Alleged submarine killer says death an accident

Peter Madsen (above) is accused of killing and dismembering Swedish journalist Kim Wall (top) last year aboard the submarine he built.
Peter Madsen (above) is accused of killing and dismembering Swedish journalist Kim Wall last year aboard the submarine he built.
Peter Madsen (above) is accused of killing and dismembering Swedish journalist Kim Wall (top) last year aboard the submarine he built.
Peter Madsen is accused of killing and dismembering Swedish journalist Kim Wall (above) last year aboard the submarine he built.

He says fumes killed journalist after engine failed on self-built sub

COPENHAGEN (Denmark) • It took three dogs trained to search on water, an oceanographer and a team of military divers to find the body of Ms Kim Wall, a Swedish journalist, in the bay off Copenhagen after she went missing on Aug 10 last year.

On Thursday, the man accused of killing and dismembering her in his self-built submarine went on trial for murder.

Ms Wall, 30, a promising and prolific journalist, disappeared after meeting the suspect, Peter Madsen, for an interview aboard the submarine he had built.

Hours later, after text messages to her boyfriend had stopped, the police were called. Parts of her body were later found in Koge Bay, near Copenhagen.

After gathering evidence contradicting Madsen's shifting explanations about Ms Wall's death, prosecutors charged him with premeditated murder, sexual assault, indecent handling of a body and other crimes.

Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Madsen, 47, whose case has garnered attention far beyond Scandinavia. The trial is expected to take place over 12 days during the next two months, with a verdict expected in late April.

On Thursday, Madsen pleaded not guilty to murder. The trial prosecutor, Mr Jakob Buch-Jepsen, spent the morning summarising the case, the charges and the main evidence that will be presented.

He said 37 witnesses would be called, a handful by the defence.

He also warned the court that graphic and disturbing photographs would be presented and said that, according to a psychiatric evaluation, Madsen was "severely aberrant", but not insane.

He added that Madsen was manipulative and lacked empathy and feelings of guilt.

On March 24 last year, Ms Wall had contacted Madsen, requesting an interview. They then met on Aug 10, the day they departed on the submarine. The prosecutor showed pictures of Madsen and Ms Wall sailing off into the Oresund strait around 7pm. At 8.16pm, she sent the last text messages to her boyfriend.

An image of the chat was shared with the courtroom on a screen.

Forensic experts later found her blood on Madsen's face. Her underwear and nylon stockings, with cut marks, were found in the submarine.

The courtroom was shown a video tour of the vessel, and the prosecutor showed footage of divers' efforts to recover Ms Wall's body parts from the bottom of the ocean.

There were shots of plastic bags, containing clothing and limbs, weighed down by metal pipes.

Madsen sat calmly, resting his chin on his fists at times, as he followed the proceedings intently.

After a lunch break, he took the stand. At times cheeky, at times condescending, he had an answer for everything.

He stuck to his most recent account that the death was a terrible accident caused by a malfunction that made the engines stop, the pressure to drop, the hatch to lock shut and gases to poison the air in the submarine, resulting in Ms Wall's death.

He said he survived because he was on top of the submarine at the time. He said a vent suddenly opened, allowing the hatch to open and fresh air to gush in. He said he tried to hide the death out of consideration for Ms Wall's family.

While an exact cause of death has not been established because the body parts were in the water for so long, investigators say that she was either strangled, or her throat cut.

Prosecutors have asked for a life sentence or, failing that, a sentence of "safe custody," a special psychiatric measure for those considered particularly dangerous.

While both sentences can be indefinite, Madsen could apply for parole after 12 years if given a life sentence.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 11, 2018, with the headline 'Alleged submarine killer says death an accident'. Print Edition | Subscribe