Case 2: Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen (PROLOGUE)

THAMES, COROMANDEL PENINSULA. In the early morning hours of Friday the 16th of September, 1988. Two Swedes, a young couple; Heidi Paakkonen and Urban Hoglin were waiting at the Stockholm Airport to begin their once in a lifetime, around the world trip. They were set to return in May of the next year, 1989.

Full of wide eyed optimism about their immediate future, they waved goodbye to their parents and siblings. They would travel to the United States, then move on to Australia before finally reaching New Zealand

Visit www.truecrimenz.com for additional information on this case. Including a transcript of this episode, with supporting pictures, sources, and credits.

Written, edited and hosted by Sirius Rust
Script editing and audio direction by Jessica Rust

“Day of Chaos”, “Heart of Nowhere”, “Lightless Dawn”, “Mesmerize”, “Touching Moments Five – Circle”
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

The podcast version is the intended way to consume this article but I make a transcript available for those that would rather read instead. This can be found below.

THAMES, COROMANDEL PENINSULA. In the early morning hours of Friday the 16th of September, 1988. Two Swedes, a young couple; Heidi Paakkonen and Urban Hoglin were waiting at the Stockholm Airport to begin their once in a lifetime, around the world trip. They were set to return in May of the next year, 1989.

Full of wide eyed optimism about their immediate future, they waved goodbye to their parents and siblings. They would travel to the United States, then move on to Australia before finally reaching New Zealand

INTRODUCTION

Fig 1. Heidi Paakkonen

Heidi Paakkonen was born on the 14th of October, 1967. She was the only daughter of five children. She grew up in Storfors, Sweden; a small locality of about 2,000, about a three hour drive from the capital Stockholm. Heidi was described as  ‘very attractive’, ‘striking’ and that she had ‘a movie star look’.

In 1988, Heidi aspired to become a kindergarten teacher but at 21 years old, she decided to take a gap year to go on a trip of a lifetime with her 23 year old fiance Urban Hoglin

Urban Hoglin was born on the 2nd of December, 1965 also in Storfors. He was the youngest of four brothers. Urban came from a family of sportsman. His older brother Johnny had won a gold medal at the 1968 Winter Olympics in France for speedskating. Urban was described as having ‘rugged good looks’ and having the trademark Scandinavian blue eyes. 

Fig 2. Urban Hoglin

The couple had met four years earlier while working at the Storfors village supermarket. Two years later they were to be wed. Both were interested in travelling, but first they needed to decide where they would go. The idea of New Zealand was floated. After reading a Swedish magazine and being regaled by its tales of New Zealand’s fabulous fishing, hunting and sightseeing. Urban became convinced this was the right destination for them. Urban was always a keen outdoorsman. Interested mainly in tramping and fishing. Urban’s brother Stefan explains the types of trips that he would go on with his brother “I often used to go with Urban on fishing trips… We would go out overnight and sometimes up to ten days at a time. On these longer trips we would have backpacks and sometimes canoes, and would be up to 60km from any civilisation. The forest in Sweden is quite open and you can walk through it quite freely, however there are the dangers of bears, snakes and sometimes wolves that you have to be aware of.” 

This was one reason New Zealand appealed to the Swedes for their overseas trip. Heidi and Urban could pursue the outdoors in safety; as the New Zealand bush posed no such threat.

TRAVELLING TO NEW ZEALAND

Heidi and Urban left Sweden on Friday the 16th of September 1988 to begin their big ‘O.E.’. Two days later they arrived in Brisbane, Australia.

A couple of weeks into their Australian holiday, Urban contracted an unknown infection. He was fighting fevers of 41 degrees and lost 6kgs. The letters written home during this time in Australia did not paint a flattering picture of the ‘Aussie experience’. Describing encounters with snakes, ‘drugged out’ Aussie backpackers and drunken violence. Urban’s illness added an extra two weeks to their time in Australia. Heidi and Urban arrived in Auckland on the 5th of December, 1988.

TIME IN NEW ZEALAND

Heidi and Urban’s time in New Zealand was chronicled by the pair with letters back home to Sweden. The letters read with an almost childlike innocence. Seeing New Zealand through the eyes of youthful optimism and exuberance, they discovered New Zealand as a child would. Everything was a new experience and they were endlessly fascinated by the seemingly mundane differences between the cultures. Heidi captured some of this elation in her first letter home from NZ.

7 December 1988, Auckland
ff“We’ve now come to New Zealand… we haven’t decided on a route yet, but we are staying here in Auckland some 5-6 days and then we’ll try to get further north. Everybody we’ve been talking to in Australia has said that everything is a lot more expensive here in New Zealand. We got very surprised when we went out shopping today and found that the prices were about the same as in Australia; some things were even cheaper. Among other things, we bought some mince that cost some 15 krona ($3) a kilogram. We bought potatoes that are a lot nicer and tastier than at home. Soon, we are taking the bus to the city and we are going to a market. We may go to the zoo. They borrowed two pandas all the way from China, maybe because we are here! After that we are visiting the world’s biggest underwater aquarium. We’ll see how much we’ve got time for…” – from Heidi Paakkonen

Heidi and Urban stayed in Auckland until the 12th of December, 1988. Wanting to see the New Zealand they were promised; the NZ with abundance of fishing, hunting and tramping. The couple purchased a car; a 1976 Subaru wagon with distinctive ‘bull bars’ on the front, or as the Swedes called them ‘moose bars’. The couple made their way down the country, eventually ending up in the South Island.

