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Creating myths - you never knew how easy this is

I read today a wonderful story at the truly brilliant site Faktoider (a site dedicated to those stories everyone or many just take for granted, but seldom are true). The story is in Swedish, but since it's so nice, I've taken the liberty to translate it to English. For you fluent in Swedish, I recommend you read the original text. Text within [ ] are my clarifications to non Swedish readers.

The murders at Hökeberg
The following thriller from the [second world] war could until last week be read on [the Swedish] Wikipedia, until last week.

Hökebergs slott is a larger villa outside Kvänum in Vara kommun. The house has two floors, built in 1923 and says has been drawn by Ivar Tengbom, though the latter information has not been verified. Also, the origin of the name is unknown, the ridge on which the house resides is locally refered to as Hökeberget, but the name does not appear until the house was built, why it is more probable that the house gave name to the ridge, rather than the opposite.

Hökebergs slott was originally built as the home of the rich farmer Eskil Eriksson who created a fortune through reckless export transactions with crop and whose fortune was lost trhough the Kreuger scandal. The house was empty during a period in the 1930's, before it was purchased by the retired officer Nils Ryttare. Nils Ryttare was known as Germany-friendly and during the war he invited many powerfuls Germans, including the German concul of Gothenburg to Hökeberg. It was a visit by German officers and diplomats at Hökeberg 1943 which came to be known as the "Hökebergsslott-incidenten" [Hökebergs castle incident].

Ryttare and the German friends would have been out on bird hunting when they intercected with a number of "ill-dressed men" and got into a fierce word exchange. The police was called in to chase away the vagrant, whereupon the company of hunters went back to Hökeberg. The morning after, two of the the Germans, an embassy secretary and a German flight officer, were found murdered in their bedroom in the Palace annex. Soon the "swaggers" were accused for the deed, which was presented as a burgular turned murder. Despite the Vara police arrested several loafers, no one was ever tied to the crime.

The event did not receive much attention in the press at the time, but the German Embassy in Stockholm called for a "requisite" investigation by the police and the event created some diplomatic exchange between the war making Germany and neutral Sweden.

1947 surfaced information on the role of the Germany friendly Nils Ryttare being an British agent and a source the Embassy of West Germany in Stockholm reported to [Swedish news paper] Svenska Dagbladet that the German secret service during the war had suspected that Secretary flight officer had been killed by British commando troops or the Norwegian resistance.

The first problem - there are more - is that history does not contain a grain of truth. Hökebergs castle is fake (the name "Hökeborg", was inspired by the early translation of Tintins castle Moulinsart), the only palace in Kvänum has nothing to do with it, not even the ridge Hökeberg exists, there was no such thing as a west German Embassy in 1947, etc. . Not to mention the murdered Germans.

The second problem is that the person who invented the story published it on the Swedish Wikipedia, and more specifically on January 25, 2007 at 22:51. Perhaps to see how it looked. At 22:52, he removed all - but already 22:53 a helpful user reversed the deletion! Probably in the belief that the removal was a mistake. The log files confirmed his version of the story:

The story was never more than a sketch, but after some discussion on Wikipedia and its reliability, I in a weak moment put out this sketch on Wikipedia as a proof that if we only seem convincing, people are buying into anything. Then, I got cold feet, thinking of my upbringing and that we must not lie so there and removed the article again.

A few days later I discovered to my surprise that the article was restored - and then I decided to let it remain. If Wikipedia swallowed it so easy and if they wouldn't accept my erasure they had to stand their caste.

If you surf the Web you can find some examples of people who did not only read and believed, but also conveyed "the incident". But the story was not really spread until Svenska Turistföreningen [the Swedish Touring Club] included the story in the Yearbook for 2007. The theme of the edition was "Crimes and regions", and in an article on spies, the editorial (not the writer, NB) had seasoned with some interesting episodes on the subject. For example the murders of Hökebergs castle.

Isn't it just amazing how easy you just buy into something that has a certain level of detail. It could be true, it's on Wikipedia. So it must be true. As the good man Brian Dunning puts it: Be skeptical!



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