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Martin Vanger is the CEO of the Vanger Corporation, and the scion of the wealthy Vanger family. His father, Gottfried, sexually abused both Martin and his sister Harriet, and made Martin watch while he raped and murdered women. While he despised Gottfried as a "loud, garish man", Martin learned a great deal from him, and considered it his "duty" to satisfy his father's violent sexual urges.
Martin became a murderer himself at 16, killing a classmate named Lena Andersson. Soon after, Martin saw Harriet kill their father in self-defense, and threatened to expose her unless she gave in to his increasingly violent sexual demands. When Martin turned 18, his mother Isabella sent him away to a boarding school, and Harriet thought she was finally safe - until she saw him at a local parade, having returned home for a visit. Terrified, Harriet fled Sweden and lived under another identity, and was considered legally deceased for the next 40 years.
Martin rapes, tortures and murders dozens of women throughout Sweden over the years, preying mostly on prostitutes. Unlike his more impulsive father, Martin is a careful, methodical killer who plans every detail of a murder well before committing it. He also keeps details what he does to his victims, and writes down his fantasies of killing virtually every woman he meets.
When Henrik hires reporter Mikael Blomkvist to solve the mystery of Harriet's disappearance, Martin befriends him in order to throw him off track. Nevertheless, Blomkvist's assistant Lisbeth Salander uncovers evidence linking Martin and Gottfried to several murders. Upon learning what Blomkvist and Salander have been up to, Martin invites Blomkvist to his house for a drink, and then takes him hostage in his makeshift torture chamber in the basement. After bragging about his murders, he demands to know what happened to Harriet, but is angered when an incredulous Blomkvist replies, "You killed her." He replies that he couldn't have, as the parade traffic prevented him from getting to the Vanger family home until after Harriet had disappeared.
Just as Martin is about to kill Blomkvist, however, Salander appears and hits him in the face with a golf club, shattering his jaw. Martin flees in his car, with Salander in pursuit on her motorcycle. Martin drives into a fuel tanker and is trapped under it. The tanker then explodes, killing him.