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Who Killed Karina Holmer & Why Can't Police Find The Lower Half Of Her Body?

The mysterious case of Karina Holmer is as puzzling as it is truly horrifying. Often described as one of the most frustrating cases in modern criminal history, the story of how a 19-year-old Swedish au pair was found sawed in half inside of a dumpster remains completely, and bafflingly, unknown. 

Although history has had many young murder victims or stories of strange, washed-up body parts, none quite match the horror in the specific discovery of a young woman's remains—with half of her body missing.

The Swedish Au Pair

Karina Holmer, originally from Sweden, moved to the U.S. after winning a small fortune from a winning lottery ticket. After flying to the East coast, Karina secured a job as an au pair, and no doubt lived like many other young adults, working by day and clubbing by night.

The 19-year-old had been an au pair for Frank Rapp and Susan Nichter for around 4 months prior to her death.  The couple lived in Dover, (roughly 15 miles away from Boston) with their two children, who Karina helped to care for.

Despite the short time Karina had been working for Rapp and Nichter, she expressed unhappiness over the amount of housework she was being made to do. In a letter to Charlotte Sandberg, a friend back in Sweden, she wrote: 

There is always so much cleaning and I think I am stressed all the time. So this is not exactly what I thought it would be.

There is always so much cleaning and I think I am stressed all the time. So this is not exactly what I thought it would be.

Eerily, Karina also confided this chilling message to her friend, Svensson, just two weeks before her death:

Something terrible has happened. I’ll reveal more when I get home.

Something terrible has happened. I’ll reveal more when I get home.


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Years after she went missing, her remains have finally be identified.

The Discovery of Karina

Very little is known about the circumstances surrounding Karina's death.  However, during her time working around Boston, Karina told her family that she planned to cut her trip short. 

"She had decided to come home earlier … because she wanted to go somewhere else to travel and to work,″ Johanna Holmer said of her younger sister.

Investigators have been unable to determine exactly why Karina hoped to go home, but we do know that on Friday, June 21,  1996, any chances of Karina's wish to return home were truly put to an end.

Just two days after her last known whereabouts, Karina's body was found in a dumpster. Her body had been sawed in half, and the cause of her death was strangulation. Officers found her remains inside of a plastic bag, stuffed inside of the dumpster. Neither her purse or her purse were found.

Karina's Last Day Alive

Karina's last hours, like her death, are fraught with missing pieces of information. 

On the 20th of June, Karina and her friends headed to the Zanzibar nightclub for a night of fun, partying, and drinking. While not of legal age to drink in the U.S., it has been reported that Karina was in possession of a fake I.D. 

Through retracing efforts, investigators were able to piece together a rough timeline of events. It was known that after partying with her friends, she headed home at 3.a.m. However, it was not known whether she left accompanied or alone.

Witnesses reported various conflicting titbits of information of those early morning hours. One witness claimed to have seen Karina leave with "an older man". Another said that Karina had been seen "bouncing around" an alley close to Zanzibar.  Karina was reportedly intoxicated and had vocalized that her friends had left her.

A man who was with Karina's friend group told case investigators that two other men accosted him outside of Zanzibar as he attempted to take Karina home.

Karina was sat inside a vehicle with the two aggressive men, while the friend attempted to retrieve her. One of the men  in the vehicle replied with: “Get away from the car you little bitch or I’ll crush your fucking head.”

The truth became clearer upon the acquisition of CCTV from the Zanzibar club. While grainy, the footage showed a person matching Karina's appearance talking with a middle-aged man with a dog. This man was identified as Herbert Witten, a well-known local man, but he denied having any involvement in the girl's murder. Witten even reportedly committed suicide after being associated with the case.

Other than a small fingerprint that came up matchless on the national database, there was very little evidence to work with. This scant amount of material has unfortunately led to practically no movement in the case.

An Unsolved Mystery

Unsplash | Connor Fisher

Adolescence is oft a period where many dream of travel in a search for a better life abroad. Globe-trotting trips might be just a fleeting fantasy for most young people, but some brave souls do take the plunge into unknown waters as they set out for bigger and brighter futures.

Yet not all these stories end in happiness. Where there once was hope, aspiration, and ambition, some unlucky lives are instead filled with tragedy, sadness, and even death. One such story is that of Swede Karina Holmer, whose carefree way of living was tragically cut short, and eventually led to the discovery of her torso inside a Boston dumpster, nearly 4,000 miles away from her home.

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