COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Journalist Kim Wall had reported on conflicts, crises and natural disasters around the world. Earlier this month, she set out to sea from laid-back Copenhagen for a story about an eccentric Danish inventor and his home-made submarine.
She never returned. On Wednesday, police confirmed that Wall’s headless torso had been found on a beach near the Danish capital. The inventor, Peter Madsen, has been arrested on suspicion of killing her.
Wall, 30, was last seen alive on the evening of Aug. 10 on Madsen’s submarine, UC3 Nautilus, off Denmark’s eastern coast. Her family says the freelance journalist was working on a story about Madsen, a celebrity entrepreneur and engineer who dreamed of launching a manned space mission.
Early the next day, Wall’s boyfriend reported her missing. Hours later, 46-year-old Madsen was rescued from his sinking vessel south of Copenhagen. Wall was nowhere to be found.
Madsen, who remains in police custody on suspicion of manslaughter, initially told police he had let Wall off on an island several hours into the trip. Later, he said she had died accidentally and he had “buried” her at sea.
On Monday, a cyclist discovered a torso on a beach on Copenhagen’s southern Amager island, near where Wall was believed to have died. Copenhagen police said Tuesday that the body’s head, arms and legs had “deliberately been cut off.”
Copenhagen police investigator Jens Moeller Jensen told reporters Wednesday that DNA tests had confirmed the torso was Wall’s.
Dried blood found inside the submarine was also a match to DNA obtained from Wall’s toothbrush and hairbrush, he said.
Moeller Jensen said the torso “washed ashore after having been at sea for a while,” and was attached to a piece of metal “likely with the purpose to make it sink.”
The investigator said marks on the torso indicated that someone had tried to press air out of the body so that it wouldn’t float.
The cause of the journalist’s death is not yet known, police said. They are still looking for the rest of her body.
Madsen’s defense lawyer said her client still maintains that Wall died accidentally, and that the discovery of her torso doesn’t mean he’s guilty of killing her.
“It doesn’t change my client’s explanation that an accident happened,” Betina Hald Engmark told Danish tabloid BT.
“No matter what, we find it very positive that she has been found now,” she added.
Wall’s boyfriend alerted authorities early on Aug. 11 that the 40-ton, nearly 60-foot-long sub hadn’t returned from a test run.
The Danish navy launched a rescue operation, scrambling two helicopters and three ships for the search.
The navy said the sub had been seen sailing, but sank shortly afterward. Madsen was picked up by a private boat.
Police say they believe Madsen deliberately scuttled the submarine. Authorities later found it and brought it onto land for investigation.
A self-taught aerospace engineer, Madsen was one of a group of entrepreneurs who founded Copenhagen Suborbitals, a private consortium to develop and construct submarines and manned spacecraft.
Madsen made headlines when he launched the Nautilus – billed as the world’s largest privately built sub – on May 3, 2008.
In 2011, Copenhagen Suborbitals launched a homemade 30-foot (nine-meter) rocket 5 miles into the sky over the Baltic Sea, a step toward its unrealized goal of launching a person into space.
The group split in 2014, and Nautilus is currently owned by Madsen’s company Rocket Madsen Space Lab, billed on its website as “a place where nothing is impossible and where science and innovation meet practical engineering.”
Wall grew up in southern Sweden, just across a strait from Copenhagen. She studied at the Sorbonne university in Paris, the London School of Economics and at Columbia University in New York, graduating with a master’s degree in journalism in 2013.
She lived in New York and Beijing, her family said, and had written for the New York Times, the Guardian, the South China Morning Post and Vice Magazine, among other publications. She had reported from Cuba, Sri Lanka, Uganda, China and the Marshall Islands.
Her family said that she had worked in many dangerous places as a journalist, and it was unimaginable “something could happen … just a few miles from the childhood home.”
In an email to the Associated Press, the family said it received the confirmation of her death “with boundless sadness and dismay,” adding “the tragedy has hit not only us and other families, but friends and colleagues all over the world.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists said it was “shocked and saddened” by Wall’s death.
“Wall’s death on a seemingly low-risk assignment underscores the dangers that journalists face around the world every day,” said the group’s Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator, Nina Ognianova.
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