Judging from their prevalence in popular culture, you would think that the most likely way you’re going to die is in the hands of a vicious, systematic serial killer. There are television shows dedicated to them, they’re antagonists in every other Hollywood film, and songs celebrate their morbid glory. Some of them are even sexualized in the darkest daydreams of otherwise ”normal” people: go on essentially any social media platform, and you will find that the cult of admiration that established itself around the dark persona of American serial killer Richard Ramirez is still very much alive in the digital world of our dreams and nightmares.
Finland does not deviate from this pattern: we watch the same shows and movies as everyone else, listen to the same music, and idolize essentially the same people. However, the kind of serial killer you see in films, a systematic predator who draws his plans in secret and then goes out to execute them, is a practically nonexistent occurrence in Finnish society.
That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, though.
There was most likely one.
Imagine a lightless, dark scene, as though an off-turned television screen, with some vague details just barely visible to the naked eye. Now divide that scene into three horizontal strips rougly equal in size.
Above strip: faint spots of light divided neatly across the strip. The stars.
Middle strip: faint, uneven horizontal figures emerging out of the blackness. Trees.
Bottom strip: a white mass bulging out from the lightless void. Snow.
The serenity of the scene is suddenly broken by two lights appearing from the left side of our imagined screen. The lights move steadily from left to right, illuminating enough of the whole of our imagined landscape to give us an understanding of what where looking at: a wintery Finnish countryside landscape, at night.
The lights are that of a car, white, late 1970s to early 1980s model, short. Possibly a Mazda.
Inside the car, a heavily drunken woman is sitting on the passenger seat. She has a problem with alcohol, and is known as a drinker in her home turf. She is referred to in Finnish crime lore with the pseudonym ”Hellu”.
Earlier that night, 13th November 1990, Hellu had been at a friend’s apartment, drinking and talking. An argument of some sort had ensued, and Hellu had decided to leave. She had gone to a local train station to catch the late night train back to her place in Riihimäki, a small town in southern Finland.
As she had stood at the railway platform, a man had approached, offering her a ride. It was a tempting prospect in the cold weather; the option would have been to wait for the train in the freezing weather. Her judgment clouded by alcohol, she had said ”yes”.
The man in question is now sitting in the driver’s seat. He is a white male adult, between 30 to 40 years of age. His hair is dark brown, and he is wearing a leather jacket. He is about 170 centimeters in height (approximately 5 feet 7). There is a children’s seat in the backseat of the car, so he may be a father. Then again, it may just be a prop.
As the wheels of the car eat away the icy kilometers of a long highway stretching across the endless forests of the Finnish countryside, the driver offers Hellu alcohol; not one to say no to a free drink, she obliges her mysterious helper by knocking it back hungrily. He also offers her pills of some sort, which he pops in his mouth as well.
At one point in the journey, Hellu becomes curious about her helper. -”Why are you driving around helping out single women in the middle of the night? You’re a married man”. The driver gives a vague reply, saying something about being estranged from his wife. He also mentions having a child. Hellu later recalls the man having an introverted way about him, as though conversation doesn’t come easy for him.
Her intoxication having increased during the drive, Hellu has not been paying much attention to where exactly the unlikely pair have been driving. It hits her when the man suddenly stops the car: he has driven them to an empty, isolated neck of the woods, right next to a large sandpit. The man gets out of the car, saying he has simply driven to the woods because he needs to urinate. Still trusting her personal driver for the night, she makes no attempt to escape, but instead steps out of the car to use the opportunity and relieve herself as well.
She walks away from the glaring lights of the parked car, towards the darkness and privacy of the forest, and squats down to pee.
She hears steps coming towards her, quickly, running.
The pain hits her head like a lighting strike, out of the blue, intense and burning. She touches her head. It’s warm and wet. Blood.
The man has struck her with something sharp, probably a knife.
Hellu panics, gets up, and starts running towards the forest in terror, screaming off the top of her lungs for someone, anyone, to help her.
