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  • Matthew Hunter

Michael Maria Penttilä, Finland's Only Serial Killer

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

While America is undoubtedly the serial killer capital of the world, one country whose number of documented serial killers – or lack thereof – is equally notable. Finland, widely considered to be one of the most progressive and safest countries in the world, has only ever seen one: A trans lesbian woman named Michael Maria Penttilä, who is to date the only person in Finnish history to meet the FBI’s definition of a serial killer.

Michael Maria Penttilä in prison.

Michael Maria Penttilä

But before she became Michael Maria Penttilä, she was a he, and he was Jukka Torsten Lindholm, also known as Michael Pentholm, aka Sarjakuristaja (the serial strangler). Throughout all of her identities, Penttilä was a killer who embarked on an odyssey of sexual abuse, rape and strangulation that she tried to justify with a fondness for kinky sex. It is up for debate whether Penttilä intentionally became a serial killer, or accidentally became one through callous disregard for the women unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of her sadistic inclinations.

(For the sake of clarity, I will now refer to Pentilla by her deadname and previous gender up until her transition, so as to give an accurate depiction of the timeline)

But while Lindholm killed alone, like all serial killers, this vicious predator did not emerge in a vacuum. His journey from sexually-inept teenage delinquent to true crime novelty was enabled time and time again by callous displays of systemic misogyny that taught him violently preying on young women and girls wrought no consequences he couldn’t deal with, and a long chain of those with the power to stop him not recognizing the glaring signs of a blossoming, dangerous psychopath. However, since Finland had never encountered a serial killer until Lindholm, the latter point is more forgivable. But since the red flags of psychopathy are pretty common knowledge in today’s world, hindsight makes this story all the more troubling.


Jukka Torsten Lindholm was born in Oulu in Northern Finland, the son of Laina Lahja Orvokki Lindholm, a bartender. His father’s name has never been made public. In contrast with the dysfunction and abuse that mark the childhoods of most serial killers, Lindholm’s parents were on good terms with their children and each other, staying friends after undergoing what was by all accounts an amicable divorce. Jukka, for his part, maintained a very close relationship with his step sisters on both his mother’s and father’s sides.

Despite having the uniqueness of being Finland’s only serial killer, Jukka was a fairly pedestrian one, both in his criminal development and in his eventual modus operandi. Like a lot of serial killers, Jukka began acting out and engaging in criminal behavior at a young age. Anyone familiar with the psychology of serial killers can certainly figure out the beats of this stage of his life.

Jukka began drinking heavily, abusing drugs and committing crimes. He would steal his grandmother’s purse and he and several friends would go around emptying out traditional Finnish slot machines (or payazzos) with a fishing line, stealing 4000 Finnish, or €1,500. He also developed a fondness for violent action and horror movies, binge-watching them relentlessly. His favorite movies were Rambo, Exterminator and Halloween, and he tended to identify with ultra-masculine heroes.

And when he turned 16, Jukka took that essential next step ultimately taken by every serial killer before him: his illicit criminal activities began to escalate, and Sarjakuristaja began to emerge.

In 1981, a 16 year old girl named Kati, who lived in Jukka’s building, was returning home from a party. Out of nowhere, a young man about her age wearing black leather gloves attacked her on the staircase.

Criminal Beginnings

Jukka forced her into an elevator and took her down into the building cellar whilst threatening to rape her. Instead of removing her clothes, which Kati later admitted surprised her, Jukka violently assaulted her while she was fully-clothed. Hukka beat her with his fists, knocked her head against the floor and strangled Kati with her own scarf. However, Kati fought back and managed to escape, where she fled back to the party she’d recently left.

Kati would later admit that during this horrific ordeal, she repeatedly begged Jukka to just rape her instead because she wanted to live. Kati informed police, and the cellar was immediately searched, but Jukka had since vanished. During Kati’s questioning by police, the girl was shown a collection of suspect photographs, and among them she identified her attacker: Jukka Torsten Lindholm.

Police zoned in on Jukka and arrested him at his apartment. He confessed to attacking Kati, but could not provide a motive. In 1982, Jukka was brought before a court, and in the first of many flubbed convictions, the court sentenced Jukka to six months of probation and ordered him to pay a fine. A light sentence by any measure.

In a testament to how much he learned from this incident – and how much Finland valued its women at the time – Jukka was arrested again just two years later for breaking into an appliance store with his friends. This time he was made to pay a fine and sentenced to a year in juvenile detention.