6 January 1989, Cobb River
“New Zealand is really a beautiful country. I don’t know whether you, Mum, would really enjoy yourself on the roads here, some of the roads are narrow, curvy and steep… in the North Island we had rainy weather for a week. There has been a real storm in Auckland so they were forced to close the roads. We managed to get out of Auckland just before it started, otherwise we’d have been stuck there some extra days. Excuse me if it’s a bit messy and bent in this letter, but it’s because it’s so windy. Most of it is probably because of the sandflies. These are the only animals that are really plaguing us, you don’t have to think about snakes or spiders or other dangerous animals or plants, and that is nice. Now we are going to light a fire, and see if we can have some fried fish for supper.” – from Heidi Paakkonen

In mid January, Urban and Heidi finally got to do some tramping. Heidi describes in a letter home, the intensity of these expeditions. These were not casual, couple hour long hikes, these were weeklong; over 80km long treks.

26 January 1989, Kaikoura
“Maybe I told you in the last letter that we were going for a tramp with a Canadian couple… We started Friday the 13th (can you imagine how lucky that day went?)… The first night we didn’t come to a hut but had to sleep on a big rock that was leaning a bit. Ron and Sharon had a tent they could put up everywhere, so they slept in that. Urban and myself slept under the sky with only our sleeping bags and the outer tent if it should rain. It started to rain, of course, in the middle of the night and the outer tent didn’t keep us dry, we were soaked wet… The next day we went on. We had to climb (or rather, we had to pull ourselves up by small bushes and grass) up the mountain that was about 1500 metres. It was really hard and in some places it was soaking wet and there were rivers you could fall down into as well… it was foggy on the other side so you couldn’t see the path. We had to wait there for some minutes and luckily enough the fog went away. Urban’s and my tennis shoes started to fall apart so we were a bit worried that they wouldn’t last all the way… At the end… they told us that we’ve been tramping one of New Zealand’s hardest hikes… we managed the whole thing in a week with heavy backpacks on our backs and we calculated that the total distance was some 85kms” – from Heidi Paakkonen

As Heidi and Urban continued towards the bottom of the South Island. The local FM radio station in each new location was what kept them company on their long driving trips. A novelty that is commented on regularly during the letters home is New Zealand’s musical playlists on these stations. The songs Heidi decides to report back home become the soundtrack of their five month journey through Aotearoa

14 February 1989, Invercargill
“Cities here are rather different from the cities at home. There’s not any high houses and we haven’t seen one single boring block of apartments. Most of them seem to live in villas, even in Auckland. The city is bigger and there’s more shops. Marika how did you celebrate the “valentine day”?… the shops here in New Zealand seem to earn good money on this day. They have a lot of signs with hearts on them in almost all the windows and on the radio they are talking about it all the time, that you are supposed to buy a flower (maybe a tulip or rose) for someone that you like a lot. I heard a song with Chris de Burgh right now, it was really good, I think it was something with “Missing You” in it, about a guy who said goodbye and when he discovered after that that he still loved the girl it was too late because she’d found another. The song is starting with him sitting by a table with some roses and wine on it, all by himself, thinking back”. – from Heidi Paakkonen

Making their way back up the South Island, Urban writes in a letter home about all of the oddities of our small nation he was observing. 

2 March 1989, Fox Glacier
“A couple of days ago we passed Queenstown. Some 5,000 people live there, but there are probably more than 100 shops. Tourists from all over are coming there. River rafting in a rubber boat is very popular, and there’s also a new thing that you can do. You tie a rubber band around your feet and then you throw yourself out from a 30 metre high bridge! Time flies too fast here and it’s coming close now for us to be leaving for home. We are looking forward to all amenities though. We’ve been living in the tent since Christmas. I can’t even remember how it feels to sleep in a bed.” – from Urban Hoglin

In early March. Heidi writes a doting letter in reference to the tranquil landscapes of New Zealand. Also writing adoringly about the Kiwi’s fabulous welcoming nature.

11 March 1989, Nelson
“We’ve been to Punakaiki where you can see some cliff rocks formatted as pancakes on top of each other. It was beautiful and unbelievable nature. It’s changing vastly from snow-covered mountains to dry grass hills and even to rainforests. We decided to go and visit a guy that Urban met on a fishing tour in Australia, he invited us to stay the night at his house. Simon, the guy that Urban met in Cairns, was going to work so we got a key of our own and a house of our own. Urban made some pancakes … It’s incredible that he trusted us and gave us a key and let us spend the time here all by ourselves. When they invite you to stay overnight and you say no, they can’t understand that and they seem to believe that you are rude. To them it’s obvious that you should say OK and you should feel at home. If it weren’t for all these sandflies and the wasps, New Zealand would be the perfect country, almost anyway”. from Heidi Paakkonen

While waiting for the Picton Ferry to set sail back to the North Island. Urban gave the family back in Sweden an update on their plans of returning home.

