Murder Mystery in 25 Krebs’ Street
In 1968, 4 April fell on the Thursday before Easter. At lunch, I marked the not-so-insignificant three-month anniversary of my move to a new, larger office at the main police station in 19 Møller Street by eating a piece of cake on my own. The date is generally remembered as the night when civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King was shot and killed on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee, unleashing a wave of racialist strife across the USA.
Of lesser interest to the history books, but of greater significance to my own life and that of those affected, was a murder that took place at almost the same time in a flat in Torshov, on the east side of Oslo. Thursday, 4 April 1968 was one of those days when the phone at home in my flat in Hegdehaugen rang late, and an impatient voice promptly asked if he was talking to ‘Detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen’. It was just before eleven o’clock in the evening when the out-of-breath police constable Asbjørn Eriksen phoned to report that an elderly man had been shot and killed in his flat in 25 Krebs’ Street. The circumstances were
‘highly unusual’, according to the overwrought Eriksen. I had always regarded Eriksen as an unpretentious and levelheaded constable, so I felt the excitement surge through me even before he mentioned the victim’s name. It was only a matter of seconds after he had said, ‘It’s Harald Olesen!’ before I was out of the door and in the gathering dark, racing towards my car.
In 1968, Harald Olesen was not what one might today call an A-list celebrity. Months could pass between mentions of his name in the national press. But for those who had been young in the years immediately after the war, the image of his hawk-like face and gaunt body was still the portrait of a hero. Harald Olesen had been a well-known Labour Party politician in the 1930s. However, it was not until he was almost fifty that he became a household name as one of the legendary heroes of the Resistance. Olesen himself was extremely reticent about his experiences during the war, but this had in no way served to diminish the at times fantastic tales of his bravado as a leader of the Resistance in his home region. After the war, he was given the opportunity to serve as a cabinet minister and sat on the Council of State for four years. Following this, a couple of senior positions in the civil service ensured that he remained a familiar face and name until he retired in 1965, at the age of seventy. Now, three years later, the former hero of the Resistance and cabinet minister had been shot and murdered – in his own sitting room.
When I drove home at around one o’clock that night, having spent a couple of hours inspecting the scene and taking witness statements, I rather reluctantly had to admit that PC Eriksen’s conclusion still held true. We had a body, a crime scene and an indisputable murder, but not only did we not have a motive, a weapon or a suspect, we had no idea how the murderer could possibly have fled the victim’s flat after firing the fatal shot.
Viewed from outside, 25 Krebs’ Street was a rather ordinary three-storey brick tenement building in Torshov. The elderly caretaker’s wife who met me at the entrance told me that it had been sold and done up three years before. The improvements included a simple lift in the stairwell and bathrooms in all the flats. Otherwise, the building was more or less as it had been when it was built in the 1920s: big, grey and hard. It struck me that both the building and the caretaker’s wife could have been taken straight from Oskar Braaten’s novel The Wolf ’s Den.
The drama that unfolded in 25 Krebs’ Street on the night of Thursday, 4 April 1968 had quite literally started with a bang at a quarter past ten. A shot was fired in the right-hand flat on the second floor that was heard all the way down to the ground floor. Olesen’s closest neighbour from Flat 3B was about to mount the stairs, but at that moment was having a neighbourly chat with one of the other residents on the ground floor. When they heard the shot from Mr Olesen’s flat, they both ran up the stairs immediately. The door to Flat 3A was locked and there was not a sound to be heard from within. A couple of minutes later, the pair were joined by a man from the first floor, who had left his wife and baby son in the safety of their flat and run up to the second floor. Then the caretaker’s wife came panting up the stairs. One of the residents on the ground floor was wheelchair-bound and therefore came up in the lift after several minutes. The last of the eight adult residents, a young Swedish woman, remained bolted into her flat on the first floor until the police rang the doorbell half an hour later.
Meanwhile, the neighbours out on the landing could only open the door to Harald Olesen’s flat once the caretaker’s wife had arrived with the key. After some discussion, they decided not to cross the threshold until PC Eriksen arrived half an hour later. Their fears of a shootout soon proved to be unfounded. There was no sign of a weapon in the flat, or any form of life. Harald Olesen was lying in the middle of the sitting-room floor with a bullet wound on the left side of his chest. The bullet had gone straight through him and was lodged in the wall. Otherwise the flat was in every way the same, as far as the caretaker’s wife could remember, as it had been the last time she was there – with no sign of the murderer or murder weapon.
The very fact that the gun was missing of course disproved any theories of suicide. However, there was no evidence that another living person had been in the flat, or any indication of how the murderer might have left the scene of the crime. Harald Olesen lived in an ordinary two-bedroom flat with a bathroom and kitchen, but no balcony. The thirty-foot drop down to the pavement made the windows an unlikely escape route. Any ideas of fire ropes or mountaineering equipment being used to escape floundered on the fact that the windows were closed from the inside.
In other words, the front door remained the only feasible option. If the murderer had managed to get in, he or she could surely have got out the same way. The door had a snib lock, and the safety chain was not on. The most pressing question therefore was, how had the murderer managed to leave the flat in those few seconds between the shot being heard and the neighbours arriving at the scene? And the second question was, how on earth had the murderer left the building? The second floor was the top floor and the only way down was either the stairs or the lift. If the murderer had taken the stairs, he or she would have met the other neighbours on their way up. The first two neighbours at the scene gave each other an alibi. Any suspicion of a conspiracy between them was groundless given that there was no murder weapon and insufficient time before the other residents appeared. They were all agreed that the lift had been standing on the ground floor both immediately before and after the shot rang out. The lift was empty when the caretaker’s wife hurried past and when the wheelchair-bound resident on the ground floor opened the door a few minutes later. And it was impossible to imagine that anyone had succeeded in using the lift to sneak past the neighbours on their way up and then managed to get past the caretaker’s wife, who was by the entrance.
