Black magic, grave robbing, and other Finnish pastimes of the 30’s.

On the 19th of August 1930 school boy Leo Löfman had finished another day in the demanding Finnish school system of the ’30’s. The teachers of that time had no problems using their rulers and sticks to beat misbehaving pupils, and the term “misbehaving” was more loosely defined than it is today: “didn’t do his homework properly”, “didn’t stand up to answer a question”, etc.

As he made his way home, the thought of the fresh spring water at Tattarisuo must have made Leo smile after another day of standing still, being quiet and obeying.

When he reached the spring he crouched down, his hand cupped to bring a mouthful of water to his lips. That’s when he noticed something that would make this the last time he ever tried to drink from a natural water source.

Floating in the water was a severed human hand.

A year went by without incident. There were talks, whispered conversations and rumors, but nothing concrete.

Then, on the 18th of September 1931 a chauffeur was on his break when he decided to head to the spring to freshen up. This time, the discovery was slightly smaller in size but no less in ugliness – a human thumb was pointing at the thirsty working man from the water.


(Tattarisuo spring, circa 1930s)

The police were called, and they carried out a search of the springs in the area. The result: 8 hands, 9 feet, a woman’s head, a patch of hair and 12 fingers. The outcome of the search was morbid to say the least, and pointed clearly at a pattern of some sort. A morbid, bizarre pattern, but a pattern nevertheless.


(Body parts found in the water. Police photo)

The findings hit the daily news, and the panic the revelations induced was stunning. Newspapers were sold out, and the conversation in Helsinki (and most likely around the entire country) centered around an unusual topic: human limbs. Perhaps the minds of the population were put at least slightly more at ease when a professor of anatomy from the local university weighed in on where the limbs came from: his expert statement was that the body parts had come from people who were already dead when they were removed.

The rumor mill ignited by the bizarre events ended up costing an innocent man his career. The night watchman of a local mortuary became a suspect in the eyes of the media. Though he vehemently denied his involvement in supplying anyone with body parts from the corpses he watched over for a living, the rumor mill was too big to stop, and he ended up having to leave his hometown even though he was proven to be innocent of what he was accused of doing; the stigma of being associated with the outrageous crimes was enough to kill a reputation.

Though the famous “Satanic panic” only hit Finland for real in the late 1990’s, the Tattarisuo incident was a precursor of sorts. People gave up their neighbors, friends and co-workers to the police for the slightest hint of black magic practice. Neighbor seen walking around after dark? Call the cops! Co-worker heard saying something bad about the Bible? Get me a phone! Finns were a fearful bunch, terrified of unexplained supernatural powers despite the fact that the 20th century had rolled in already.

Beneath this macabre circus the police were carrying out a real investigation. Their probe into where the limbs came from ultimate lead them to the Malmi cemetery in Helsinki, and to a particular sector of it. In addition to the regular graves the cemetery was the final resting place for many poor souls who had died without family or anyone to take care of them after their  earthly journey was over. These people were buried in what were called “linjahaudat” (literally “line graves”), big open graves that could accommodate even 8 caskets at a time. A kind of mass grave, if you will. When the police looked into these graves as the potential source of the limbs, they finally found the answer to the mystery.


(A police detective going through the morbid evidence)

Laying in the caskets were several mutilated bodies with hands, fingers and hair missing. As if the lonely lives these people had led were not enough, their very bodies now acted as nothing but meat for someone with a bizarre obsession.


(A “mass grave” for the poor and unidentified) 

As the probe into the origin of the limbs was producing results, so was the investigation into the potential culprit(s) of the grave robbing. The police began zeroing in on a suspect named Vilho Kallio.


(Vilho Kallio)

Kallio was, to say the very least, an unusual person. He had a reputation as a witch who could conjure up images, look into the future, and cure ailments with his spells. Central to his world view was the book known in Finnish as “Musta Raamattu” (“The Black Bible”), also known as “the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses”, a grimoire (book of spells) created sometime in the 18th or 19th century. Kallio was well versed in the writings, and used the book for in magical works.

He also claimed to have experienced various sorts of paranormal incidents since he was a child. He told the police interrogators that when he was 7 years old a mysterious male figure had approached him and talked to him for a moment. As the figure had turned his back to walk away, he had dematerialized before the frightened young Vilho.

In terms of the investigation into the grave robbing, the most important detail about Kallio’s life was relayed by a former landlord. The man told the police that he had evicted Kallio once due to unpaid rent. As he had been removing Kallio’s stuff from the apartment, he had found a human skull among his possessions.

The police had their man. Realizing there was no way out than coming clean, Kallio started to talk.

The description Kallio gave of the events leading up to the limbs being placed in the spring was somewhat confusing, but from his testimony (and the testimony of others involved with the events) we can discern the following.

As often happens with sufficiently charismatic people claiming to possess some kind of super powers or mystical knowledge, a small group had started to form around Kallio. This group, following Kallio’s visions (and orders) had engaged in activities such as

  • sacrificing and burying doves in the vicinity of a sports arena, in the belief that the sacrificed birds would prevent a disastrous event
  • witnessed Satan himself appear in the form of a dark-haired man in the apartment wall of one of the group members
  • conjured up spirits in the middle of the woods with the help of “Musta Raamattu”

And so on and so forth. Their actions followed the mystical logic of spell-casting and occultism, and were thus removed from the ordinary reasons people do things – trying to somehow definitively understand the weirdness that went on will prove futile to even the more intelligent among us, I would assume…

As for the limbs, they were, Kallio and Co. explained, tied to a ritual meant to expose conspiracies by the Freemasons, as well as other secrets of the world. The limbs had, as explained above, been stolen from a cemetery. While lifting them from their owners, the group had prayed above the graves. The body parts had then been taken to Tattarisuo, where they had been placed in the bottom of the spring. If the ritual had been performed correctly, the body parts would ultimately ascend to the surface of the water, thus symbolically causing various secrets of the world to “ascend to the surface” of human consciousness in their wake.

Whether Kallio and his minions received the Great Gnosis they were after or not is a secret they took with them to their graves.

Be that as it may, two members of the group received prison sentences while two others were let off on probation.

While it’s difficult to arrive at a conclusion about these weird events, Finnish radio host and author Perttu Häkkinen offers an interesting take in his book Valonkantajat (Like 2015) into the psycho-social benefits the group may have yielded from their practices: as the world was more or less closed and limited to a group of outsiders on the bottom levels of social hierarchy such as that led by Kallio, magic and occultism may have offered them a semblance of control over their lives and destinies, a feeling that they, too, had a say in the events of the surrounding world.

Personally, having read about the occult and unsolved mysteries since I was a kid, I am content to say I have no f*cking idea.

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