(1779-1809) was a Swedish mass murderer who gained
notoriety for the Saksebøl Slaughter in Norway during
the Napoleonic wars.
Peter Westerstrøm was born in Ljungby
in Sweden around 1778. His father Jonas was the local
sexton, but died when Peter was 8 years old. His mother
died in 1804 and Peter was raised by her and her brother.
He started his professional carriere as a man-servant;
later on he started training as a tailor, but never
became more than an apprentice.
He later claimed to have tried to
have started an enterprise refining cotton, but he had
to borrow money and the enterprise failed. This story
was never corroborated as there was a state of war
between Norway and Sweden at the time and serious doubt
was cast on his curriculum.
By 1806 he had moved to Norway, by
his own confession the move was in order to avoid being
thrown into the debtor's prison after his bankruptcy. An
unconfirmed rumour stated that he had fled Sweden after
having murdered and robbed his late employer, Lieutenant
General Liljehorn. In Norway, he established himself as
a tailor in the city of Moss, traveling around the local
countryside to obtain work from the surrounding
During the night between the 31st
December 1808 and the 1st January 1809 he killed the
four inhabitants at the station Saksebøl in Hobøl. The
victims were the station manager Johannes Jensen and his
three servants Lars Arvesen, Jens Svensen and Karen
The murder weapon was an axe he had
brought with him for the explicit purpose of murder. The
motive was greed; the station manager's strongbox was
forced and the house robbed of valuables. Westerstrøm
fled with 20 daler in cash, some slothes, some silver
spoons, a pair of boots and a pipe. After the crime he
tried to reach Sweden but was hindered by foul weather.
The autopsy was undertaken by dr Hans
Munk. An investigative commission was established,
consisting of Christian Magnus Falsen (judge i Follo),
sheriff Jacob Wulfsberg in Christiania (now Oslo),
Lieutenant Colonel Hans Jacob von Scheel and the judge
in Moss, Ove Hiorth. A reward of 1000 daler was offered
for information that would lead to arrest of the guilty.
This reward lead to Westerstrøm being snitched upon by
Monday 6th February 1809 Peter
Westerstrøm was arrested at Moss and brought before the
commission. He confessed to the murders after some
attempts at denial. The case was open and shut, he was
found in possession of much of the stolen goods and
could lead the authorities to where he had hidden the
As for the motive, Westerstrøm first
claimed mental depression, stating that he wanted to
commit suicide and this way he could get the state
executioner to do the job. His second explanation stated
that, as he was an unreformable criminal, he wanted to
go down in history as the greatest crook in Norwegian
history. His third confession stated that the murder was
done out of revenge, as he believed the station manager
had been instrumental in breaking up his engagement to a
On the 24th July 1809 he was
sentenced by the commission to be pinched five times
with red-hot pincers by the executioner, after this his
hand would be lopped off with an axe and finally he
would be beheaded. The head, the hand and the body would
then be publicly displayed on poles until they rotted.
This was the punishment recommended for murders within
the family (patricides, matricides, but also murders of
On the 16th August 1809 this sentence
was moderated in the Supreme Court. He was sentenced for
premeditated homicide only, and the punishment was
reduced to simple beheading with axe, the torture was
dropped. Only his head would go on the pole.
On 23rd September 1809 king Frederik
VI approved of the sentence of the Supreme Court.
On the 27th October 1809 Westerstrøm
was executed in front of the prison in Moss. With him at
the scaffold was his parson Niels Wulfsberg. The
executioner was Anton Lædel, this being his fifth
execution. After 24 hours the head was taken down again
and buried next to the corpse.