Gagged, blindfolded and slightly sedated. This is how the Swedish rider Ulrika Bidegärd – then just under thirty years of age – was held for five days in our country. Locked up in a wooden box. The woman had been kidnapped from her parents’ villa in Sint-Genesius-Rode, near Brussels. By their former handyman, as it turned out. Almost thirty years later, she tells her story for the first time in a Swedish documentary made about her.
Bidegärd was a talented rider. But in her own country, she had reached her limit. To give her every opportunity to break through internationally, but also because daddy Bidegärd had a top position here, the family moved to Belgium. To an imposing villa in Sint-Genesius-Rode. In the middle of the green. It was there that the Swedish handyman Lars Nilsson, who had stayed on here after a failed relationship, came into contact with the Swedish family. He helped renovate the villa and was then called regularly to do odd jobs. That is how he knew they were comfortable. And that they had a beautiful daughter they would do anything for.
Nilsson (30) was financially strapped and came up with the plan to kidnap the Swedish rider in exchange for money. A lot of money. He later always claimed that he never had the intention to harm her. “Otherwise I could have abused her, but I didn’t. I was only after money,” he stated at his trial in Brussels.
Armed with a pistol, he waited for Ulrika on 20 January 1993 near her parents’ villa. He rolled the woman, who was frozen with fear, into a carpet and took her to his flat in Brussels. There he gagged her and locked her up in a soundproof wooden box, about the size of a fridge. To keep her quiet, he tried to sedate her with paint thinner, which did not work. It gave her some splitting headaches.
Nilsson himself contacted the woman’s family and demanded some 450,000 euros in cash for her release. He sent a photo of Ulrika sitting terrified in the coffin. With a split lip. Not that he had mistreated her, as it turned out. When he carried her to his flat, he had dropped her. Hence the wounds on her face.
“I was very scared, yes. Because I didn’t know if I would survive. I didn’t know what he wanted. He didn’t talk to me,” Ulrika now says in the documentary.
She was locked up for five days. With hardly any food or water. And with the fear that any moment she would be finished.
Then special units of the gendarmerie stormed his flat. He had tried to withdraw money with her bank card and had been filmed. This is how the police tracked down the Swede and were able to free the woman from her coffin, which he had tried to make soundproof in an amateurish way by sticking some kind of aluminium foil in it.
The unlikely story did not end with her liberation. A year and a half later, Ulrika married the Belgian policeman who had liberated her. Together they later had two children, Calvin and Cajsa. But the marriage collapsed, she tells for the first time in the documentary.
For Ulrika, this unpleasant story meant the end of her career. She tried afterwards, but never got back to her old level. That is the only thing she still blames on her kidnapper today.