The Real Unsolved Murders of Lake Bodom
During Screamfest 2016, a young actress by the name of Mimosa Willamo won our award for Best Actress for her performance in the Finnish film Lake Bodom, or simply Bodom, the third feature for talented director Taneli Mustonen. After seeing so many films in such short succession, it is sometimes difficult for a film to stand out, Lake Bodom however, firmly rooted itself in my psyche. Part of that, was the enigmatic mystery that inspired the film. Much like most horror fans, I am not as easily impressed by the “based on a true story” gimmick as I once was. Lake Bodom however, creatively weaves the facts from the biggest unsolved murder case in Finnish history with it’s own standalone story. The film follows four teens, two girls and two boys, as they travel to the notorious camping spot by the lake with the intent to reconstruct the infamous murders that took place on the lake over 50 years previously. The group hope that by reliving the murders minute by minute they will uncover previously undetected evidence. But the lake’s sinister past may be repeating itself for real. Aside from being a sleek and atmospheric film, the legend that inspired it felt fresh and intriguing (although it is apparently a very well known case in Finland) and appealed to my morbid curiosity. The perplexing development of this half a century old case is enough to spark even the most jaded of true crime fan’s interest. On June 4, 1960, 15-year-olds Maila Irmeli Björklund and Anja Tuulikki Mäki and their 18-year-old boyfriends Seppo Antero Boisman and Nils Wilhelm Gustafsson went camping on the shores of the beautiful Lake Bodom near the Finnish city of Espoo. But what started out as an innocent camping trip ended in, quite literally, something out of a horror movie. Around 6:00AM the following morning, a group of young boys, who had been bird-watching nearby, recall seeing a blonde man walking away from the collapsed tent in the teenagers’ campsite. It was not until 11:00AM however, that a jogger by the name of Risto Sirén found the bodies and alerted police. Anja Tuulikki Mäki and Seppo Antero Boisman’s bodies were both found inside the tent where the killer had apparently cut the ties and began stabbing and bludgeoning the teens through the fabric. Maila Irmeli Björklund was found lying on top of the tent, undressed from the waist down. She had sustained significantly worse injuries than the others, with many of her stab wounds inflicted after she was already dead. Her boyfriend, Nils Wilhelm Gustafsson, was also found outside of the tent. He sustained several injuries, including a concussion; a fractured jaw and a deep knife wound to the forehead but was still alive when the police arrived on the scene. Gustafsson was the lone survivor of the murders who claimed to have no memory of the attacks. After the brutal attacks, the killer stole several personal items from the victims, including their wallets and multiple articles of clothing. Gustafsson’s shoes and some of the stolen clothing, were found about a half-mile from the crime scene. Several of the other personal items, along with the murder weapons were never found. In the years since the crime the police have had many suspects, but three in particular still raise suspicion in the community. Karl Valdemar Gyllström known also by the nickname “kioskman”, a notoriously harsh man who ran a nearby kiosk and hated campers, even going so far as to throw rocks at passing children. During a drunken conversation with a neighbor, Gyllström confessed to the Lake Bodom murders. However, the police did not further their investigation after questioning his wife, who claimed he had been asleep at home with her at the time of the killings. Gyllström had also been seen filling a well in his front yard only days after the murders. Many people believe this is where he might have hidden the murder weapons and other missing items, however the police search of his property did not uncover any incriminating evidence. Although they never found anything, Karl Valdemar Gyllström still garners suspicion. In 1969, he drowned himself in Lake Bodom and later, upon her deathbed, his wife recanted his alibi. She claimed to have been afraid of him and that he had threatened to kill her if she told police that he had not actually been at home.
After Gyllström’s wife’s testimony took him off the official suspect list, the suspicion turner to another man, Hans Assmann. An alleged KGB spy and former Nazi (with an especially unfortunate name), Hans Assmann appeared on the police’s radar the morning of June 6, 1960, the day after the incident. Assmann came into the Helsinki Surgical Hospital, fingernails black with dirt and his clothes covered in red stains. Hospital staff said that he was acting very nervous and aggressive and had even feigned unconsciousness. Other than a brief questioning, the police did not pursue Assmann any further, claiming that he too had a solid alibi. Because of this, they never took his stained clothing in for examination, despite the doctors’ insistence that it was blood. Aside from his suspicious hospital visit, Assmann raised some other red flags in regards to the case. After seeing a news report about the murders, in which they released the young boys’ description of the man they saw leaving the crime scene, Assmann cut his long blonde hair (a characteristic that Nils Wilhelm Gustafson later corroborated about the killer while under hypnosis). Dr. Jorma Palo,
Composite Sketch of the killer from a description given by Gunderson while under hypnosis.
who had been one of the doctors to initially examine Assmann, went on to write three books about him and his connection to the murders. Former detective Matti Paloaro even went so far as to connect him with five other unsolved homicides. Many consider Assmann’s potential political connections as the reason for his dismissal. Thanks to the multiple sources and literature alluding to his guilt, Assmann was the public’s favorite suspect up until 2004, when investigators decided to reopen the case after 44 years, claiming more advanced technology had uncovered new blood evidence found on a pair of shoes and the sudden testimony of a woman claiming to have been camping nearby. This new DNA analysis led to the arrest of a surprising suspect: lone survivor Nils Wilhelm Gunderson.
According to the prosecution, a drunken Gunderson killed his girlfriend Maila Irmeli Björklund in a fit of jealous rage. This was thought to explain the severity of her injuries and the fact that her body had been found outside the tent. They believed that he had gotten into a scuffle with the other boy and that was how he had sustained his facial injuries. He then killed the other two teens in an attempt to dispose of witnesses and inflicted his other remaining injuries on himself. The new witness, who had only come forward a year prior for a documentary interview, claimed that the two teen boys had entered her tent and that Gustafsson had been behaving aggressively. The Defense claimed that Gustafsson had no motive for the crimes and that the injuries he sustained were impossible to inflict upon himself. After being initially convicted, Gustafsson only served one year of his life sentence after a successful appeal granted him his freedom. Despite his acquittal, he too is still seen as guilty by many, During his trial when he was asked by a reporter how he knew he was innocent if he couldn’t remember anything, he simply replied “I’m innocent that’s that”. With Gustafsson cleard of all charges and most other suspects dead, it seems as though the children of Bodom will never have their killer brought to justice. As this half a century long mystery marches on, it has settled into local legend. It has been the cautionary tale for multiple generations and will likely be told around campfires for many more to come, probably at the banks of the very lake that hosted its bloodshed. As it seeps into pop culture, it begins to make the trip across foreign waters in the form of Internet articles and horror films. Lake Bodom will begin streaming exclusively on Shudder May 18. The film is an original and elegant window into how the case has affected Finland’s contemporary folklore and if any part of this case is intriguing to you, I highly recommend checking this film out.