The Philosopher, The City and the Horse.

People have all kinds of obsessions. Video games, history, movies. You name it, and there’s someone out there doing their 300th Google search on it right now.

One of my obsessions is Friedrich Nietzsche the man. He was, in many ways, a misunderstood thinker and writer, his philosophy reduced in the minds of many to the simple admiration of power and brutality. In reality, as is often the case, the true story is more nuanced than conveyed by those who have never actually read his works or biographies of him.

One of my favorite stories is the tale of Nietzsche and the horse. I don’t care if it’s factually true or not – it’s as true as any story can be philosophically and emotionally.

As the holiday season approaches, I want to take a break from the usual themes of this blog. So let’s elevate our minds and read the following little ode to Turin and the Philosopher, written by my good Italian friend, artist Giulia Bia. Follow her here. She herself lives in Turin.

Grazie, Giulia.


THE PHILOSOPHER, THE CITY AND THE HORSE

“Turin is not a place you abandon.”
F.Nietzsche

Turin is a large, industrious city that lays at the foot of the Alps in the region of Piedmont, Northern Italy.

Mainly known for its soccer team, Juventus, and for being the birthplace of Fiat, the automobile group held by the powerful Agnelli family, Turin has had for a long time the reputation of being just a dull, gray, industrial city inhabited by hardworking, relentless people.

When philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche arrived here in September 1888 in search of a better climate for his health, though, he fell in love with Turin: he described it as magnificent, dignified, soothing, full of aristocratic tranquility. He added: “Turin is a city after my heart, a breath of true 18th century. And the sight of the Alps from the center of the city… I would have never thought that the light could make a city so beautiful”.

He loved the quiet streets and covered walkways so much that, in a letter to his friend Franz Overbeck, he described them as “a paradise for the feet”.

During his strolls, Nietzsche also discovered the pleasures of the palate: he frequently stopped at Caffé Florio, a famous literary café where he was served ice cream, hot cocoa and meringues, and dined at the restaurant every day. He basked in the hospitality of Turin and wrote that he was being treated like a prince: he felt a “delicious feeling of well-being in everything”.

caffe-fiorio-torino-italia

Completely mesmerized by the Mole Antonelliana, then under construction and already the tallest building in the city, the philosopher drew a parallel between its “absolute drive into the heights” and his Zarathustra. He even baptized the yet unnamed building “Ecce Homo”.

Nietzsche rented an apartment on the 4th floor of a building in Via Carlo Alberto 6, right above the entrance of the beautiful Galleria Subalpina, a covered passage that led to the main square of the city, Piazza Castello. From his window he could admire Palazzo Carignano and Piazza Carlo Alberto. His landlords also gave him access to a piano, that the philosopher used to play several hours a day.

In Turin, Nietzsche discovered a positive, exuberant disposition towards the world. He felt strong, relaxed, cheerful. Even his migraines had disappeared, and he was serene enough to write “The Antichrist”, “Ecce Homo” and “Twilight of the idols”.

The idyll between Nietzsche and Turin ended abruptly in January 3rd 1889 when, during one of his usual walks, he saw a man brutally whipping his stubborn horse. Shocked, Nietzsche rushed towards the animal and threw his arms around it to protect it from the flogging, sobbing uncontrollably. He then collapsed to the ground, whispering to the horse: “Richard, my friend”.

Davide Fino, his landlord, came running to rescue the philosopher, who was going to be arrested for his violent outburst and his assertions of being “Dionysus”, “the crucified Christ” and “The lord and tyrant of Turin”.

Once safely home, Nietzsche spent two full days on the sofa in a catatonic state.

At least, this is the romanticized and most known version of the events.

What is historically ascertained is that, on the fateful day of January 3, Nietzsche simply fainted in Piazza Carlo Alberto. Others say that the philosopher just scolded the man for flogging his horse, and that the altercation attracted several people, including the Police.

Whatever the truth, from that day on, Nietzsche started sending relatives, friends and famous people the so-called “Letters of Insanity”, a series of notes signed, indeed, “Dionysus” or “the crucified Christ”. He even sent a letter to the King of Italy, Umberto I of Savoy, calling him “my son”.

In January 9, Overbeck arrived in Turin and accompanied Nietzsche to Basel, where he entered a mental asylum and, on January 18, the patient was transferred to Jena, where he was diagnosed with tertial cerebral syphilis. Some say that, on leaving Turin, Nietzsche sang Neapolitan songs while passing the station of Porta Nuova, all the while claiming to be the King of Italy.

It is widely accepted that uncured syphilis is the culprit behind Nietzsche’s breakdown in Turin; however, some disagree. An alternative theory, developed by doctor Leonard Sax, is that Nietzsche’s descent into madness was caused by a tumor, as the philosopher didn’t display the usual symptoms associated with syphilis. Plus, tertiary syphilis would have killed Nietzsche in a short span of time, but he lived eleven more years, dying in 1900.

Nietzsche_Olde_04

(an old, frail Nietzsche towards the end of his life)

Other culprits have been variously indicated as manic-depressive illness, front-temporal dementia, mercury poisoning and hereditary stroke disorder.

In 1944 the city of Turin dedicated a memorial plaque to its adoptive son. In the typical pretentious tone of the Fascist era, it reads: “In this house Federico (sic) Nietzsche knew the plenitude of the spirit that defies the unknown, the will of supremacy of the true hero. Here, as a testament to his noble destiny and his genius, he wrote “Ecce Homo”, the book of his life. The city of Turin dedicates this plaque in remembrance of those fruitful hours on the first centennial of his birth, October 15, 1944”.

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Review of Suspiria (2018)

A review of the horror film Suspiria (2018), written by my buddy Jenna. Follow her at instagram.com/hermionestrangler


suspiria

Suspiria was definitely a well-made remake. I tried to watch it as a separate movie and not to compare it too much to the original version from the 70’s and it was actually pretty easy – they are very different kind of movies.

In the beginning young dancer Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz) disappears from a dance academy located in Berlin in the 70’s. Before her disappearing she told her psychotherapist Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton) the unbeliavable dark secrets of the academy and its leaders. The doctor starts his own journey trying to reveal the truth.

The main character is Susie Bannon (Dakota Johnson), an ambitious young dancer from America, who attends to the dance academy and soon proves her talent to the lead choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). She gets the leading part as one of the other students flees from the school after having a mental breakdown.

Susie befriends another dancer, Sara, who was also close with Patricia. Patricia’s psychotherapist tries to tell Sara what Patricia had told him, but of course he sounds crazy. Soon Sara learns that some of the rumors may actually be true. What will happen to the upcoming dance show? Where did the girls disappear? Who is the mysterious Mother Markos (again Tilda Swinton, I know, amazing)? Where is she?

The new Suspiria is a very long, complex story with lots of interesting characters and backstories. It managed to keep me interested the whole time, even though I usually can’t sit still longer than two hours. The casting was absolutely amazing and it was interesting to notice that almost the whole cast were actually women. Tilda Swinton plays three roles at the same time and as usual, she left me speechless. Dakota Johnson was definitely a fresh face in horror after her role in Fifty Shades film series.

The movie is dark, sinister, sexy and bloody. The artistic dance pieces are mixed up with blood and gore like a delicious horror smoothie. The setting was absolutely beautiful and the makeup and special effects were amazing, I truly didn’t realize I was watching Swinton as an old man the whole time.

All in all I really think that Suspiria is a very succesfull remake even though it’s not completely the same as the original. It is still very enjoyable movie with a great plot.

The Avenger. A Finnish true crime story.

The following is a strange true crime story from the history of Finland. The text is from the book Poliisi kertoo 1985, and was translated by Salla Juntunen.

The term “troll” is now widely used in reference to Internet harassment, and Internet “trolls” are everywhere.

This is the story of a particularly creepy “troll” from before the Internet age.