From half past eleven all available police officers helped to search the flats and building from top to bottom, without finding the weapon or anything else that might help to clear up the murder mystery. The caretaker’s wife had been given four hours’ pay to clean the victim’s flat the previous weekend and had used her time diligently. With the exception of her own fingerprints, the only ones found in the flat were those of Harald Olesen.
Meanwhile, I pondered the possibility that the murderer had actually never been in the flat, but had fired the shot from another building. This theory was, however, flawed, as it would appear that Harald Olesen had been sitting or standing in front of a solid stone wall without a window when the shot was fired. And if that did not make things difficult enough, all the windows in the room were still intact.
So, apart from the presence of a dead man with a bullet wound in his chest and the bullet lodged in the wall behind him, there was no sign of drama in the flat. Harald Olesen was lying on the floor in the sitting room by a coffee table that was set for two. He had drunk from one cup and left his fingerprints on it, whereas the cup on the other side of the table was untouched. It would appear that Harald Olesen had been expecting someone for coffee and cake, but there was nothing to say who had visited him – or whether the invited guest was the murderer.
The remains of a meal of meatballs were still standing on the cooker and by the sink. There was milk, bread and cheese in the fridge for tomorrow morning’s breakfast. The radio on the kitchen table was plugged in. A Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra record lay ready on the turntable. Death had obviously come suddenly to Flat 3A in 25 Krebs’ Street.
By one o’clock on the morning of 5 April 1968, it was clear to me that there was nothing more to be gained from staying at the scene of the crime. I left one constable on guard on the second floor and another on the street outside the building. I asked the pathologist to send me a report as soon as possible, and requested copies from the census records and police records for all the residents of 25 Krebs’ Street. Then I sent everyone there to bed, but asked that they stay at home in the morning to be available for questioning.
It was already clear to me on the night of the murder that the murderer was in all likelihood one of the deceased’s neighbours. There was nothing to indicate so far that anyone else had been in the building that evening. Fortunately, I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to find out which flat the murderer had come from.
Seven Neighbours – and a Blue Raincoat With No Owner
I got up unusually early on Friday, 5 April 1968. By half past six I was seated at the breakfast table engaged in a fascinating discussion with my reflection in the coffee pot. We promptly agreed that this was a case I should not allow to be taken from me by the more senior detectives. They could be trusted to give me all the dull tasks, while they themselves took all the glory for solving the case. Fortunately, my boss usually came to work before them. And on that day, I even beat him to it. When he unlocked his office at the main police station in Oslo at a quarter to eight, I was already sitting ready in the corridor.
The commanding officer was a broad-minded man in his sixties who understood that it was important to encourage hard-working young men with inflated ambitions. He had, in fact, mentioned on several festive occasions that he himself had been just such an overambitious young fellow until his fiftieth birthday. It was therefore no surprise that he now found my enthusiasm and interest in the case to be praise-worthy. He agreed that it was certainly of no disadvantage that I had been the first inspector at the scene. And by the time the clock struck eight we had shaken hands and agreed that I would lead the investigation on my own and that the scope of my authorities would be extended in order to do so. I nodded hastily that I would of course seek advice from him and other more experienced colleagues should it be necessary. Then I strode confidently into my first murder investigation, intoxicated by the belief that it would bring me both honour and glory.
The Friday papers had little to report regarding the murder in 25 Krebs’ Street. Two of them carried a small notice about the murder, and one hinted, without mentioning any names, that the deceased was ‘a well-known and highly respected citizen with a background in the Resistance movement’. During my brief pit stop at 19 Møller Street that morning, the switchboard could already confirm that the media’s interest in the case was growing rapidly. Before leaving for Krebs’ Street, I therefore dashed out a short press release. First and foremost, it stated clearly that I had been given overall responsibility for the murder investigation. In addition, the press release confirmed that it was former cabinet minister and Resistance fighter Harald Olesen who had been shot and killed in his home in Krebs’ Street on the evening of 4 April, but in light of the ongoing investigation no further comment would be forthcoming.
On my arrival at the scene of the crime on the morning of 5 April, I began at the obvious starting point: a tidy little caretaker’s table just inside the front entrance. The caretaker’s wife who sat there was called Randi Hansen and was a small, plump, grey-haired woman in her early sixties. She lived in the caretaker’s one-bedroom flat in the basement. Her husband normally worked there as the caretaker, but, she informed me, was away that week. Their children had moved out many years ago, so she generally sat alone at her post in the entrance, a few steps down from the flats on the ground floor. She looked after 25 and 27 Krebs’ Street, alternating between the two, as well as managing all telephone calls to and from both buildings. As fortune would have it, she had been sitting in 25 Krebs’ Street on 4 April. She promised to stay at her post until the investigation had been closed.
Randi Hansen proved to be an exceptionally diligent individual who had noted everyone’s comings and goings that afternoon and evening. As with most caretakers’ wives, she knew the residents and their daily routines relatively well.
The caretaker’s wife was careful to point out that she only sat in this building every other day and that sometimes she was ill or had to leave her post for a few hours. However, she believed that her impressions of the residents and their activities were fairly accurate. I saw no reason to doubt this, but immediately noted that there was a 50 per cent chance that any visitors or incidents might pass unnoticed. Furthermore, from her position by the entrance it was not possible to see the doors to the flats or the hallway, even on the ground floor. The murder victim, Harald Olesen, had lived on the second floor since before the war. As a cabinet minister, he had been one of the most famous people in this part of town and the pride of the street. In his later years, he had lived the quiet life of a pensioner, but still came and went with some irregularity. The caretaker’s wife had seen him together with many a national politician and well-known Resistance fighter over the years, but less often more recently. Visits from his relatives were also less frequent since his wife’s death five years ago. The caretaker’s wife thought that he had found it very hard to accept that he was a widower, despite outward appearances. With the exception of shopping trips to the Co-op on the corner, Olesen had started to go out less and less. He was a friendly and correct man who always greeted her with a nod as he passed. If he had laundry to be done, or required any other extra service, he always asked politely and paid well. The caretaker’s wife had never noticed any tension between him and the other residents. In fact, she found it hard to imagine who on earth would want to kill such a kind and respected pillar of the community.
