Engla Höglund’s murderer had killed before, but a bungled police investigation let him kill again.
Crime in Scandinavian countries has always been much lower than many due to laidback culture and population sizes. Dubbed the world’s 13th most peaceful nation, Sweden’s murder and manslaughter averages were just 96 cases per year and haven’t changed in over a decade. Unfortunately, at least one of these cases could have been prevented, and a little girl would have grown up instead of having her life cut short.
On Saturday the 5th of April 2008, Engla Höglund was on her way home from playing football at the local community centre when she went missing. The 10-year-old lived in Stjärnsund, around 120 miles from Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, and this was the first time she’d cycled the 2.8 miles home on her own. The bike had been stored at the community centre over the winter, and she wanted to bring it home, ready for summer.
Engla Höglund via murderpedia.org
Engla didn’t have her helmet, and she hadn’t ridden a bike for a few months, but she pleaded with her mother, Carina, to let her ride it home, and she eventually agreed. Carina told her daughter that she would call her on her mobile phone every ten minutes during the ride home if she wanted a lift in the car.
Carina did as she said and called Engla to find out where she was. Carina guessed from her daughter’s response that she was around twenty minutes away from home and decided not to call her again, wanting to give the child some independence.
When Engla didn’t arrive home, Carina began to worry. She realised that the journey should have only taken her around ten minutes and not the twenty minutes she initially thought. She called her daughter’s phone to find out where she was, but Engla didn’t pick up this time.
With her panic rising, she got in her car and began searching for Engla, hoping she’d just fallen off her bike or got a flat tyre. She drove the road back to the community centre where she dropped her daughter off that morning, but there was no sign of her. She went to Engla’s friend’s homes to see if she’d gone there instead, but her friends hadn’t seen her since they left her around an hour earlier.
Carina drove slowly back towards the house and waved down a couple she knew. They told her they saw Engla cycling not far from home and assumed she’d arrived by now. Her mother continued down the road, and just as she was about to reach home, she found her daughter’s bike in the woods, around 200 yards from the house.
Carina and her husband began searching the area, looking for Engla. She wasn’t strong enough to pull the bike into the woods independently, and soon they came across tyre tracks from a car. It looked like it had driven away at high speed, and there was mud kicked up across the trail.
The police were called immediately, and the parents were told that they would be there right away, with boats and a helicopter. The seriousness of the situation was understood straightaway, and police began gathering volunteers at the school. The search party looked everywhere for Engla. They searched wells, abandoned barns and outbuildings in the area, but there was no sign of her.
A few days later, the police moved their base from the school to the community centre, where Engla played football. The officers were split into two teams: a search group and a crime group. The crime team began interviewing the family and friends and looking at known sex offenders in the immediate area. The search team led the volunteers looking for Engla and followed up with leads. In theory, dividing the police department into two separate groups was a good idea, but it also meant that officers weren’t working together, leading to one huge mistake.
While gathering volunteers at the school, local Tomas Langton arrived and told police what he’d seen that morning.
Tomas and his wife, accompanied by another couple, went for a long walk in the area. Tomas had bought a new digital camera, so he took it along to try it out on the walk. As they strolled, Engla came riding down the road on her bike. Tomas wanted to see how the camera reacted to movement, so he took a picture of her and soon after, he had another chance to try it out when a red Saab drove by.
The images were sharp, and he’d managed to photograph the number plate and could even see the car’s driver inside. Realising the child he’d captured on his camera was Engla, he took it along in the hope of helping with the investigation.
Tomas Langton and his photographs by Lasse Allard via Aftonbladet.se
An officer who was part of the search group was tasked with following up with the driver of the Saab, and he called him to see if he’d seen anything strange on his journey. Little did he know, the driver had a long, violent criminal record, and now he knew that the police were looking at him.
Eight years earlier
On the 4th of June 2000, 31-year-old Pernilla Hellgren was murdered in Falun, around 28 miles from Stjärnsund. Pernilla worked as a florist in Stockholm, but she’d come home to celebrate her mother’s birthday and join in the festivities in town for Sommarfesten, the ‘summer party’. She’d been beaten and strangled by an unknown assailant, just yards from her mother’s home.
Pernilla Hellgren via murderpedia.org
Her attack was witnessed by a 16-year-old girl in a taxi, who saw a man on top of a woman on the path below the bridge she was travelling over. Once the girl arrived home, she called a friend, and the two of them went to the bridge where the attack took place, but there wasn’t a body, only clothes. The police were called, and they brought a search dog to find Pernilla’s body, and she was discovered in woods nearby, naked apart from a single sock.
