The 1960 murder of three teenagers camped at Lake Bodom, a rural area located just outside of Helsinki, is one of the most famous murder cases in Finnish history. Notable for not only the brutality of the attack in an area where (seemingly) random murders are an extremely rare occurrence, the unsolved status of the crime and odd details surrounding the investigation are all factors that continue to capture the public’s interest in not only Finland, but around the world.
The continued popularity of the case could also be attributed, at least in part, to the Finnish heavy metal band Children of Bodom. The group originated in Espoo, which is a small town close to where Lake Bodom is located, and took their name from the famous Lake Bodom murders.
It was June 4, 1960 when four teenagers embarked upon a camping trip along the shores of Lake Bodom. 18-year-old Nils Wilhelm Gustafsson and Seppo Antero Boisman accompanied their 15-year-old girlfriends, Anja Tuulikki Mäki and Maila Irmeli Björklund, on the trip. By dawn three of the teenagers would be brutally stabbed and bludgeoned to death with a blunt object believed to have been either a rock or a pipe while asleep in their tent, leaving only one survivor suffering from a concussion, severe facial injuries and multiple stab wounds. Gustafsson had little recollection of the events that had transpired within the early morning hours of June the 5th, but initially described a black cloaked man with bright red eyes standing over him.
Two young boys hiking near the lake stumbled across the grizzly scene after spotting motorcycles belonging to the two male victims at the camp site and wanted to get a closer look. The boys saw a man walking away from the scene. Two of the victims – Gustaffsson and his girlfriend – were found outside, while the other two teens were discovered still inside the group’s collapsed tent.
Gustaffsson was transported to a Red Cross station for treatment while investigators called upon the general public to assist in investigating the scene in order to find the possible murder weapons and other artifacts of interest – a search that continues to this day by Lake Bodom visitors. At the time, having hundreds of people scouring the expansive wooded area surrounding the lake may have seemed like a good idea, but no possible murder weapons were ever recovered and the decision to involve the public resulted in little more than a completely contaminated crime scene.
Though there have been a number of other suspects over the nearly 60 years since the murders occurred, there have only been four primary suspects of interest.
Luoma had run away from a nearby work department close to the date of the murders. Luoma was questioned by the police as a suspect in the case, but was later released. Luoma had been staying in Otaniemi, another town outside of Helsinki at the time the teens were camping, making it impossible for him to have been in the area at the time of the murders.
Soininen had been convicted of a number of violent crimes during the 1960s. It was while he was serving time in a local jail that he confessed to another inmate that he had been behind the Lake Bodom murders. Soininen claims that he had been residing in the area at the time of the murders, but authorities did not put much weight on his confession as it is believed that Soininen may have been suffering from some form of mental illness. In 1969 Soininen hung himself.
Local kiosk owner, Valdemar Gyllström was for a time considered a primary suspect in the case. It was rumored that Gyllström hated campers and was known to act aggressively towards them. Gyllström drunkenly confessed to the murders to visiting neighbors. He said he hid the evidence in a well on his property and later had the well filled in. His yard was thoroughly investigated, but there was no evidence that could link Gyllström to the murder of the teens. In 1969 Gyllström drowned himself in Lake Bodom. On her death bed Gyllström’s wife confessed that though she had told police that he was home and in bed with her at the time of the murders, she knew Gyllström was the murderer.
The day after the murders Assmann appeared at a Helsinki hospital disheveled and erratic. He had blackened fingernails and a red substance covering his clothing. He lied to doctors about his identity and repeatedly played unconscious throughout his stay there. It’s been alleged that Assmann’s clothing appeared similar to the suspect’s, as witnessed leaving the crime scene by the two boys. Additionally after the murder suspect’s description was released by local media, Assmann was said to have cut his hair in order to bare no similarities between himself and the murderer.
Assmann claimed to have been affiliated with the KGB. According to Assmann he had worked with the German Army under Adolph Hitler, even serving as a guard for Auschwitz, but later fled the SS when he became involved with a Jewish girl. Assmann was captured by Soviets and recruited as a KGB spy.
Many of the conspiracies surrounding the Lake Bodom murders involve Assmann’s possible association with the KGB and the Finnish government’s refusal to investigate Assmann further for fear the Soviets would be upset on their findings. Retired Detective Matti Paloaro believed that Assmann may have been involved in as many as five other unsolved homicides.
In 2004, over 40 years after the murders, investigators decided to re-open the Lake Bodom case. Gustaffson had moved on and managed to live a relatively normal life, raising a family and retiring from a long career as a school bus driver, before authorities pinned him as the murderer.
Prosecutors claimed that a very drunk Gustaffsson, driven by a combination of jealousy and teenage hormones, attacked his three friends in the woods that night. Prosecutors speculated that in order to cover up his involvement in the murders, Gustaffsson then used a blunt object to give himself a concussion. A woman claiming that Gustaffsson had visited her camp site that evening says that he was drunk and aggressive, but there was no evidence that could corroborate the woman’s story. Blood found on the scene was also used to tie Gustaffsson to the murders, but the presence of Gustaffsson’s blood seemed inevitable since he too was a victim of the killer. In spite of the flimsy evidence against Gustaffsson he was originally sentenced to life in prison. His sentence only lasted a year before he was acquitted and no suspects have since been brought to trial.
Though this case is one of, if not the most famous murder case in Finnish history, finding information online or even a book on the Lake Bodom murders in English has proven itself to be a difficult task. English speaking researchers are at a severe disadvantage in researching this case if they are not fluent in the Finnish language. Important details involving the crime scene and some of the suspects have been lost in the translations of Finnish news articles, as well as primary documents essential to fully understanding the scope of the case.
Both the Generation Why and Thinking Sideways podcasts have done episodes on the Lake Bodom murders and, while they both did an excellent job at going as in depth into the case as the information available allowed, so many details are left unaccounted for either due to poor investigative skills by authorities, poor translations, or a combination of the two.
The only fact surrounding this case that I could ascertain from my research is the consensus that it will never be solved. The destruction of key evidence, which may have been preserved had the police not allowed the public to assist in the investigation, has seen to it that no one will ever be convicted, and with the case rapidly approaching 60 years of fruitless efforts, it is highly unlikely that the perpetrator(s) of this heinous crime will be alive to see justice served. If nothing else this case exists as a reminder of what police should not do in a murder investigation.