Olesen’s neighbour on the second floor was an American by the name of Darrell Williams whom the caretaker’s wife believed to be in his early forties. He had been living there for no longer than eight months, and the rent was paid by the American Embassy. The caretaker’s wife had never actually asked what he did at the embassy, but thought that he held a senior position – she described Williams as someone who was ‘always well dressed and no doubt important’. He also spoke very good Norwegian after only a few weeks. Darrell Williams went to work first thing in the morning and often came back late in the evening, but never brought home guests.
Miss Sara Sundqvist lived in the flat below Olesen. She was a young Swedish student who had been there since the start of the academic year in August, and had surprised the caretaker’s wife with flowers and chocolates when she moved in. Sara Sundqvist was well dressed and elegant. At times she perhaps seemed distant, but always smiled and greeted her. Miss Sundqvist took her studies very seriously and lived a rather regulated life. She usually left between eight and nine in the morning and came home between three and five in the afternoon. During the first few months, one or more of her fellow students had sometimes come to visit. They always behaved impeccably and left well before eleven.
Sara Sundqvist had clearly charmed the caretaker’s wife, and yet there was something about her face that led me to believe that she was hiding something. A rather stiff expression that remained when she went on to talk about the young husband and wife, Kristian and Karen Lund, who lived in the flat to the left on the first floor. They were a friendly and helpful couple who seemed so very much in love, even after the birth of their first child. The Lunds had moved in two years ago as newly-weds and now had a son who was just over one. Mrs Lund was twenty-five years old and the daughter of a factory owner from one of the most desirable parts of Oslo. Her husband was a couple of years older and was the manager of a sports shop in Hammersborg.
A taxi driver lived in the flat to the left on the ground floor. Konrad Jensen was in his fifties and was not married. The caretaker’s wife had heard from one of her nephews, who was also a taxi driver, that Konrad Jensen drove one of the oldest taxis in Oslo but still managed to negotiate the city’s many confusing side streets more quickly than most of his colleagues. Konrad Jensen worked hard and often long hours. Otherwise, he only went out to the odd sports event. As far as the caretaker’s wife could remember, he had never received any visitors in the twenty years that he had lived there.
The caretaker’s wife opened and closed her mouth a couple of times after she had spoken about Konrad Jensen. Again, something unsaid was left hanging in the air. I had no idea what, but for the moment there was no need to push the caretaker’s wife any further on it.
The final resident lived in the ground-floor flat to the right and was a wheelchair-bound man by the name of Andreas Gullestad. He was around forty years old and, as far as the caretaker’s wife could understand, was a rentier who lived on his inheritance. This must have been fairly substantial as he was always elegantly dressed and lived an apparently carefree life, with the exception of his physical handicap. Despite his difficulties, he was always in good humour and friendly to anyone he met. He had moved here from the better side of town three years ago, after the building had been done up. As a result of an accident shortly before that time, he was now dependent on a wheelchair, so was happy to find an easily accessible flat on the ground floor. Gullestad was the only person, apart from Harald Olesen, who had accepted the property owner’s offer to buy the flat.
Andreas Gullestad’s sister and niece sometimes came to visit, but otherwise he lived a quiet and perhaps rather lonely life. He sometimes ventured out onto the street in summer when the weather was good, but in winter preferred to stay indoors and often asked the caretaker’s wife to do his weekly shopping. He paid her generously for this and always presented her and her husband with gifts at Christmas and on their birthdays. As far as the caretaker’s wife could understand, Gullestad was unable to move around without a wheelchair, but he still seemed to have use of his upper body and arms. And there was certainly nothing wrong with his head: he was an exceptionally intelligent and knowledgeable man.
Fortuitously, the caretaker’s wife had not only been sitting at her post all afternoon and evening on the day of the murder, but had also made note of the residents’ comings and goings. Harald Olesen had himself been out to the shops in the morning, but had come back around midday and then stayed at home for the final ten hours of his life. No one had phoned him. The only registered phone calls of any interest from the weeks before his death were several calls to and from his lawyer at the firm Rønning, Rønning & Rønning.
As far as the other neighbours were concerned, the wheelchair-bound Andreas Gullestad had as usual been at home all day. Mrs Lund had stayed in with her young son. According to the caretaker’s wife, Mr Lund had left at around eight in the morning and not returned until nine o’clock in the evening. The only phone call to the Lunds’ flat was when he called home around four hours before that. Sara Sundqvist had gone out to a morning lecture at half past nine and come home again at a quarter past four. Darrell Williams had gone out just before nine in the morning and come back just before eight in the evening. Konrad Jensen was working a late shift that week. He left in his car around midday and came in the door only a few steps behind Williams. The only resident the caretaker’s wife had registered leaving the building again later was Darrell Williams. He had gone out for an evening stroll at five to ten and returned fifteen minutes later.
The caretaker’s wife had not seen any strangers in the building on the day of the murder and it was highly unlikely that anyone would have managed to sneak past without being seen. Only she and the residents had a key to the back door. Everyone else had to come in through the front entrance and past her. And on Thursday, 4 April she had been able to see the back door more or less constantly for the six hours prior to the murder.
Before I left her, I asked the caretaker’s wife whether she had noticed anything unusual from her post, especially in the hours before and after the murder.
‘There is one thing,’ she replied, and got up. She indicated that I should follow her into a small back room.
On the table was a large blue raincoat with a hood and a red scarf.
‘I found both of these on top of the rubbish bin by the back door this morning. I’ve never seen any of the residents wearing either the raincoat or the scarf. Both items look more or less brand new, and they both appear to have been washed before they were thrown away, because they are still damp. I didn’t see anyone throwing them away, but they were not there when I went to throw out some leftovers early yesterday afternoon. That’s certainly worth mentioning, isn’t it?’
And I had to agree with her. It was definitely unusual enough to mention that someone had thrown away an almost new and recently washed raincoat on the very day that there was a murder in the building. The blue raincoat was immediately added to my list of questions to ask the residents.
