Journal Published Online: 01 May 1998
Volume 43, Issue 3

Criminal Mutilation of the Human Body in Sweden—A Thirty-Year Medico-Legal and Forensic Psychiatric Study



During the 30-year period 1961–1990, a total of 22 deaths with criminal mutilation/dismemberment of the human body were registered in Sweden. The mutilations occurred in time clusters, mostly during the summer and winter periods, and increased during the three decades, with incidence rates of 0.05, 0.1, and 0.125 per million inhabitants and year, respectively. Mutilation was noted 6.6 times more often in large urban areas than in the rest of Sweden. Defensive mutilation, in order to get rid of the corpse or make its identity more difficult, was noted in ten instances, aggressive mutilation following outrageous overkilling in four, offensive mutilation (lust murder) in seven, and necromanic mutilation in one instance. In the last-mentioned case the cause of death was natural, while all deaths in the first three groups were homicidal, or homicide was strongly suspected.

All perpetrators were males, in six instances assisted by other persons. In more than half of the cases the perpetrator's occupation was associated with application of anatomical knowledge, e.g., butcher, physician, veterinary assistant, or hunter. The perpetrators of the defensive and aggressive mutilations were mostly disorganized, i.e., alcoholics or drug users with previous psychiatric contacts and criminal histories, while the lust murderers were mostly organized, with a history of violent crimes (including the “serial killing” type), drug abuse and mental disorders with anxiety and schizophrenia, in that order to a diminishing degree. There were differences in mode of mutilation, depending on whether the mutilation was carried out by a layman, a butcher, or a physician. In only one case was the perpetrator convicted for the mutilation act itself; in the remaining instances the manslaughter, as a more serious crime, assimilated the mutilation. When the mutilation made it impossible to establish the cause of death, the perpetrators, despite strong circumstantial evidence indicating murder, were acquitted.

Author Information

Rajs, J
Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
Lundström, M
Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
Broberg, M
University Hospital, Huddinge, Sweden
Lidberg, L
University Hospital, Huddinge, Sweden
Lindquist, O
Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
Pages: 18
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Stock #: JFS16183J
ISSN: 0022-1198
DOI: 10.1520/JFS16183J