A kind of running joke among Finns is that due to our relatively isolated geographical location, everything from music to trends reaches us with a delay. Insofar as this is true, it applies not just to positive phenomena – the negative reaches us slightly slower, too.
Perhaps it is because of this that Finland experienced its first genuine “Satanic Panic” in the late 1990s, about 10 years later than, say, the United States.
The fire started on the 21st of November 1998, in a small town in southern Finland called Hyvinkää.
On that night, a bus stood at a downtown parking lot in Hyvinkää. The bus had an unusual taping on its side; it spelled out ?
Inside sat a group of teenagers, neatly dressed and unusually sober for a group of Finnish youngsters spending an evening together. They were young Christians who had gathered together that night to talk among themselves, and to offer a chance at a conversation to anyone who might walk in to hear what Christianity might have to offer them. The bus was part of a larger strategy of addressing the problems of drunkenness among the town’s youth.
Among these teenagers was a group of darkly dressed youngsters, their presence oozing a kind of unpredictable, nihilistic energy. They smelled of liquor. They were there that night to challenge Christians on their beliefs. In fact, at least two of them identified with Satanism. Witnesses would later say that, though the group were vehement about their beliefs that Christianity was a waste of time, and that the only truthful philosophy was the uber-individualism of Satanism, they nevertheless behaved reasonably well, debating with the religious youth in a passionate but non-violent way. Once the debate had reached that endpoint where two world views simply cannot argue any further productively, the group left the bus and headed to the night.
They were five.
(photo credit: Alibi-lehti, 7/2000)
Jarno Elg, 23, was the unofficial leader of the group. He had a troubled background filled with alcoholism, substance abuse and petty crimes. His educational background was poor, and he was mostly devoting his time to the study of Satanism. If anyone asked him about Satan, though, he was quick to point out that Satanism (as opposed to Satan worship) was a non-deistic philosophy, a kind of extreme individualism whereby one believes only in oneself, and devotes his/her life to the pursuit of pleasures, rarely denying oneself anything due to moral constraints.
Terhi Tervahonka (later Terhi Tukio), 17, was a kind of follower and admirer of Elg. She was a young lady who could drink your average man under the table, and she shared Elg’s interest in Satanism, considering Elg a kind of teacher in the matter. Many who knew Tervahonka before the events depicted in this post say that she was a reasonably nice person, easy to talk to and friendly. In other words, the classic “I-never-would-have-though!” scenario applied with most people who had crossed paths with her.
As for the three other members of the posse that night, we know considerably less about them. The media zeroed in on Tervahonka and Elg from the start in its incessant lust for “Bonnie and Clyde” types of stories, and the court followed along the same lines, keeping the identities of the other three secret. Here’s what we do know:
- “Mika R.” was a 20-year-old young man, a friend of Tervahonka and Elg.
- “Mister X” was a 16-year-old acquaintance of the group.
And, finally, we have the person known simply as “uhri” (eng. “the victim”), a 23-year-old male who would not live to see the next day.
As is the case with many dramatic events (especially if you throw in some psychopathy and home-made liquor…), there are varying versions of what happened. However, it is possible to construct a relatively believable narrative.
All through the night the group had been drinking heavily, one of the consumed beverages being “kilju”, the Finnish equivalent of moonshine, an extremely intoxicating homemade drink. After leaving the bus they headed to Jarno Elg’s apartment in downtown Hyvinkää, where the evening continued under the same boozy stars.
Once they had settled in the living room, the intoxication reached that point where music starts to sound even better, and Elg treated his posse to a selection of songs from possibly the most brutal and opinion-dividing musical genre in history: Black Metal. Though it takes a stretch of the imagination to come to the conclusion that the music somehow “caused” the murders (as some conservative commentators would later claim), it doesn’t exactly soothe its listener either or calm him/her down to a smooth and relaxed frame of mind.
At some point in the evening the rest of the group turned against Victim. Again, stories vary as to why, but for some reason the very presence of the guy, not to mention him taking part in the conversation, became so irritating that Elg (aided by someone else) punched Victim in the face, bringing him down to the floor. The group lifted him to a couch, where he came back to consciousness and began wailing. At this point Elg struck him with a pair of scissors, which only made the poor guy cry out even worse (surprise).
So somebody fetched some duct tape.
At first, the group claim, they taped Victim’s face shut “as a gag”, to simply show him that they were serious about that whole shutting-up thing.
However, Victim didn’t comply.
And that’s when it got deadly serious.
The group taped Victim’s mouth shut again, this time for real, and in doing so ended up blocking his ability to breathe.
