One fateful summer, four teenagers camped out in a single tent on the shore of Finland’s Lake Bodom. Only one would survive the night.
If that sounds like the beginning of a horror movie, you’re not wrong. In fact, the Lake Bodom murders that occurred in the early morning hours of June 5, 1960 served as the inspiration for the 2016 horror flick Lake Bodom (known simply as Bodom in Finland), which is currently available to stream on Shudder. The film follows four modern teens who camp at the site of the 1960 murders in an attempt to solve the crime by reconstructing it, minute-by-minute. Naturally, this being a horror movie, they run into some unexpected and grisly surprises.
As for the original quartet who camped at Lake Bodom that June night in 1960, they had no way of knowing what terrifying fate awaited them before daybreak. Here, we’re sharing everything we know about the shocking murders at Lake Bodom, which remain unsolved to this day.
What Happened at Lake Bodom?
On June 4, 1960, four teenagers set up camp on the shore of Lake Bodom, not far from the city of Espoo in Finland. That night, however, a simple camping trip turned into a bloodbath.
Sometime in the pre-dawn hours between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., the campers were attacked by an unknown assailant. Bludgeoned and viciously stabbed through the sides of their tent, three of the campers died of their injuries, while a fourth survived with a concussion and a fractured jaw.
Nils Wilhelm Gustafsson was found lying atop the collapsed tent, barefoot and in shock. He reportedly described their attacker as a black shape with bright red eyes. “Some people say that it was death itself that came for the kids,” Felipe Tofani wrote for Fotostrasse, accompanying a series of photographs of the icy lake.
Whoever or whatever the killer was, it left a trail of death and destruction in its wake.
Who Were the Victims of the Lake Bodom Murders?
Maila Irmeli Björklund and Anja Tuulikki Mäki were 15 years old when they accompanied their 18-year-old boyfriends, Nils Wilhelm Gustafsson and Seppo Antero Boisman, to the shores of Lake Bodom for an innocent camping trip.
After an unknown attacker slashed the tent to ribbons and caused fatal injuries to those inside, the remains of Mäki and Boisman were found inside the tattered tent. Björklund was left lying atop it, undressed from the waist down. She had also suffered more injuries than any of the other victims, having been stabbed multiple times after she was already dead.
The only survivor was Nils Gustafsson, Björklund’s boyfriend. He was found atop the tent as well, lying next to his murdered sweetheart. When questioned, Gustafsson claimed to have no memory of the attacks, save for that vision of bright red eyes coming for him.
What Was Found at the Scene of the Lake Bodom Murders?
The scene of the crime proved perhaps even more mystifying than the murders themselves. In addition to attacking the teens from outside the tent, the killer seemingly made off with a number of unusual items. Not only were the murder weapons never found—or even identified, in the case of the unknown object that was used to bludgeon the victims—but several other objects were missing. That includes the keys to the teenagers’ motorcycles, even though the motorcycles themselves weren’t taken.
Gustafsson’s shoes were found hidden roughly half a mile away from the site of the attack, along with clothes from several of the victims. In what has been widely condemned as a botched investigation, the local police, already coming upon a crime scene that was at least six hours cold, failed to cordon off the area. They even enlisted the help of soldiers to find the victims’ missing items—leading to further contamination of the crime scene as additional people trampled through it, and making certain forensic evidence nearly impossible to obtain. Adding insult to injury, they never found most of the missing items.
Who Are the Prime Suspects in the Lake Bodom Murders?
A group of young birdwatchers were the first to notice the collapsed tent the next morning. They also reported seeing a blonde man walking away from the site. However, it wasn’t until hours later that police arrived on the scene, summoned by a carpenter who had discovered the bodies.
The first major suspect associated with the case was Karl Valdemar Gyllström, a man who owned and operated a nearby kiosk. In spite of his career choice, Gyllström was said to hate campers, even going so far as to cut down tents and throw rocks at visitors.
According to online sources, some of the witnesses who saw a figure leaving the scene that day later identified the man as Gyllström. When police questioned him and his wife, however, she said that he had been asleep beside her at the time of the murders. Gyllström allegedly confessed to the crime several times over the years while in varying states of sobriety.
In 1969, Karl Valdemar Gyllström drowned in Lake Bodom, likely by suicide. Some believe that his guilt over having committed the murders drove him to end his life. However, police have never found any physical evidence linking Gyllström to the killings, and considered him a disturbed individual whose confessions should not be taken seriously.
The other major suspect in the investigation was Hans Assmann. A former Nazi who was also rumored to be an ex-KGB operative, Assmann lived near the lake and showed up at a hospital in Helsinki on the morning of June 6—the day after the murders—wearing clothes covered in red stains and with his fingernails blackened with dirt.
Doctors who examined Assmann that morning insisted that the stains on his clothes were blood, but police never examined them. Nor did they seriously pursue Assmann as a suspect at the time, claiming that he had an alibi for the night of the murders.
Dr. Jorma Palo, one of the doctors who initially examined Assmann, later wrote multiple books theorizing that he was the murderer, while a former detective claimed that he could also link Assmann to the 1953 murder of teenager Kyllikki Saari—another infamous unsolved case in Finland. Some sources claimed that Assmann’s political connections were the reason he was never arrested.
Did the Only Survivor Actually Commit the Lake Bodom Murders?
In 2004, some 44 years after the tragic events at Lake Bodom, police made a surprising arrest: Nils Wilhelm Gustafsson, the only survivor of the Lake Bodom murders. According to the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation, new evidence apparently pointed squarely at Gustafsson as the violent perpetrator. That evidence included bloodstain analysis, DNA testing, and a surprise witness who waited over 40 years before coming forward.
In August of 2005, Gustafsson went to trial, accused of three counts of murder. Prosecutors sought a life sentence against him, claiming that he had killed his girlfriend, Maila Irmeli Björklund, in a jealous rage, then went after the other two teens in order to eliminate witnesses.
The prosecution argued that some of Gustafsson’s injuries were sustained in a fight with Boisman earlier in the evening, and that the remaining injuries were ones that he had inflicted on himself so as not to arouse suspicion. The defense, on the other hand, argued that the severity of Gustafsson’s injuries was far too great for him to have committed the murders he was accused of—not to mention the inconsistencies in the prosecution’s story, such as the half-mile hike each way to hide Gustafsson’s shoes, or the missing murder weapons and other items that had never been found.
Just two months after his trial began, Gustafsson was acquitted. He was awarded damages from the government in recompense for his time in prison and the mental anguish caused by his arrest so many years after the crime.
With Gustafsson cleared of the charges and most of the other suspects long dead, we will probably never know what really happened that dark night at Lake Bodom. Even so, the brutal, unsolved mystery continues to haunt the public imagination in Finland and beyond.