All names in this story have been changed, but the facts remain the same. Imagine how you would act if one day you received a letter in which you and your loved ones are insulted in every possible way. In addition, the letter threatens your life, the safety of your children on their way to school and threatens to set a bomb behind your door. Furthermore, the letter says your spouse has had intercourse with people you both know…

Out of anger and due to the feces included in the letter you might throw it away, but after reading the letter again and deeming the sender to be someone you know, possibly even a member of parliament, you keep it for now. You inspect the letter further and discover that its signature has been confirmed with a stamp. The letter has been paid for with a meter stamp, and, as far as you know, those cannot be owned by private persons, only institutions and companies.

The letter is in your possession for a few days. You wonder if there is some truth to the death threat. After your children get home from school you call them and ask if anything strange has happened to them. At the same time you hear of a mail delivery which can be picked up at the post office. Once you go to pick up the delivery, you see that it is a book set. You reproach your spouse for ordering more books; you have too many of them anyway.

Over the next few days you get more deliveries. You ask the post office to return them to the sender with notes that there must have been some mistake because you haven’t ordered anything. Magazines and comics start arriving daily. You also get phone calls telling you about for-sale ads posted in your name in nationwide newspapers. You also get letters from sexual deviants and in time you find out that your name has been used to seek company on the dating ad columns of men’s magazines.

Your patience begins to run out. You take the information you’ve gathered and go to your local police station. You hear that other people have also received similar letters and deliveries. You list the people you suspect, namely your neighbours and someone from work, because the first letters contained details about your family.

You go home, relieved, because you have given the police good leads and the matter will surely be handled in no time. Possibly already the next day the phone rings. The call, however, is from the collection agency of a large publishing house and the caller is asking about your unpaid orders. You begin to explain, but they don’t believe you and instead the caller threatens you with forcible collection unless you pay your bills by the due date. There are similar calls from many companies.


Years of suffering

This goes on for years. You get frustrated with the police who don’t seem to be doing anything about it. You still go to work the next day in high spirits. You get a call to go see your boss immediately. Your boss thinks you are playing dumb, but immediately informs you that you have sent a libelous and feces stained letter to the general director of the company. Your explanations are not believed and you have to give a written answer, and you offer to give a handwriting sample while you’re at it. Your coworkers hear that you had to give a written explanation for having insulted the higher-ups of the company.

The torment continues. You get called in to a clinic for AIDS testing and the appointment has already been booked. The phone rings and when you pick up you hear an angry parent threaten you with legal action and the police because according to a letter received by the caller you have molested their underage children. You keep trying to explain. The railway station calls to inform you that the 150 kilograms heavy weightlifting equipment you ordered have arrived. Matkahuolto informs you that the furniture you ordered have arrived. The phone even rings during the night, but once you pick up, the call disconnects.

In the morning the doorbell rings. Your spouse goes to open. An acquaintance of yours gives their condolences with flowers and leaves sympathetically. Only after receiving more condolences on the phone you find out that your obituary has been published in the day’s newspaper. The activity continues…

Foul, disgusting, sick…

The avenger kept sending letters containing extremely foul text. Often they also included feces. The avenger marked someone the recipient knew or should have known as the sender. The letters often mentioned that first the recipient would have items ordered for them, then they would be signed up for a sexual deviants’ clubs, then shot, etc. When the recipient began receiving deliveries and such, they would start to wonder whether the threats also come true as the letters said. After all, the first phase had already happened.

The letters also included pictures cut from porn magazines. The photos often featured comments about the resemblance between the recipient’s face and the private parts of the woman in the picture. The envelopes were clean and they had often been stamped with some company’s or community’s name or logo. Postage had mainly been paid by counterfeit meter stamps. The meter stamps were so well made that none of them were intercepted at the post office even though there were hundreds of deliveries. In addition, the avenger drew and pressed some stamps with plates they had made.

The Avenger also ordered items. It was easy and cheap because nearly every magazine has mail order coupons whose postage is paid by the recipient. There are also coupon booklets containing dozens of coupons. Items ranging anywhere from pens to washing machines were sent. The recipient of the orders was left in the lurch with cancellations, and companies suffered losses from postal charges, packaging, etc.

The Avenger posted newspaper ads under other people’s names. One person’s apartment, for example, was visited by approximately 200 people seeking to rent it on a Sunday.

The Avenger also made packages. They filled them with tights, bloody tampons, metal junk, pieces of cord and shell casings, among others. They took the packages to the neighbouring stairways of the recipient. Often the packages were handled as bombs, because they truly looked like ones when x-rayed.

Foul, disgusting or sick. Whichever it is, the things recounted here happened to several dozens of Finns between the years of 1974 and 1984. The full number of the targets may never be discovered as some who received only singular letters disposed of the materials they received and never reported it to the police. There is, however, knowledge of several hundreds of victims.

Leaker of information

Tiina Kiviharju was one of the people who did report the events. Tiina was working at a branch office of a major banking group in the outskirts of Helsinki. As a teller, Tiina was extremely conscientious and exact at her job and as such was well liked among her coworkers. Tiina’s home life was also doing fine. She was happily married and was expecting her first baby, which was due to arrive in June 1978.

The leader of said office was bank manager Riipinen who one morning received a letter that on the outside appeared to be perfectly normal. Upon opening the envelope, however, Riipinen changed his mind. He read the letter slowly and carefully seeing the seriousness of the matter. The letter insinuated that mrs Kiviharju had sold information covered by bank secrecy about the bank’s clients to third parties. The evidence was airtight, according to the letter. The letter stated that the writer considered it their duty to report the crime to the police and make a complaint to the bank’s general director. The letter was signed, but so illegibly that one couldn’t make out the name. Riipinen could already see his career development grinding to a halt.

Kiviharju was immediately called in to the office manager’s room amd after a serious discussion they came to the conclusion that there was no cause for such a letter. The matter was eventually forgotten.

When approximately three weeks had passed, office manager Riipinen received an official and valuable looking letter with his morning mail. Riipinen’s name was stamped on the envelope and the name of a certain Finnish registered party was marked as the sender. The office manager opened the letter and saw immediately that the letter was written in its entirety with stamps of separate letters. The letter read: “Because I have discovered the bank’s secrets through mrs Kiviharju, I intend to report you unless you pay 3000 marks to our party. We will give the press information of your clients unless you agree to our demands”.

And so Kiviharju ended up explaining herself in the manager’s office yet again. After the workday they held a meeting at the bank’s office regarding the letter and potential measures that could be taken. The matter was reported to the police.

Time passed and Tiina was distressed by the thought of a person who wanted to sully her reputation. She considered her options and filed reports, but investigations yielded no results. Summer of 1978 began and Tiina gave birth to her firstborn. The letters were forgotten during her maternity leave, and family bliss showed all its good sides to Tiina and her whole family.

In July of the same year, once Tiina was home from the maternity ward, a letter arrived to her home appearing to be sent by Mauri Kuhala, a member of the parliament. Kuhala represented the same party that had sent the blackmail letter to office manager Riipinen. Tiina’s heart leapt. She opened the envelope carefully and found her fears confirmed. The letter demanded “the Kiviharju whore” to pay the party 5000 marks or Tiina’s throat would be slit. The letter also stated that Tiina was “pure shit” and that the feces smeared on the letter was indeed much purer than Tiina had ever been.

Tiina was afraid. She couldn’t sleep all night and the police could give no other aid than “we’ll do our best”.

The next day Tiina got another letter. This time the sender was marked as Kerstin Granlund from Vaasa. Tiina didn’t know such a person and could anticipate the contents of the letter. Still she opened it and read: “Your time is almost up. Pray the Lord. Dying young is to be your part. God’s knives are sharp. You will soon have your last meal. You will die ugly”.

Likely as a consequence of giving birth, Tiina was more sensitive than usual. The threats deeply upset her. Tiina felt that the threats were also aimed at her baby, who was only about a week old. Locks were added until there were three on the front door.

Tiina’s husband’s work shifts changed into evening shifts. After dark Tiina sat with the baby in her arms waiting for the threats to come true. The torment grew in Tiina’s mind and eventually the situation got so bad that she no longer dared to spend nights alone and had to go with her husband on his nightly calls. Finally the Kiviharjus decided to change apartments and eventually the thing began to fade from memory. Not entirely, however.

