true crime

Journalist Kim Wall boarded a submarine to interview its maker. Hours later, she was dead.

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.

Watch: The man who killed Kim Wall.

Video by Copehagen Suborbitals

In April 2018, Madsen, 47, was 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.

Madsen maintained his innocence throughout the case, claiming the death was an accident. But in an upcoming documentary series, The Secret Recordings with Peter Madsen, he reportedly confesses.

According to Danish newspaper, Ekstra Bladet, the series is based on more than 20 hours of telephone interviews with Madsen from prison, which were taped without his knowledge. In one recording, when asked if he murdered Wall, he responds: “Yes.”

“There is only one who is guilty, and that is me.”

Kim Wall submarine
Image: Getty.
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Wall’s body was discovered washed up on nearby beach 11 days after she boarded the Nautilus to interview Madsen. 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 accidental.

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.

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 2020 award was given jointly to Australian reporter Clair MacDougall and Mia Alberti of Portugal.

Both women will use their $5,000 grant money to “fund forthcoming stories examining human adversity in the wake of global issues such as displacement and social mobility”.

This post was originally published on April 26, 2008, and updated on September 12, 2020.

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