The Unsolved Murder of Karina Holmer

“I’ve got the old man’s car,
I’ve got a jazz guitar,
I’ve got a tab at Zanzibar,
Tonight that’s where I’ll be…”

In 1996 I was only about five years old. It was the year that the first Pokemon game came out, and the Nintendo 64 was released. Dolly the sheep was the first successful mammal clone, and Bill Clinton would secure his second term in office. In Texas, the 9 year old namesake of the Amber Alert was murdered.

In 1996 Karina Holmer thought she was living a dream. The young woman from a small village in Sweden had always had big dreams, and after winning the lottery, she used her winnings to move to America for a summer. The city life, night clubs, new kinds of people and places, a cultural explosion; Karina was ready for an adventure. Tragically, what she found was a nightmare.

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Karina decided that the best way to plan her trip was to become an Au Pair, a sort of nanny to families who would offer boarding and a stipend in return. Most Au Pair’s worked through agency’s which trained the women in childcare, secured visas, and screened employers. However Karina went a different route. She arrived in the US with no visa and fake ID in March.

She began working for a wealthy artist couple living in Dover Massachusetts. Frank Rapp was a commercial photographer, and his wife Susan was a painter. Frank was well off enough that he could afford a studio in the Fort Point neighborhood of Boston. During the week Karina took care of the Rapp children and chores, but on the weekends she was free to travel into the city to party, and spend the nights at Frank’s studio. Friday and Saturday nights Karina would be downtown drinking and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. Friends and family back home in Sweden thought she was having the time of her life. The only indication otherwise was her sudden announcement to family that she would be cutting her American adventure short, and cryptic letter written to a friend in May; “Something terrible has happened. I’ll reveal more when I get home.” Her family believed Karina was returning home because she had tired of housework. Only her friend knew that something else was troubling Karina. But no one will ever know just what it was.

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A photo taken at Zanzibar in 1996

On June 21st Karina went out to a popular club at Boylston Place called Zanzibar. It was a prime hangout for young foreigners with fake IDs. She was seen several times by friends throughout the night, each time chronologically more intoxicated. Before close she was briefly passed out in the club bathroom, and was escorted out by a bouncer after the club cut her off. In the alley outside, Karina struck up a conversation with a local homeless man, whom she happily danced with. Then she was gone.

The next few hours became a hazy mix of possible sightings, as authorities would later try to track her journey. One friend claimed to have seen Karina get into a car with a group of men. Another said Karina had told them she was heading to a private party. Someone swore they saw her walking down Tremont Street in the twilight before dawn. Wherever Karina went that night, we know where she ended up. Her torso was found in a dumpster behind 1901 Boylston Street, sawed in half above the hip, wrapped in trash bags. It was only discovered because a man had ripped the bag while rummaging for cans on Sunday morning.

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The crime scene as it was investigated.

Karina’s body was naked and washed clean, even her makeup had been scrubbed off (perhaps an attempt to get rid of evidence). He neck showed signs of strangulation, and she had been neatly sawed in half with something like a circular saw, a straight cut other than a hiccup at her hipbone. That kind of cut would have been fairly easy; one would only have to cut through one bone, the spine. Her lower half was never recovered, and police considered the possibility it had been destroyed to hide evidence of a sexual crime or secret pregnancy. The only evidence left by the suspect was a single partial fingerprint inside the trashbag, and no matches were ever found.

Detective Tommy O’Leary immediately began investigating, talking to everyone and anyone Karina may have been with that night. It wasn’t long before he would realize it would be a case like no other, and it would haunt him forever.

One of O’Leary’s first leads came in the form of a bizarre subject, one of the last people to see Karina alive. Herb Whitten became known as “the man with the dog” after several people told the police they had seen Karina talking to a man who wore matching Superman shirts with his Great Pyrenees. Whitten told police that he enjoyed the attention that he got from women while he walked in the city, but that he knew nothing about Karina. He also had a good alibi: Whitten had been pulled over for speeding on his way home to Andover that night. It simply didn’t seem possible he would have had the time to have already dismembered a body and dumped it near Fenway. Whether he was involved or not Whitten may have taken the truth to his grave. He committed suicide only about a year later.

Excluding Whitten as a suspect, the police next began to look at Karina’s employer with more scrutiny. The rumor from other Au Pairs was that Frank was a sleazy guy, a “creep”. Neither Frank or his wife could provide a verifiable alibi for where they had been the night Karina was murdered, and both were increasingly hostile and uncooperative toward police. Even more suspiciously, Dover police were called to the Rapp residence for a completely different reason the following Monday. There was a fire in the dumpster on the property shared by Frank and neighbors. Boston police worked with Dover to collect samples from the charred rubbish, but none tested positive for blood or human remains. Perhaps it was just another of many strange coincidences.

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The green line is Boylston Street

It’s been over 20 years since Karina was murdered, and her case has long gone cold.

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One thought on “The Unsolved Murder of Karina Holmer

  1. I was a student in Boston when this happened, and it was really sobering, especially since I lived and went to school close to the vicinity of the incident. Maybe one day someone will come forward with information, but likely, this will just remain a tragic mystery.

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