years older, and she fell passionately in love; but Delia didn’t want a steady relationship, so they decided to be “friends” and it was a few years before they became a couple for real. Six months later they were expecting a child together and Delia wanted to move back to her home town to be closer to her family.
Delia sometimes went out and met friends, and arrived home to Alexander’s questions about what she’d been doing and who she’d been talking to.
Alexander went with her, but he had difficulty adjusting to the move. He found it hard to get to know people. He was unemployed for a long time, he hardly ever wanted to leave the flat and he spent most of the time sitting at home watching TV. Delia sometimes went out and met friends, and arrived home to Alexander’s questions about what she’d been doing and who she’d been talking to.
She grew tired of the situation and broke off the relationship, but after just a few months they started seeing each other again and moved back in together. Delia had dreams and plans; she had been working as a guide at the castle and taken a course in welding.
But soon she was pregnant again.
It is the afternoon of Delia’s last day alive and she is sitting talking to Alexander in the small playground outside the three-storey block of flats near the railway track where they live. Delia has decided to tell Alexander a lie. It is a big lie, but necessary. Delia has reached the decision that it is time for Alexander to let her go. He has to stop hoping she will go back, and understand that it really is over and that he has to move out.
He feels the diagnosis is a mish-mash, rather than a proper explanation for all the things that cause him pain inside, particularly his constant anxiety about losing Delia.
Alexander has just come home after a visit to one of his psychologists. He has three. One is based at the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry clinic where Alexander is learning to spend time with children without frightening them or becoming angry himself. Another psychologist is helping him with the problems he has as a result of his Asperger’s syndrome, and the third works with cognitive behavioural therapy, to help him become better at resolving conflicts. Alexander himself doubts whether he really has Asperger’s; he feels the diagnosis is a mish-mash, rather than a proper explanation for all the things that cause him pain inside, particularly his constant anxiety about losing Delia. The pain is physical; he feels it like a cramp around his heart.
Delia has said several times during their arguments that he is not the father of the youngest child, but that is not a big deal for Alexander, it does not really matter. They have taken care of the boy. That makes him his child.
Now they are sitting talking in the sandpit, as the children play around them.
We have to stop lying to each other, says Alexander, then maybe things will get better.
And now Delia tells her lie.
I’ve met someone else, she says, and I think it might lead to something.
We have to stop lying to each other, then maybe things will get better.
Delia’s parents were concerned that summer. They considered Alexander to be immature, nervous and hard work. They knew Delia was not afraid of her boyfriend. She talked openly to them and her friends about what happened, said he was difficult and suspicious, that he deleted telephone numbers, threatened her male friends, and would not let her talk to the people closest to her on the telephone. Sometimes he came home from work to check up on what she was doing. And he beat her. Afterwards he would cry and buy her flowers.
This was not the life Delia wanted. She filed a police report after an incident where he had been violent, and he was charged, put on probation and sent to a psychologist for counselling to learn to deal with his jealous behaviour.
Delia wanted an amicable separation. They found a flat nearby so that they could continue to look after the children together.
The discussion in the playground is short; they agree to stop before the children realise they have been arguing. First they have to see that everyone has dinner, the dog has been taken for its walk and the children are asleep.
Then they will talk.
Delia climbs out of the sandpit and says she has to make a phone call. She goes up to the three-roomed flat and rings the number of the psychologist, who has already gone home, so she leaves a message on the answering machine:
“Hello, this is Delia Björklund, Alexander’s ex-girlfriend. I just wanted to talk to you because Alex came home today and started saying that he and I should be honest with each other and tell each other if we were seeing other people and that kind of thing. I don’t know what he’s told you, but it is completely over between us and I don’t want him to come back, and lots of things have happened since the last time. And I just want you to know that, so there won’t be any more talk about how there is still something between us, because there isn’t, just so he doesn’t get any false hopes, because I find that really hard. Thank you very much. Goodbye.”
When Alexander was eleven, he tried to hang himself in the Venetian blinds at home. His friends got him down. In the same year, he wrote on the blackboard at school that he didn’t want to go on living. His teachers sounded the alarm and he spent three weeks in the children’s psychiatric unit. He was his young mother’s first child and she was fiercely protective of him. He was bullied at school, taught at home for a while and finally left upper secondary school with good grades. Alexander was aware of his weakness in relationships with other people. He knew that he did not always understand people properly and did not always understand the signals they sent. But he practised looking other people in the eye. He felt safe on Gotland, with his large family close by. It looked as though things would work out well for Alexander and he started college.
And then he met Delia.
Alexander was aware of his weakness in relationships with other people.
