As divers found mutilated body parts in plastic bags on the ocean floor one by one, a gruesome puzzle as dark as any Scandinavian noir emerged in Denmark: A young Swedish reporter who had embarked on a submarine journey to interview its maker was tortured, murdered and disposed at sea.
Businessman Peter Madsen stands trial at Copenhagen’s City Court on Thursday for the killing of Kim Wall, 30, in his submarine off the usually quiet northern European country.
Madsen denies killing Wall and says she died accidentally inside the UC3 Nautilus while he was on deck. However, he has admitted cutting her up before he “buried her at sea.”
Two sides to Madsen
“He had two sides: He could be a well-spoken and charismatic person who could speak for hours about his submarine. And then ... a much darker side,” said retired adult movie actress Dorthe Damsgaard, 48, who met him several times.
Damsgaard told The Associated Press she had declined invitations to join Madsen in his submarine because she has claustrophobia.
“He made it no secret to me about having sexual fantasies,” Damsgaard said, describing him as “funny, manipulative, serious and scary.”
Madsen’s wife, who reportedly has sought a divorce, has told investigators that he openly spoke about attending fetish parties without her.
His former workshop, a low building of corrugated iron, sits on Refshale island, a once-bustling shipyard and industrial area across from downtown Copenhagen.
It was here that Wall embarked on the submarine journey on a sunny summer evening last year.
‘Soft spot for misfits’
On Aug. 10, she and her Danish boyfriend, Ole Stobbe Nielsen, threw a goodbye party before moving to China. That evening, she received a text message from Madsen saying an interview was possible. For months, she had been trying to speak with him and she left the party to join the now 47-year-old Dane. Alone.
Wall grew up in southern Sweden, just across a narrow waterway from Copenhagen. She studied at Paris’ Sorbonne university, the London School of Economics and Columbia University in New York, from where she graduated with a master’s degree in journalism in 2013.
She wrote for The New York Times, The Guardian and other publications, reporting on topics such as tourism in post-earthquake Haiti and nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands.
Caterina Clerici, a friend from Columbia, said Wall had “a soft spot for misfits, for places and people that did not conform.”
Rockets to submarines
Madsen doesn’t fit into any boxes. According to a 2014 biography, he grew up in a small town west of Copenhagen with an authoritarian father. Considered a nerd at school, he challenged science teachers and built rockets in his past time.
In 2008 he co-founded Copenhagen Suborbitals, a private aerospace consortium to develop and construct manned spacecraft. In 2011, it launched a homemade nine-meter (30-foot) rocket eight kilometers (five miles) into the sky over the Baltic Sea, a step toward its unrealized goal of launching a person into space.
However, differences led to a split with his business partner in 2014. Madsen, known for his shifting moods and for hating to be contradicted, moved into another workshop.
In an interview with Danish weekly Soendagsavisen the same year, Madsen said he one day “hoped to have a criminal career,” adding he didn’t want to rob a bank because “no one must be hurt.”
On the evening that he contacted Wall, Madsen also texted his associate Steen Lorck to call off a planned trip the following day in the submarine that first launched in 2008.
After Wall left to meet Madsen, her boyfriend received several text messages from her. He started worrying when the messages stopped coming and eventually alerted authorities, who launched a search for the submarine, which didn’t have a satellite tracking system.
The 33-ton, nearly 18-meter-long submarine sank south of Copenhagen shortly after being spotted afloat. Madsen was picked up unharmed. Initially, he told police he had let Wall off on Refshale island several hours into the trip.
Investigators found dried blood inside the submarine, and divers eventually found Wall’s body parts in plastic bags held down on the Baltic Sea bed by metal pieces. Her torso had been stabbed multiple times.
Police believe Madsen sank the submarine on purpose, and found videos of women being tortured and killed on his personal computer in his hangar. He did not make the videos himself, investigators said.
Prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen claims Madsen tied up and tortured Walls before killing her, either by cutting her throat or strangling her. The murder has been called premeditated because he had brought along tools he normally wouldn’t take with him on the submarine.
Madsen has undergone a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation and is deemed fit for trial. His defense lawyer, Betina Hald Engmark, won’t discuss the case before the trial begins.
Wall’s family has declined to comment “for the time being.”