'God's text messages told me to kill'

Trial of nanny who says her pastor lover told her to murder his wife plays out like a soapie in Sweden

Sunday Times/July 4, 2004

Bizarre revelations of cellphone messages from God and steamy cult sex have emerged in a murder trial gripping Sweden.

At the trial, 27-year-old nanny Sara Svensson has admitted shooting dead her employer's wife as she slept and attempting to kill a neighbour.

But she claims she was coerced into the crimes by the dead woman's husband, the Rev Helge Wassmo, 32, head of an obscure Pentecostal sect in the secluded village of Knutby, north of Stockholm.

The court has heard that the minister had been having simultaneous affairs with Svensson and his neighbour's wife, Anette Linde, 26.

Wassmo has denied any wrongdoing. If convicted of murder, he could be sent to prison for between 10 years and life.

The sensational case has dominated headlines in the liberal Scandinavian country.

Sweden's biggest tabloid, Aftenbladet, has been devoting as many as a dozen pages a day to the trial, with headlines such as "Each Sexual Intercourse was a Tribute to God" and "The House of Death".

"The story has all the classic elements of a drama: murder, sex, religion, infidelity and jealousy. Normally, this would only happen in the movies, but here it has taken place in a small rural community," Niklas Silow, the paper's news editor, told Reuters.

The Aftenbladet website has been broadcasting radio reports from the trial, which began at the end of May.

Svensson has told the court that Wassmo told her that killing his wife and neighbour was the only way she could please God.

Prosecutors believe the pastor wanted to get rid of his wife to start a new life with Anette Linde.

He is now also suspected of killing his first wife, Helene.

When she "fell over in the bath" in 1999, striking her head on a tap, her death was treated as an accident, but now the case has been reopened and her corpse exhumed.

Knutby, a 13th-century village with just 600 inhabitants, is situated in bucolic farmland. However, those who have left the sect to which Wassmo belongs say life in the congregation was far from idyllic.

Led by a woman known as "Christ's Bride", the pastors in the sect reportedly had a say in nearly every aspect of members' lives, including whom they could marry.

The movement is an off-shoot of the Church of Sweden, a Lutheran church to which seven million of Sweden's nine million citizens belong, but rarely attend its services.

The sect apparently puts great emphasis on prophecies and witnesses in court have told how Wassmo talked of having dreams in which he had been instructed that his wives would be "called home to God".

Svensson has testified that she received a number of anonymous SMS messages - which she believed were from God - urging her to commit murder.

A technology company has traced erased messages on her phone to Wassmo, who admitted sending them but said they were intended only to guide her in her faith.

Svensson, it has emerged, moved into the Wassmo home last year to look after the couple's three children.

Soon afterwards, when his wife began to suffer from depression, Wassmo sought "solace" with the nanny, visiting her at night in her room to "help him through a religious crisis".

His wife - who slept above Svensson's room - apparently never questioned this arrangement.

Members of the sect adhere to an intepretation of the Bible that calls for the complete subjugation of women, corporal punishment of children and unquestioning obedience to spiritual leaders.

Every night, according to statements made to the court, Wassmo and Svensson had sex as "an act of obedience to God" and as proof of their "pure brotherly love".

"Every sex act was a victory for God," Svensson testified.

But, at about the same time, Wassmo began an intense affair with neighbour Linde, and the couple, who met almost every day, allegedly began making plans to get rid of their respective spouses.

Divorce was discussed. Then they toyed with the idea of killing the two in a car crash.

Finally, Svensson appeared to provide a solution to their problems.

Wassmo's tone toward the nanny changed. He would tell her she was "a reprobate minion of the Devil" and a "vile, dirty, hopeless creature", the court heard.

He allegedly claimed to see divine apparitions bearing the message that his wife must die and Svensson must be the one to kill her.

In November, while Wassmo was away on business, Svensson sneaked into his wife's bedroom and smashed her head with a hammer.

But the woman remained conscious, yelling: "What the hell are you doing? Leave my house immediately."

Svensson fled the village.

The court heard that, upon his return, Wassmo was distressed to find his wife still alive.

He then allegedly sent Svensson between 1 200 and 2 200 cellphone text messages urging her to finish the job.

In January, Svensson returned, armed with a pistol, and killed Wassmo's wife.

Then she went next door and shot Daniel Linde in the head and chest, leaving him for dead. But he survived the attack.

The trial is expected to conclude later this month. In the meantime, every day's testimony brings new twists.

One of the most eagerly awaited witnesses was Asa Waldau, elder sister of the murdered woman. One of the founders of the sect, she is "the bride of Christ", having "married" Jesus in a ceremony in 1999.

Speaking of her brother-in-law, she told the court: "Since he couldn't break me into submission, he made me a leader and put me on a pedestal. I loved him once as a brother, but I have never been in love with him."

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