So, Darrell Williams lived in Flat 3B. He was a large, dark-haired American with a firm handshake and an unexpectedly pleasant voice. He showed me his diplomat’s passport, which gave his age as forty-five, though he looked younger. He was at least six foot tall and no doubt weighed well over fifteen stone, but still had little surplus fat. He spoke remarkably good Norwegian, with only the faintest American twang.
When telling me about himself, Darrell Williams explained that his slightly unusual Christian name was due to his Irish ancestry. His grandparents had emigrated to the United States in the 1870s, following the Great Famine. He himself was born and raised in New York, and was the son of a well-known lawyer. Darrell Williams had given up his own law degree in order to sign up for military service after America joined the war, and took part in the Normandy landings in the summer of 1944. The following year, he had come to Norway just after its liberation as a young lieutenant in the US delegation. He soon found himself a Norwegian girlfriend and a post in the American military mission and stayed on in Norway until the spring of 1948. He had learned Norwegian back then and had so many fond memories from that time that he had, nearly twenty years later, applied for a vacant position as attaché at the embassy in Oslo when the opportunity arose. In the intervening years, he had pursued a career in the military and risen to the rank of major, before making the switch to diplomacy in the early 1960s.
In answer to my question regarding his civil status, Darrell Williams’s smile was relaxed and full of self-irony.
‘I got married in the USA in 1951, but the high point of the marriage was when we split up three years later. It resulted in too many arguments and no children. My wife claimed that she left me for a certain man, which would appear to be untrue as she then went on to marry someone else, and to have a child with yet another man!’
The diplomat spoke openly of his disastrous marriage. As a single man with no children, the diplomatic service had allowed him to fulfil his childhood dream of seeing more of Asia and Europe. Over the past decade he had been posted to a number of embassies, but could, ‘with his hand on his heart’, honestly say that he had never seen a capital as beautiful as Oslo.
The embassy had both organized and paid for the flat. And Darrell Williams had no complaints about it, only that due to long working hours and official dinners, he was not here very much, so he did not know the other people in the building particularly well. Williams thought the caretaker and his wife to be ‘orderly and helpful’. The handicapped man on the ground floor was ‘a very cultured and friendly man’ who spoke good English and could discuss Jack London and his other favourite American authors. The young Swedish student also seemed to be ‘nice and knowledgeable’ in the few conversations that Williams had had with her. The taxi driver on the ground floor was a perhaps ‘a simple soul’ and kept a very low profile, but he was interested in football and other sport, so Williams exchanged the odd word with him now and then. They had stopped for a chat about the forthcoming Norwegian Cup game when they bumped into each other by the stairs on the night of the murder.
The American had barely spoken to the young couple on the first floor, so only confirmed that they seemed to be ‘unusually happy and full of the joys of life, even for newlyweds’. On the night of the murder, Kristian Lund had swung through the front door only a few steps ahead of him. Williams had touched his hat, as was his wont, and received a friendly ‘good evening’ in return. That was about the extent of the contact between them: brief but never unfriendly.
Darrell Williams remembered Harald Olesen’s name well from the years 1945 to 1946 and had been quite excited by the fact that he now lived in the same building. Shortly after he had moved in, he had taken the opportunity to knock on his neighbour’s door and was well received. But during his visit and on a couple of later occasions, Williams got the impression that something or other was weighing on Olesen’s mind and he did not wish to burden him further. Olesen had continued to greet him with a friendly smile all the same. However, it had struck Williams more than once that the old war hero was becoming an increasingly isolated and dejected old man.
Williams had not seen Olesen alive on the day of the murder. He had been to a dinner party and did not come home until around eight. After his evening stroll, he had been talking to Konrad Jensen on the stairs for a few minutes when they suddenly heard a gunshot on the second floor. Williams had instinctively started to run up the stairs, with Jensen at his heels. They did not meet anyone on the stairs, nor did they see anyone else in the hallway when they reached the second floor. They rang on Olesen’s doorbell several times without any response. A minute or two later, Kristian Lund had also appeared, closely followed by the caretaker’s wife. The caretaker’s wife had then gone back down to get her keys and to call the police, as they had not heard a sound inside the flat. While she was doing this, Gullestad had come up in the lift. The five of them had discussed whether or not they should open the door, but had agreed to wait until the police arrived. They neither heard nor saw any signs of an intruder in the building, and it was not possible that anyone could have sneaked past them.
Williams could not recall ever seeing a blue raincoat in 25 Krebs’ Street, not on the day of the murder or previously. He responded openly and honestly to my question regarding firearms: ‘I had a .44-calibre Colt revolver and a .36-calibre pistol with me when I came to Norway, but everything seemed to be so safe here that I sent them both back to my home in the USA a few weeks ago now.’
Strictly speaking, he did not have a licence, but I saw little reason there and then to pester a man with an American diplomat’s passport with minor details such as that. The house search the evening before had shown that Williams, like all the other residents, did not have a gun in the building on the night of the murder. But all the same this did not strike him from the list of possible suspects.
Sara Sundqvist proved to be a slim and unusually tall young woman who waited for a moment or two before opening the door and then kept the safety chain on until she saw my uniform. Despite being around five foot eleven, she could not weigh much over nine stone. I felt that her wrists and arms could snap at any moment, but despite her dangerously tiny waist, her figure was in proportion and her bearing elegant. And even though her expression was drawn and anxious, one could not help but notice her feminine curves. The apparently demure and high-necked green dress only served to emphasize a pair of shapely breasts.
Sara Sundqvist was very serious and slightly shaken by the murder, but still struck me as being sensible and trustworthy. She spoke grammatically correct Norwegian, albeit with a gentle Swedish accent. She gave Gothenburg as her hometown, and her age as twenty-four. She had come to Oslo to study English and philosophy the previous August, and had found the flat through a newspaper advertisement posted by the owner. She used her Swedish student grant and money from her parents to pay for the rent, but also worked in the university library a few hours a week in addition to her studies.