Approximately five years had passed since the letters when Tiina received mail containing materials for attending a marketing conference. Around the same time several items were ordered for Tiina from various stores. The orders were written and from them could be concluded that the writer hadn’t forgotten Tiina. The fear returned; how long would this continue before…

The forger of stamps – deceased

Riitta and Rauno Stenström were an ordinary middle-aged family from eastern Helsinki. Both had jobs and they lived comfortably in their cosy two-room apartment. In 1978 they received an announcement, according to which Rauno had ordered some items by mail. Rauno wondered about this and asked Riitta if she had possibly ordered something. They came to the conclusion that it must have been a mistake. Rauno called the post office and informed them that he had not made the order and that it could be returned.

In the following days similar activity continued; they received more announcements and both Riitta and Rauno cancelled orders as often as they remembered. They naturally forgot to cancel some and received reminders and collection letters about them.

The doorbell rang at the Stenströms. Riitta opened the door and two men carried in a washing machine, asking where it should be placed. After what felt like an endless explanation the men believed her and took the machine away with them.

Now they also began receiving letters that insulted Rauno in strong terms. The letters also contained threats of getting shot at their door, gasoline being poured in the mail slot and being lit and getting tortured by nailing one’s tongue to the table, etc. The letters were often sent in the name of some celebrity. The Stenströms even delivered some letters to the police, who “helped” by telling them that this had happened to several people lately.

A letter arrived to the police station. It contained forged stamps similar to those used to send the so-called defamation letters. The letter also contained a couple of pencil sketches of a man from whom the writer had allegedly bought the forged stamps, and the address where he supposedly lived down to the corridor and floor number. It was the Stenströms’ apartment and the sketch portrayed Rauno. Therefore the writer knew the Stenströms.

Summer of 1981. Riitta Stenström received a phone call. The tearful voice of someone Riitta knew gave their condolences. Riitta was so confused that at first she couldn’t explain that Rauno was still alive. After hearing this it was the caller’s turn to be amazed. They also received flowers with condolences from their relatives. Riitta took a closer look at the newspaper and saw that according to the paper, Rauno Stenström was dead. It was very challenging to get Rauno back to the land of the living. They were disgusted.

Riitta picked up the phone: “I would like to give my condolences to Rauno Stenström’s widow. We have some very affordable tombstones…” It was very hard to get these callers to believe that they had no use for their services at this time. The cruelest part of these obituaries was their effect on other people. The police inspected and mapped out the situation. Clues were collected, but no facts.

Gasoline thief, adulterer

Alpo Kankare drove a bus in Northern Finland. Alpo was a family man whose life was no different from that of any average citizen. That, however, was about to change. At the end of the 1970s Alpo received a letter containing photocopied ten mark bills. According to the letter, Alpo had ordered them to use them on fuel dispensers. The letter mentioned that Alpo was stealing gas from the bus company by taking some from the tanks of the cars, little by little, to make it seem like they had a higher mileage. Alpo pondered. This had happened nearby recently. That letter was sent by Hojo-Hojo-Pena. Alpo ignored the letter, it was simply the work of some nutcase.

Some time passed and Alpo got called into questioning at the police station. He was confused. At the station Alpo discovered that he was suspected of sending an obscene letter to an editor-in-chief from Tampere. The letter had called the editor-in-chief “a parasite and a crab louse in the crotch of Maiden of Finland”. The letter also threatened to slit the editor-in-chief’s throat. The letter had been covered with feces, because, according to the letter, giving better food to a louse would be a waste. It was sent in the name of Alpo Kankare, with his correct phone number and address. It was immediately made clear that Alpo had nothing to do with the letter. What kind of rumours would start to spread, Alpo wondered.

Alpo came home from work and his wife seemed oddly tense. Alpo checked the mail and could guess the reason. With the mail had arrived an open card with the text: “Dear Alpo. I have a surprise for you. I’m pregnant. So it would be good if you got in touch immediately, my love. Last time you said something about posting banns, but it was left unclear to me. This was a surprise for me as well and so I await your reply. Your beloved Kirsti”. Explanations…

This was only the beginning. Alpo caught wind that various complaints about him had been made to the bus company’s supervisor in Helsinki. Alpo had refused to pick someone up from the bus stop and had sometimes driven past stops on purpose, etc. All the letters were clean and seemed genuine; they were signed by people living in the northern hinterlands who were not easily reached by phone. Alpo’s new job became rectifying the management’s conceptions of him.

After a while, a letter arrived to the home of the Kankares, addressed to Mrs Kankare, in which Riitta Sivonen wrote that she had received a peculiar letter from Alpo. In it, Alpo suggested sexual intercourse for a monetary compensation. Riitta wondered in her letter if Alpo could not satisfy his animalistic instincts with his wife since he was thusly harassing other people. Perhaps there really was something to it, Alpo’s wife pondered.

More was to come. The avenger had written a letter in Alpo’s name in which Alpo asks the National Board of Health for a castration due to the fact that when driving a bus and seeing a beautiful woman, Alpo gets a strong erection and ejaculates, leading to embarrassing situations with wet trousers. Alpo asks the board to send their response to the company’s garage’s address. What’s more, the avenger has replied to the castration request in the name of a doctor working for the National Board of Health and manufactured the board’s stamps etc. in the reply. Included was “Alpo’s” original request letter, and these were then sent to the garage.

The avenger ordered Alpo items by mail. He was sent, for example, penis enhancing equipment, ring seals, insoles and all sorts of other things.

Lovely nights – forgotten pants

Ritva Suomaa, a member of parliament, is a well-known woman. Ritva also has a job elsewhere and therefore she is not just an MP. Ritva had received numerous letters in which she had been called every offensive name in the Finnish language. Ritva is a strong woman and didn’t care much about the letters although they caused some bother, as did the orders that kept coming for years and years. Sometimes people she knew would call Ritva and she’d find out that more similar letters had been sent in her name to these people.

Ritva arrived to her workplace and discovered that she had been sent a package, which had had to be opened at the office since only the company’s name and address were written on it. The package contained a pair of women’s panties and a letter to Ritva. The letter communicated that Pasi Kuitunen, a known TV personality, was sending Ritva her underwear that she had forgotten at Kuitunen’s place after a lovely night.

Risto Sahra, the leader of a certain union, had over the years gotten used to the fact that someone was ordering things in his name. He had also received some foul letters smeared with feces to his home and place of work. Upon bringing the mail to their boss, there was something peculiar in the behaviour of the secretary. The secretary uneasily announced the arrival of a package, which was at the bottom of the pile. Sahra looked at the package and found it opened, as it was only labelled with the name and address of the union. The contents were something else. The package contained a pair of men’s feces stained underwear and a letter to Risto Sahra. The sender was Ritva Suomaa, a member of parliament, who in the letter insinuated that Risto had left his underwear at Ritva’s house last time and apologised for the pants getting stained in the throes of passion. Outrage and disgust overtook him. The letter was written in the same hand as the previous ones.

Pekka Pelkonen from Kontiolahti received his first letter in late 1980. The letter was sent from Helsinki. Known to be a calm man, Pelkonen was not upset by the first letters. But when various magazines and mail order items began arriving almost daily, Pelkonen went to the police. Pelkonen worked as the foreman at a large company and he had at best a couple hundred subordinates. Pelkonen suspected one of them to be the writer, as he had been forced to punish some with dismissals. Pelkonen could not name other enemies.

Newspapers, magazines, comics

Between the years 1980-1984 foreman Pelkonen received nearly 40 different deliveries in addition to various newspapers, magazines and comic books. In addition, obscene letters had been sent to other people in Pelkonen’s name.

Sometimes newspaper ads claimed Pelkonen was selling a villa property by Saimaa, sometimes a log cabin by Koitere. There were dozens of calls from interested buyers and even an offer from abroad.

Still worse was yet to come, however. An obituary of Pekka Pelkonen was posted in the local newspaper. The elegy read: “his burden has been lifted and he has found eternal peace”. This obituary of course referred to foreman Pekka Pelkonen from Kontionlahti. However it contained one noteworthy detail: According to the obituary, Pelkonen was born in 1950, when in fact he was born much earlier. Condolences were once again sent to Pelkonen’s “widow”.