The killers claim that this was an accident. They had supposedly gotten so drunk that they simply “forgot” to remove the duct tape from Victim’s face. Whatever the case, Victim died there, suffocating in Jarno Elg’s living room with terrifying music blaring out of the stereo.
Elg and company claim that they went back to drinking, chatting and playing some guitar when suddenly they realized the man had actually suffocated to death. The degree of intention in this killing (and thus the entire believability of Elg and co.’s version of events) is up for debate, but I think it’s safe to say that it was a more intentional homicide than the killers would have us believe – after all, the standard way of getting rid of an unwanted guest at a house party is asking the person to just leave…
Though we can debate whether the killing was intentional or accidental, we do know for certain that once Victim had died, the remaining group jumped into action in an eerily determined and pragmatic fashion.
Victim had to disappear.
They dragged him into Elg’s bathroom where several sharp objects, including knives, were used to dismember him. The killers later described the bathroom as like a slaughterhouse, with blood everywhere from the walls to the floor as the four hacked away at the body of their victim. Once the cadaver was more or less in pieces, Elg and Tervashonka stayed at Elg’s apartment to sleep off the moonshine, while the other two participants took off to their own homes.
The next day the drinking continued, though this time without the two runaways. Tervashonka and Elg left the apartment and wandered around downtown, trying to figure out what to do with the dead body in pieces back at Elg’s place. The decision was made unanimously: the body would have to be hacked in even tinier bits, and the parts scattered to different trash disposal spots around town.
The dynamic duo returned to the crime scene and Tervashonka cleaned up the blood while Elg chopped the body further into smaller pieces. Had some TV writer been present to witness this absurd scene, we may now have a sitcom about a quirky Finnish family where the mother is always nagging about having to clean up after Dad’s dead bodies… (“A Family That Slays Together, Stays Together!”)
Once the body was sufficiently mutilated to the tastes of the young couple, they packed the pieces into trash bags and did their best to get rid off the bags at different parts of town.
This was all they could do for now.
They settled down to wait and see what would happen next.
At first, little happened.
A young man had disappeared. Nothing earth shattering – in fact, sadly common in Finland, especially among those known to engage in hard drinking social circles. Elg and Tervashonka must have felt like maybe, just maybe they’d gotten away with it!
But then one night they sat in front of the TV to catch a show called Poliisi-TV (literally “Police TV”). The show featured crime stories from around Finland delivered in a format resembling the news; a kind of “this week in crime”. Tervashonka and Elg watched that week’s episode to see if their “missing” friend might be mentioned. At first everything went perfect – no mention of a guy disappearing in Hyvinkää. But then, just as the broadcast was about to end, host Raija Pelli was handed a note, and she read it out loud.
“A gruesome discovery has been made at a garbage disposal site in Hyvinkää. A citizen dropping off his garbage discovered human remains among the rubbish. More information next week.”
The bell had rung and the chase was on.
Soon after Elg was called to be questioned, though first as a witness. Locals had seen Victim hanging around with Elg’s posse. Though the transcript of the police interview will be secret for a few more decades to come, it’s easy to imagine Elg in the interrogation room, removed from the events, giving arrogant answers to the “pigs”. No doubt this was partly what led to the police casting their suspicions on him.
In any case, somewhere in the bowels of the Hyvinkää police department a decision was made: “arrest Elg.” And so they did. Tervashonka and the others followed soon thereafter, and further interrogations tied the final knot.
The police had found their culprits, and the game was over.
(front page of Iltalehti screams “Youngsters suspected of cutting-up murders remain in police custody. More bodies may be found.“)
Once the case reached the news, the proverbial s*it hit the fan. The Satanism and black metal listening of the suspects was smeared in the faces of anyone who opened a newspaper around that time, and this lead to a “Satanic Panic” in Finland, at least in the more religious rural areas.
I was in 8th grade when this happened, and it was clear the teachers had spoken amongst each other, as well as with parent-teacher associations, about how to discuss the case with kids. My religious studies teacher, who was also my favorite teacher and the best teacher in the school, simply had us discuss the events productively instead of giving in to a Satanic panic.
The Christian Church saw an opportunity to further wedge their way into the lives of the population. Soon, every other television show featured an “expert” on Satanism and Satan worship, the “experts” basically explaining that if your kid wears dark t-shirts with Metallica logos on them, The Evil One may have already created a nest in his/her heart!
Everyone was waiting for the part of a crime story where the public is finally afforded some explanations and background information: the trial.
