Swedish tourists' murder: What the pathologist found

by Donna Chisholm / 10 September, 2017
Urban Höglin.

Urban Höglin.

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The murders of Urban Höglin and Heidi Paakkonen will be revisited in the memoir of forensic pathologist Timothy Koelmeyer, due out in coming months. It’s why Koelmeyer, now retired, still has his files at hand.

He was one of three pathologists who examined Höglin’s skeletal remains and initially found no sign of any damage to the bones to indicate how he might have died. It wasn’t just those three who found nothing, he says. “Every pathologist who came through the lab looked at them.”

Koelmeyer, the pathologist for the Crown, had been called down to the Wentworth Valley when the remains were being painstakingly recovered, with each bone marked.

A couple of pig hunters had literally stumbled on the body when one of them went into the bush to have a pee, says Koelmeyer. The body was facing down, the arms outstretched above the head.

Stab wounds were found on the front of Höglin’s black sweatshirt and the pink T-shirt he wore underneath. There were also cuts in the waistband of the shorts and his underpants.

Back at the Auckland mortuary, the skeleton was reconstructed – only a few phalanges (bones that make up the fingers and toes) were missing. There were more than 200 bones laid out on the dissecting table, and Koelmeyer says he examined each one.

The pathologists found a hole in the middle of Höglin’s breast bone that excited them for a time. Had he been shot through the chest? It was, however, a rare congenital disorder and not a bullet hole.

Weeks after the first report was signed off by the pathologists – two worked for the defence – Koelmeyer says he was preparing the bones to return to Höglin’s family in Sweden when he decided to take one more look. What he found was down to sheer chance, he says.

Maybe it was because the bones of Höglin’s neck had dried out during those weeks in the dry, controlled atmosphere of the dissecting room, but when Koelmeyer next looked at them, the deep cut in the fourth cervical vertebra was suddenly very clear to see. It was a centimetre long and 3mm deep.

Not only had Höglin been stabbed in the neck and belly, but his killer had tried to cut off his head.

“If the idea is to dismember him and dispose of the body, you’ve got to start somewhere and the head is as good as any.”

Chillingly, Koelmeyer says the cuts to the waistbands of Höglin’s shorts and underwear only matched up if the underpants had been put on back to front.

“Most people, when they put their underpants on, put them on the right way around. Unless you’re in a state of terror or fright… It means you’re in a disturbed state, for want of a better term. If this boy was being threatened, or had already been subjected to some sort of violence and is then putting on his clothes again… it could be after this happened that he then was stabbed.”

Koelmeyer says he has examined the bodies of more than 100 murder victims and has testified in nearly 200 murder trials for both the prosecution and defence.

He hopes his book will be out by Christmas.

This was published in the August 2017 issue of North & South.

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