Gay, AIDS-patient

For some reason that at the early stages of the investigation could not be explained, the avenger sent a lot of letters to the small village of Tohmajärvi. There are a dozen known recipients, two of whom, teacher Matti Manninen and security guard Kari Kelo faced the worst of the harassment. Teacher Manninen had worked in the municipality for over 25 years. He, too, is a family man and known in the area as a sympathetic and conscientious person. Matti was modest, he never made a big deal of himself.

Upon first opening the libelous letter in 1980, Manninen could not anticipate all that he would come to experience. As in most other cases, a few initial letters were followed by an onslaught of mail deliveries. When the deliveries didn’t appear to be ceasing, he asked the post office to automatically return all deliveries to the stores that sent them. The letters of complaint proved to be the most troublesome for Manninen.

In late 1983 the avenger had sent a letter to the National Board of Health in Manninen’s name. In it, Manninen casually mentions that he is a teacher in Tohmajärvi. He also tells that he has AIDS and that he has had homosexual relations with a male student of his. In the letter Manninen asks what actions he ought to take.

Manninen himself never received a reply, but the board, sensing that something was unclear about the whole thing, sent the letter to the bailiff of Tohjmajärvi.

Things didn’t end so well with a letter that was sent in the name of another Tohmajärvi teacher to the board of education. It told of teacher Manninen’s homosexual relations with his male students. It also mentioned that Manninen had AIDS. The board sent a letter containing this information to the department of education of the provincial government of North Karelia and asked for an investigation to the matter. The department did as requested, and in turn asked Manninen himself to give a written explanation. To be safe, Manninen asked for a statement from a local police officer. The rumour mill was churning once again.

The avenger sent many letters to different public utilities in the name of the National Board of Health in early 1984. The letters mentioned Manninen’s homosexual relations and informed that he had AIDS. The letters asked for information and observations of his comings and goings. The letters were equipped with the signature stamps of the board and a doctor who used to work there. The rumours escalated.

The avenger also sent a letter in teacher Manninen’s name to a sexual health clinic in Helsinki. The letter requested an appointment to get tested for AIDS. A letter arrived in response informing Manninen of the appointment.

Feces to the general director

Security guard Kari Kelo faced similar treatment. Kelo, just like Manninen, received letters and mail deliveries, for-sale ads of various items and of course an obituary. The nastiest situation Kelo ended up in when a feces stained letter was sent in his name to the general director of the company in Helsinki. No more than two hours after the general director opened the letter in Helsinki, Kelo was in his boss’s office in Tohmajärvi giving a handwriting sample. And there was talk…

The avenger

The avenger and his targets were being mapped from the beginning. It was established that most of the targets had been public figures at some stage of their lives. There were exceptions, however, and based on tips from those cases some strong leads could be gathered. For example, it was established that the avenger could draw and etch.

The contents of the letters always referred to political affiliations and that aspect was examined. It could only be stated that the avenger’s range varied from one extreme to another, however with an emphasis on the right wing.

The harassment focused on an area covering, among others, the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen. The entire Finland got their share of the letters, however, all the way up to Inari. During the investigation, another point of focus was located in the North Karelia province. At the centre of this point was the small municipality of Tohmajärvi. This was chosen as the starting point for the investigation, as it was suspected that the avenger had at some point lived in the area and had possibly moved away. Other more promising leads could not be forgotten, however.

Letters delivered around 1978 made many references to an already disbanded extreme right wing political movement, which had been found guilty of burning down a left wing printing house. So they searched for a person fitting the avenger’s framework among the members of the disbanded movement. House searches were conducted as well as forensic investigation, but they seemed to yield no results.

They also endeavoured to find an explanation for the fact that several letters had been sent in envelopes of company called Kustannus Oy. Where had the avenger gotten these envelopes? Did he perhaps work at the company? It turned out that Kustannus Oy had printed 6000 such envelopes at Painopaikka Oy in 1977. From there the envelopes had been sent to the mail service Postitusosakeyhtiö Saari, who had, according to the contract, mailed 5877 of these envelopes to the clients of Kustannus Oy. Where were the remaining 123 envelopes? The employee directories of Postitusosakeyhtiö Saari from nearly a decade were reviewed and the backgrounds and handwritings of suspicious individuals were inspected. It was futile. The envelopes could also be from Painopaikka Oy, but the company had gone bankrupt and the employee directories were no longer available.

We recall the letter sent to the police in which the avenger had included a drawing of Rauno and informed that he had bought fraudulent stamps from the man in the picture. Rauno had never appeared in the public eye so how did the avenger know him? Rauno himself suggested some options but upon investigation they yielded no results. It was established, however, that Rauno had begun receiving letters after changing jobs in the summer of 1978. Employee directories containing hundreds of names were procured from Rauno’s old and new workplaces. Suspicious persons found on these lists were investigated, but once again to no avail.

The investigators tried to fit hundreds upon hundreds of people into the “framework of the avenger”, but they always came away empty-handed, as they say. When taking some things to the cellar storage, a musician had heard hurried footsteps from the stairway and, upon going to see who it was, had found a package left by the avenger. Based on the sound of the footsteps as well as other factors, it could be deduced with some certainty that the avenger was a man. Some progress was made.

Tohmajärvi in focus

Tohmajärvi was once again put under the microscope, and one by one they began going through names of men who had gone to school in the area and were born between 1948 and 1952. The year of birth was narrowed down to this period due to the the fact that upon inspecting the local recipients of the letters it was noted that eight of them were born in 1950. Furthermore, they all had been in the same class in primary school in 1964. They all had at some point been taught by Matti Manninen and one of the students was Pekka Pelkonen.

Student registries were found in the municipal archive and each person was interviewed in their turn. No one could name certain suspects. There appeared to have been no general victim of mockery or such in the school. Manninen also didn’t recall having to discipline any one student in particular. Over twenty years had passed and no one could recall specific events any longer. The question arose whether the avenger could’ve been a student’s brother, current spouse or something similar.

The case of Pekka Pelkonen was addressed. There was foreman Pekka Pelkonen, who had received letters, and chauffeur Pekka Pelkonen, who was in the category of people born in 1950. The avenger had apparently targeted the wrong man. However, the real Pekka Pelkonen could not name anyone likely to be the perpetrator either.

The selection of men born between 1948 and 1952 was narrowed down to those who had moved to the metropolitan area. Approximately 50 names remained and hopes were high. An arduous phase followed. There was still no certainty that the avenger was among this group of 50 people, so other leads were continuously being followed on the side. Several binders of material were gathered and based on the facts discovered the group had been narrowed down to approximately 20 people. Among the material there was a handwriting sample from one Asser Niinistö, who had moved away from Tohmajärvi already in 1965, but there seemed to be no similarities.

Asser

The dead end seemed to open up when an official of the North Karelian garrison contacted the investigators. He had received libelous letters and mail deliveries. The officer was from Tohmajärvi and he was presented with the narrowed down list of names. The man immediately picked out Asser Niinistö, who had been his neighbour back in the day. According to the man, Asser had been a very quiet young man and enthusiastic about building “infernal machines” and other such devices. The man also told that Asser had served his military service in the North Karelian garrison as late as 1975 due to postponements.

Asser Niinistö was taken under close inspection. No fact based on which he could be suspected more than anyone else seemed to surface. Besides, there were many better leads to examine. What’s more, Asser was established to be a man with a job and a family and therefore wasn’t likely to have the time to do all the things that had come to light.

The very next day Asser’s former neighbour from the garrison called the investigators and told them that the garrison’s matron had received a similar letter as the one he had received. Upon inspection the letters were found to contain things that no outsider could know about. It was discovered that Asser Niinistö had worked in the garrison’s kitchen. Having drawn their conclusions, they decided to conduct a house search at Asser’s home and workplace the next day.

Fainted

On a winter morning in 1984 the police arrived at Asser’s workplace and the foreman was asked to fetch Asser. Asser was asked to open his desk drawers and his locker.

Having done this, Asser fainted.

