A Phantom Killer and the Mysterious Camping Massacre at Lake Bodom

In the summer of 1960, 15-year-olds Maila Irmeli Björklund and Anja Tuulikki Mäki, along with their 18-year-old boyfriends Seppo Antero Boisman and Nils Wilhelm Gustafsson, all of Espoo, Finland, went away for a pleasant couple’s camping trip on the shores of the scenic Bodominjärvi, known in English as Lake Bodom. The campsite they chose was a well-known place to go, not particularly remote, and known for its sweeping vistas of the lake. It was meant to be a fun, romantic getaway, and when they arrived on the afternoon of Saturday, June 4, 1960, they did so in good spirits and with clear, calm weather. However, this dream trip was soon to turn into a nightmare, and would go on to become one of the most brutal and mysterious cases of unsolved deaths in Finnish history.

At 11 a.m. the following day, a carpenter by the name of Risto Siren was swimming in the lake nearby when he noticed the tent on shore, but something was not quite right. The tent seemed to have collapsed, and drawing closer he could see that it looked damaged, torn to shreds in fact, despite the fact that there had been no storm or bad weather. Thinking this to be rather odd, he approached the tent calling out to anyone there, but he got no response and it would soon become clear why. Siren noticed what appeared to be blood all over the place, and approaching the tent he could see four dead bodies, all apparently having been brutally stabbed, with two inside the tent and one lying on top of it, with another not far away. He did not go any closer, instead alerting authorities immediately.

Lake Bodom

When police arrived, they were greeted with a charnel house of horrors like something out of a horror movie. Within the tent were the brutalized bodies of Mäki and Boisman’s, while the one on top of the tent was that of Björklund and the one near her being her boyfriend Gustafsson, who would turn out to still be alive. All of the bodies had been brutally stabbed and bludgeoned, although no murder weapon was found at the scene, and Björklund seems to have gotten the worst of it, naked from the waist down and apparently stabbed more than the others, with the autopsy finding that the killer had continued gleefully stabbing her even after she was dead. Police were able to surmise that the attacks had happened sometime between 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., and that the killer had rather bizarrely attacked them from outside of the tent, simply stabbing and bludgeoning them as they slept within, leaving the tent in ruins. There were other strange clues as well. For instance, the keys to their motorcycles were gone but the vehicles were still there. Also, Gustafsson was missing his shoes, which would later be found around half a mile away for unknown reasons. In fact, several articles of clothing from the group were found covered in blood and scattered about in the woods about 500 meters away for reasons unknown.

Gustafsson himself was still alive, but barely. He had suffered numerous stab wounds and sustained lacerations and a broken jaw and bones in his face, but it was thought that he would pull through. As he was recovering, police were trying to find any witnesses they could get their hands on. They managed to find two boys who had been bird-watching in the area on the morning the bodies were found, and they claimed that they had also noticed the collapsed tent, further claiming that they had seen a tall man with long blonde hair walking away from the scene, although it could not be determined what connection this mysterious stranger could have had. Rather oddly, during their initial investigation of the crime scene, police failed to cordon off the area, and when they were done, they simply left it open, after which any evidence there was ruined by curiosity seekers trouncing about the site. It was a serious dropped ball that would hinder the rest of the investigation.

The scene of the crime

In the meantime, when Gustafsson was lucid enough to talk with authorities it was found that he remembered little of what had happened. He claimed that they had all gone to bed at around 10:30 a.m., and that he had been awoken by the vicious assault playing out around him. He described a chaotic scene, with the attacker blindly slashing at them and beating them through the tent, and when he had tried to look outside, he had gotten a glimpse of the shadowy attacker, which he described as wearing all black and strangely having “bright red eyes,” which he said he gave him the impression was a “supernatural figure.” His trying to get a look at the attacker explained why he had been found outside of the tent, but he did not know why his girlfriend was out there too. The rather spooky supernatural angle to his description of the perpetrator certainly raised some eyebrows, but police chalked it up to the young man’s state of shock. They were looking for a human perpetrator, and started going through a list of possible suspects.

