The True Crime Edition
The Unsolved Mystery of the Swedish Nanny
Karina Holmer was discovered in a dumpster, but only half of her has ever been found.
Boston, Massachusetts in 1996 was a very different city. The Boston Police Department was struggling with youth violence, specifically the use of guns and homicides. The Boston Gun Project Working Group had begun to meet in January 1995, but Operation Ceasefire had only been implemented a year later in January 1996. There were still attacks around the city, but ultimately, the streets were safer, with a significant decline in homicides that year.
Karina Holmer via buggedspace.com
Boston was about to become home for Karina Holmer; she’d won $1,500 on a lottery ticket in her native Sweden, enough to get her to America. She was going to see the world, but first, Karina was going to work as an au pair to make some money.
For three months, Karina worked for the Rapp-Nitcher household in Dover, Massachusetts, looking after their two children. Frank was a renowned photographer, and Susan was a famous painter. Karina only worked during the week, cleaning and spending her time with the kids. At the weekends, she was free to do as she pleased and spent a lot of her time at a loft downtown owned by Frank.
Karina was building a life for herself in Dover and even had a few casual boyfriends in the months she was there. She’d surrounded herself by other au pairs who’d come through Tage Sundin, a now-defunct and unlicensed agent, who helped Swedes find nanny work in America.
The letters to friend Charlotte Sandberg read that she wasn’t enjoying her role as an au pair.
“There is always so much cleaning and I think I am stressed all the time. So this is not exactly what I thought it would be,” she wrote in one of their correspondence.
By June of 1996, the situation had worsened, and Karina was considering leaving Boston and returning to her home town of Skillingaryd, on the east coast of Sweden. She’d written her friend a letter stating “something terrible” had happened, but she didn’t divulge exactly what in the notes.
Karina had made up her mind and was due to return to Sweden in August. While she waited, she continued with her life in Boston until her return trip.
On Friday the 21st of June, she’d decided to go to a club with her friends. Despite being underage, Karina had a fake ID, and the group made their way to Zanzibar from the loft she used at the weekends. The club on Boylston Place was down an alley across the road from Boston Common, along with several other clubs at the time.
She and her friends drank and danced until closing, by which time Karina was drunk and ready to go home. Witnesses saw her outside, dancing with a homeless man and speaking to a guy wearing matching t-shirts with his enormous white dog. The whole situation sounded surreal, but multiple people saw the exchanges. What’s more, Karina was in silver trousers, so the people who did see her remembered her.
Another witness saw Karina talking to a group of men in a silver car, who were trying to get Karina to go to an afterparty with them, but whether she got in the car with them is unclear. In fact, a lot of the information gathered from that time was ambiguous. Due to the hour and the likely inebriation of many witnesses, piecing Karina’s whereabouts together is difficult.
Karina was allegedly last seen by a witness between 3.30 am and 4 am that morning at a nearby 24-hour store, around a mile away from Zanzibar. A sighting such a way from her original location wouldn’t usually be considered by police, but she would eventually be found nearby just two days later.
Karina’s body was discovered in a dumpster near Fenway Park. She was found by a homeless man, looking for bottles and scraps in the bins, who called the police when he opened one of the bags.
When police arrived, they only found the top half of her body, cut in half across the stomach. Whether it was because that was the most accessible place to cut a body in two, who knows, but the bottom half of Karina’s body wasn’t in the dumpster.
The dumpster where Karina was found, on GNU Free Documentation License
She’d been strangled to death, and she’d been cleaned and her makeup removed. The police determined that she wasn’t killed nearby, as there was a distinct lack of blood. They also didn’t know exactly who the woman was due to the fake ID. The couple that she worked for helpfully called police when they heard a body had been found to tell them she might be their au pair.
With a lack of crime scene and other leads, police began with the couple.
Frank Rapp and Susan Nitcher’s temperament towards police was hostile. Despite being the ones to call the police when they heard that a body had been found, they didn’t want to speak to them further about the case. Karina wasn’t due to return to work until the next day, so their suspicions that the body found may be their employee was odd.
The homeless man Karina danced with had been spotted around the area after Karina had left, and he was ruled out as a suspect. Logistically it would have been difficult for him to murder her and dispose of her body at a second location. This murder had a more thought out approach.
The man with the white dog was eventually tracked down. Herb Witten lived in Andover, 30 minutes from downtown Boston. Police were suspicious of his movements, but he had an alibi; police had stopped him on his way home for speeding, and he had a ticket to prove it.
Another suspect was killer Eugene McCollom, who murdered and decapitated a sex worker and a man in 2000. Police linked him to Karina’s murder for a long time, but after he was caught and convicted for the two murders, he wasn’t brought up on further charges for Karina’s death.
Even the FBI was brought in to create a profile of the killer, but that would prove difficult. There wasn’t a crime scene and no surveillance footage of the night, with just a handful of eyewitnesses to tell the story; there was little to go on.
Karina’s former boyfriends were also questioned by police. It turned out that one of them was a Boston police officer, but he was cleared of any suspicion soon after. The case quickly went cold and remains so.
In an interview with The Boston Globe, Massachusetts prosecutor David Meier said, “…There’s no crime scene. There’s no ability to determine with any definite basis how she was killed, why she was killed, where she was killed. Never mind who killed her.”
Despite going through multiple rebrands, Zanzibar club eventually closed years after Karina’s death. A former employee said, “The whole town was weird after that. Everyone was checking IDs much more, and no one was going out… Something like that was waiting [to] happen.”
As the 25th anniversary of Karina’s murder arrives, Boston Police are still determined to solve her case.
“As the anniversary of her tragic death approaches, investigators assigned to the BPD Unsolved Homicide Unit are seeking the public’s help to solve this heinous crime,” the Boston PD wrote. “Any piece of information, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, could make a tremendous difference in the course of this decade’s long investigation.”
The Boston Police Department is asking anyone with information related to Karina’s murder to call (617) 343–4470. Alternatively, you can call Crime Stoppers’ tip line at 1 (800) 494-TIPS or by texting the word “TIP” to CRIME (27463).
Further reading Mystery remains 20 years after Swedish nanny murdered in Boston BOSTON - Twenty years ago Thursday, the top half of a 19-year-old au pair's body was found in a trash bag. The bottom…www.boston25news.com MURDERED: Karina Holmer | Crime Junkie Podcast In 1996, Boston saw one of the most brutal and now notorious murders of their city. Today the name of the Swedish…crimejunkiepodcast.com Swedish Nanny Killed in Boston, Body Cut in Half BOSTON (AP) _ A winning $1,500 Swedish lottery ticket gave Karina Holmer the spending money she needed to go to…apnews.com The Unsolved Murder of Karina Holmer "I've got the old man's car, I've got a jazz guitar, I've got a tab at Zanzibar, Tonight that's where I'll be..." In…cryptidantiquarian.wordpress.com The Brutal Unsolved Murder of Karina Holmer Karina Holmer won around $1500 with a lottery ticket in Sweden and decided to use the money to go to the United States…truecrimedaily.co Police seek new leads in brutal 1996 murder of nanny Karina Holmer On June 22, 1996, Karina Holmer laughed with friends outside a nightclub in Downtown Boston, marking the last time the…www.masslive.com https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/188741.pdf