Ethologist (the study of behaviour)
Knutby: an introduction
The 10th of January 2004, the “Reverend’s” wife was killed and a member of a congregation was shot in a little village called Knutby, in the centre of Sweden. Just a few years ago, the ‘Reverend’s’ first young wife had died under mysterious circumstances. This time, his children’s so called ‘the nanny’, Sara Svensson, confessed to murder and attempted murder. It was further revealed that the ‘Reverend’ had a mistress, the wife of the man who was wounded in the attempted murder. She confessed of the love affair to the congregation who condemned him as ‘the Snake in Paradise’.
A few months later, the nanny was sentenced for murder and attempted murder. The ‘Reverend’ was sentenced for instigation of murder and instigation of attempted murder because of his systematic manipulation of her.
When the tragedy was revealed, I wasn’t surprised. I talked to former members, members’ relatives and the police. I attended the two trials that took place about this case. I also made numerous comments in the Swedish media. I have personally met some of the reverends in Knutby and I talked to ‘Christ’s Bride’ – one of the leaders of the Knutby congregation -. I have a Bachelor of Arts, with psychology as my major. But, most important, I’ve had my personal experience of a manipulative cult, the Moonies. I was one of its members for two years in the beginning of the nineties. That experience made me realize that it could have been me holding that gun…
Since then, I have talked to several former cult members. I believe that it was the systematic manipulation that deprived the members of their identity and of their freedom of mind that caused the murder in Knutby.
Åsa Waldau, or ‘Christ’s Bride’, is still Knutby’s informal leader. She described her childhood as difficult. Her parents divorced when she was a teenager. She found ‘salvation’ that same year. Her grandfather was a prominent figure in the Swedish Pentecostal movement, but her mother disliked the movement. There were tensions at home and eventually Åsa was sent to a foster home. She started to work with other youngsters for the Pentecostal movement. In 1990, she was recruited as a children care-taker within the movement, in the University town of Uppsala, North of Stockholm.
Åsa was already married and 25 years old when she met the young man (only 15!) who was to become her second husband – Patrik Waldau. With the scandal of the divorce, the leaders found the opportunity to tell her that she was no longer wanted.
She had developed traits of demanding total obedience, she pretended to know God’s will and be herself faultless. She had a need to dominate and showed no respect for other people’s integrity and boundaries. She separated children from their parents and she meddled into other
people’s relationships. She created a small group of young people who admired her.
After her divorce in 1992, Åsa moved with her new boyfriend to his parents’ house in Knutby and landed in the centre of the Pentecostal movement there. The Waldau family supported the congregation economically and their home was the centre of the life in the congregation. The father, Per-Arne, always defended Åsa when she was criticized.
Knutby is a small village with about 10 000 inhabitants. The congregation was a part of the Pentecostal movement. In 1999, before the death of the reverend’s first wife, there were almost 80 members. The congregation felt selected by God after a preacher, Håkan Sunnliden, had prophesied a ‘spiritual fire’ and ‘revival’ in Knutby. It’s leader, Kim Wincent, was told a more personal prophecy ‘about someone whom people thought badly of that would come and help him with the congregation’. He interpreted this person as being Åsa. There was a third prophecy: ‘the Waldau family should take care of a Servant of the Lord’
The reverend Helge Fossmo
Between 1992 and 1997, Åsa travelled around Sweden, delivering sermons. She picked out individuals that she then invited to Knutby. One of them was Helge Fossmo, later to become her partner and the leader of the congregation. Born in 1971 as the youngest of five children, he found ‘salvation’ at the age of 12. Later on, he became a leader of a small ‘Christian’ group, inspired by the Word of Life, part of the Faith movement. When he was arrested, his homepage had links to that cult and American preachers connected with the Word of Life. Some of the Knutby leading members attended also Word of Life’s bible classes.
He eventually returned to the Pentecostal movement and met Åsa at a revival meeting. In 1997, he and his wife moved to Knutby.
The nanny: Sara Svensson
Two years later, Sara Svensson moved to Knutby where she later became the nanny of Helge’s children. Sara, aged 22, had grown up in a small community in the countryside in Sweden and was raised in a Christian home as the only child. She was often hospitalized because of severe allergies and her mother quit her job to take care of her the first years of her life. Her mother died when Sara was only 11 years old and she was then raised by her father. After school, she used to attend a bible class. Once, Åsa came there to preach and Sara was ‘inspired’. She started going to Knutby at bible classes and eventually moved there.