Otherwise, Sara Sundqvist told me that she spent the bulk of her days studying, but did do some amateur dramatics in her free time. She generally went out very little in the evenings. And on the evening in question, she had been at home alone and was in the kitchen making her evening coffee when the gunshot rang out. She had heard it clearly, but thought that perhaps something had fallen onto the floor. She was later frightened by the commotion out in the hall and had decided that it was safest to remain locked in her flat until the police knocked on the door. Although she had not seen any of the drama herself, it had been ‘an extremely frightening experience’. In line with her statement from the evening before, she said that she had not left the flat after she came home at a quarter past four.
I was certain that the young Swedish woman probably smiled more on a warm sunny day and that her gaze was steadier than it was now. I found it easy to accept that a murder in the same building would be very frightening indeed for a foreign female student.
Flat 2A had some rather cluttered bookshelves, crammed with Norwegian, Swedish and English books, but was otherwise the flat of a tidy young woman. And apart from some kitchen knives, there was no evidence of any weapons in her flat either. She was momentarily baffled when I asked her if she had seen anyone in a blue raincoat, but then replied that she had not seen anyone in such a garment in the building, not yesterday or before.
Sara Sundqvist said that she had only spoken to the now deceased Harald Olesen briefly on a couple of occasions. He seemed to be a very friendly, if quiet and correct old gentleman. She had made efforts to be on first-name terms with the caretaker’s wife and the other people in the building, and had nothing negative to say about any of them. However, she could not claim to know any of them very well. ‘The Lunds, of course, only have eyes for each other and their little boy, and the others are all men who are a good deal older than me.’
There was nothing dramatic about Flat 2A and its tenant, and both struck me as being trustworthy. It was with some hesitation that I refrained from striking Sara Sundqvist from the list of suspects.
According to the red heart-shaped nameplate, Kristian and Karen Lund lived in Flat 2B. With their thirteen-month-old son peacefully asleep in his cot, they came across as the epitome of a young, happy couple. And though they smiled every time they looked at each other or their son, the sombreness soon returned when they met my eye. Kristian Lund was a blond, stocky man of around five foot eleven who no doubt was normally relaxed and charming. However, he was now visibly shaken by the situation. He repeated several times that a murder in the building was of particular concern to someone with a wife and child, and that he was not at all sure whether he dared to leave them alone while he was at work until the murderer had been caught.
Neither Mr nor Mrs Lund could for a moment imagine that anyone in the building was behind the crime, so the murderer must somehow have managed to get in from outside. They only had good things to say about Harald Olesen. At times he might appear to be a bit lonely – he was after all a pensioner living on his own – but he was still an elegant man of vigour. The Lunds had never seen any guns in the building, and certainly not in their flat. The key words ‘blue raincoat’ meant nothing to them.
Regarding her own background, Karen Lund could tell me that she was the daughter and only child of a factory owner from Bærum. She had met her husband on an ‘otherwise rather boring course at business school’ and had worked for a fashion retailer for a while before getting married. Kristian Lund came from a lower class and was the child of a secretary and single mother from Drammen. There was a rather emotional moment when he commented that ‘My father could be anyone and I no longer want to know who he is.’ His mother, whom he had much to thank for, had died of cancer the year before, only days before the birth of her first grandchild. Kristian Lund was a qualified manager. He smiled smugly for a moment when he told me that his marks from business school were ‘better than expected by anyone other than myself ’. He had received several ‘very attractive’ job offers recently, but was happy in his current position as the manager of a sports shop. His wife added in support that her parents were delighted with both their son-in-law and their grandchild. On the whole, she seemed to be far calmer and less shaken than her husband.
Following my visit with the Lunds, one rather mysterious question remained unanswered, which was, when had Kristian Lund actually come home on the evening of the murder? His wife was in no doubt that he’d come home at nine o’clock precisely. He had come in the door just after the start of The Danny Kaye Show on television, which started at five to. Kristian Lund explained that he had had to stay behind on his own in the shop as there was bookkeeping to be done, and that he had left there at around a quarter to nine. This was in line with what the caretaker’s wife had noted, which was that Kristian Lund came home at nine o’clock. But this did not accord with another small and rather confusing detail, which was that Darrell Williams claimed to have seen Kristian Lund come into the building while he was chatting with Konrad Jensen a whole hour before.
Kristian Lund’s anxiety regarding the situation increased when I mentioned this. He repeated several times that he did not get home until nine o’clock. If the two neighbours said otherwise, they must either be wrong about when they came in themselves or have confused him with someone else. His wife immediately came to his aid. She added with great sincerity that she had the world’s most reliable and honest husband, and that he had phoned home several hours before that to say that he would not be back until around nine. I hastily played down my question and withdrew, tactfully, to mull it over.
My next stop was again the caretaker’s wife at her post by the front entrance. She furrowed her brow and insisted that ‘Kristian did not come home before nine o’clock yesterday evening.’ Her writing was absolutely clear with regard to the time, and she had jotted down the residents’ names in the order that they came home. ‘If Kristian came back before Darrell Williams and Konrad Jensen, then it’s strange that I wrote his name on the line below them,’ said the caretaker’s wife. I had to admit that that sounded reasonable. And furthermore, the caretaker’s wife had logged the telephone call mentioned by Mrs Lund when Kristian Lund called to say he would not be home until around nine.
When I looked at the caretaker’s wife’s neat and simple list, I found it hard to believe that she might have made a mistake. But there seemed to be no reason to doubt that Darrell Williams had both seen and greeted Kristian Lund by the entrance an hour earlier. And so the Lunds were not struck from my list of suspects either.
More drama lay in store in the left-hand flat on the ground floor. Konrad Jensen was a short, middle-aged man dressed in a red sweater and gaberdine trousers. He confirmed that he worked as a taxi driver and had his papers at the ready, which showed that he owned the older Peugeot model with a taxi light that was parked on the street outside. Konrad Jensen informed me that he had lived in his flat since 1948, and that, as he was unmarried and had no children, he had lived alone all his adult life.
