Content warning: this post contains graphic descriptions of violence that may be distressing to readers.
On the evening of August 10, 2017, Danish inventor Peter Madsen sent a text message to his wife from the waters off Copenhagen: “I am on an adventure on the Nautilus [submarine]. All is well. Sailing in calm seas and moonlight. Not diving. Kisses and hugs to the cats.”
Metres away on his privately built vessel lay the body of Kim Wall, a freelance journalist who he had murdered just 20 minutes earlier.
Madsen, 47, was on Thursday sentenced to the maximum 16 years in prison without parole over the death of the 30-year-old Swede. After a 12-day trial, Copenhagen City Court Judge Anette Burkø and two jurors found the eccentric millionaire guilty of premeditated murder, aggravated sexual assault and desecrating a corpse.
“This is a cynical and pre-planned sexual assault of a particularly brutal nature on a random woman who, in connection with her journalistic work, accepted an invitation for a sailing trip on the accused’s submarine,” Burkø said, according to The Guardian.
Wall's body was discovered washed up on nearby beach 11 days after she boarded the Nautilus. Her head, legs and clothes were discovered by police divers two months later, shortly followed by a saw, and later her arms. An autopsy revealed Wall had been stabbed 16 times, though the precise cause of her death remains inconclusive.
While Madsen admitted to dismembering Wall's body (“I don’t see how that mattered at that time, as she was dead,” he told the court), he maintained throughout proceedings that her death was an accident. He initially claimed a heavy hatch had fallen shut on her head, but later changed his story to assert that toxic exhaust fumes had filled the vessel while he was above deck.
Madsen's lawyer plans to appeal the verdict.
So what happened that evening?
Kim Wall boarded the submarine at around 7pm to conduct an interview with Madsen about the vessel, which he had famously built courtesy of crowdfunding. There are photographs - the last known to have been taken of the Swede - that show her standing with him on the submarine's tower that evening, looking out to sea.
While Madsen initially claimed to have dropped the journalist at Refshale Island at 11.30pm that evening, her boyfriend alerted police the following morning that she hadn't returned.
The court ultimately heard that after killing Wall, Madsen lay beside her body for two hours and contemplated suicide - the text message to his wife, he claimed, was a goodbye of sorts. He then told the court that he dismembered the body using "what was around". He described the act as "insane", telling the court, “It’s something so horrible that I do not want to go into detail. I will just say that it was horrible.”
Did Masen have any history of violence?
No. Although, according to The Copenhagen Post, Danish police found more than 40 videos of people being murdered on his computer, and his top three porn search words were “throat”, “girl” and “pain”. Madsen claimed watching these films was cathartic exercise designed to evoke “empathy”, and according to reporters present during the trial, refused to acknowledge the difference between watching these 'snuff films' and fictional movies like Terminator 2 and Kill Bill.
Just hours before Wall stepped on board the Nautilus, Madsen also googled the phrase, “beheaded girl agony”; an incident he dismissed in court as "pure coincidence".
Kim Wall's legacy.
Kim Wall’s family and friends have created The Kim Wall Memorial Fund – a grant to support a female journalist continue her work in subculture reporting.
The first recipient is Anne Kirstine Hermann, who is writing a book on Danish colonialism in Greenland.
"Quality journalism is under pressure from many directions and, hence, so is democracy," Hermann told the fund. "The world needs more reporters like Kim who encourage curiosity and empathy between communities."