In 1999, Åsa ‘became Christ’s Bride’. She bought a ring with 7 diamonds with a bible passage engraved on it. The ‘engagement’ between Åsa and Jesus was conducted by Helge in their church hall on the 29th of March 1999. In computers belonging to the inner circle of the congregation, the investigators found a document called the ‘Tirsa prophecy’. In the year 2000, Åsa wrote down what she thought that Jesus had told her. The prophecy was kept secret. It said: ‘I am the King of Kings and you are the Queen of heaven‘. ‘I had you in mind already at the creation of the world and I have been waiting for you ever since‘. ‘Remember that your word has power just like mine ‘. Ever since, the members regard her as one with Jesus and thus obey her. A few days before Åsa wrote the prophecy, a person close to her got ‘a word from God’ that Åsa was to die in order to marry Jesus in heaven. The leaders prayed for her imminent death and the reverends preached that the end of the world would come when Åsa married Jesus. This belief created a state of emergency within the group and affected the feelings, morality, sexuality etc. of its members.
Åsa had also ‘servants’ among the inner circle. They took care of everything relating to daily life and ‘protected’ her through prayers and ‘spiritual battles’. The ‘prophecy’ showed how everything, including the ‘servants’, was predetermined. The leaders interpreted the ‘signs’ and told the group what was going to happen to them. In court Sara Svensson said: ‘it was predetermined that Daniel and Alexandra were going to heaven’. If everything is predetermined life becomes like a theatre.
The first wife died
Fossmo worked with Åsa almost around the clock. His wife, Helen, complained in
front of some of the members. Helge then accused her of being rebellious and
jealous. That wasn’t allowed! According to Helge, Åsa said that Helen wasn’t
worthy of him and if she didn’t change, God would ‘take her home’. According to
Helge it all happened gradually. Åsa gave him more and more trust and faith.
Flattery and praise mixed with authoritarian anger. (Helge would later use this
same mixture of love and hate towards the nanny, Sara.). Helge pretended that
he was ‘Jesus’ channel’ and thus that Jesus spoke through him to Åsa.
Apparently this led to him touching her hair, massaging her feet and eventually
to satisfy her sexually.
In November 1999, Helge’s wife died under mysterious circumstances. Helge found his young wife, Helen, dead in their home’s bathtub dressed in her night gown. She was found with a toxic dose of Dexofen (painkillers) in her blood. In the autopsy protocol that he sent to her parents, this information was erased.
Helge and Sara’s love affair
The next year, Helge married Alexandra, Åsa Waldau’s sister. The nanny, Sara, married her boyfriend. But in the spring of 2001, Helge and Sara started a love affair. Sara said in court:
‘During spring Helge became more and more intense in his courtship.’ She was invited to his home to pray and he looked at her with love in his eyes and talked about heavenly love. Helge told Sara that they should make an ‘alliance’, an ‘act of obedience to God’. In the beginning of the summer, Helge became very ill and Sara took him to the hospital. He told her that this was a ‘battle with the Devil’ and that ‘a time of trials would start’. Upon their return from hospital, Sara’s husband who came to pick her up, was told that Sara was needed at Helge’s side. Sara was made to stay in his room for 6 months! During the nights Helge was ‘fighting with the Devil’ and in order to win they had intercourse.
They were talking about marriage when Helge asked Sara if she could kill someone if God asked her to. He then proceeded to talk to her about Abraham’s sacrifice of his son.
Sara, the temptress
By the end of 2001, Helge told the other reverends that he and Sara wanted to get married but Åsa said that ‘according to God’, that wouldn’t be correct. Helge convinced Sara to continue their sexual relationship, with a new implication, not love but only ‘God’s will’. He then told her that he had gotten an anonymous letter according to which ‘his second wife would be taken from him as well and close to him there was a woman made for him but that she was stuck in another marriage…’ Sara told the court that if her husband wasn’t willing to divorce her, he would die. She was in a state of shock and believed all the ‘supernatural’ things that happened to Helge. She agreed to divorce her husband in 2002.