On that summer evening, the 6th of August 2009, when the children are asleep, they start to talk, and the discussion becomes increasingly heated. Alexander can’t stop asking about the new man in Delia’s life, and then the shouting starts.
Finally Delia says: I’ve never loved you.
It is now almost two in the morning and Alexander goes into the kitchen for a drink of water. A knife they usually use to cut bread is lying on the draining board, and he takes it with him when he goes back, because he is so unhappy and he wants to hurt her. Or maybe he’ll ask her to stab him, as he’s done before; just the other day, he said: Go on then, kill me.
He goes back into the bedroom, kneels on the bed and stabs her in the chest, puncturing her pericardium.
Alex, please, not this, says Delia.
I love you.
There’s still time.
Why are you doing this?
Delia struggles and kicks. Alexander thinks to himself that it has to end, it all has to end, there’s no stopping now, and he stabs her again, but then he feels that he can’t, not one more time with the knife, he can’t but he must. There’s no stopping. He puts the knife down, and instead puts both hands round her neck and squeezes tight and Delia tries to break free and it feels like a very long time.
And then the sound, a gurgle.
Then an acrid smell.
What he does not know, is that in an adjacent room a three-year-old boy is holding his hands over the ears of his one-year-old brother.
The situation was already serious two years earlier, in the autumn of 2007. A doctor at the local health centre referred Alexander to a psychologist for help and the psychologist commented that their home constituted a dangerous environment for the children.
Some extracts from that year’s medical journals:
28 March: “Alexander has aggressive outbursts every day. His partner has constant bruising.”
13 June: “The separation is causing Alexander huge social concern.”
19 October: “Alexander has become better at managing his behaviour but he must be even better. Delia is afraid of Alexander at times.”
16 November: “Alexander has indicated that he would like medication to treat his aggression.”
A total of 113 comments were made by psychiatric professionals in a two-year period.
The professionals around the young couple were taking part in a ringdance. There were many people, sixteen altogether, who had insight into the situation: police, doctors, social workers, psychologists. But things got worse.
One particular police officer, had several conversations with Delia, who sounded strong and adamant. She did not want a protection order.
In 2008, Alexander was found guilty of assault and sentenced to probation, with the condition that he saw a psychologist. He was jealous; on one occasion, he pushed Delia onto the bed, elbowed her in the back and slapped her face. Alexander had no memory of the incident afterwards, but did not question her story. One particular police officer, Marie, had several conversations with Delia, who sounded strong and adamant. She did not want a protection order.
Spring 2009 was chaotic. They argued and made up, in turn. In May, Alexander put his hands round Delia’s neck. Sometime after that, he lay down on the railway track in Vislanda. The police came and took him away.
At that point, Delia made it clear she would not tolerate any more: they had to separate. She asked the social services for financial support to help her with the separation, but since she was cohabiting she was not entitled to any assistance.
Alexander was confused. They were no longer in a relationship, but they were living together. They were going to separate but they bought a double bed and went on holiday.
In July he beat her with a dog leash. His story was that he had “only” thrown it at her.
The tragedy was imminent.
On the Monday of the first week in August, Alexander went and got a knife. He gave it to Delia and said: Go ahead and kill me. If you’re saying it was a mistake that we met, finish me off.
Then he swallowed pills, everything he could find, even Delia’s contraceptive pills.
Delia called for an ambulance and sent Alexander down to the street to wait for it. He did. The ambulance arrived quickly and drove the unhappy young man to Växjö hospital.
The following day, Tuesday, Alexander was discharged.
Less than two days later, Delia has stopped breathing, and the first thing Aexander does is check to see if the children are awake, but they seem to be asleep. Then he sits down on the sofa and tries to think clearly. His first impulse is to take the children to his father, but he changes his mind almost immediately; there is no point. He could go to France and join the Foreign Legion. But the children; what is he going to do with the children?
He might as well call the police. But if he does that, police cars and ambulances will arrive, it will all be very dramatic, and the children will wake up and see everything. No, that is not good for them.
They can take the bus tomorrow.
But first he has to make her look nice. He can’t leave her in the state she is now. There are wet-wipes in the bathroom; he goes and gets them, and undresses Delia. He has to cut her sweater off with the knife, the one he has put on a glass table near the bed, and he puts it back there afterwards. Then he wipes her clean.
He has to cut her sweater off with the knife, the one he has put on a glass table near the bed, and he puts it back there afterwards. Then he wipes her clean.
The youngest child wakes, has to have a bottle and be put back to sleep, and Alexander is alone again with his thoughts. It was not like on TV. It was even more brutal. There were noises and the smells of sweat and blood and excrement.
