Sofia Maria Ekwall, (1826–1897), was a
Swedish woman judged for two murders and for the murder of her father.
The murder was one of the most known in the 19th century in Sweden,
and Ekwall was one of the infamous female murderers in Swedish history
before Anna Månsdotter.
Sofia Maria was the eldest daughter of Per Ludvig
Ekwall, son of the statesman Christopher Retzius Ekwall, a wealthy man
described as an honest but depressive person. In 1844, Per Ekwall had
moved with his wife Hedvig Christina and six children to the manor
Attarp in Småland, south of the city Linköping in Östergötland.
On Wednesday 28 May 1845, estate owner Ekwall
became ill. The day after, he seemed to have recovered, but eight days
later, his health deteriorated, and he was confined to bed. Suddenly,
the maid Maja Stina Forsberg and one of the younger daughters of the
family also became ill. Maja Stina Forsberg died the same night.
A doctor was called, discovered that the illness
had been caused by poisoning, and administered antidote to Ekwall and
the child. A post mortem was made of the body of Forsberg, and the
result confirmed that she had been poisoned. The condition of Ekwall
then improved, and he made good recovery. After having a cup of oat
soup, however, he became ill again, and the same night, he died. The
child, however, recovered completely.
The first arrests
The widow of Ekwall, Hedvig Christina, now pointed
out the maid Hedda Thorman as her husband’s killer. She claimed that
Thorman had given birth to a child in secret and killed it with the
help of Maja Stina Forsberg, after which Thorman had killed Forsberg
to preserve her secret. The question then remained, how Ekwall and his
little daughter had consumed the poison.
Hedda Thorman was questioned, but it did not seem
likely that she was guilty of the murder of Ekwall. She was, however,
arrested and remanded in custody because of the separate accusation of
having murdered the child she had allegedly given birth to. In
connection to this, the eighteen year old Vilhem Ekwall, son of the
dead Per Ekwall, was arrested and remanded in custody as he was
suspected of being the father of Thorman’s alleged child. He was also
now seen as a likely suspect for the murder of his father.
The second arrests
It was then established that Ekwall had been
poisoned by the soup he had consumed. This had been prepared by Hedvig
Christina Ekwall herself. Maja Stina Forsberg had scraped and eaten
the leftovers from the pot, and the little daughter had then eaten
from her father's plate.
The police also discovered that the eldest
daughter, Sofia Maria, had sent for arsenic from the apothecary, with
the intention of removing stains from her silk-dress. Vilhelm Ekwall
was then released from jail.
The everyday life of the Ekwall family was
investigated. It was discovered that Per Ekwall had been an alcoholic
and a domestic tyrant. He had refused to give his daughter Sofia Maria
permission to marry her fiancé, which was now thought to be the motive
for her to poison him. Maja Stina Forsberg and the child were believed
to have been poisoned by mistake. Sofia Maria was then arrested for
the murder of her father.
After having spent some time in jail, Sofia Maria
made a confession. She said that she had prepared a sandwich with
poison in the presence of her mother and, with her consent, given it
to Maja Stina Forsberg. But she denied that her mother had taken an
active part in the murders.
Hedvig Christina Ekwall was taken in for
questioning, and more and more incriminating circumstances became
attributed to her, but no matter how many new statements were laid
before her, she refused to admit anything. She was allowed to remain
free to take care of her children.
Sofia Maria then changed her mind and started to
point out her mother as an active accomplice in the murders; she now
claimed that she and her mother had murdered her father together.
Hedvig Christina Ekwall sternly denied her daughter's accusations, and
reproached Sofia Maria for trying to put the blame on her own mother.
Sofia Maria Ekwall continued her confession and
said that her mother had poisoned the soup, which made her father ill
and killed Forsberg, and that she had poisoned the oat soup which had
killed her father in his sick-bed after he had begun to recover from
the first poisoning.
Trial and verdict
Hedvig Christina Ekwall refused to admit anything;
no matter how many accusations, statements and incriminating
circumstances were put before her, she was stern in her denial, and as
there was no physical proof, she was released.
Hedda Thorman, who, during her time in prison had
first admitted and then retracted her confession of having given birth
to, and killed, an infant in secret, was also freed; the authorities
now suspected that it was Sofia Maria who had done this.
Sofia Maria Ekwall was judged guilty of murder of
her father and of Maja Stina Forsberg, and was sentenced to death.
After having asked the King of Sweden for mercy, however, her sentence
was changed to twenty eight days on bread and water, followed by life
imprisonment. She was finally released from prison in 1876. Hedvig
Christina Ekwall remained on Attarp mansion until 1849.