In the locker there were several pre-filled mail order coupons and letters. The avenger’s journey had come to an end. Asser was searched and a loaded, self-made .22 caliber revolver was found in his possession.

Asser was arrested and in the interrogation he confessed everything. He said that from the year 1974 onwards he had sent hundreds of libelous letters mainly to people in leadership positions. He also said that he had made at least 1500 orders of items. In addition there were the packages, harassing phone calls and newspaper ads.

A capable man

Asser was a capable man. Three more handguns were found at his house, two of which were self-made. According to a statement from the laboratory, they could all be labelled as firearms. In addition, there were paintings at Asser’s house that were painted by him. Asser had also worked as a touring musician, but had stopped touring for his family’s sake. During the house search they found equipment used to make the counterfeit meter stamps, and offset printing plates with pictures of 100 mark bills. The police had already previously procured a brass sheet with a lion themed stamp carved on it, with which Asser had manufactured some stamps.

A detailed index

So how did Asser remember the hundreds of people that he had sent letters and items to? To this there are to answers: Firstly, Asser had a detailed index of approximately 1000 names with addresses. The index was divided in sections such as National Coalition Party members, Centre Party members, the military and the police together, Christians and miscellaneous. Secondly, Asser had a very good memory and upon hearing a name he could recall off the top of his head why he had chosen that particular person as a target.

There were some people who were targeted for personal reasons. They had at some point in their lives said or done something bad or hurtful to Asser. Among these people were Tiina and Rauno, for example. However, these people didn’t make up even one percent of the targets.

Why?

Why did Asser do this, then?

Excerpts from Asser’s interrogation transcript: “… I was a small child and perhaps had a tendency for being nervous … Also there was a teacher with a very authoritarian and militant approach to teaching … (Matti Manninen) … I developed a hatred towards authoritarian and aggressive people … Then there were some housing concerns due to illegal dismissals when I wouldn’t agree to illegal rent increases … The pressure was at its peak and the knowledge that I would have to join the army triggered it all. I remembered my pistol and decided to go outside to shoot at everyone and everything. I abandoned that thought, however, because I couldn’t have hurt another person physically. Since my own troubles were psychological, I decided to avenge the wrongs I had experienced psychologically …

Screenshot_20181204-162322_YouTube

(Pens used in creating the letters. Police photo.)

Asser’s wife never knew or suspected what his husband was up to late in the evenings. Asser also had other good opportunities to do his avenging work, as his wife did shift work. Excerpts from the wife’s interrogation: “… My husband is very quiet. Sometimes it’s like he’s in a different world. He also has a very strict stance on what is right and what is wrong”.

Asser also had detailed notes of all the letters and his other doings. There were some two dozen notebooks and the parts about the avenger’s actions Asser had written down in a cipher he had invented. The notebooks, as well as the other avenger material, were in a locked cupboard to which others had no access and no keys. The locks Asser naturally made himself.

Screenshot_20181204-161724_YouTube

(Some of Asser’s “tools” he used to create counterfeit papers and documents. Police photo.)

Asser was arrested for his deeds and he is accused of frauds, counterfeiting a private document, illegal possession of a firearm, making and using counterfeit stamps, illegal threats, defamation, libel via printed documents, attempts of fraud, slander, etc. Now Asser is in prison, waiting for the court’s ruling on the matter. [Article written in 1985; see post scriptum for an update. -admin]

Screenshot_20181204-161759_YouTube

(Pistol found among Asser’s possessions. Police photo.)

Asser is a good worker and possesses a very demanding set of skills. He owns an apartment, has a wife and a kid, a job.

But why all this?


Post Scriptum, 2018, written by Teemu from Mysteries, Crimes, Curiosities

As far as I know, this is the only photo of Asser publicly available. I took this photo from an old issue of Alibi, a Finnish true crime magazine:

“Asser” was sentenced to prison time, but only did a short portion of it, as he was deemed by the court to have been in a mentally unstable state during the crimes.

After his prison sentence, “Asser” returned to his old job. As far as I was able to determine through my research, he never committed any more crimes.

Interview with horror author Marko Hautala.

Marko Hautala is one of Finland’s best contemporary writers. His books employ the methods of horror and thriller literature to look into the minds and pasts of their characters – with terrifying results.

Order his books here.

Below is my interview with Mr. Hautala.


Marko Hautala

(photo Veikko Somerpuro)

1) Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m a Finnish writer who’s mainly written psychological horror, but also essays and even poetry. My writing has been translated into eight languages.

2) When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I first started to write a novel when I was seven years old but didn’t finish one until I was 27. I suppose that means that the plan has been there all along! It just took time and several short stories to get there.

3) Your works are set in the city of Vaasa, which is refreshing, as most Finnish novels are set in Helsinki. Does Vaasa inspire your writing? How would you describe the city to someone who has never been there?

Vaasa is a small city on the West Coast of Finland, close to Sweden. It’s very middle class but also culturally diverse due to the big international companies in the region. That may sound a bit boring as a setting for horror stories but actually it’s not. Vaasa has a long history and all the mystery and tragedy that goes with it if you know how to look beyond the polite façade.

vaasa

(Vaasa)

4) One thing I love about your books is how you play with the feeling of uncertainty, and use it to build horror into your characters and, subsequently, the reader’s heart. The characters are often going through a period of transition of some sort, and the future is uncertain. Is uncertainty, the fear of what comes next, the basis of horror, in your opinion?

I’m really happy you point that out! Horror as a genre is often seen in too simplistic terms. For me it’s a form of fiction that offers the most suitable tools for tackling with those aspects of life that are strange and almost unbearable. For me, both as a writer and reader, the best horror stories go straight to that basic uncertainty that we as vulnerable creatures with limited understanding of reality have. It doesn’t really matter to me whether the story deals with that aspect of life through the supernatural or in purely realistic terms, but my own stories often fall somewhere in between. Whatever you believe in, you have to admit that reality is so strange and endlessly complex that our view of it is helplessly limited. A good horror story makes you acknowledge and face that fact.

5) Is there a specific method you employ to build suspense, or do you just aim to tell a scary story and things come naturally from there on?

The funny thing is that my intention is not to scare people, really. At least I don’t usually think about it that way most of the time. My main motivation is to create a strong atmosphere that would be intriguing, mysterious and yet strangely familiar. To me atmosphere is at least half the story and I do pay a lot of attention to it. Having said that, in every novel there is at least one scene that I realize might scare the reader. Then I sometimes work it up a little bit just for the joy of making someone I don’t know feel uneasy while reading a book.

6) Do you plan the entire arc of the story before hitting the computer, or do you go one section at a time, making it up as you go along?

Every novel is slightly different, but I often do make plans and drafts and synopses at some point. Usually they don’t have much to do with the final story, but they serve as temporary signposts I think. Mostly I just follow my instincts because they tend to take me to places I didn’t even know exist. If and when I get lost in my own imagination or run out of inspiration, I go back to story arcs and stuff like that just to find my way again. Often when I run out of steam, I also start drawing pictures as it seems to reactivate the verbal side of things really well.

7) How “connected” are your books in your mind? Or are they “islands” onto themselves?

Yes and no. I don’t enjoy writing series but on the other hand I sometimes feel that everything I’ve ever written is just one long story about things I try to get a grasp on or come to terms with.

8) The book Black Tongue (Finnish Kuokkamummo) employs faux folklore beautifully to create a kind of sinister past to a place. How much do folkloric tales inspire you? Do you read a lot of them?

Actually the urban legend in that novel is an authentic one! It’s from my childhood neighborhood and it really scared me when I was a kid. The legend basically included an old woman who haunted the surrounding woods and killed children. Like all urban legends, it probably had a basis in a real event (in this case in a tragic incident of a mother killing her own children decades before) but it had changed over time into this ubiquitous, almost demon-like character.

I recently also wrote a Finnish folklore-based short story that was published in several languages. The story is called Sauna Requiem and you can read or listen to it on Storytel (I don’t know if that’s available in all parts of the world though).