The girl told police that the large man had his hands around her neck, but she couldn’t see his face. However, she was able to tell them that he was balding with a large stomach and double chin, wearing a denim jacket with a patch on the back. She said he looked like a truck driver. The details she provided were enough for a sketch to be created, and police could also take DNA from her body.
A father of three was arrested by police a week later after a tip from his girlfriend. He had previous charges for sexual assaults, and on the day Pernilla was killed, he came home later than usual and was covered in blood. His clothes were also ripped and ruffled.
He denied having anything to do with Pernilla’s murder, and the witness didn’t pick him out of a police line-up, but he was kept in custody for three months until the DNA results came back. They weren’t a match to the man, and he was released.
More resources were given to Pernilla’s murder in November, and a list of 1,213 suspects was produced. Those in prison or dead were removed, along with those who didn’t fit the description from the witness. They were also divided into nearby counties; Dalarna County, where Falun is and Gävleborg County, northeast of Dalarna. The edited lists meant there were 38 suspects in Gävleborg and 26 in Dalarna.
A few months later, the specialised homicide team running the case departed and local police were left to continue with the investigation. Because of a lack of experience or a mistake in the process, Gävleborg’s list of suspects was never investigated.
In 2006, a German truck driver was arrested after a woman was sexually assaulted and strangled in Spain, where the driver had been working. 47-year-old Volker Eckert admitted that he had killed five women during his long-haul driving around Europe, but he could have been responsible for over 50 murders. The serial killer told police that he’d become a truck driver so he could continue murdering sex workers without detection.
Eckert wasn’t in Sweden at the time of Pernilla’s murder, so he was quickly ruled out. However, he was arrested for the murders of six people instead. During the trial, Eckert was found dead in his cell. He’d committed suicide.
The hunt for Pernilla’s killer continued, and in 2006, police received a tip naming her murderer, but it was never followed up. A year later, another tip was phoned into the hotline, naming the same man again, but it was also ignored. Both of these tips would prove to be correct.
Pernilla’s case eventually went cold, and her murderer stayed in the shadows for a little while longer.
Two years later
Police arrested the Saab owner, and officers immediately noticed the resemblance between him and the sketch of Pernilla’s killer. Anders Eklund was a balding truck driver with a fat stomach and double chin. He denied having anything to do with Engla’s disappearance or that he’d even seen the girl on the bike, but his DNA was taken for testing, and it was also tested against the sample taken from Pernilla’s body.
Anders Eklund via murderpedia.org
Eklund was interrogated for days, and while in police custody, there was blood found on the back seat and trunk of his Saab. His tyres also matched the tracks found near Engla’s bike.
When police searched his apartment, they found a massive amount of pornography, and 13 of them involved sexual abuse to animals. There was also a lot of child pornography on his computer, and police found several pairs of women’s underwear that had been worn.
Born in 1965, Eklund had a relatively normal upbringing, but his uncle introduced him to pornography when he was still a child. When he was 13, that same uncle took him to a strip club. Eklund had been in trouble with the police before, including attempted rape, buying children alcohol, sexual misconduct, and stealing girls' underwear from a school. He served time for some of his crimes, with the longest sentence being one year and ten months. Upon his release, he immediately assaulted a woman.
On the 11th of April, investigators received confirmation from forensics that Anders Eklund was responsible for Pernilla Hellgren’s murder. He confessed to Pernilla’s killing and eventually told officers that he’d also killed Engla. He told investigators that he’d killed her in the woods near her bike, and he agreed to take them to where he’d hidden her body.
When investigators located her body, the ten-year-old was unrecognisable. Engla had been raped, beaten and strangled by Eklund. He then burned her body with gasoline, and she was only identifiable by dental records. Because police had accidentally tipped Eklund off, he’d had his car thoroughly cleaned, however, the blood remained.
Engla’s funeral was broadcast on Swedish television, where her sister and friend sang My Heart Will Go On.
Anders Eklund was charged on two counts of murder, two counts of rape and numerous accounts of possession of child pornography. On the 6th of October 2008, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for the murders of Pernilla Hellgren and Engla Höglund, a separate 2006 rape that took place in Sandviken, and for the child pornography. He was transferred to Norrtälje Correctional Facility, where they have a specific wing for sex offenders called “the sex bunker”. He is also suspected of being responsible for multiple murders across Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
“Life in prison” in Sweden means 20–25 years in prison, so 55-year-old Eklund will eventually be released. In 2018, his appeal for early release was denied.
Pernilla’s investigation failed because of a lack of knowledge and experience in the police force. A lack of homicides in the country meant that many officers hadn’t been part of such a large operation before, and it critically impaired Pernilla’s case.
Anders Eklund should have been arrested during the investigation before he could do any more damage to society; he was suspect number 21 on the forgotten Gävleborg County list.