My Favorite Episode Breakdown: Spår’s Anton Berg And Martin Johnson

Anton Berg and Kaj Linna, Photo Courtesy of Anton Berg
Anton Berg and Kaj Linna, Photo Courtesy of Anton Berg

A Swedish show’s second look at an old murder proves the power of podcasting.

There’s a pioneering investigative podcast that has hooked hundreds of thousands of listeners, rocked a country’s legal system, and reset expectations for the medium. We’re not talking about an American show you might have binged through—this is Spår, the Swedish true-crime series whose title roughly translates to “trace evidence” and was instrumental in exonerating its central subject. The first season covers Kaj Linna, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2004 for the murder and robbery of Robert Lindberg in the far north of Sweden. He was released in 2017, two years after Spår’s debut, following a retrial that included the show’s surreptitiously recorded audio of a star witness recanting his testimony. Linna later received nearly $2 million in damages for his 13 years of wrongful imprisonment.

Spår is a co-production between Acast and reporters Anton Berg and Martin Johnson, who secured evidence that assisted in Linna's acquittal in season one’s fifth entry, "5 Karlamarksmordet - 87 mil söder om Kalamark.” Here, they explain how the crucial episode was made and why it connected with listeners, thanks to both their daring reporting and humorous exploits.

Spotify For Podcasters: Do you both share the same favorite episode?

Anton Berg: It must be episode five of the first season [Kalamarksmordet - 87 mil söder om Kalamark].

Martin Johnson: It was the episode where we get the contact with a man that we call Nils, who is the main witness for the police. This [podcast] was the first time we did something [independent] of Swedish radio. We were just ourselves. We were sitting in Anton’s old Volvo. We’re at an address where we’re going to meet this man who potentially could tell us a different story than he had done in court. We were very focused. I also remember that we actually talked about what would happen if something would happen to us.

Berg: We had actually told people, “If we don’t get in touch with you in three hours then you should start making inquiries.”

What about it makes it your favorite?

Johnson: We decided we were going to use two microphones. Anton was going to do the interview. I was going to sit there just listening in. There was so much at stake.

Berg: It took only about fifteen minutes into the interview when he started making all these overdramatic signs with his face. He was telling us one thing and his body was telling us others. I told him, “If there’s something you want to say, spit it out.” He was like, “OK, stop the recorder.” We were prepared for that, and then he told us a different story.

What was the audience reception to that moment like?

Johnson: We had a lot of anxiety over what to do with the material afterward. Eventually, we decided that we were going to publish the sound, but we wanted to tell [Nils] first. That’s also part of the episode. I remember the reactions from listeners—they were more fascinated that we were so transparent in the way we told our story and the way we built the episode. We really nailed something that has become a success for Spår: Transparency and openness in how we work as journalists.

Was there anything else about the episode that surprised you?

Berg: One important thing is that we were outside the studio. If Kaj Linna was guilty, he had to travel by car then by foot from his house to the crime scene in less than one hour and thirty-five minutes. We thought, Let’s try this and take the listeners. We rented a fast car and thought, This is going to be very cool radio of us driving the country roads of Sweden. But then we listened to the material and it was not interesting at all. It’s just two guys driving a car.

When we parked, I start walking on snow where the suspect had walked. There were footprints in the snow that police thought were Kaj Linna’s but that was very unclear. We are from the south of Sweden, not used to that amount of snow. You can hear us swearing—we have snow to the chest almost—and that was very interesting radio, almost fun. Since the jokes were on us, we thought, Let’s play this.

Also, you could hear how fast [Linna] had to travel to the murder scene. We didn’t make it in that time. That’s not the same as “he’s innocent,” but we learned something important and the listeners were intrigued. Podcasting had been synonymous with two guys talking to a microphone in a room. It was important for us to take listeners outside.

Have you ever done another episode like this one?

Johnson: No. We’ve done really good episodes, but this is the one that had major implications on so many people.

Other seasons of Spår have focused on unrelated cases about arsonists and vanishing millionaires. Has it been hard to transition away from Kaj Linna?

Johnson: After every season I say to Anton, “I’m never going to do this again. I’m so tired of this. My wife hates me. I lost time with my kids.” And then a few months pass and you get tips and you’re like, “Shit. There it is—a gap.” And then you’re on it.

—Zach Brooke