Though many were expecting the trial to be the point where the killers show remorse for their crimes and the public panic thus subsides, this was not to be. Quite the contrary, in fact. Elg showed up to the trial smirking and wearing the darkest black metal -t-shirts he could find in his collection. He would smile at the cameras and flash the “metal horns” sign with his hands. When the prosecutor read out loud a description of the events that transpired that night when Elg and company murdered and dismembered their friend, Elg laughed theatrically.
Elg received hundreds and hundreds of letters from women, some sent from abroad. The female attention can easily be considered a motivating factor in Elg’s public behavior: he clearly fancied himself a kind of cult leader now, a man of mystery and a bad boy.
The prosecutor’s case was built on the idea of a ritual murder carried out by Satanists wanting to experiment on murder, while the defense argued the accident scenario.
The killers were all subjected to evaluations of their mental state. It was determined that Elg had acted in full knowledge of his deeds and full control of his mental capacities. Tervashonka, on the other hand, received a more lenient assessment: the court-appointed psychiatrists found that she had not been acting in a state of mind that would qualify a verdict similar to Elg’s.
Towards the end of Summer 1999, the verdicts were delivered.
- Jarno Elg – life in prison with the possibility of parole (in Finland, “life” means 12 years for a first-timer)
- Tervi Tervashonka – 8 and a half years in prison
- “Mika R.” – 2 years for battery and assault
- “Mister X” – released due to his being a minor
Both Tervashonka and Elg gave interviews to a magazine called Alibi, Finland’s most popular true crime magazine. The contents of the interviews were pretty much what one would expect: “it was all blown out of proportion”, “it wasn’t that bad”, “it was an accident”, etc.
The events began to fade into the background as new outrages and scandals filled the tabloids and, thus, the minds of the average citizenry. Since any further news about the darkly dynamic duo became nonexistent, most people probably started to believe their version of the events: it was all an misstep by otherwise reasonably normal, if slightly troubled youngsters under the influence of alcohol.
But then, in 2007, Finns opening their newspapers in the morning were met by a familiar face.
(photo credit: Iltalehti)
Terhi Tervashonka (now Terhi Tukio) had made a comeback, and she was deadlier than ever. But why was she in the papers again?
Having been released some time earlier, Tervashonka had been drinking with some friends. Again, her favorite beverage moonshine was in the picture. Only this time, even the Finnish court didn’t consider it a mitigating factor.
During the night of drinking, Tervashonka had murdered a member of the jolly drinking group.
With a billhook.
(police photo of the murder weapon)
The explanations were the same. “I was drunk”, “I didn’t mean to kill him”, etc.
This time she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In 2011 she made her last appearance (hopefully…) in the news when it was reported that she had escaped from prison. She was quickly apprehended, though, and thrown back in her cell. Her current whereabouts are unknown.
Jarno Elg later made a brief appearance in the news, too. In 2011 he had been placed in a minimun security prison, and granted the privilege of going on leave from the facility. Elg had marched directly into a bar where he had become angry over something, and knocked three people down before being arrested and taken back to his prison. Elg was released on parole in 2016. His current whereabouts are unknown.
So now then, was it all an accident or was there actual truth behind the prosecutor’s claims of a ritual killing?
Nine times out of ten, my skeptical mind leans toward the less scandalous explanation in cases such as this one. The Hyvinkää murder case, however, is the exception. Why?
Sometime before the murder Jarno Elg had savagely killed his dog by duct-taping it to a radiator and stabbing it, letting it slowly die in pain while Elg watched. Sound familiar? I believe this was a kind of practice run for the real thing: Elg had a sadistic fantasy of seeing an actual human being in place of his dog, and Victim would end up being the guinea pig. This does not need to imply that Elg had planned the killing for years – indeed, the thought may have occurred to him that very night. But in any case, I do not believe the victim’s face was duct-taped shut to “shut him up”.
And besides, motives do not need to be seen as mutually exclusive. There may be what we might call “major motives” and “minor motives”, or “conscious motives” and “latent motives”. Perhaps Victim did indeed act in a loud and obnoxious way, and this triggered the thoughts of murder, and Elg decided the time had come to try the real thing. To the other members of the group it may have seemed like just “shutting him up” out of irritation.
I also believe Tervashonka was in on it, to one extent or another. As close as they were, bonded by an admiration of all things evil and selfish, it’s hard to believe Elg never told Tervashonka about killing his dog in a brutally painful manner. The explanation that Tervashonka just went along with it all after an “accident” happened is made less believable by her later behavior: her true brutality and propensity towards extreme violence was made evident in 2007.