According to Jukka’s testimony, his time in juvenile detention was a hellish experience. But he clearly persevered against any lessons he might have learned from this experience because when Jukka was released in 1985, he immediately returned to a life of crime.

In August of 1985, 20 year-old Jukka went out with his mother, Laina, and her boyfriend, but the evening was marred by constant arguments between the couple that devolved into physical confrontation, with Jukka being forced to intervene and physically separate them. At the end of the night, after hopping several bars, Jukka returned home with his mother. The next morning, Jukka missed a meeting he had scheduled with his father with no explanation. Concerned, the father and grandmother tried to contact both Jukka and Linda. No one picked up. Now truly worried, the father and Laina’s brother went to the apartment, using the grandmother’s key for access. There they found the body of Laina Lindholm, aged 48, sprawled on the bed.

Due to the absence of any apparent struggle and the cleanliness of the apartment, police initially suspected that Laina died of natural causes, but several of the officers remained skeptical and chose to wait on the autopsy results. When the autopsy came back, their suspicions were terribly rewarded: Laina Lindholm had not passed away in her sleep from natural causes. She had been strangled.

In the wake of this discovery, both Jukka and Laina’s boyfriend were hauled in for questioning. The boyfriend had a solid alibi and was quickly cleared of any involvement, however, Jukka’s story was paper-thin, inconsistent, and seemed to change between questioning sessions. Despite this obvious floundering, it was unclear if the cause of death was from the act of strangulation or heart trouble that had been activated by manual asphyxiation. Since the police technically had no solid evidence of a murder – or who was responsible for the attack – the police had nothing to charge anyone with, and the case remained unsolved. Unknown to them, Jukka had at last taken that final step into the darkness, and he was about to plummet into the abyss.

Child Murder

In 1986, now 21 and unemployed, Jukka came across two 12-year-old girls, Titta Marjaana Kotaniemen, and Susanna (pseudonym, real name not public). He offered the girls money if they would help him carry his beer back to his apartment, and the girls, lured by the promise of payment, agreed. Unfortunately, once they reached the apartment, Jukka’s true nature and intentions emerged. He suddenly accused the girls of stealing his keys, and then attacked Susanna and locked her in a closet. Trapped inside, Susanna had no choice but to listen to the awful noises coming from outside as Jukka strangled Kotaniemen with his bare hands. Then with a leather belt. Then with the drawstrings of her hooded jumper.

When Kotaniemen fell unconscious, Jukka released Susanna from the closet and ordered her on the floor. Terrified and fearing for her life, Susanna complied, and Jukka sickeningly got on top of the two girls, kissing them while rubbing himself against them vigorously. He strangled Susanna intermittently, and during this harrowing ordeal, he told Susanna he wanted to have sex with her.

Somehow, Susanna had the good fortune to escape the apartment and run to the police. Kotaniemen did not. When the police arrived, they found the 12-year-old lying on the floor. She had been strangled to death.

Police began to search for the monster responsible for the death of a pre-teen, but again, Jukka had already fled. This time, though, he was unable to escape the consequences of his violent misogyny, and police found him hiding in a nearby forest. It didn’t take them long to realize Jukka was not of sound mind, as when they apprehended him, Jukka began bawling and asking for his dead mother, claiming that she would surely defend him. When questioned about the events of the afternoon, Jukka had his excuse ready: Susanna was a whore and therefore worthy of death.

As questioning continued, Jukka told investigators he had spent the whole day drinking in restaurants and bars before somehow ending up back at his apartment with the two girls. He openly confessed that he had planned to have sex with the girls whether they consented or not. When they didn’t consent, he flew into a rage and strangled one to death.

As this interrogation session was ending, Jukka suddenly asked to speak again with the officer who had previously questioned him. The officer complied, and for reasons known only to herself, Jukka confessed in detail to the murder of his mother.

An Unexpected Confession

As his mother Laina was sleeping, Jukka had taken her blue gloves and red scarf, donning the blue gloves and wrapping the red scarf in front of his face to cover his mouth. Then, Jukka strangled his mother to death.

As to why, Jukka had three reasons. Firstly, he resented Laina for not getting him released from prison early. Secondly, Jukka did not approve of her new boyfriend. And thirdly, Jukka felt that his step-sister had been forced to move out because of Laina’s new boyfriend, and that since Laina had a choice, she “could have lived with my sister and not (a male friend)”.

To Jukka, who had been very close with his step-sisters, his mother had chosen disastrously wrong, and this had been the final straw.