As she tramples away from her attacker amidst the sticks and stones and endless snow, the man runs after her for some time, but then seemingly gives up. Hellu hears his chilling words as he yells: ”Eipä onnistunut tällä kertaa!” (”Didn’t work this time!”)
The panicked woman, alone in the night after surviving an attempt on her life, runs around in horror, until she finally sees light emanating from somewhere, possibly a house. She runs towards it. Thank god – it’s a house, and seemingly occupied! She bangs on the door, and the occupants let her in.
Her hell is over for the night. After a phone call, the police and an ambulance are on their way.
Somewhere, not far, the driver of the car pulls away from the backwoods gravel road, turns the headlights of his car towards the highway again, and drives off to an unknown destination.
The snow crunches under the feet of Tuula Lukkarinen, a 30-year-old white female with brown hair and blue eyes, as she heads toward downtown Kellokoski, a small town in southeastern Finland. It’s the 17th of April, and though summer has already announced its arrival with a few added rays of sunshine, it’s not quite here yet.
Tuula, like Hellu, is one of those often referred to by Finns as ”nuo ihmisparat”, ”those poor people”. She has been suffering from an addiction to alcohol for some time now, and the bottle has left her life with some deep cuts: she is uncapable of taking proper care of her son. This morning she is on her way to a social office to negotiate affairs related to the custody of her child. Though there’s most likely no such thing as an ”optimal time” for a meeting of this nature, the morning of 17th of April is particularly unfortunate: Tuula is a resident at a local hospital, and has to take a leave from her treatment just for this occasion.
Painful though the journey is, and the burden of a life lived in depths of addiction heavy to carry, Tuula nevertheless has her old friend to comfort her – King Alcohol, the Spirit of the Bottle. It takes the edge off of any encounter, and is like a warm blanket wrapped around a mother with little to lose in the fight for her a better future for her son.
She is last seen outside a liquor store in downtown Kellokoski, waiting for the shop to open its doors and pour its elixir.
A pair of eyes stares into a mirror, smiling and happy. A brief, rare moment of luxury in a life filled with problems, mostly related to addiction. Ms Maarit Haantie, age 40, from the city of Riihimäki, is getting her hair done at a barber shop, excited to look her best for a Friday night. She has asked the barber for a reddish color, but the final result resembles chestnut brown. Oh well, either way, she’s happy.
The recent years of Maarit’s life have gone by in a haze, the world visible only through the bottom of a vodka bottle. She has had a problem with drink for many years, a fact that concerns everyone around her. Recently, though, life has granted her a little refuge from the hard knocks – the arms of a little child, her grandkid. Despite the somewhat chaotic nature of the rest of her existence, she never says no to babysitting the apple of her eye, and never drinks a single drop when duties regarding the child are in question.
This Friday, however, the 13th of August, she will be free to spend out on the town with her friends, absorbed in the vice that casts the murkiest shadows into her life – drinking.
That evening, a car makes its way from Riihimäki to Järvenpää, carrying a jolly, drunken posse of five: Maarit Haantie, her male companion Kalle, three other friends. Their destination is a bar called Cantina Zapata in downtown Järvenpää. But as the group make its way to the door of this average Finnish watering hole, something unexpected happens: Maarit is denied entrance, likely due to a heavily intoxicated state.
(Cantina Zapata in Järvenpää, Finland. Photo: Tom Pesch)
The rules of the game are painfully clear to a group who share the same passion: alcohol, and the sweet intoxicating relief it brings come first. Hence, when the group is faced with the choice of either changing venues or going inside without Maarit, the choice is made to head inside for that proverbial “one single pint” that has a tendency to turn into several more.
Maarit is left alone outside, hoping someone will come up with a solution to the situation and come fetch her. But nobody comes to her aid.
She makes one last effort to get in past the bouncer guarding the door, but fails.
She is seen for the last time standing outside the bar. Then she disappears.
The suspicion of the Finnish Keskusrikospoliisi (“Finnish Bureau of Investigations”, essentially Finland’s equivalent to the American FBI) is that the three cases described above are connected, most likely by being the “work” of one single individual. Such a matter would indeed be a rare occurrence in Finland (at least as far as we know), but a careful examination of the facts seems to indicate that there is someone out there with a heavy sin load on their shoulders.
