The Death of Karina Holmer

Karina Holmer was 20-years old when her untimely death occurred. She was an au pair, hailing from Sweden. The night that she disappeared, on June 21, 1996, she was with several other young nannies at a local hotspot in Boston, Zanzibar. She and this group often met up on weekends, at the loft the family she was working for in Dover owned. The last time Karina was seen as at the corner of Boylston and Tremont that Friday night, where she said goodbye to her friends. It was that Sunday that her remains were found (Walker). While June 21, 1996 was just a regular day to Americans, to Karina it would have been the celebration of the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. The Summer Solstice was a celebration back in Sweden, and in other countries, and Karina likely would have celebrated the day. She was wearing a grey sweatshirt and tight silver pants the night she went missing (Jensen 2013).

                On the night in question, Karina was known to have passed out at least once in the bathroom of the club she was partying in. After coming to, she went outside, and thinking that she had lost her friends, attempted to get back inside the closed club. She began to dance and sing in the Alley, along with a panhandler, after the bouncer of the club refused to let her back in.  She also reportedly had a conversation with a man in his late 40s, who was known for driving through Boston with his Great Pyrenees wearing matching Superman shirts, named Herb Whittman, on that night. According to police, Karina was caught on a security camera on Mass Ave near the Berkley campus, not far from where her body was found. Other claim this video does not, in fact, exist. As far as the police know, the last time Karina was seen alive was 3 AM in the Alley, outside the Zanzibar club (Jensen 2013).  Initially, there were witnesses who also claimed to have seen her in a car on Boylston street, but this has not been confirmed (celebrateboston).

                The Sunday after she disappeared, a man found her remains while looking for bottles and cans near Fenway Park. Only the top half of her body has been recovered; the cause of death was strangulation (Walker). Her makeup had been washed off and there was not dirt to be found on her body, suggesting that she had been thoroughly washed before her killer dumped her remains. It has been suggested that her body was dismember, not to make disposal easier, but to hide DNA evidence possibly left behind in a sexual assault (Jensen 2013). Upon seeing the news reports about the body of a beautiful young woman being found, the family she was working for called the police (Walker).

                The day after her remains were recovered, the panhandler she had been dancing with was found and questioned, while Whittman got a lawyer. Whittman was pulled over for speeding through Andover that night, which made for a relatively tight alibi. Despite this, Wittman took his own life a year later. Her employers, a police officer she may have been dating, and the frontman for the band Sleep Chamber, who lived near where her remains were found, were all questioned, but nothing was turned up (Jensen 2013).

                Detective Tommy O’Leary headed the task force that hunted down the hundreds of tips that poured in, checking apartments along the Fenway and checking all bodies of water that the rest of her remains may have been dumped in by her killer. Despite these efforts, all leads lead to dead ends and the rest of her remains were not recovered. For two days, the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit worked with the local police force to compile a profile of the killer. Unfortunately, as with the hundreds of leads, this seems to have led nowhere. The killer had left no known crime scene, where most evidence that police use to find a killer would be (Walker). A fingerprint was found on the garbage bag her remains were found in and there were rope marks on her neck (celebrateboston).

                After her death, a few theories popped up. Shortly before her death she wrote a letter to a friend, informing them that “something terrible” had occurred during her time in Boston and that she would tell them about it when she returned home. Some believe this “something terrible” was the motive for her murder; perhaps she had seen something or been involved in something that someone felt she needed to be silenced about. Others believe that the person who murdered her must have the tools and knowledge to have done so, so precisely. She was cut neatly between two of her vertebrae, with only a small imperfection at her hip bones. This precision could point to someone with medical training, or training at a butcher. There is also the theory that the officer she was possibly dating at the time was responsible and that the police station covered up his crimes (DeGroot 2018).

                Karina was an unexpected victim – she was nearly a tourist in the area. If she had gone missing today, there would have been mountains of evidence for the police to compile. Not only would there by security footage, but in the middle of the city there is almost always someone taking photos on their phones. Had she gone missing 20 years later than she did, police could have turned to the public for any photos they took in the area at the time of her disappearance in hopes to see if she was taken away or had gone willingly with someone. Over the years, several suspects have been investigated, but most had alibis or didn’t pan out and theories continued to crop up, including the possibility of two killers. Many had dismissed this, however, as the chances of two people being able to keep quiet about such a crime for two and a half decades is unlikely (Walker).

                Karina Holmer would be 44-years old this year, if, 24 years ago, an unknown assailant had not seen fit to end her life prematurely. Instead, her family laid her to rest at 20 and have spent the last two and a half decades waiting for the news that her killer had been caught. As of April 2020, her case remains unsolved.

Walker, Adrian. “Half a Body in a Dumpster.”,

“The Sorority of Hollywood’s Black Dahlia and Boston’s Swedish Nanny.” Billy Jensen, 16 Nov. 2013,

“Swedish Nanny Murder.” The Swedish Nanny Murder, Boston’s Most Famous Cold Case,

DeGroot, Natalie. “The Murder of Karina Holmer.” Talk Murder With Me, Talk Murder With Me, 18 Nov. 2018,

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