Unsurprisingly, the narcissistic side of Jukka’s violent misogyny bubbled to the surface. He told police: “I don’t think I killed my mother. However, my mother’s death must be due to my actions,” and that his mother was still alive. “My mom will always live for me” he told officers.

The fact she was dead for everyone else, including several immediate family members (including the step-sisters Jukka claimed to care so much about) did not seem to enter Jukka’s mind. To him, his mother was now a perfect memory, an idea freed from the failings that had put her in the crosshairs of Jukka’s developing violence.

Later on, however, Jukka recanted his confession, and in March 1987 the courts deemed his mental state incomprehensible and found him to have diminished responsibility for his crimes. His mother’s murder was commuted to aggravated assault and manslaughter. The assault of the two girls, which ended in the strangulation and murder of Titta Marjaana Kotaniemen, was commuted to manslaughter with two counts of attempted rape and two counts of gross indecency upon a child.

For these murders, as well as his other crimes, Jukka received a total sentence of 9 years and 7 months. He appealed his case, and the court of appeals further cut down her sentence to a total of 8 and a half years. The charge in Laina’s murder was also changed from manslaughter to negligent homicide.

Post-Prison Freedom & Third Murder

Jukka served his sentence and walked free, moving in with his grandma. This extended stay in prison seemed to make slightly more of an impression, as he managed to stay out of trouble for a whole year. However, for a clear-cut psychopath like Jukka, who displayed a disregard for social norms, no qualms about criminal behavior, a complete lack of empathy for others (even those he supposedly cared about) and violent impulses toward women that he had shown no desire to rein in, this peaceful period was fated to abruptly end.

In June of 1993, while his grandmother was visiting her sister, Jukka went to his grandmother’s house to fetch a gun he was planning to sell to a Roma man. Accompanying him was a 42-year-old semi-acquaintance named Arja. When Jukka’s grandmother returned, she found a strange woman, dressed in black, lying dead on the toilet floor.

Second Arrest & Sentencing

Police submitted a warrant for Jukka’s arrest and they eventually discovered him in a taxi in the center of Oulo. At first, Jukka denied his guilt emphatically. While he admitted that he had been drinking before going with Arja to pick up the gun, he claimed Arja had stayed behind while he left the apartment, whereupon someone else had killed her.

The police didn’t buy this excuse, but Jukka had several alibis and excuses to offer up, each as implausible as the last.

Despite Jukka’s protestations of innocence, once again, evidence against him piled up. The case went to court that same year. Penttilä was subjected to another, more unforgiving, psychiatric evaluation, and this one found Jukka responsible for his actions. One of the studies found:

“The subject's development may have been controlled externally until puberty, after which schoollessness and restlessness began to increase, leading to child psychiatric hospitalization at the age of 14 and later psychiatric day ward care. In the previous mental state study, he has been considered to have a borderline personality disorder, in which case reference has been made, among other things, to the primitive defense mechanisms typical of this disorder in the clinical test study. His intellectual abilities are normal, nothing suggestive of organic disturbance has been observed."

However, Jukka was intent on appearing as ordinary as possible during this study, so the psychiatrists had yet to learn that still, waters ran far deeper than they first suspected.

Penttilä captured on CCTV.

A stripper whom Jukka had a sadomasochistic relationship with testified, claiming Jukka had gotten so worked up while choking her that her nose began to bleed and they lost consciousness. Jukka apologized for this act.

On 13 December 1993, the court found Jukka Lindholm guilty of strangling Arja to death, and, despite the pattern of violent strangulation that had already killed three people, one of them a child, Jukka’s history of criminal and dangerous deviant behavior, the diagnosis of mental culpability for the murder, made more obvious by Jukka’s attempts to lie about it (demonstrating an understanding of the seriousness of his actions) and the dangerous lack of empathy evident in all his previous confessions, it was once again deemed manslaughter.

Jukka was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison. Once again, the case was appealed, this time by the prosecutor, who recognized how dangerous Jukka truly was and felt he needed preventive detention, which would force him to serve the entirety of his sentence. However, Jukka also appealed the sentence, claiming he had further information about the night of Arja’s death. This opportunistic dangling of information suggested yet again that, disorganized killer though he may be, Jukka’s mind was not as disordered as it appeared.

Jukka then confessed his motive for killing Arja. He had told Arja about his sexual inclinations. Jukka was a sexual sadist, only able to have sadomasochistic sex, with bondage, whipping and, most importantly, choking. This was Jukka’s defining kink, also known as asphyxiophilia. His way of seeking the total control over others that psychopaths crave was by manually controlling their oxygen supply, and with it their very source of life.