Lieutenant Ismo Kopra of Keskusrikospoliisi is the current lead investigator in this cold case. Fortunately for the rest of us, Mr. Kopra is reasonably open about communication with the media, and has given several interviews pertaining to the case. In one, given to the Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat from his office in Vantaa, he held up a photo of from the early 1990s. The photo shows a police officer using a hairdryer to dry the snow in the Tuula Lukkarinen murder scene in an effort to find even the smallest bit of evidence. This half tragic, half comical photo perfectly conveys the difficulties of investigating a serious, shockingly brutal crime in a quiet Nordic country.
Be that as it may, investigation into the case is still active. “There is no statute of limitations on murder”, Kopra says at the very end of the interview. Indeed.
And nowhere is that more true than in the threads on murha.info (or “minfo”, as it’s known to aficionados), Finland’s most famous discussion board dedicated to unsolved murders, disappearances, and other morbid mysteries. At the time of this writing (March 2017) there are literally dozens and dozens of pages dedicated to the topic of the mysterious “Jävenpään sarjamurhaaja” (“The Järvenpää serial killer”). The content of the discussion varies from the unlikely (the serial killer was an international murderer just passing through Finland) to the entirely possible (a local man with a brutally dark fantasy life).
One thing is for certain, though: the killings do not fit the pattern of regular Finnish homicides.
The average Finnish homicide is usually done in an intoxicated state, and involves two men getting into an argument while their blood sugar level is low, putting both in an aggressive mindset. In fact, Dr. Hannu Lauerma, head of a psychiatric institute for the criminally insane and a famous popularizer of psychiatry in Finland, has argued that Finnish murder rates would go down considerably if more bars and pubs started serving food to keep their customers’ blood sugar levels at a normal rate. More often than not, the person doing the killing will later describe the deed as an accident, and sometimes even cry over what an evil thing he has done – “and to my best drinking buddy, of all people!”
In other words: a predator stalking the night for his next victim is something the average Finnish homicide detective sees when he or she turns on the television or goes to the movies.
Unless, that is, she walks into the archives department of the KRP and opens an old file with the words “Lukkarinen, Tuula 1990” on it.
I visited the sandpit, the scene of the crimes, in the summer of 2015. It was somewhat difficult to find: despite having gone through all kinds of maps and photos in advance, I drove right past the spot. Twice.
(the general area of where the crimes happened. Photo: Tom Pesch)
The scene associated with these crimes essentially consists of two key spots with little pathways leading to both. Think of these paths as a fork with two points, one longer than the other.
The shorter point of the fork leads to the sandpit.
The longer point leads right through the woods, crossing through a wide, cut-down area in the forest, likely used for timber. Along this path stands a koivu. The body of Tuula Lukkarinen was discovered at the bottom of this tree.
(photo: Tom Pesch)
Your previous knowledge of a place guides your interpretations and feelings heavily when you enter the place in question yourself. No different with me and this spot in Finland’s criminal history. The woods give off a particularly eerie sense of being watched, and every little pebble you feel against the bottom of your shoe as you stroll down the paths has to be checked for potential blood stains or some other incriminating detail possibly left behind from the bloody events years ago.
The truth is, however, that the spot in itself has nothing particularly memorable about it – it’s just a spot in a forest, along a highway, similar to probably millions of other same kinds of spots around Finland. When walking along the paths, you wonder “Why did he choose this spot?” The answer, I believe, is proximity to the road: the sandpit provides a hiding place from prying eyes, but is also so near the road that it makes a quick getaway easy. I also believe he was from the area.
Should you make the trek to visit this place? Let’s put it this way: if you have the ability to get into the right mood easily and intensely, then the answer is yes.
I am one hundred percent certain there is one person out there who takes a trip to this location regularly, kicking the stones as he walks, the rock pebbles crunching under his feet as he strolls down memory lane.