21- morning of the 22 June 1996
Swedish national Karina Holmer is last (reliably) seen alive around the Zanzibar night club on Boylston Street in Boston near the Boylston T station. (There are numerous conflicted witness accounts by mostly inebriated people placing her all along Boylston Street as far down as Mass Ave. at conflicting time periods.). On the 23rd, a homeless man searching for redeemable bottles finds her torso, cleanly severed at the waist, in a garbage bag in an apartment dumpster off of Boylston Street near Berkeley College of Music.
The murder of Karina Holmer remains unsolved. The lower half of her body has never been found.
[ written in July, 2012 for lj. slightly edited for readability and to add updates.]
”And to think this person is still walking among us."
"When i finally talked to [Karina's father] one of the first things he said to me was, 'What am i getting back?'[.] I was floored. I explained,"You're getting her upper torso. You're getting her beautiful face." - Detective Tommy O'Leary, Boston Police Department quoted in the Boston Herald.
In Sweden and much the rest of Scandinavia, Midsummer, occurring at the summer solstice and being the longest day of the year, is a gregarious, fun-filled celebration. Food. Dancing. May poles. Bonfires. It is usually celebrated on the weekend closest to solstice and St. John's Day. Karina Holmer, a Swedish national, went out to party at downtown Boston college pick-up spot Zanzibar on the night of June 21, 1996, Midsummer weekend. 36 hours later, on Sunday, her severed torso was found when a homeless guy hunting for returnable bottles ripped open a trash bag in a dumpster for 1091 Boylston Street. This is one block from where she was last reportedly, but disputably, seen alive in front of the Mass Ave Store 24 [ now a 7-11 across from Berkeley College of Music] early Saturday morning. The rest of her body has never been found. Cause of death was stated as strangulation. There was a rope around her neck but no further mutilations or bruising. Her body was cleaned, presumably to remove evidence. A partial fingerprint was found on one of the trash bags she was wrapped in.
Her homicide remains unsolved 16 [ now 25] years later. "'No one's a suspect, but everyone's a suspect.' a 'source close to the investigation' told the [Boston] Globe."
Det. O’Leary was also the lead detective in the solved September 1995 homicide of Irish national Orla Benson. The convicted killer of Orla Benson, serial rapist Pedro ‘Tony' Rosario, recently died in MCI Norfolk while serving two life sentences- a fact confirmed by Orla's father, graciously, and the Mass Department of Corrections Victim Services, after repeated prodding.
Karina, 19, won a lottery in Sweden which provided her with the funds for a summer in America. She took a fairly typical job for a college aged European woman- being a nanny for a photographer and his artist wife in a bougie metro west community. She was matched with her employers through an agency illegally operating in Sweden so Karina did not have the necessary permits to work in the US. A common enough situation that opens up the question of whether, if she was being exploited in some manner or was fearful of someone, would she have gone to the authorities? She was reportedly not happy at her job and the amount of work it required. She was upbeat to her family but more negative in her correspondences with friends. She was looking forward to returning home earlier than previously planned.
Like any young person on holiday from home, she enjoyed clubbing in Boston, staying at her employer's A Street studio overnight. Karina was from a very small village in a country with [back then] no where near the level of violent interpersonal crime we have here particularly in an urban setting. Underage to be drinking anyway, from witness accounts of her last night at Zanzibar, she was over-served and, eventually, appeared quite intoxicated, enough to cause concern for her safety. The bartenders shut her off and she left the club. Separated from her friends, she wandered down Boylston Street having numerous encounters with an assortment of men, men in cars, and street people. One of her Swedish nanny pals from the club later reported that Karina said she was off to an after hours party with a guy.
At the time, my best friend's girlfriend was employed by a concern associated with photography at Fort Point Channel [ in the 90s an area occupied by numerous artists lofts, studios, and service providers to artists and professional photographers]. An attractive, blonde foreign woman herself, she considered Karina's employer a creep who made her and other women distinctly uneasy. But creepy photographers are common enough being as they are professional voyeurs-leering and invasive by design and for profit. It does not make them killers. Despite a smoldering bin of clothing and unspecified items found 200 feet from the photographers’ home and Karina's work place the day after her torso was discovered, no physical evidence linking her employer to her murder was uncovered.
"Something terrible has happened. I'll reveal more when I get home." Karina Holmer, letter to a friend in Sweden, May 1996.
Dismemberment murders- those in which the dismemberment is sexually motivated and part of the killer's signature - are quite rare. Those who kill to indulge in the desecration of bodies in this manner are the most brutally horrifying of serial usually lust murderers such as Jeffrey Dahlmer, the Cleveland torso murderer (aka 'the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run'), and the unknown suspect who killed Bette Smart, the ‘Black Dahlia'. What is more common is dismemberment of a body to ease with disposal and the hiding or obliterating of evidence. The BPD believe this was done to Karina's body to aid in removing her remains from a heavily populated area with a lot of 24 hour street activity. This would seem to indicate the murder scene is close to where she was both last seen and eventually found. No other similar murders in the area have been uncovered. Only a handful of somewhat similar incidents occurred around the country, none of them related. It would seem, in all likelihood, as disgusting as it is to contemplate, that the lower portion of this young woman's body with any evidence it held was disposed of in a similar manner as her torso, dumped elsewhere, anywhere really. It was sheer chance that she was found at all by a random trash picker with a conscience. How many dumpsters are there in Boston, let alone in the Fenway - heavily populated with restaurants, stores, bars, hotels, large apartment complexes? The Mass Pike is visible and accessible from where she was found. 1091 Boylston is exactly at the spot where one catches the on-ramps to either direction of Storrow Drive. Mere seconds from the area is easy access at several highways taking one far away from Zanzibar, Boston, Massachusetts, and the remnants of a brutal crime.