Helge broke Sara down
During the year 2003, Helge was almost the only person that Sara talked to. She was his slave, deprived of her own will and mostly locked up in the bedroom. He would tell her: ‘you’re so disgusting, an arrogant bitch, unintelligent, blond, fake, temptress.’ Every word hurt Sara deeply. Then he ended with the words ‘I love you’. By then she was so grateful that he loved her in spite of her being so horrible. This is a devastating mix of love and hate. In the fall of 2003, Helge took a new mistress, but kept Sara as his sex slave. In the end of 2003, Helge again asked Sara if she could kill, but she said no. He kept insisting however. Helge used anonymous sms to plant thoughts in Sara’s mind: ‘you know what you’ve got to do. Get it done with before the 25th of November otherwise it will be too late for you.’ That date was Helge’s and Helen’s wedding day (the first wife). But Sara had doubts and asked Helge if it wasn’t him who had sent the sms. He denied angrily so Sara apologized, but was still confused:
‘the other day I had no thought of killing anybody but now it feels as if you want me to murder your wife.’
‘It’s you who says so not me’ Helge replied.
‘I don’t want to kill anybody. Let’s forget about this’, Sara said.
‘Why are we talking about this?’ Sara asked Helge after a while.
‘Because I believe that it is exactly what will happen.’ Helge replied.
The next day, she was devastated and got another anonymous sms: ‘Don’t be heartbroken, don’t hesitate, for his sake (Helge), for her sake (his wife), for God’s sake, and for your sake. To come home is grace.’ Sara thought that someone in Sweden felt a challenge from God to send her this. Helge read, sighed and only said: ‘to come home is grace’. Sara said to Helge that she wanted to talk to Åsa’s husband Patrik Waldau about this. But Helge said that he wouldn’t understand and that he himself was above anyone else and that she mustn’t talk to anyone.
Notice that Helge never clearly said that he wanted her to kill his wife, Alexandra. He broke her down and then planted these thoughts in her mind, using numerous sms and making her more and more convinced that this was a message coming from God.
Sara attempted to kill his wife, using a hammer but she didn’t hit hard enough. After this event, the leaders sent her home. She became a lonely outcast, fearing to lose God’s grace. Helge continued to push her to make a new attempt and to kill his mistress’ husband as well.
Five days before the murder, Helge gave his last sermon:
‘What are you afraid of? You know it is like this: when you seriously can say I do not fear death, then you have a homeland to come to…I want to move closer to God. I want to kill everything that stands in the way.’
The 10th of January 2004, Sara committed the murder. Upon entering the house, she checked her mobile phone one last time, hoping to receive a sms from God telling her to stop, and that he had seen that she was willing, just like he did with Abraham. In court she said:
‘I was programmed to kill.’
The Knutby trial, held in the district court, in the spring of 2004, found Helge Fossmo innocent of murder of his first wife, but he got a life sentence for provoking a murder and an attempted murder. Sara was sentenced to psychiatric care for the murder and the attempted murder. The court of appeal came to the same conclusion.
The psychological investigation found that Sara was psychologically abused and systematically manipulated until she was devastated.
After the murder
Today it’s ‘business as usual’ in Knutby. Three members have left the congregation after the murder and four books have been written about the group. In 2005, ‘Christ’s Bride’ opened a spa and made a record that wasn’t a hit. The year after, a teacher and an assistant got sentenced for child abuse. They were caught sitting on a child on the toilette floor. They admitted the action but claimed not guilty. The 31st of August 2006, Helge confessed that he had a part in the murder in an interview on TV. He said that he had lived in a cult culture and realized this after a long time. He also said that there were others involved in the murder. He had an expert make an analysis of the sms who said it may well be Åsa’s words and Helge said:
‘That is correct, Åsa wrote the sms, I only sent them on.’
On Christmas 2006, Helge got engaged in jail and in March 2007, the Knutby case was closed. Helge’s confessions didn’t lead to anything that can motivate a preliminary investigation. Sara is still in psychiatric care. A child-custody case is coming up. A doctor has found signs of child abuse on a child who stayed with the father who is still in the cult.
The systematic manipulation within the group is still at work. The members seem to have a blind spot when it comes to criticism of the group and their relatives are still worried, especially about the children involved. Helge was sentenced to life in prison for planning the murder, but not for what he did to Sara.
Should it be allowed to break down a person until she becomes an obedient slave and even commits murder? I think that there should be a law against undue influence. In Sweden, we have seen a small awakening but there is still a long way to go. If people around Knutby would have had more knowledge about manipulation, maybe the tragedy could have been prevented. Therefore, it’s of enormous importance to spread knowledge about how this kind of manipulation works. Finally, it is of huge importance that there is help for those who have been hurt by a manipulative cult. I dream of a Wellspring in Sweden.