Adolf Fredriks kyrka is of immense significance to modern Swedes, as it is the final resting place of Olof Palme; a simple headstone and flowers mark his grave. The then prime minister of Sweden was gunned down in front of his wife on February 28 1986, while they were on the way home from the Riviera cinema on Sveavägen. As with most Nordic leaders, Palme’s fame was his security, and he had no bodyguards with him when he died. A simple plaque on the pavement, often respectfully bedecked with flowers, now marks the spot, near the junction with Olof Palmes Gatan, where the prime minister was shot; the assassin escaped up a nearby flight of steps.
Sweden’s biggest-ever murder enquiry was launched, and as the years went by, so the allegations of police cover-ups and bungling grew. When Christer Pettersson, a smalltime criminal, was convicted for the murder in July 1989, most Swedes thought that was the end of the story, but his release just five months later for lack of evidence only served to reopen the bitter debate, with consequent recriminations and resignations within a much-derided police force.
Palme’s death sent shockwaves through a society unused to political extremism of any kind, and has sadly led to a radical rethink of the open-government policy Sweden had pursued for decades. Although government ministers now rarely go unescorted, Sweden was rocked by the news in September 2003 that a second leading politician had been murdered on home soil; Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was fatally stabbed in a Stockholm department store by a man with mental illness who was later arrested and imprisoned.