These inclinations in themselves are not shameful if controlled, providing they’re indulged carefully and empathetically with a consenting partner. However, in violent, stunted perpetrators like Jukka; those who cannot understand the pain – or even the reality – of the people they hurt, have a strong urge for power and control over the objects of their “affection” and feel entitled to indulge these urges regardless of consent. In such cases, sadomasochistic urges become the building blocks of something far more dangerous.

Jukka had propositioned Arja with sadomasochistic sex, and even though Arja was confused and uncomfortable, Jukka claimed she didn’t directly say no.

Jukka claimed he then played a joke where she grabbed the fake fur pelt and wrapped it around Arja’s neck. What exactly screamed “hilarious” about suddenly choking a defenseless woman remained a mystery, as during this “prank”, Arja suddenly died.

Jukka then panicked and dragged Arja into the toilets to resuscitate her. Again, why she would be better revived in the toilet than in the hallway remains a mystery. However, someone knocked on the door, causing Jukka to flee the apartment, leaving Arja dead on the floor. Jukka then fled to his mother’s grave, where he spent several hours lying on the ground beside the grave.

This was the latest in a long line of confabulated excuses that made as much sense as the rest of the lies Jukka had churned out to exonerate himself, and this “true story” drove the court of appeals back to the prosecutor’s side. Finally, Jukka was in the crosshairs of actual justice, which resulted in a reevaluated sentence of nine and a half years for manslaughter to ten and a half years for manslaughter.

The one bright point was that Jukka was forced to serve his sentence in preventive detention, meaning he would have to serve the entirety of his sentence in Hämeenlinna Central Prison.

Prison Life

During this stay in prison, a contrariety in Jukka’s being came to light. On the one hand, psychiatric reports showed that Jukka idealized and admired violent, primitive manhood. On the other, in an unexpected turn, somewhere in the year 2000, Jukka began wearing women’s clothes, underwear and makeup. However, the prison director prohibited him from doing this for “security reasons”. The director stated it would be easier if he didn’t, because it might rile up inmates and be taken as sexual provocation.

Jukka understandably did not accept this explanation and filed a complaint with the parliamentary Ombudsman. He protested that he was not allowed to order women’s clothing and products like the female inmates were allowed to, although women were allowed to order men’s clothing. Despite this being the most salient point Jukka would make in his life, the Ombundsman sided with the prison director.

Jukka’s lifestyle took several other unexpected turns while in Hämeenlinna Central Prison. He converted to Catholicism and took a wife, marrying a female prisoner named Hennele Pentholm, who was serving a life sentence for the murder of her husband. At this point, Jukka changed his name, taking Hennele’s last name and becoming Michael Maria Pentholm.

The marriage only lasted two years, and after he divorced Hennele, Michael reverted to Michael Maria Penttilä.

(From now on, Penttilä will be referred to by her current name and gender identity, except where quotes state otherwise)

At the end of her sentence and just before her release, Penttilä was re-examined to assess her danger to others. Though the contents of this examination were sealed, the verdict was revealed: Penttilä was not ready for civilian life. Once again, the system ignored the warning signs and Penttilä was paroled in 2008.

Now a free woman Penttilä found an advert for a neuropathway masseuse in a newspaper and set up an appointment. When she arrived at the agreed address, Penttilä answered the door, dressed in leather trousers and a Korean shirt. As the masseuse began setting up, Penttilä also slipped on a pair of red leather gloves.

Return To Old Life

Out of nowhere, Penttilä pounced on the masseuse and began aggressively strangling her, covering her mouth so she couldn’t call for help. Penttilä forced the woman into the bedroom and onto the mattress, strangling her with both hands. Penttilä told the masseuse if she tried to resist, she would crush her windpipe and kill her.

The masseuse later recalled of this harrowing ordeal that she faded in and out of consciousness before Penttilä suddenly ceased the attack and calmed down. The masseuse managed to talk Penttilä down with civility masking desperate self-preservation. She even finished Penttilä’s scheduled massage and shared a coffee with her. Penttilä eventually allowed her to leave the apartment of her own volition, but not before a sickening, farewell gesture. Penttilä kissed the woman on the forehead.

Despite leaving his would-be victim alive, Penttilä was too much a slave to his demons to lie low. Worse still, bar some tweaks, her modus operandi had crystalized in her mind, and this terrible episode would be repeated twice more before authorities realized that Penttilä was anything but reformed.