Konrad Jensen’s hair was turning from black to grey. And in the course of our conversation, his unshaven face also seemed to turn from frustration to despair. His answers got shorter and shorter, and he became increasingly morose in response to my routine questions. Yes, he had definitely come home from work at eight o’clock, a few steps behind Kristian Lund and Darrell Williams. Yes, he was certain that Kristian Lund had gone into the building just before him. Yes, he had been standing by the stairs discussing a football match with the American at a quarter past ten when they heard the gunshot on the second floor. And yes, the two of them had immediately run upstairs and waited outside the door. Yes, Kristian Lund, the caretaker’s wife and Andreas Gullestad had also come up in the course of the next couple of minutes. No, he had never seen a blue raincoat here in 25 Krebs’ Street.
Then all of a sudden he mustered the courage to raise his voice a little.
‘I might as well tell you myself because it will come out sooner or later all the same. I supported the Nazis and was a member of the NS during the war, and served a six-month sentence for it from 1945 to 1946. I joined the party before the war and worked as a driver for the Germans after 9 April 1940. I’ve never denied any of it. But that is the extent of my crimes. I’ve never amounted to anything much, for better or worse.’
As is only reasonable, I looked at him in a new, more critical light.
He added hastily: ‘I never met Harald Olesen during or after the war, and I have nothing whatsoever to do with his death. In fact, his death is the worst thing that could happen to me.’
Then, after a short pause for thought, he carried on in his slow, morose manner: ‘Everyone will automatically suspect me. It won’t take many days before the papers write that I’m a Nazi and then I’ll be a moving target. I’ve struggled with that ever since I got out of prison. I’ve had to change my name twice already, from Konrad Hansen to Konrad Pedersen and then to Konrad Jensen. But there’s always someone who knows someone who knows and I always end up being called “Konrad Quisling”. There’s still people who won’t get in my taxi because they’ve heard I was in the NS, but that’s happened less and less over the years. Now it will all get worse again.’
Konrad Jensen got up slowly from the sofa. He went over to the window and pointed down a side street. ‘That’s my car over there. Not new, and wasn’t the best in the world when he was new either, but he’s still working, and I know him better than any person. My car has been my most loyal friend. I know it’s childish, but I like to call my car Petter, after a friend I had when I was a lad. Petter Peugeot and Konrad Jensen, a couple of wrecks that have got old together and know the streets of Oslo better than most.’
His face was bitter when he continued. ‘I turned fifty in February, but celebrated on my own, a modest meal in a restaurant. I don’t want anything to do with the old NS people, and it’s not easy to make other friends. My mother and father died a long time ago, and I don’t have much contact with my brother and sister. I last heard from my brother in 1940, when he’d borrowed money at an exorbitant rate so he could pay back a loan I’d given him. My sister sent a card for my fiftieth birthday that contained all of seven words and came four days late!’
I did not find these personal and familial frustrations of any particular interest. So when Konrad Jensen stopped for breath, I took the chance to ask about his relationship with his neighbours.
‘Not much to tell there either. We pass in the hallway, say a few words about practical things. The caretaker and his wife of course know about my background from the war. They never mention it, but don’t say very much else either. Olesen must have known about it. He was already living here when I moved in, and had no doubt heard from one of his war cronies. There was never a confrontation, but there wasn’t any contact either. He never said a word to me, and I didn’t dare speak to him. He always seemed so scornful whenever we met in the hall. I have to admit I didn’t like Harald Olesen, but I had no reason to kill him. His death will just make things worse for me, especially if the murderer’s not caught quickly.’
He was silent for a few seconds, then ran quickly through the other flats. ‘The American on the second floor moved in quite recently, but he speaks good Norwegian and seems to be nice. I chat with him about sport and the like whenever I get the chance. The cripple is a polite man and always smiles and says hello, but seldom anything else. He’s been rich and smart all his life and so naturally is not interested in me. The couple on the first floor got married relatively recently and so still live in their own bubble. They’ve occasionally asked me to drive them somewhere when they need a taxi, to and from parties and things like that, but we haven’t really talked much then either. They’re young, with so much to look forward to and so many opportunities, and I’m an old man going round in worn circles to an untended grave.’
When I mentioned Sara Sundqvist, Konrad Jensen suddenly started to laugh, albeit a short and bitter laugh.
‘It’s ironic, really, isn’t it . . . given my background, that I should end up here two floors under a famous Resistance fighter and one floor below a Jewess. In a way, she’s even above me now. I don’t like it. But she’s very quiet and doesn’t cause much fuss or conflict.’
I had not heard or seen anything to indicate that Sara Sundqvist was Jewish and immediately asked if he was sure. I was treated to another burst of Konrad Jensen’s bitter laughter.
‘If there’s something I know more about in this world than driving cars, it’s how to recognize a Jew when I see one. You can see it in the nose and hair and eyes. I am absolutely certain that she is a Jew.’
Konrad Jensen was obviously not used to having an audience and was now on a roll. He tried to be quiet for a few moments, but then carried on.
‘I know it’s not wise to talk openly about this, but those of us who were in the NS were proved right when it came to Stalin and his Bolshevik friends. Even leading politicians in the Norwegian Labour Party admit that today. And one day we’ll be proved right about the Jews as well. I didn’t want the Jews to be killed; I just wanted them gone. It’s a good thing that they’ve got their own state on the other side of the world, and I hope that most of them will go there. It’s best for them, best for us all.’
He nodded at the ceiling and lowered his voice. ‘But to be fair, she doesn’t make much noise or cause any trouble for anyone. I don’t know if she has any Nordic blood in her veins as well – you’ll have to ask her about that yourself.’
This was followed by silence. He no doubt realized that I was not listening out of sympathy and the bitterness returned. ‘There’s not much more to be had for you here, unless you’re looking for a scapegoat rather than the murderer.’
Which was not the case, and I had the answers to all my questions for now, so I bid Konrad Jensen farewell as politely as I could. Once out the door, I immediately noted him down as the primary suspect.