My latest novel Leväluhta (The Red Marsh) is also based on a real place, an ancient water burial site close to my home town. The place and all the stories connected to it have fascinated me for over a decade but it took time to find a way to write fiction about it. The funny thing is that this became possible only when I started to feel that two other seemingly unrelated elements had something to do with the place, namely a life-form known as mycetozoa (do look it up!) and early 1990’s black metal. There’s no logical connection, of course, but I felt that on some deeper level these things were connected.

Overall, I think stories and legends are important if they survive long periods of time. Although they might be factually wrong, there’s some other kind of truth in them if they survive.

9781511311359

9) How and where do you write? At home, at a cafe? Can you write anywhere anytime, or do you need a certain atmosphere?

Whenever possible, I write at our summerhouse (even in the winter). In the past I used to also write in cafes and bars and places like that but nowadays I feel that other people are an obstacle to intensive writing. I’m most productive when I haven’t heard a human voice for a couple of days. Lack of speech does something to your imagination. It makes you turn inward and your dreams become crazily vivid.

10)  Have you personally ever experienced anything paranormal?

I’ve seen a ghost but I don’t think I believe in them. It was a strange experience though. When I was younger I used to work as a nurse in a mental hospital so I know that the mind can do all kinds of tricks, but that experience still sometimes bothers me. We lived in an old wooden house back then so the setting was right I guess. I woke up to noises from the front door and rose from the bed to look at what was going on. Then I saw an old woman walking towards me. I tried to wake up my wife but she only has a vague recollection of that. It might have been something like sleep paralysis without the paralysis part, but the experience was quite unusual. I wish my wife would have woken up so there’d be confirmation that it was just a hallucination!

11)  What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a novel, an audiobook, game script and a book of essays. At least those. Then there are several small ideas that I’m toying with.

12)  Where can people write to request that more of your books be translated into English?

I really don’t know! My agent Ahlback Agency takes care of my foreign rights so I don’t really get involved in that side of things at all. I’m really, really happy to get my stories translated though. [Write to elina@ahlbackagency.com -admin]

13)  Where can people keep up with you and your work?

I write a blog at markohautala.fi but it’s only in Finnish, unfortunately!

And, finally, my standard questions:

14)  Your top 3 movies and why?

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (saw it as a kid, didn’t have the slightest understanding of what’s going on but was completely mesmerised. I still watch it at least once a year)

2. Psycho (took horror film to a completely new level)

3. Rosemary’s Baby (a prime example of a great horror story: creepy, atmospheric and a great finale which is terrifying and blackly humorous at the same time)

15)  Your top 3 albums and why?

1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Murder Ballads (this album marks the transition from the young, angry Nick Cave to the calmer one we have today. On Murder ballads you can hear both)

2. Ghost: Meliora (the best pop metal album ever. I almost feel bad for the band because they will probably never be able to top this)

3. Lustmord: Songs of Gods and Demons (a classic dark ambient album to which I have written several novels in the past)

16)  Your top 3 books and why?

This is even more difficult than the ones above! I’ll approach this from the genre angle:

1. Everything by E.A. Poe and H.P. Lovecraft and the best novels of Stephen King (sorry but I have to make the first slot like this, otherwise this is impossible!)

2. Clive Barker: The Books of Blood 1-3

3. Sara Gran: Come Closer

17)  Do you have a favorite place to read?

Anywhere by the sea in the summer, otherwise in my study or on a train. I also try spend two hours every day walking and listening to audiobooks.

Interview with Monika Nordland Yndestad

Monika Nordland Yndestad is a Norwegian writer and expert on mysteries surrounding her hometown Bergen. That city is home to one of the most enduring unsolved mysteries of all time: the case of the Isdal Woman, an unidentified female found dead in the middle of a rock formation on a mountain just outside Bergen in 1970. The case is still unsolved.

Monika has written a book called Drapsmysterier fra Bergensområdet (2005), the definitive book on Bergen’s strange history. 

Below is my interview with her. Thank you, Monika!


monika

1) Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Monika N. Yndestad and I live in Bergen. I wrote my first news story in 1987. In 2007, I took a four year break from the press to teach journalism. Then I started as a publisher in a magazine. In 2013, I became an author full time. I have released three crime books. The main character is journalist Alice Bratt. I have also released three non-fiction books, among them Drapsmysterier.

2) You wrote a book about the city of Bergen’s mysteries and crimes. What inspired you to write this book?

I have always been more than average interested in mysteries. Put simply, I was a big fan of true crime long before the term was invented. In Bergen there were several old murder cases that people still talked about, even after decades. But did they remember correctly?

I decided to investigate, and spent a lot of time in the archives, both public and in the newspaper archive. It was really exciting! The first case I wrote about in the newspaper Bergensavisen was a miscarriage of justice that occurred in 1906. A father and his son were convicted of killing the neighbor. The reason for the verdict was that a psychic woman supposedly “saw” the murder. It took 43 years before they were acquitted.

3) The most internationally well-known mystery in Bergen is the “Isdal Woman”. In your own words, what is this case of “The Isdal Woman”?

The Isdal Woman is our biggest mystery. No doubt about it.

Isdal Woman was found dead in Isdalen on Sunday, November 29, 1970, almost fifty years ago. It was a family on a Sunday trip that found her in the hillside; the first to see her was a twelve-year-old girl.

Isdal woman was found at the entrance of what is called “the valley of death”. The name comes from an accident in the early 1900s when a group of skiers on the top of Ulriken Mountain took the wrong path and fell to death.

It was a horrible sight. Isdal Woman was found lying on her back over a bonfire. The body had been exposed to intense but short-lived warmth. Her hair had burned up, but remains of a blue hair loop were found. The clothes were also just some remains. There was a men’s armband watch next to the body. The clockwork had stopped at 12.32.

In her stomach a fatal dose of Fenemal sleeping tablets was found. She had swallowed between 50 and 70 tablets. The cause of death was a combination of poisoning by sleep medicine and carbon dioxide, as well as combustion.

The investigation revealed that Isdal Woman had checked out from Hotel Hordaheimen in Bergen city center on Monday 23 November around eleven. There was smoke seen in Isdalen one and a half hours later, and it was believed that was when she died. But the time frame does not quite match: it is unlikely she may have managed to get so far in such a short time. She was also at the train station, where she placed her suitcases.

The investigation showed that Isdal Woman had traveled around Norway under several names. The last month she stayed at hotels in Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim under the names: Claudia Nielsen, Alexia Zarna-Merchez, Vera Jarle, Fenella Lorch and Elisabeth Leenhower. She spoke broken English but was steady in German. She was seen with men the police have never found the identity of.

Isdal Woman was 164 centimeter, 56 kilos, and probably around 30 years old. In her suitcases there where found notes written in code with letters and numbers, possibly an itinerary.

Isdal-Corpse

(body of the Isdal Woman. Police photo.)

4) What are the most widespread theories about her identity among the people of Bergen?

There are several theories. Last year, a documentary about her was issued claiming she was a prostitute. But there are not many who support that theory. Today, it’s mostly crime authors and journalists who care about the mystery. For most people, Isdal woman is just a term.

One possible theory is that she was an agent of Israel in search of old Nazis. This theory is used by the city’s most famous crime author, Gunnar Staalesen, in his trilogy Bergenstriologien. The books are translated into French.

Most people agree that Isdal Woman was affiliated with an organization of some kind, or was a criminal. Some believe she was a part of a fake coin league, but it is less likely than the agent theory. Remember, it was 1970. Probably the Norwegian authorities (PST) know much more than what has been revealed. The police concluded that she had committed suicide. Afterwards, only her identity has been investigated.

5) What is your own personal belief as to who she was?

I think she was an agent of some kind.

6) Some of the items related to the case are still in the police archives, such as her jawbone and personal belongings. Have you seen them personally? If so, what was it like seeing them?

No, those items were found quite recently and after I had released Drapsmysterier.

7) What is the area like where she was discovered? Is it far from downtown Bergen?

The area is about five kilometers from Bergen Railway Station, where she placed two suitcases for storage. The mountain side where she was found is steep and inaccessible and not a place for a tourist in November. Or in the summer, for that matter.