One month later on the 1st September 2008, Penttilä attacked a cleaner she had found in a newspaper advert, and once again, as she strangled the poor woman with extreme aggression, she warned her she would crush her windpipe and kill her if she made one wrong move. Once again, Penttilä’s victim managed to escape, this time because the cleaner bit Penttilä’s hand.

It is unclear if Penttilä was a creature of opportunity or if her cool-down period was shortening, but her next atrocity came only three weeks later, when she tried to aggressively strangle yet another cleaner she had hired through newspaper adverts, and again, the victim fortunately escaped with her life.

Third Arrest & Psychological Evaluation

Later, in custody, Penttilä claimed that she was lovesick and lonely, only wanted some S&M fun with the women and knew how to strangle people safely. She had learned from two visits with a dominatrix. Unfortunately, she forgot the small detail that all these women had been surprised, given no consent, and feared for their lives, something the three new victims were unanimous about

In 2009, while in custody, Penttilä underwent several psychiatric evaluations. In one, she claimed she had wanted to be a woman since she was young:

"The subject variously reported the time when she realized she was a woman: already at the age of 16 in the early 1990s or late 1990s. At present, sex reassignment surgery is on the student's mind all the time. The research subject does not believe that they will miss their male genitalia or male sexuality in any other way. In her opinion, the subject is a woman with normal sense, a lesbian by sexual orientation.”

“The subject now denies that three years earlier he denied being transsexual or wanting to change his gender in a dangerousness assessment. The research subject perceives himself or herself as belonging to a minority because he or she has a trans and S&M personality. In other words, the subject feels that she is a woman in the wrong body, in a man's body.”

“Because of this, she likes to wear women's clothes and wants to look like a woman, but that alone is not enough for her (in which case it would be transvestite fetishism). According to the research subject, the sexual act will continue to be sadomasochistic games for him even after the gender change. Once or twice a week he has to have S&M sex with a playmate."

In another study, Penttilä got into a fight with the doctor examining her:

“The subject became angry already on the 4th day of the study, accusing him of bad behavior and lack of understanding when the possibility of mental illness had been mentioned. He barricaded himself in his room, starting a hunger strike, and announced that he would end the investigation. In this situation, the research subject was offered the opportunity to cooperate and speak with the staff and not to go on a hunger strike that endangered health. The research subject preferred the second option, camera-monitored isolation to ensure their own safety. The subject did not eat, consuming few fluids during the day, and then informed the researcher that he accepted this apology. The subject considered it an apology that the researcher asked him to name the things that had offended him."

The case went to court in 2010, during which the Finnish legal system descended into uncharacteristic displays of wilful ignorance. In June 2010, Penttilä was sentenced to six years in prison for two counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of assault. She was also forced to pay a fine totaling around €7000 to the three victims.

The psychiatric examinations carried out during this time all concluded that Penttilä was an extremely dangerous individual, and it was recommended she serve the entirety of her sentence. Unfortunately Penttilä had a tried and true card up her sleeve, and yet again the Court of Appeals stepped in. The C.O.A chose to believe Michael’s claim she didn’t intend to murder the women, and said it had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that there was any intent to kill. Despite the evidence in the report, despite the obvious pattern of behavior, not only was her sentence once again commuted, but the Court Of Appeals also overruled the District Court’s decision that Michael should serve the entirety of her sentence.

Michael Maria Penttilä received a final sentence of 4 years and months for three counts of aggravated assault. This was the third time she had been sentenced for violently strangling women. Her current number of convictions was seven cases of violent strangulation, three of which had resulted in death. And the two cases she was about to be separately tried for, other crimes she had committed in May and August of 2009, demonstrated that an already diseased mind was searching for new and disturbing highs.

Attempted Murders, Fourth Arrest & Prison Sentence

In May of 2009 Penttilä had run into a woman she had known in the 80s at a bar, and had lured her back to her apartment with an offer of new boots she could have for free. Once at Penttilä’s apartment, however, what she was given was a long night of prolonged torture. Penttilä began violently strangling the woman in the hallway apartment, during which the terrified woman lost consciousness twice. Penttilä then forced the woman to take off her clothes. The woman complied, fearing Penttilä would kill her. Penttilä claimed she only wanted BDSM sex with the woman, but, unlike what Penttilä claimed had happened with Arja, the woman definitively said no.

Boots Penttilä allegedly had for sale.

Eventually, after an unreported length of time, Penttilä allowed the woman to redress herself and return to the bar.

