One thing that surprises me about this case is the fact that not that many people actually know about it. It’s not been widely covered in true crime podcasts and I’ve not found any documentaries on it. I don’t really know why this is – there’s plenty of material to work with. However, there have never been any strong suspects and to this day it remains unsolved.
The case I’m referring to is the murder of Karina Holmer, from the village of Alaryd, Sweden. Her exact age varies between sources; she was 19 or 20 at the time she was murdered.
It was the year 1996. Karina had won the equivalent of $1500 from a lottery ticket and decided to use the money to travel to the US. Coming from a tiny village like Alaryd, the idea of adventure and escaping her everyday life for a little bit was exciting. She decided she would go to Boston, where she would work for a family as an au pair and enjoy the vibrant city the rest of the time.
Karina arrived in the US and went to work for Frank Rapp and Susan Nichter, caring for their two young children. Frank and Susan lived in Dover, Massachusetts. Karina hadn’t been in US for long before she began writing home, complaining that she was tired from cleaning all the time and that her trip was not really what she’d pictured. Personally, it seemed to me that Karina actually had it okay out there. During the week she worked as planned and on weekends her employer Frank allowed her to stay in his Boston studio where he worked during the week. The studio was a prime location to sightsee and enjoy the city during the day, and more importantly for Karina, embrace the city’s club scene at night.
Friday 21st June 1996
Karina was going out with friends that evening. On this evening, Karina and three of her friends gathered in the studio apartment where Karina stayed then and made their way to Zanzibar, a popular club on Boylston Place. Despite being underage, Karina never had any trouble getting into clubs in Boston, thanks to her fake ID and the fact that pretty, young women are rarely turned away.
The evening consisted of too much drinking and a lot of dancing. Karina split off from her friends, but sightings of her in the club continued throughout the night. Early in the morning of the 22nd, Karina was still in the club but had gone to the bathroom, passed out and was subsequently kicked out. By this time, it was around 3am.
Karina found herself wandering, drunk and alone, in what is referred to as the ‘Alley’. Still in the mood to continue the party, she came across a homeless man, whom she danced with for a while.
After this, there were a series of supposed sightings of Karina by different witnesses after she left the club. People claimed to have seen her getting into (or being forced into) a car with a group of men. Some say they saw her getting into a taxi. Others say they saw her walking along different streets near the club. None of the sightings ever amounted to anything.
Witnesses did repeatedly tell investigators that they saw Karina talking to a distinctive man named Herb Whitten, who was distinctive due to his large stature and tendency to dress up his dog and he in Superman T-shirts, supposedly as a way of attracting women… The timeline gets fuzzy at this point, but it was likely that Whitten was the last person to see Karina alive (apart from her killer).
A Horrifying Discovery
I’ve read differing reports on the length of time Karina was missing before she was found, ranging from 12 hours to 2 days, so I’m just going to go with 12 hours for the purposes of this post.
A homeless man was searching through a dumpster for cans or bottles in the Fenway neighbourhood of Boston. During his search, he found way more than he bargained for – a human arm. Shocked by his discovery, he made his way to the nearest police station to report his terrible finding.
The police made their way to the dumpster right away; they were horrified by what they found. It turned out to be Karina Holmer, but only half of her. The lower part of her body, from the waist down, was nowhere to be found.
The part of her body that was discovered was in pristine condition; there was no dirt or anything of the sort found on her body and the face of makeup she usually wore out had been scrubbed off.
Karina’s cause of death was strangulation, shown by the markings on her neck. She also had redness on her wrists, suggesting they had been tied. Otherwise, there was no more bruising, scratches or signs she had fought her killer to be found.
There were few suspects for investigators to really focus on in the murder of Karina Holmer.
Herb Whitten, the man previously mentioned with the dog and the Superman T-shirt, was briefly considered as a suspect. However, Whitten had a strong alibi; he had been driving back home to Andover after he had been seen speaking to Karina. While driving, he had gotten a speeding ticket. It did not fit into the timeline of Karina’s murder that he would return home, go back to Boylston Place and then kidnap and kill Karina, then dismember and dump her body. A year later and Karina’s murder, Whitten committed suicide.
Karina’s employers, Frank Rapp and Susan Nichter, were also investigated as suspects. Other young nannies knew of Frank Rapp and referred to him as ‘creepy’. Neither had an alibi for the night Karina was murdered, and the following Monday police were called to the home of Frank and Susan due to a fire which had started in a dumpster on their property. The ashes from the fire were tested for any traces of human remains but none were found. I find it pretty unlikely that Frank and Susan would be involved in Karina’s murder; if they wanted her dead for some reason, why would they wait until she was out clubbing in Boston when she was at their home every day during the week? It seems pretty far-fetched to me.
John Zewizz, industrial music musician, was also considered to be a suspect. Zewizz lived not far from where Karina’s body was found. At the time of her murder and during the subsequent investigation, Zewizz’s herioin addiction was becoming increasingly worse. Also, the music and performances of Zewizz’s band Sleep Chamber were controversial, given the themes of S&M and bondage. No charges in the murder of Karina Holmer were ever brought, however.
Since Karina was killed, theories have emerged regarding her death but they have remained as theories; nothing has ever come of them.
In one of her letters home, Karina wrote to her friend that ‘something terrible’ had happened which she would divulge when she returned home. Some believe that this ‘something terrible’ was the reason she was murdered. We are not given any clues of what this might have been.
The most common theory I came across was that Karina’s body was cut in half and her lower half hidden away was to conceal the fact she had been sexually assaulted and her killer wanted to be sure no traces of his DNA (I’m just assuming her killer was male) could be found on her.
It appears that whoever murdered Karina knew what they were doing and knew how to cover their tracks, given the fact they washed her clean and made sure that no evidence of would be left on her body. It was someone who had the tools to dismember a body, possibly had some knowledge of human (or animal) anatomy. Whoever it was, they were not looking to make a statement, given the manner in which Karina was disposed of.
At the time of her murder, Karina had been dating a police officer. There are some rumours that perhaps he had killed her and was able to get away with it given his position of authority and his colleagues helping to cover for him. I’ve not seen anything official regarding this theory.
An Aside: Boston’s Black Dahlia?
Crime journalist Billy Jensen, former editor of the Boston Phoenix, published an article comparing the tragic death of Karina Holmer with that of Elizabeth Short aka “The Black Dahlia” in 1947. It’s a really interesting piece looking at the many similarities (as well as dissimilarities) which can be seen between the cases of the two women. The women being murdered by the same person is a near impossible scenario but the comparison is fascinating. You can read the article here.
Had this happened today…
For prosecutor David Meier, the case of Karina Holmer is something that will never leave him. He describes driving by where Karina’s body was found in Fenway and thinking of her every time. For Meier, Karina’s case is ‘even more haunting now than it was 20 years ago’.
Meier believes that had this case happened in present day, it is far more likely that it would have been solved, given the much greater volume of evidence which would have been left behind: presumably photos, text messages or calls and surveillance footage. Unfortunately, none of that existed back then, leaving so little for investigators to work with in solving this frustrating and tragic case.
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