One of the first persons of interest was a man by the name of Karl Valdemar Gyllström, who owned a nearby kiosk that was popular among campers at the lake. He first popped up on the police radar because it was rumored that he was a very ill-tempered sort, known to have altercations and even attack some campers due to the noise they made, and furthermore there would be some witnesses who would claim that they had seen him loitering around the area of the murdered teens’ tent around the time of the crime. It certainly seemed that there might have been a confrontation between this group of partying teens and the grumpy, short-fused Gyllström, but there was no evidence to place him at the scene, and after questioning him police became satisfied that he had not been involved with the murders. Some people would nevertheless insist that Gyllström had drunkenly bragged about carrying out the killings, but police never pursued it further, and any secrets he did have he took to his grave when he committed suicide by drowning in 1969.

Another potential suspect was a former alleged KGB spy living nearby, by the rather unfortunate name of Hans Assmann. He had a reputation in the area for being an eccentric recluse, and he happened to match the description of the man reported by the bird watchers as walking away from the campsite, also suspiciously having cut it short right after the story had come out. There was also a report from the staff at the Helsinki Surgical Hospital that Assmann had come into the facility on the day after the attack with filthy hands and dirty clothes covered with red stains. However, he was found to have an alibi for the night of the grisly murders, police could not pin him with anything, and being a weirdo was not a crime, so he was dropped as a person of interest. Rather oddly, police never did look into the claims of doctors at the hospital that his clothes had been covered in blood, another potential dropped ball in the handling of the case. Another potential suspect was Pentti Soininen, a violent criminal who would admit to the murders while in prison to another inmate, but since he would have been 14 years old at the time of the killings it was thought unlikely in the end.

The case lingered in limbo like this for decades, with no new leads and no new clues to go on, becoming one of Finland’s strangest and most legendary unsolved murders in the meanwhile. It would not be until 2004 that police would have a lightbulb go off in their heads and consider as a suspect Nils Gustafsson, the sole survivor of the massacre. By this time over 4 decades had passed, but they arrested Gustafsson and brought him to trial for suspected murder based on new forensic evidence. At the trial, prosecutors spun a tale of Gustafsson, who had been found to have high levels of alcohol in his blood, getting into a heated drunken argument with the other young man, Boisman, which had devolved into a huge argument between all of them and caused him to snap. It was pointed out that Gustafsson and and his girlfriend had been having relationship issues due to his jealousy, and that this could have explained why she was more viciously attacked than the others. A witness from a nearby campsite at the time was also brought in, and alleged that the group had indeed been arguing that night. It was also noted that his facial wounds had been consistent with a fistfight, and that his stab wounds had been less severe than the others, suggesting that he had inflicted them on himself to cover up his crime.

More evidence presented was due to new forensic technology that had not been available at the time of the murders. Specifically, that Gustafsson’s shoes, which had been found some distance away from the crime scene, through more modern DNA analysis had been found to have been covered in the victims’ blood, but not a trace of Gustafsson’s, suggesting that he had worn them during the murders and simply gotten rid of them afterward. Despite all of this, Gustafsson was found to be not guilty due to combination of a lack of evidence, failure to find a motive appropriate to a crime of such extreme gruesomeness, and too much time having passed to form a clear picture of events, he was acquitted of all charges, and ended up walking away a free man, even being awarded €44,900 for his mental suffering caused by the long remand time. He would even unsuccessfully try to sue Finnish newspapers for defamation.

There have been extensive investigations since then, but no one has ever been brought in, no perpetrator found, and the case of the Bodom Lake murders has remained unsolved. The case has become legendary in Finland, talked about to this day, and we have no more answers now than we had back then. What happened to this group of teens out there at the lake? What is the meaning of all of the strange clues? Why did the authorities botch so many things? There is no way to know, and it remains a spooky unsolved mystery that we may never fully understand.

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