However, I did then go back up to the first floor and knock on Sara Sundqvist’s door. She opened it just as cautiously and slowly as before, but her smile was broader when she saw me this time. I apologized and explained that I had forgotten to ask her about her family background. After pausing for a few seconds, she replied that her parents were Jews who lost their lives during the war. As far as she was aware, they had no other children, and she knew very little about the rest of her Jewish family. She had been fortunate enough to be adopted by a couple in Gothenburg who were teachers, and they brought her up together with their own two daughters.
It did not seem necessary to ask her for any more details at the moment. But I did somewhat reluctantly have to admit that Konrad Jensen was not entirely unreliable, and that Sara Sundqvist was of some interest to the murder investigation. And that the mystery of when Kristian Lund had in fact come home on the evening of the murder was becoming ever more intriguing.
It took over a minute before Andreas Gullestad opened the door to Flat 1A. When it was finally opened, the man who looked up at me from his wheelchair was friendly and all smiles, and I was immediately shown into the sitting room with an open hand. Andreas Gullestad was a fair-haired man who gave his age as thirty-nine years old. His sedentary life had left him slightly overweight, which reinforced his natural jovial character. I guessed that he would be fairly tall if he could stand up. His voice was bright, and his vocabulary bore the hallmark of a cultured background. He did not appear to be overly shaken by the murder, just rather pleased to have a visitor.
‘Welcome to my humble abode, O honourable detective! I have been waiting for you to come and am more than happy to contribute what little I can to solving this frightful crime. Can I offer you some tea or coffee?’
He had set the table for two and had the water on the boil, so I said yes to a cup of tea. The choice of teas was generous, and very much in keeping with the atmosphere in the flat. Andreas Gullestad’s home was an oasis of colour and calm, with paintings on the walls, overflowing bookshelves, a television set and luxurious furnishings. Sitting comfortably on a cushion in his wheelchair, my host appeared to be reconciled with his fate. He was remarkably philosophical, even in relation to the ongoing murder investigation in the building.
Gullestad told me that his previous home had proved to be ‘somewhat impractical’ following a ‘very regrettable’ accident four years ago that left him paralysed from the waist down. And with a small, self-deprecating smile, he added: ‘I had never, not even in my worst nightmares, ever considered the possibility of living east of the river.’
Neverthless, he had taken to the flat instantly and had not since regretted buying it. It was important for him to have a ground-floor flat in a building with low thresholds and a lift, and what was more, he had been pleasantly surprised by how helpful everyone else was here. The deceased Harald Olesen had always been friendly and polite, and it was an honour indeed for someone who had been a child during the war to live in the same house as such an old hero from the Resistance. Gullestad could not imagine that anyone in the building was capable of murdering Olesen, and nor did he think that any of them would have the motive to do so. He believed that the murderer must somehow have managed to get in from outside, though he could not explain how.
Gullestad also mentioned that the caretaker was perhaps a little too fond of the drink, which obviously had a considerable effect on his wife. But when he was sober, the caretaker was a handy man, and his wife was always helpfulness itself. Darrell Williams was the most recent incomer. He had accepted an invitation to coffee and made a very ‘favourable’ impression. But being two floors down, Gullestad did not know much of what went on on the second floor. On the other hand, he had very good relations with the young couple on the first floor.
As far as Konrad Jensen was concerned, Gullestad was aware of his ‘deeply unfortunate’ affiliations during the war and wished to make it clear that he deplored them. But he was able to overlook these old sins as long as Jensen’s behaviour now gave no grounds for complaint. Jensen had almost certainly not had an easy time of it during the war, and seemed to be both lonely and disillusioned. All the same, Gullestad could not imagine that he was a cold-blooded murderer. The young Swedish lady had also accepted an invitation to coffee shortly after she had moved in last August, and had then, as later, been ‘utterly charming’.
Gullestad paused for a moment and sucked thoughtfully on a sugar lump. Then he added in a very quiet voice that ‘at the risk of being indiscreet’, he should perhaps mention something with regard to Miss Sundqvist that may be of relevance to the investigation. Although he had never seen her with a boyfriend, or heard her mention anyone, he was under the impression that there was a man in her life. Gullestad’s bedroom was directly under that of Sara Sundqvist, and the sounds he heard from there would indicate that she occasionally had ‘very enjoyable and lively visits’. He had only heard this in the afternoons between five and seven, never at night. So it would seem that Sara Sundqvist had an admirer who only visited her in the afternoon and did not stay the night.
Andreas Gullestad was swift to reply that he had no guns in the flat, and had not seen evidence of one in any of the other flats. But he sat deep in thought for a few moments in response to my question about the blue raincoat and then answered gravely: ‘I definitely did not see any blue raincoats in the building on the day of the murder, but there was a day last summer when I saw an unknown man here on the stairs in a large blue raincoat with a red scarf over his face.’
Naturally, I was extremely interested in this information and asked for further details. Gullestad concentrated hard for a minute or so before answering.
‘I am fairly sure that I saw a man in a blue raincoat here last year. It struck me as odd as it was nice weather that day, with no moisture in the air, and I speculated for a while who the mysterious man might be visiting. The exact date escapes me, but it may have been the Whitsun weekend. For a while I wondered if it was perhaps in connection with a carnival or some other festivity, but I’m afraid I don’t remember much more.’
I could not quite let this unexpected glimpse of the man in the raincoat go and asked if he was sure that it had been a man. Gullestad took a moment to reflect before he answered. He certainly seemed to be a conscientious and reflective witness.
‘I believe so, as the person seemed to be rather tall, but I would not like to swear to it. I only saw him in passing, and it is not always easy to know what a raincoat like that might be hiding.’
Andreas Gullestad told me that he himself was originally from a small place near Gjøvik in Oppland. And despite the early death of his father, he had had a very privileged childhood. Following his mother’s death when he was twenty-five, he had inherited his father’s fortune, which was so substantial that, if his consumption was moderate, he could live well on it for the rest of his life. He had deposited most of it in the bank and invested the rest in stocks, which thus far had provided a ‘very tidy’ profit. The accident that had left him disabled had of course been a shock and marked a dramatic change in his life, but it had, nonetheless, been less catastrophic for him than it might have been for many others. As there was no pressure to earn a living, he had previously studied a bit here and there in his twenties, and had otherwise lived a very pleasant life. With another small, self-deprecating smile, Andreas Gullestad commented: ‘And now I largely just sit here all day with the television, the wireless, my books and the newspapers. But sadly, that is also what I did in my previous flat, before the accident. The main difference is that these days I pay for someone else to do my shopping without feeling guilty.’
Before letting me go, Andreas Gullestad asked if it would be ‘acceptable’ for him to go to visit his sister in Gjøvik at the weekend, as planned. There were some ‘family matters’ that needed to be discussed, and his sister and niece were now no doubt concerned about him and keen to hear more about the situation. He assured me that he would return on Sunday afternoon and gave me a telephone number where he could be reached in the meantime. I saw no reason not to let him travel.
My visit to Andreas Gullestad’s flat left me with the impression that he was the least likely of the residents to have anything to do with the murder, but that he may still be hiding important information all the same, whether consciously or unconsciously. Of most interest was what he had told me about seeing the man in the blue raincoat, especially as he had also mentioned a red scarf without any prompting. I noted that other pertinent questions were the identity of Sara Sundqvist’s secret guest and how he managed to get in and out of the building unnoticed.
I immediately went down to the caretaker’s wife and asked her again about the blue raincoat, only this time I asked if she could recall having seen a person wearing such a garment in the building. The caretaker’s wife dutifully thought about it for a minute or so, then emphasized that she could not be certain, but that she may possibly have seen a man in a similar coat here last summer. In which case she had only seen him in passing in the hallway or on the stairs. She thought perhaps she was mistaken, as she had not seen anyone like that come in or go out. But she may of course have been out shopping or doing something else at the time.
Once again, I went and knocked on Sara Sundqvist’s door and explained that I had unfortunately forgotten to ask how often she had visitors. She replied that she had occasionally had friends round, but not for several weeks prior to the murder. She had seen less of her fellow students in recent weeks, as they all had exams approaching. She replied negatively to a direct question as to whether she had a fiancé or boyfriend, adding in a quiet voice: ‘In the eight months I have lived here, no one has ever stayed overnight.’ With the information from Andreas Gullestad fresh in my mind, I nodded my acceptance of the latter without actually believing the former. Sara Sundqvist’s elusive afternoon guest remained a minor mystery.
The technical reports lay waiting on my desk back at the main police station, but as yet provided no answers. The pathologist could definitively lay to rest any theory that the gunshot came from another building. Harald Olesen had been killed by a single shot fired from a .45-calibre Colt revolver at close range. The bullet had passed through his heart, causing instant death. There was no indication that Olesen had been injured in any way before being shot. And according to the pathologist’s report, this could have happened at any time between eight o’clock and eleven o’clock, but that was of less interest, as the statements from all the neighbours gave us the exact time of a quarter past ten.
The information about Harald Olesen in the census rolls really only confirmed what was already known. He was born in 1895 and was the son of a well-known pharmacist from Hamar. Harald Olesen married in 1923, and remained married until the death of his wife forty years later. She was the educated daughter of a shipowner, but had been a housewife all her life. Olesen had an older brother and a younger sister, who had both died before him. As his parents were long since deceased and he had no children himself, his closest relations and presumed inheritors were a niece and a nephew who lived in the west end of Oslo. Olesen had moved several times in the interwar years, but had stayed at the same address in 25 Krebs’ Street since 1939.
Konrad Jensen was the only resident in the police records. He had indeed served six months for treason from 1945 to 1946, but had no other criminal record.
There was no information in the census rolls about the American Darrell Williams or the Swedish Sara Sundqvist, and on the whole, they simply confirmed what the Norwegian citizens had told about themselves. There was nothing new to discover about Konrad Jensen and Karen Lund. The only interesting additional information about Andreas Gullestad was that he had taken that name four years previously, and before that had been called Ivar A. Storskog. The rest of the information was, however, what he himself had told. His father had been a wealthy farmer from Oppland who owned substantial amounts of land and forest, and had died in 1941, aged only forty-eight. His mother had died in 1953. Andreas Gullestad had never been married or had any children, and his closest relative was indeed an older sister in Gjøvik.
The most interesting revelation in the census rolls was in relation to Kristian Lund. His father was simply recorded as ‘unknown’, and his mother was a secretary from Drammen. Kristian Lund had, however, either not known or not wanted to tell me that the very same mother had been a member of the NS from 1937 to 1945. She had had several secretarial positions with the occupying forces during the final three years of the war. The protocol from her trial for treason was attached and showed that she was sentenced to eight months in prison after the war, but was released after four months due to good behaviour and out of consideration to her young son. According to the census rolls, he came into this world in Drammen on 17 February 1941 and was his mother’s only child.
As a result, I concluded that of all Olesen’s neighbours, Kristian Lund was the first that I should talk to again. But none of the residents had any known links to Harald Olesen that might give them a motive for murder, and the day had given disappointingly few breakthroughs. Darrell Williams’s impression that something had been bothering Harald Olesen seemed plausible in light of the murder, but we still had no idea what it was. And for want of any better clues, I decided to spend the next day trying to establish what it was that had been bothering the murder victim in the last year of his life.
After a couple of attempts, I finally managed to get hold of Harald Olesen’s nephew on the phone. Joachim Olesen was an economist by profession and worked as an adviser in the Ministry of Finance. He had been waiting for a phone call from the police and immediately offered to come down to the main police station with his sister the following morning at nine o’clock to be interviewed. In the meantime, I asked for the name of the deceased’s doctor and bank, which he gave without any hesitation. Two brief telephone conversations later, it transpired that the doctor was himself on sick leave and the bank was closed due to an inspection of accounts.
Excerpted from The Human Flies by Hans Olav Lahlum. Copyright © 2010 by Hans Olav Lahlum 2010. English translation copyright Kari Dickson 2014.
First published in the UK 2014 by Mantle, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world http://www.panmacmillan.com.
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