The police floundered. There honestly wasn't much for them to go on. They were missing part of the body, had no way of finding the crime scene, and were stuck trying to make sense of numerous often at odds and indistinct witness statements. They poked around with a cheeze whizzy S/M industrial musician has-been junkie living in the area [I know this person. A sleaze and creep but he did not do it.] and Raffi Kodikian, who murdered his best friend David Coughlin during a 1999 hiking trip, because Kodikian had once called 1091 Boylston home. It all came to naught.
There's no doubt that Detective O’Leary was heartsick over not being able to solve Karina's murder, happening as it did months after the vicious, sexually motivated murder of Orla Benson. Another vibrant, young, and loved woman who deserved our hospitality and protection from dangerous deviants. Because only a sadly, disrespectfully termed 'dump site' was found and not the actual crime scene, and because her remains were not intact, the lack of evidence was stacked against a resolution. In the murder of Orla Benson, there was a conclusive DNA match. There is only a stray fingerprint in the case of Karina Holmer, apparently still unmatched in any database utilized by the police. This would tend to indicate she was not the victim of a serial killer but of someone known to her who has, so far, no criminal record nor any cause to have been fingerprinted. Or perhaps the print proved useless for an acceptable match. It must be stressed that stranger murders are rare. As one is most likely to be raped by someone one knows so is one most likely to also be murdered by an acquaintance or family member.There is always the chance she may have been abducted by someone unknown to her but not a serial offender. So much is unknown that anything is possible. There simply is no reliable evidence and no witness to conclusively point in any direction as far as MO.
Besides the still lingering suspicions involving her employers, it was common knowledge on A Street that Karina had dated a Boston police officer. The officer was officially questioned and, again, no evidence linking him to the death of Karina Holmer surfaced. Karina most certainly was not murdered by a family member and there is no evidence she was the victim of a serial killer because there would have been, by definition, other victims. Statistically, Karina Holmer was probably killed by someone she knew, even casually, that she had no need to be suspicious of. The disgraceful manner in which her body was violated was expedient to the obfuscation of the crime. That her friends describe her as being somewhat naive and not street wise, being from a tiny village in Sweden, casts a very, very wide net of suspicion. That she was presumably inebriated at the time of her disappearance throws that net in an even greater arc.
1091 Boylston is right next door to a Catholic Church, St. Clements, run by the Oblates of the Blessed Virgin Mary- a circumstance not lost on the cops and the more mystically minded among us. In the shadow of a holy place dedicated to our Most Merciful Mother- such an outrage to decency and compassion. Such outright evil.
“‘Anyone who hasn’t experienced this could never understand how it feels,’ Ola Holmer told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet from his home in a tiny, rural village.
‘Daily, you see these terrible things on the TV news,’ he added. ‘But as long as you’re not confronted on a personal or family level, it is impossible to comprehend how it really feels. It doesn’t matter how compassionate anyone is, it’s just impossible to understand.'”
-Boston Herald – June 27, 1996.
"It hurts not being able to get to the bottom of this... And to think this person is still walking among us." Detective O'Leary quoted, The Boston Herald.
"... the father of Orla Benson...placed flowers at the Dumpster where Karina's torso was found. The Benson family, O'Leary explained, have been in close touch with Holmer's parents since the murders."- Boston Herald,June, 23, 1997.
In 2008, some noise was made about a cold case squad (shut down for budgetary reasons and lack of manpower)reforming and reopening the murder case of Karina Holmer. Nothing seems to have come of it. If they did not have the evidence in 1996, it's highly unlikely, short of a hit on the fingerprint, new physical evidence, a new witness, or a confession, that there can be an arrest. The farther away in time one is from a murder, the less likely it is to be solved. The clearance rate for homicides in Boston, ranging from 30-35%, is, in any case, below the national average.
In 2002, a Serbian nanny/au pair staying in Arlington, Sladjana Dobricic, disappeared without a trace after setting off for some site seeing in Harvard Square. She left all her belongings and her bank account behind. The police considered her disappearance suspicious. I could find no follow up on this story or whether or not Sladjana's whereabouts were ever ascertained. At the time of her disappearance, then DA and annoying hack Martha Coakley made a grand point of implying that, unlike some other European nannies, Sladjana was “a bookworm, not a party-type au pair...”. The ghastly implication and deeply offensive reference was not lost on anyone but, then again, Coakley is an insensitive and vindictive cow of long standing. Her oafish and cruel commentary should remind us that males aren't the only ones capable of towering misogyny. We need to expect more from our elected law enforcement officials. The low homicide resolution rate in Boston should be squarely laid at the feet of the incompetent, purely, selfishly political creature that is Martha Coakley, our chief law enforcement officer and, thankfully, not our senator.
Several years ago I attempted to get Sladjana Dobricic placed in NamUs. My entry is still “pending” ( It must be signed off on by whatever law enforcement agency is in charge of her case- Arlington I assume.).
At the time of her murder, Karina was living in Dover, MA in the home of her employer, a photographer and his artist wife. After clubbing in town, she would sometimes stay at the photographers’ studio which was on A Street in South Boston. If you know anything about the disappearance and murder of Karina Holmer on the night of June 21, 1996, last seen in downtown Boston in the vicinity of “the Alley” ie Boylston Place off of Boylston Street you may contact the Boston Police anonymously by calling their tip line at 1(800) 494-TIPS or by texting the word “TIP” to CRIME (27463). “The Boston Police Department will stringently guard and protect the identities of all those who wish to assist this investigation in an anonymous manner. “