The congregation of 60+ people is, in fact, theologically a cult of Christianity. Sociologically, Knutbyförsamlingen – or Knutby Congregation – as the group is also referred to – has cultic elements as well.
At one point one of the group’s pastors, Åsa Waldau, became convinced that she personally was the ‘Bride of Christ’ – a term the Bible ascribes to the worldwide Christian Church as a whole. Waldau currently is the Knutby Filadelfia’s lead pastor. She reportedly exerts a high level of control over the members of her church.
But what put the Knutby Congregation on the map was an extraordinary murder case. The Times of London described the situation as follows
The shadowy underside of small-town Sweden will be exposed to public gaze this week in an extraordinary murder trial involving a nanny and an adulterous minister.
The trial, in Uppsala, about 100km north of Stockholm, could break legal ground in Europe because the prosecutor will try to prove, for the first time, that a man brainwashed a young woman and effectively made her pull the trigger on a murder victim.
In the dock is a Pentecostal minister, Helge Fossmo, 32, who is charged with murdering his first wife, inciting the murder of his second wife and masterminding the attempted murder of his neighbour.
Alongside Mr Fossmo is Sara Svensson, 27, his former nanny, who is charged with the murder of his second wife and the attempted killing of his neighbour.
The killer came by stealth on a night last January, walking across a field to the priest’s house, opening the front door without force, climbing the stairs to the second floor and shooting the priest’s wife, Alexandra, 23, who died instantly from two silenced shots to the head and one to the pelvis.
None of the three children in the house awoke. The killer then left by the front door and walked three minutes to the neighbouring house, rang the bell and shot in the face and chest Daniel Linde, 30, using the same silenced gun.
At first the police were baffled. It seemed like a professional job, yet why would a contract killer come to Knutby? The detectives were even more baffled by the silence and hostility of many villagers.
Soon it emerged that the villagers, many of them wealthy young software specialists, were part of a rigidly self-regulating Pentecostal cult and in the thrall of Asa Waldau, 36, who calls herself the Bride of Christ.
Her followers believe Ms Waldau is in constant conversation with God, is married to Christ and has absolute power over them. Little happens in Knutby without her authority. But at the time of the killing she was in London for the January sales.
The Bride’s high priest was the charismatic, Norwegian-born Mr Fossmo. Police discovered that the priest was having an affair with Mr Linde’s wife and at first assumed the murder plot had been dreamt up between them.
Then villagers said they had seen the minister fondling his nanny and that the Bride of Christ had later banished her from Knutby to remove temptation. Within 24 hours of the murder the nanny confessed to the killing of Mrs Fossmo and the attempted murder of Mr Linde, and directed police to the murder weapon. The priest denied all connection with the killing and blamed the nanny. At first the police seemed willing to accept Ms Svensson’s version. But they noted her answers seemed very rehearsed and her motives fuzzy.
The prosecutor, Elin Blank, believes the key to the riddle is in the control wielded by the priest over Ms Svensson.
“He made her believe she was doing it on an assignment from God,” the prosecutor said. “She thought she would come closer to God by carrying out these deeds.”
– Source: Murder case unveils town secret, The Times of London, via The Australian, UK, May 19, 2004
The trial painted a picture of a bizarre religious community, far removed from the liberal and secular society most Swedes would recognise. Life in the sect, an off-shoot of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, was controlled by a woman known as “Christ’s Bride” after she got engaged to Jesus in a ceremony.
The community’s ministers also exercised a controlling influence in the lives of their flock. In Fossmo’s case that included using the latest technology to get his nanny to commit murder. Svensson testified she received anonymous text messages, which she believed to be from God, urging her to kill.
A technology company traced erased messages on her phone to Fossmo, who admitted sending them but said they were intended only to guide the nanny in her faith.
Svensson also said the pastor told her that killing his wife and neighbour was the only way she could please God.
– Source: Press ‘M’ for murder, Reuters, USA, July 30, 2004
Helge Fossmo long denied all accusations but he was found guilty of instigating murder and attempted murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Sara Svensson was found guilty of murder and attempted murder in November 2004 and sentenced to secure psychiatric care.
An appeals court has upheld the verdict.
Sweden’s Supreme Court has declined to hear the case.
In August, 2006, Helge Fossmo admitted involvement in the murder of his wife.