COPENHAGEN, Denmark – A self-taught Danish engineer was convicted of murder Wednesday for luring a Swedish journalist on to his homemade submarine, then torturing and killing her before dismembering her body and dumping it at sea in a sensational case that has gripped Scandinavia.
Peter Madsen, 47, was sentenced in Copenhagen City Court to life in prison for killing Kim Wall, a 30-year-old freelance reporter, after bringing her aboard his submarine with the promise of an interview last summer.
“We are talking about a cynical and planned sexual assault and brutal murder of a random woman, who in connection with her journalistic work had accepted an offer to go sailing in the defendant’s submarine,” presiding Judge Anette Burkoe told the court.
Life sentences in Denmark usually mean 16 years in prison, but convicts are reassessed during their incarceration to determine whether they would pose a danger to society if released and can be kept longer.
Prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen said he was satisfied that Madsen got “the heaviest penalty in Danish law, namely prison for life.”
Wall was at a waterfront party with her Danish boyfriend on Aug. 10 when she received a text from Madsen that he would grant her the interview she had been waiting for months for if she joined him immediately. She was last seen waving goodbye to her friends from the bridge of the submarine as it sailed into the Baltic.
The submarine was spotted the next day as it passed a lighthouse in waters between Denmark and Sweden, then sank shortly afterward in what police later concluded was an intentional act.
After being rescued, Madsen told authorities that before the submarine went down he had dropped Wall off on Copenhagen’s trendy Refshale island, where she lived and he kept his workshop.
After further questioning, that story changed and Madsen claimed that Wall hit her head on the submarine’s hatch and died accidentally. He said he then buried her at sea.
Eleven days after her disappearance, a cyclist found Wall’s mutilated torso. Police divers then recovered a weighted-down bag containing her head, other body parts and clothing in October. When no injuries were found to her skull, Madsen changed his story again, saying that she died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a malfunction on the submarine.
Wall, he told the court, had “a wonderful evening until it ended in an accident.”
Although he insisted he did not kill Wall, Madsen did eventually admit to dismembering her body, but struggled during his trial to explain why.
“What do you do when you have a large problem?” he said at one point. “You make it smaller.”
The specific cause of death was never established, but Buch-Jepsen introduced evidence that Madsen stashed a saw and sharpened screwdrivers on board the submarine, suggesting it was premediated murder.
Investigators also found dozens of links on his computer to sites about the sexual torture of women, and the night before the crime he ran a search for the terms “beheading,” “girl” and “agony,” according to evidence presented in court.
Wall’s dismembered torso had multiple stabs wound, including in the genitals. Though there was no evidence she had been raped, semen was found in Madsen’s underwear, according to evidence presented in court.
In her verdict, Burkoe noted the discrepancies in Madsen’s stories, saying he had “failed to give trustworthy explanations.” She added that the court found he “has shown interest for killing and maiming of people and has shown interest for impaling.”
Madsen listened quietly as the verdict was read, looking down at the desk in front of him. Immediately after his conviction on charges of murder, sexual assault and defilement of a body, Madsen’s lawyer, Betina Hald Engmark, told the court she would appeal. The court ordered Madsen kept behind bars during the appeals process.
Wall had reported for The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Guardian and other publications and was preparing to relocate with her boyfriend to China – a move they were celebrating with friends the day she went missing.
Despite the widespread international interest in the case, the court did not allow the verdict to be broadcast live and restricted delayed broadcasts to Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.
The case prompted investigators to re-examine several unsolved killings in Denmark, including the 1986 discovery of the dismembered remains of a 22-year-old Japanese tourist in plastic bags in Copenhagen harbor, but no links to Madsen were found.
During the trial, witnesses painted a picture of Madsen as a tech nerd who was intensely competitive, often to the detriment of friendships and relationships.
He was involved in Copenhagen’s art scene – once hosting a mini ballet on board his submarine – but also in its bondage club scene, where one member testified he had been kicked out for being too passive. His wife, who initially supported Madsen, but reportedly sought a divorce from him earlier this year, told authorities he openly spoke about attending fetish parties without her.
Madsen, who grew up in a small town west of Copenhagen, built rockets in his spare time but never went to university. In 2008, he launched his UC3 Nautilus submarine, which he claimed was the largest privately built submarine in the world.
Wall had planned to interview Madsen for a story on a rocket program he founded in 2014, with the goal of building a crowd-funded rocket to launch himself into space. But by the time he finally texted her, his cash flow had dried up and he had cancelled the planned test launch later that month.
During the trial, Madsen appeared uninterested when the prosecution detailed a court-ordered psychiatric report describing him as “emotionally impaired with severe lack of empathy, anger and guilt” and having “psychopathic tendencies.” But he became animated when technical details about his projects were described.
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