But Penttilä stayed glued to her side. She refused to let go of the woman’s hand. The woman later confessed she was understandably too scared to try and escape. For the rest of that night, the woman was Penttilä’s invisible hostage. In contrast to her previous approaches, where Penttilä had chosen and assaulted her victims with the spontaneous brutality of a feral animal, this drawn-out exercise of terrifying her victim suggests her sadistic inclinations were becoming more developed and refined, or she was experimenting, revealing the first hints of psychological and sexual sadism.

Penttilä and the woman eventually left the bar and returned to the woman’s apartment, where the woman found the courage to break away from Penttilä, lock herself in her bathroom and call a friend for help. Fortunately, the friend arrived before Penttilä could reach the woman once again, and turfed her attacker out into the street. Tragically, this woman, despite her night having devolved into one long, unforgettable horror, had no idea how fortunate she would be compared to the next woman who discovered the dark, dark depths of Penttilä’s bestial depravity.

In August of 2009, Penttilä trapped a woman in a hotel room in Oulo and raped and strangled her. Throughout the encounter, Penttilä wore the leather gloves that were fast becoming her signature, this time opting for black. The rape and strangulation lasted for ten hours from midnight until ten AM, during which Penttilä would not let her use her cell phone or call for help, and repeatedly threatened to kill her.

Black gloves Penttilä wore during the attack.

In March 2012, Penttilä was tried for both of these incidents. Authorities found that the motives for both crimes were to satiate Penttilä’s violent sexual needs. While the names of the two women would be sealed to protect their identities, the severity of the crimes made the courts feel the ruling for them should be widely known. However, anyone hoping to see this monster in the crosshairs of real justice was bitterly disappointed. Penttilä received a total sentence to 4 years and 4 months for aggravated rape, attempted aggravated assault and deprivation of liberty, a sentence far too light by any measure. Perhaps worse still, Penttilä was sent to Laukaa Open Prison, which afforded Penttilä conveniences he wouldn’t have had in a regular prison.

It would only take three years for the law to realize what a terrible mistake not locking Penttilä up for life was.

Attempted Prison Escape

In October 2015, Penttilä joined a group of inmates leaving the prison for a shopping trip in Jyväskylä (one of the benefits of an open prison). The group was preparing to return at around six PM, when police noticed that two of the inmates had disappeared. Penttilä and a fellow prisoner, Tenho Långström, had escaped during the shopping trip.

A warning about the two fugitives, complete with photos, was broadcast stating both were dangerous, Penttilä especially. Thanks to repeated tips from the public, Penttilä was peacefully apprehended near Vaajakoski S-market, while Långström was arrested on a train in Ylivieska. However, since technically escaping an open prison is not a crime, neither had any time added to their sentences.

“The time spent leaving prison does not count as a sentence, i.e. it extends the sentence by the length of the escape from the other end of the sentence. Escaping from an open prison is a serious offense, which is why the rest of the sentence continues in a closed prison,” Petri Laitinen, Deputy Director of Laukaa Open Prison, told MTV News.

A psychiatric report carried out at the request of the Helsinki Court of Appeals came back with the following:

"It is difficult for [Penttilä] to understand the seriousness and extent of his own violence. Protective factors include age-appropriate intelligence and positive future goals, but their protective effect is limited compared to factors that increase the risk of violence. The subject will likely commit a violent crime while intoxicated and experiencing strong emotions or needs. In this case, his sense of reality may be shaken and his judgment may be prone to decline. In my estimation, if violent behavior occurs, it is strangulation by a woman unknown to the subject and sexually interested."

Despite this report, and the then minister of justice saying he would get to the bottom of just why a criminal as obviously dangerous as Penttilä was detained in open prison at all, in Christmas 2016, Michael Maria Penttilä’s sentence was served, and she walked free.

Bizarre Letter & Murderous Plans

In January 2017, one of Penttilä’s neighbors, a 17-year-old girl, heard a rustling noise coming from the other side of her apartment’s front door. She looked through the peephole. A man was standing there, dressed completely in black. He met her gaze through the peephole for a moment, before covering it with his hand. Nothing came of this encounter, but it looked a lot like the man had been trying to break in.

Three months later, the teenager heard the clang of her family’s letterbox, and found a letter addressed to someone named Suzie. The letter read as follows:

“Hi Suzie

If you want to meet and get to know me let me know. I use different chat sites from you. I don’t like chatting because it usually does not lead to anything. I am looking for a long term girlfriend, not just a hook up. I have seen you a few times and seen pictures of you. I think you are good looking and have an amazing body. I write down my other phone number here in case you would like to get in touch. It’s 0405678901. You can for example shout from your window if you would like to meet. I like foreign women. All the best to you.