8) Do you think she intentionally walked there or was she taken there by someone else?

There are two mysteries here. Was Isdal Woman killed or did she really commit suicide alone on a mountain side? And who was she?

I do not think she committed suicide. She lived in a hotel and if the tablets really were hers, it’s illogical to leave the hotel bed, take the pills up in a mountain side and then lay on a fire.

Therefore, I do not think she was alone. She was taken into Isdalen by someone. And killed.

9) Is the police still actively investigating the case? Do you think it will be solved one day?

It is the press, including the BBC, which conducts investigations. Not the police. I do not think the case will be resolved ever, but she can still be identified. Isdal Woman is buried in a unmarked tomb. There was a police officer carrying her coffin to the grave, and a Catholic priest was used during the ceremony. Everything was documented with images that still exist. The police wanted to give the album to the family, but there was never anyone who claimed her. Now she belongs to Bergen.

isdal-woman-funeral

(Funeral for the Isdal woman.)

10) Another famous person in Bergen’s history is Varg Vikernes, notorious metal musician who murdered a colleague in the early 90s. Is he still famous around Bergen? Do locals still talk about him?

Varg Vikernes never returned to Bergen after the release. He lives in France and the case is little discussed.

But the church fires are not completely forgotten. Recently, two framed front pages of Bergens Tidende, which an individual had collected, sold for 14.000 NOK each. The front pages showed a picture of Varg Vikernes, who confessed to burning churches.

There were a total of 40 churches and church buildings that burned down in a few years.

varg1

(Varg Vikernes.)

11) How did the murder of Euronymous happen?

Varg Vikernes had had two comrades as an alibi that he was home in the apartment in Bergen. But instead he drove to Oslo, and on Tuesday, August 10, 1992, he killed Øystein Aarseth with 23 knife cuts. Afterwards, Greven said he did not regret the murder because it was about the survival of the strongest. And he was proud to be the strongest, the one who lived.

12) What do you think was the true reason behind it?

I look at it as a broken youth’s wrongdoing.

13) In your opinion, why did the Black Metal scene happen in Norway of all places?

In the 1990s there were many good bands and good producers in Bergen that contributed to the growth of black metal. It could probably have just happened somewhere else. But it was a little funny that especially Italian students at that time began to learn Norwegian because of black metal.

church

(Church arsons were a notorious feature of the Black Metal days. Adherents to BM believed Christianity was unlawfully planted into Norway, and burning a church was, therefore, a strike against the Christian establishment and a celebration of Norway’s pagan past.)

14) What other mysteries from Bergen would you like the readers of this blog to know about?

Many! Did you know, for example, that the lions in front of the Norwegian parliament, a symbol of democracy, were sculpted by a man convicted of a killing in Bergen? The assassination happened not far from the place Isdal Woman was found. But it’s 120 years that separates them in time.

15) What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on my fourth crime book in the series about journalist Alice Bratt; it is scheduled to be published in the autumn of 2019. In addition, I have just established the website monikayndestad.no There I talk about books and publish true crime news.

16) Any chance of your book being translated into English?

Who knows? Cappelen Damm Agency will hopefully sell my books abroad. Maybe to Finland? Then I wont be able to read my own book …

draps

(Monika with her book about Bergen’s mysteries. Photo: Bergens Tidende)

17) Anything I forgot to ask about that you would like to add?

Well, you can ask if it really rains as much in Bergen as people think. The answer is yes.

The Disappearance of Piia Ristikankare, Finland, 1988

1988. Rick Astley is rick rolling the world, and Bruce Willis is fighting bad guy in the Nakatomi building. The 1980s are coming close to their end, and the world has yet to see the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise and fall of Nirvana, and other curious incidents of the early 90s.

Far away from the red carpets of Hollywood and the secret dealing of the Kremlin, in a small town, a young girl disappears, leaving behind an enduring mystery that lives on after the last time she herself is ever seen.


piia2

Piikkiö is the kind of town you pass by on your way somewhere else, most likely Turku, a bigger city about 20 kilometers away.

Home to about 7000 residents, walking down the streets there you can almost feel the gazes on your back as locals give you an extended glimpse when you pass them by, trying to guess who you are and which house you’re visiting. ”Is he the son of [enter name here], visiting from Helsinki? No, maybe it’s [insert name here] all grown up, visiting from Turku!” Having grown up in a small town myself, I understand this dynamic.

Near the town’s health center is a short street and on that street stands a grey house that gives the impression that it’s standing still in time. The exterior looks like it is not actively cared for, and the grass in the yard is overgrown. This is the home of a single dweller, an old man named Heikki Ristikankare, father of a young girl named Piia who went missing in 1988, leaving behind a creepy mystery that lingers in the public consciousness to this day.

The Ristikankare family had a tumultuous history. They were a Jehovah’s Witness family whose mother drank. A lot. So much, in fact, that during her lowest points she used the family’s savings to pay for booze for her drinking buddies. She was a loud drinker who would go off on her family, screaming at her husband and children. Finally, husband and father Heikki had enough, took his children, and separated them from their unstable mother.

He got custody, and became the sole provider for the kids.

In 1988 Piia was 14 years old, and the oldest of the children. Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, her school photograph shows her with a pretty, toothy smile and a knowing look in her eyes, as though she’s in on something funny you haven’t noticed yet. Nothing in her appearance is particularly exceptional; outwardly, she blends into the mass of late-80s working class teenagers.

ristikankare_piia

Her diary bespeaks a reasonably normal youth, with its crushes and early attempts at flirting with the opposite sex. From her journal:

May 3rd 1988. Today we waved at two guys who passed us by in their car. They stopped, and we got in.

Two days later she writes about another encounter with the same guys:

May 5th 1988. Today after the disco we waved at them again. I got in [the guy’s] car. He was alone at the time. We went to the forest for a while.

Besides the early signs of a burgeoning love life, the writings hint at an inherent trust in people, even males: Piia gets in the car despite probably a lifetime of warnings from grown-ups in her religious community – or perhaps because of them, in teenage defiance of the paranoia of all parents towards prospective male pursuers? She also hints at being at a disco that night, and talks of accompanying her pursuer to the woods, perhaps for a walk and some alone time.

Piia’s life had its shadows, too. Friends and student peers report that Piia was bullied at school, sometimes harshly. The daughter of a Jehovah’s Witness family can’t escape her background in a small town, and will occasionally stick out from the bunch. The exact theology of this religion is generally somewhat mysterious to Finns, and many of them have an image of the religion’s followers as irritating door-knockers and doorbell-ringers who want to sit you down in your kitchen and tell you about The True Way to Salvation.

Regardless of Piia’s joyful personality, the reputation of her religion may have preceded her, and been a factor in the bullying. And regardless of whether she emphasized this aspect of her identity outwardly or not, for Piia, being a Witness was apparently not a matter of passing significance: she took part in religious services and sang religious songs at home, her father accompanying her with a harmonica.

The bullying, however, apparently seized after Piia started studying at the Vocational Institute in Turku. Piia got new friends there, and people who knew her report this transition as something of a fresh start for the young woman.

At home, however, Piia’s role as something of a surrogate mother (or at least female caregiver) for her younger siblings most likely grew after her parents’ divorce. This may have added to the young woman’s worries and stress, and ultimately caused some kind of a psychological strain to break the night of her disappearance when she stormed out of her home and into infamy.


7th October 1988

The night of her disappearance was seemingly not too different from any Friday night in a small Finnish town. The only noticeable difference was that that night there were more youngsters out on the town than usual, possibly due to a disco being held at a local youth center. The weather for the weekend was rainy and gray.

Piia had originally made plans to spend the weekend with a friend in the town of Paimio, another small town roughly 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Piikkiö. But father Heikki, a bricklayer, had a work assignment for Saturday, so he had asked Piia to stay home and look after her younger siblings. The responsible Piia had agreed.

But as it turns out, the person Heikki would be working for had unexpectedly told him it would be possible for him to take the youngest child of the family with him to work, which again made it possible for Piia to go to Paimio. Ultimately, however, Piia decided to stay home.