16 March 1989, Picton
“The nights are starting to get a bit chilly and it’s getting dark earlier. It’s going towards autumn in other words… on 20 April we are going to the Cook Islands where we will stay for two weeks. After that it will be Tahiti for four days and Los Angeles for one day. We reckon we will be home on the 7th of May so we won’t miss the big party. Send our love [to the family]… and we hope that everything is well with you all.” from Urban Hoglin

Late March, reaching the climax of Heidi and Urban’s time in Aotearoa. The Swedes were spending some time in Tongariro National Park. Here, Heidi and Urban both write one of their last letters home. Heidi remarking once more how welcoming and warm the Kiwi people are. 

24 March 1989, Tongariro
“We are in the Tongariro National Park in the North Island in an area with some volcanic activity. As recently as 1974 Mt Ngauruhoe had an eruption. We’ve been walking some tramps in the area around here and seen where the lava has been pouring. We went to Mt Egmont National Park, that’s on the western side of the North Island. We found a very nice camping spot that was also cheap, and the guys who ran the site invited us for dinner. They served lamb chops, beef, salad and potatoes. For dessert we got Mum’s fruit salad and ice cream. It was a really nice meal for us. We are going to Coromandel and Rotorua. It feels strange that it is Good Friday today because at home it is going towards Spring when Easter comes, and here it is the other way around. They’ve got a special Easter bread here, Urban likes it, it’s spiced (so it tastes almost like soft ginger cake) and there’s some raisins and fruit in it.” from Heidi Paakkonen

With Urban’s letter updating the family on the state of the New Zealand wildlife and climate.

24 March 1989, Tongariro
“Last night we went out in the middle of the night and looked for some kiwis. As you may know, they are nocturnal and sometimes you can hear how they scream when they are looking for food. The kiwi has diminished a lot and is now seen just in some areas. It’s almost impossible to see them because of the very tight vegetation. So far we have not seen any, but we haven’t given up. The weather hasn’t been that good since we came to the North Island on 17 March, and right now it’s raining. It’s starting to get really cold during the nights… we may get away with it as we have just four weeks left here. from Urban Hoglin

THE DISAPPEARANCE

On Friday the 7th of April in Thames, Urban and Heidi mailed their final letter home. To tidy up before returning home, they stopped in a local saloon to get haircuts. The manager, Merilyn Round undertook Heidi’s lush blonde locks and her sixteen year old employee, Paula Johnson gave Urban a trim. Paula spoke of this encounter with Urban later “… he wanted it really short. He was really tall. I remember asking him to slouch down in the chair because the chair wouldn’t go down far enough for me to cut his hair”

The manager, Merilyn commented on Heidi’s do “Her hair was about halfway down her back. When I had finished it was what I called a long bob, sitting on the shoulders came down to about halfway over her ears. I recall she had shorts on as her legs were quite eye catching, like a model.” 

Merilyn and Paula said goodbye to Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen. This goodbye was more poignant than anybody knew at that time; poignant, as it marked the last ‘confirmed’ sighting of the two Swedes alive. 

Being drifters in a foreign country and their families not anticipating Heidi and Urban home until the 7th of May. The pair were not reported missing until over a month later. Friday, 26 May, 1989. The NZ Herald ran a front page story, the headlines read “A car belonging to a missing Swedish couple has been abandoned in Mt Eden [Auckland] for six weeks. The discovery worries Auckland police who were contacted by Interpol officers on Wednesday after a request from relatives.” 

When Heidi and Urban’s final letter arrived home, the couple was already confirmed missing. With this context, their final report from Aotearoa reads with an eerie chill around it.

7 April 1989, Thames
“We are right now on a peninsula called Coromandel situated a bit south of Auckland. We have only 14 days left here in New Zealand. Here in Coromandel are a lot of beautiful beaches and the weather is really nice. There’s a lot of laying around on the beach. Often we are on our own so there is no crowd. Last night we slept in a camp for a change. Most of the time we are just staying out in the open, in the countryside. The campground had its own thermal pools and it was rather nice to sink into the pool at 9.00 in the evening with all the stars in heaven above us. I wonder if the same songs have been popular at home as here. Every big city here has its own radio station and they play mostly pop and a lot of songs from the 50s. A couple of songs have been John Farnham (different songs), Chicago – Look Away, Poison – Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Wet Wet Wet – Angel Eyes, Chris de Burgh – Missing You, Eric Carmen – Make Me Lose Control, Moody Blues – I Know You’re Out There Somewhere… Until we meet again… Urban & Heidi”. – from Urban Hoglin & Heidi Paakkonen

26 May, 1989. 11pm. The police were already putting together a special task force for the search of the missing Swedes. This search would become the largest land based search in NZ history. This special task force was christened ‘Operation Stockholm’.

SOURCES

Books
Ian Wishart, Missing Pieces: The Swedish Tourists’ Murders, 2012

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