The letter’s disturbing contents alarmed the girl, but out curiosity, she saved the number to her phone and checked it against any social media profiles. She got one hit. An Instagram page.

The number was attached to a profile called “Leathergloves”

She examined the profile, and when she saw the owner’s face she recognized it immediately. It was Michael Maria Penttilä, known throughout Finland as Sarjakuristaja.

12-year-old girl Penttilä targeted.

Realizing she had just received a letter from Finland’s only known serial killer, the girl panicked and informed her dad. In an incredibly brave move, the father contacted Penttilä and set up a meeting in the street. The girl watched the resulting encounter as her dad wanted to know why Michael was contacting his daughter, and as she filmed the interaction on her phone, she realized she had seen Michael before. Through the peephole of her front door. Three months ago.

Screenshot from footage showing meeting between Penttilä and girl’s father.

The family went as a unit to the police. Upon searching Penttilä’s flat, police found sufficient evidence that Penttilä had been planning yet another violent assault. This time, she was planning to strangle the teenage girl. Penttilä claimed she had mixed up the teenager with a woman she had been talking to on a dating site named Suzie, and police were indeed able to find messages sent back and forth between Penttilä and a woman by this name.

Unfortunately for Penttilä, but fortunately for the general public, no one had explained bots to Penttilä, and “Suzie” was clearly a busted flush. Despite this, Penttilä had seemed genuine in her conviction that “Suzie” was real.

In April 2017, this case went where every strong case against Penttilä went to die: the courts. The police requested that Penttilä be held in prison for the duration of the investigation, believing her to be a serious threat to the family.

Despite the evidence against Penttilä, Helsinki courts overturned this concern and Penttilä was allowed to walk free while officers investigated her case. Or so she would have, if the Court Of Appeals, possibly having been burned too many times by Penttilä in the past, overturned this ruling. Penttilä was ordered to be imprisoned on suspicion of planning “an aggravated offense” threatening someone’s life or meaning harm.

On the 7th July 2017, The Helsinki District Court dismissed the charge against Penttilä for insufficient evidence of intent to harm or that Penttilä had been the one trying to break into the girl’s house. Penttilä was once again released onto the streets.

The prosecutor, deeply unsatisfied with this verdict, recounted the entire timeline. Penttilä had been watching the girl, knowing when she would be alone. Penttilä had even attempted to break into the girl’s house. Luckily nothing had come of it, but three months later Penttilä had sent the disturbing letter, and it was only when the teenager was filming the encounter between her father and Penttilä that she realized Penttilä was the same person who had tried to gain access to her home

Meanwhile, the defense team was hammering the excuse that Penttilä had mixed up a 17-year-old girl with a 29-year-old named Suzie whom she had thought she saw in the courtyard of their building and mistook the family’s apartment for hers. Penttilä and his defense team painted the whole incident as a naïve attempt to start a relationship online gone wrong.

The Court of Appeal assessed whether Penttilä planned to assault the girl “on the basis of information obtained from Penttilä's criminal history and dangerousness assessment, an account of his sexual perversion and information obtained from external activities". At long last, they had begun assessing Penttilä from her behavioral patterns and violent acts throughout her life, and the Court of Appeals finally saw that Penttilä’s asphyxophilia was so powerful and consuming as to be uncontrollable and life-threatening to others. Even if she did not intend to kill the girl (and there was no evidence she did) it was a definite possibility and there was every chance her urges would be too overpowering.

The Court of Appeals found Penttilä guilty in May 2018. They stated that Penttilä had planned to strangle the girl, and had in fact been the one trying to break into her flat in January 2017. However, it could not be proved whether Penttilä intended to kill the girl, so she could only be sentenced to 2 years and 6 months in prison for planning an aggravated assault, though she was made to pay the teenager €4000 in compensation for suffering.

The Final Murder

Penttilä had claimed to be living an upstanding life during the hearings at the Court of Appeals. She claimed to have a strong desire to break out of the prison cycle and that her criminal days were behind her.

On the 4th May 2018, neighbors of a 52-year-old woman in Kaillo, Helsinki had started complaining about an odd smell coming from her apartment. When a maintenance man following up on the complaints entered the apartment, he discovered the woman’s body in an advanced state of decomposition. The maintenance worker called the police, and it came to light the woman was a sex worker, the term that would come to define her instead of her name in all the Finnish newspapers.