On the evening of that Friday, 7th October, the Ristikankare family did what essentially every Finnish family does to mark the end of the week: heat up the sauna. This is the quintessential Finnish way to rinse the old work week off the skin and relax after a week on the job. There’s a touch of ”zen” to the practice, at least as much as a nation as practical and formal as Finns dare to engage in.

While father Heikki was in the sauna with a friend, Piia and her three siblings were in the living room watching television. At some point in the evening, Piia and her younger brother got into an argument over the ownership of the remote control, and as a result, Piia stormed out of the door and into the Friday night.

This is time she has been seen for certain.

She left with her regular clothes on, and had about 20 marks of money and a credit card.

When father Heikki got out of the sauna, the younger kids explained what had happened. At this point there wasn’t yet a reason to worry: maybe Piia had simply gone out to walk around the block and cool her head a bit. This wasn’t the first-ever argument between two siblings in the history of the world, after all.

Piia had occasionally spent weekends at relatives’ and friends’ houses, so Heikki was not yet terrified at Piia’s absence; his initial suspicion was that she had headed to some friend’s house once again, and would be present at that Sunday’s religious service.

Sunday came. The service came. Piia didn’t.

Heikki called the police to officially place a missing person report. The report is dated 08.45 the next Monday morning, October 10th. The police began their routine procedures: search parties, information gathering, interrogation of potential suspects.

Nothing. Something was seriously wrong.

Despite endless searches, sleepless nights, and silent sorrow and longing for a lost friend and family member, Piia remains missing. Millions of cars have passed through the highway that passes her hometown since then. None of them have brought her back.

In 2007 the lead detective in the case was interviewed for a Finnish television show entitled Kadonneet (”The Missing”). Of all the various details in the disappearance, one sticks out like a sore thumb.

As mentioned earlier, there were a lot of youngsters out on the town that night, probably gathered around the youth center and the disco. And even though Piikkiö is a small town, it isn’t a town-sized graveyard – there are people on the move on a Friday night, going out, walking their dogs, heading to the store for groceries to cook something special on the eve of the weekend, et cetera. And even if you discount the people outside, that still leaves many a family or couple sitting at their kitchens, looking out into the street as they sip their evening teas or eat their meals.

And yet, not a single verifiable sighting of Piia was made after she left home that night. Not one. It’s as though she walked into a vortex and disappeared into thin air.


The 1980s turned into the 1990s, and the 90s turned into a new millennium. The silence around the Piia Ristikankare case was like a still pond of black water, motionless, denying even the slightest glimpse at its murky bottom.

Until one day in 2002 someone took a big rock and broke the water’s surface, sending new ripples across the dead calm surface.


The Letter

It had been mailed from Sweden, and bore the earmarks of having been written by someone under duress.

The writer didn’t seem to be accustomed to letter-writing; it seemed like a simple communique meant to convey something dramatic the author had held inside for years.

kirje_piia

(the actual letter)

It was first received by the producers of a Finnish television show titled Poliisi-TV (”Police TV”), a show that features news on police investigations into famous crimes, as well as reports on the latest crimes, with requests to viewers to help identify their perpetrators. Think of it as Finland’s “Unsolved Mysteries”.

After opening the letter, the producers of the show had determined that the letter needs to be forwarded to the police, so they sent it to Kaarina police department, Kaarina being the town where the investigation into Piia Ristikankare’s disappearance had initially began. The Kaarina police forwarded it to Keskusrikospoliisi (”Central Bureau of Investigations”; basically Finland’s equivalent to the American FBI), where the Ristikankare investigation had been delegated after local police departments failed
to solve the mystery.

The author of the letter claimed to remember something shattering from the night of the disappearance. According to his letter, he had been on his way to eastern Finland, and had passed Piikkiö on his way. Driving through the highway, he had noticed a young girl fitting Piia’s description entering a car.

And as if that wasn’t eerie enough, there was an additional shocker to the author’s story: he claimed to remember the license plate number of that very car.

The police immediately ran the number through their system, and came up with a name. The person whose name it was lived in the Turku region (close to Piikkiö, in other words), and had a criminal record – for sexual assault.

He was brought to the department and interrogated. He swore he had no connection to Piia’s disappearance, and eventually the police came to believe him. He was released for lack of evidence.

The lead detective believes the letter writer may have tried to take revenge for something by accusing the suspect of this notorious disappearance. Nevertheless, the police believe this letter is still an essential piece of the puzzle, and that the author most likely knows more than he’s telling.


Flash forward

Investigative threads currently employed by the police to solve this disappearance are easy to articulate: none. The police lieautenant currently in charge of the investigation openly admits that in light of the existing evidence (or lack thereof, rather), the case is a total mystery. The only thing that can realistically solve it is a phone call or email from someone who remembers something conclusive from the night of Piia’s vanishing.

The possibility of suicide has been ruled out. Piia’s personal diary reflects an overall sunny disposition and attitude towards life, and hints at an emerging interest in boys – and even courage to engage in some light flirting. It’s also reasonable to assume that, had Piia taken her own life, her remains would most likely have been discovered by now. Local forests were searched thoroughly and local rivers drenched.

An intentional dropping off the map can confidently be ruled out as well. Such a maneuver demands an enormous supply of funds and social contacts across the country (and possibly beyond), neither of which Piia possessed. Finns who disappear intentionally are generally well-to-do individuals who have gotten into some kind of trouble, often financially.

This leaves homicide as the only realistic option. But who, and why?

The most likely scenario for murder in this case goes like this.

After Piia leaves home, she walks to the nearby highway, intending on hitchhiking to Turku and the nightlife of a bigger city, or to Paimio and her original plans for that Friday. The destination, I believe, is not essential – ”away” is the key word.

As she stands by the road with her thumb in the air, someone with a dark intent spots her, a lonely female figure moving under the streetlights in the darkness. He is almost unable to believe his luck; this opportunity is not to be wasted!

He drives his car to the side of the lane and stops. The girl standing outside in the chilly evening air walks to him and bends down to talk through the open car window. She explains that she needs a ride. The man nods his head: ”Get in”.

The car takes off, its wheels crunching on the ground as the driver steers them back into the lane, the car’s rear lights casting a long red glow onto the dark ground.

The glow slowly fades as the car takes off, transporting the unlikely pair into the dark.

piia

(exclusive artwork done for this blog post by artist Ninni Rönkkö)


Epilogue

It’s 2016, and though the case makes the occasional appearance in the papers, there’s nothing to show that the investigation into Piia’s disappearance would have gathered any new wind under its wings in the passing decades. The case is official open, but badly needs a new clue for the police to chew on.

July, 2016. My wife and I walk down a street in Piikkiö Piia may have chosen as her path that night.

My wife notices two raspberries growing in a tiny bush next to the paved road and stops to pick them. There’s a house nearby, and its living room window is open. I can hear the music blaring in the stereo inside.

The song is ”I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2.

Film, book and music favorites of Dr. Robert M. Price

Robert M. Price is an influential American scholar of Christianity, known best to a wider audience for his intelligent debating style. Many of his debates with various other scholars are still available on YouTube. He also hosts a great podcast called The Bible Geek.

Dr. Price is one of the best-known proponents of the “Christ myth theory”, the theory that there never was an actual, physical person named Jesus of Nazareth.

In addition to his seemingly endless knowledge on the Bible, he is a scholar of the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Dr. Price’s books include:

  • Incredible Shrinking Son of Man
  • Bart Ehrman Interpreted
  • Deconstructing Jesus
  • Blaming Jesus for Jehovah

…among others. Buy his books here.


robertmprice

My three favorite movies? Hard to rate them, but here are a few:

Excalibur (1981), Star Wars (1977), The Avengers (2012). But there’s also Ghost Story (1981), The Dead Zone (1983), Fanny and Alexander (1982), Omen 3: The Final Conflict (1981).

Top 3 books:

Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Warrior, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror and Others, and D.F. Strauss’ The Life of Jesus Critically Examined.

Top 3 albums:

Crosby Stills and Nash, CSN; Jesus Christ Superstar; With the Beatles.

Favorite place to read: the bed.