He can’t have it smelling like this! Alexander packs sheets, bedclothes and clothes in bags and goes down to the rubbish bins in the yard. When he comes back he lights some scented candle; that should clear the worst of it.
He wanders round and round in the flat. This was not what he thought it would be like. He had wanted her to die at the first stab and not to suffer, he had not expected it to feel like that, or that she would say those things, I love you, why are you doing this, and that he would still not be able to stop and that she would talk and talk and talk.
He sits down for a while in the kitchen and writes in a notebook:
I don’t know what I’ve done.
What’s going to happen to the boys now?
What does life hold for them?
Why can I never do the right thing?
Forgive me, Delia!
I wish it was me!
How many Alexanders are there around us? Who fear divorce and clench their fists in their pockets? Some of them may become dangerous, and kill their girlfriend, wife or ex-wife.
But which ones?
Around 17 women are killed in Sweden each year by men they love or have loved. The figure varies slightly but there are no signs that the problem is declining. Recently, the Swedish parliament agreed to introduce special murder investigations, a kind of commission of inquiry, which will examine thoroughly the circumstances of the murder or manslaughter, to try and discover if there are any failings in society which can be put right.
Around 17 women are killed in Sweden each year by men they love or have loved.
No-one believes that all murders in close relationships can be prevented, but another tool is the police force’s risk assessment instrument. Swedish police officers have been trained to use the method known as SARA, Spousal Assault Risk Assessment, a checklist developed by Canadian researchers. It can be used to identify the twenty strongest risk factors, but the method is not being used as often as the National Police Board had hoped.
With hindsight, it is easy to see that Alexander exhibited the most serious warning signs: an aggravation of events, a strong tie to his partner, threats to take his own life.
Mental disturbance is in itself a risk factor. The researchers’ picture is that nine out of ten men who kill their wife or ex-wife are mentally disturbed. The newspaper Aftonbladet’s investigation of all murdered women during the 2000s showed that almost every fifth man who killed his woman had had psychiatric contact. Every tenth man was in touch with the health service in the weeks before the murder, most of them with psychiatry.
Nine of those sought help the same day.
Alexander has been diagnosed with Asperger´s syndrome, an autistic disturbance. People with Asperger’s are generally extremely gifted but have some difficulty in understanding other people’s feelings and thoughts, which can make for difficulties in close relationships.
There may be a link between the diagnosis and violent crimes, but it is a sensitive issue and an area in which little research has been done. A study of 164 people in institutional care who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome showed that 12 per cent had committed serious violent crimes compared with just under two per cent of the population as a whole.
This is a small study and the result is difficult to interpret, since people who commit violent crimes also suffer more often from mental health problems, illness or addiction. The vast majority of all those with Asperger’s will never commit a violent crime.
It’s strange, Alexander thinks to himself as he wanders around in the flat, that no-one heard anything; surely one of the neighbours must have heard the tumult, at least at the beginning.
At six o’clock, he sees through the window that people are leaving the building, going to work as if nothing had happened.
At last it is eight o’clock, time to think about the children and the bus journey. First he takes the little boys out and withdraws some money, then they go back up to the flat. He packs clothes, jars of children’s food, and nappies.
Then he hurries out again with the boys in the pushchair, and remembers on his way to the bus that he has forgotten their bottles, but he does not want to go back again; so instead he goes into the shop again and buys a little water. At least they will have something to drink.
How are things? Worse than ever, answers Alexander. Then he starts to cry.
On the bus, it is change-over time for the drivers. They have to wait fifteen minutes. It is hot and the children are whining. At last they are on their way. Alexander sees a police car with its blue light flashing and he is surprised when it passes them by. But maybe they have not found out about it yet. Or perhaps they will pick him up at the bus station when they get to Växjö.
But no-one is waiting for them there either. He gets off and pushes the pram towards the police station, where he asks for Marie, the police officer he knows from the time she investigated the case of assault. Marie is on duty. She goes down to reception and asks the young man: How are things?
Worse than ever, answers Alexander.
Then he starts to cry.
Delia’s ashes were scattered in a garden of remembrance in Vislanda. Alexander was sentenced to ten years in prison, but the sentence was increased to 16 years by a higher instance. He will be released in the spring of 2020 at the earliest. While in prison he has been undergoing treatment. The two little boys are living with a foster family.
Maternal deaths: 5 deaths per 100,000 births
Number of children/woman: 1.67 (2011)
Abortion legislation: Right to abortion up to the end of the 18th week of pregnancy
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: On average 17 women are killed each year by their husband, boyfriend, ex-husband or ex-boyfriend.