Based on the investigative evidence, it was determined the murderer would have entered the victim’s home on April 13, possibly by appointment, and strangled her with various methods. First with bare hands, then a belt, then pantyhose. After passing away, the killer had left the woman’s body to decay in her apartment, and wasn’t found for three months.

After two days of investigation, Penttilä was arrested on suspicion of murder on 6th May 2018. Once again, she initially denied any involvement, but then police showed her footage of her buying a pre-paid mobile to set up a meeting with the sex worker only one day before the murder.

Once again, Penttilä was shown to be crossing the line from disorganized to organized killer. While the killings themselves may have been an unintentional side effect, his strangulations had become carefully premeditated. Her DNA was nowhere to be found at the crime scene, until police examined Penttilä’s black belt and discovered traces of the woman’s DNA.

They now had a solid link between Penttilä and the crime scene. Confronted with this evidence, Penttilä caved in and confessed to the murder.

Penttilä’s phone and laptop were turned over to the police. Looking through them, they found mountains of graphic BDSM porn, and thanks to Penttilä not deleting her history, they found a video she had been watching the day before the murder. The video was a roleplay scene that featured two women having sex, then one of them strangling the other to death with a pair of pantyhose.

But the most devastating fact of the case came when it was realized the murder had occurred before the verdict from the Court Of Appeals, meaning it took place during the time the prosecutor had called for Penttilä to be in prison. A decision that had been overturned by the District Courts. They had turned the rabid dog loose, and her sickness cost another woman her life.

Life Imprisonment, At Last

The case went to Helsinki Court on 10th July 2018, with the prosecution seeking to get Penttilä the prison sentence she deserved. Yet again, Penttilä’s defense team relied on the “manslaughter” defense; the murder had been an unplanned side effect of Penttilä’s sexual euphoria. Penttilä herself claimed she had booked the sex worker for the 13th of April, and had turned up to the sex worker’s building, but had started to walk away when the sex worker failed to pick her up there as planned. Calling the sex worker once more, the woman told Penttilä she was running late but would be there soon. The woman finally arrived at the gate and they went up to her apartment, but when the woman shut the door and Penttilä had taken her sunglasses off, the sex worker recognized her.

She began screaming and hurling epithets at Penttilä, calling her “freak” and “Sarakuristaja”.

Penttilä said she hadn’t intended to kill the woman, and didn’t know what had gotten into her, but she had grabbed the woman by the throat and suddenly, she was dead. Penttilä’s telling made it sound more like she had punched a wall during an ugly argument, rather than kill another human being. After killing the woman, Penttilä claimed she went into a state of shock. She stayed in the apartment for two days, not leaving until the 15th April at about nine PM. Security footage backed up her claims.

She claimed that she had done her best to leave her sadomasochistic fetishes behind, but her loneliness and desire for closeness had gotten the better of her, even though everything about the murder screamed control and rage rather than closeness.

The Prosecution believed otherwise. Penttilä used graphic porn to fuel her murderous fantasies, and now someone was dead in an attack that was clearly premeditated. Moreover, Penttilä had spent those two days in the apartment thoroughly cleaning it, purging all traces of herself from the scene.

In July 2018, the Helsinki District court reached a verdict. Justice had finally caught up with Michael Maria Penttilä. The attack was found to clearly be premeditated and carefully planned. She was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. The court stated that the sole motive for the attack, like all of Penttilä’s attacks, was the fulfillment of her sexual desires, and there was evidence that during the 6-8 minutes it had taken for the victim to die, Penttilä had actually worked to prolong the woman’s death and her own euphoric rush.

She was also forced to pay €3000 to compensate the victim’s mother for funeral expenses, and a further €10000 to compensate for the emotional suffering caused.

Penttilä resorted to her old failsafe and took her case to the Court of Appeals. In July 2019 it was decided Penttilä would be submitted for psychiatric evaluation. This had been requested by Penttilä herself, despite the several she had had in the past that all declared her too dangerous and her asphyxophillia obsession too strong for her to be allowed in society.

Eventually, it was ruled that though they found the act to not be premeditated, the Court of Appeals chose to uphold the original sentence. Furthermore, the examination Penttilä herself had requested, found her fully aware of what she was doing.

At long last, the Finnish court system did what it should have done a long time ago, and locked Michael Maria Penttilä up for life.

Penttilä’s glove collection.
Penttilä in prison today.


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