A man from Vantaa brutally assaulted a stranger at the Karhula bus station in Kotka in December 2012.The reputation of Kymenlaakso as a violent region has been reinforced by a recent string of brutal or otherwise unusual violent offences.

The reputation is built on long-term statistics.

"The Lahti, Kouvola and Kotka axis is historically an area where proportionally many homicides are committed. Other similar areas include Lapland and North Karelia," says Martti Lehti, a research officer at the National Research Institute of Legal Policy.

On 12 August, a middle-aged woman was stabbed to death by a passer-by with apparent mental health problems in the district of Kuusankoski, Kouvola.

A report published by the National Research Institute of Legal Policy indicates that Kymenlaakso has stood out in homicide statistics since the 1980s.

Kari Hyyryläinen, a detective superintendent at the South-eastern Finland Police Department, confirms the perception: "If statistics show that offences are committed here, an aberration is not an explanation in the long term," he admits.

According to Lehti, the heightened incidence of homicides in Kymenlaakso and Päijät-Häme is attributable to several factors. "The development began already in the early 1900s. Industrialisation around River Kymijoki was rapid. At the time, a lot of young, lonely men who liked to party hard came to work in the region," the research officer says.

The industrial history of the region, he estimates, may have spawned a culture of masculinity and violence. As a result, the region continues to stand out in crime statistics in spite of the fact that its industrial structure has evolved.

On the other hand, the root cause of the offences may have changed. Hyyryläinen points out that homicides committed in the region today are usually linked to social alienation and substance abuse.

The run-down of the forest industry in south-eastern Finland has certainly not alleviated the problem of alienation faced in the region.

Ilkka Haapamäki, the chairperson of the Association for Mental Health in Kouvola, believes the stabbing on 12 August is a manifestation of a larger problem. "There are alienated people in Finland who can't be reached by mental health care services. The problem affects neighbours, relatives and the entire society," he highlights.

Legislatively, referrals are provided according to guidelines, underlines Hannu Naukkarinen, the chief physician at Kymenlaakso Social and Health Services (Carea). "Anyone can contact their nearest health care centre if they notice someone apparently mentally ill," he reminds.

However, assessing the mental state and interfering in the affairs of others may in practice be difficult for many, he admits. In addition, problems may occasionally arise even with patients treated for their condition.

"An out-patient may not feel ill or take their medication. Hopefully, the savings created by shutting down psychiatric hospitals are channelled directly to out-patient care," says Naukkarinen.

Stabbed to death on a Tuesday afternoon

A middle-aged woman was stabbed to death in the quiet residential area of Kuusankoski, Kouvola, in the afternoon of 12 August. Shortly after the incident, a 20-year-old man from Kotka was arrested on suspicion of the homicide.

"We couldn't get a sensible answer out of the man. It seems clear that he isn't in a sound state of mind," described Petri Korpisammal, a detective chief inspector at the South-eastern Finland Police Department.

According to the police, the 44-year-old victim and the suspect did not know each other prior to the incident. The offender had been sighted walking around the residential area, behaving erratically and threatening locals with a knife, before the fatal stabbing.

The suspect has a history of assaults and other offences. It remains unknown why he was in Kouvola.

Despite his incoherence, the man admitted to stabbing the woman during the arrest. "We've determined the course of events," Korpisammal confirmed a day after the incident.

The stabbing is not the first unusual violent offence to have occurred in Kymenlaakso this year. In March, a man shot his former partner with a crossbow in Kotka and was later sentenced to four years and two months' imprisonment for attempted manslaughter.

Earlier in March, a man stabbed to death his acquaintance in Kotka and tried to dispose of the body by burning it. He was sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment for manslaughter and breach of the sanctity of the grave in early July by the District Court of Kymenlaakso.

Aapo Mentula – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva