Danish mystery takes dark turn as inventor says woman died on his submarine

Peter Madsen says journalist Kim Wall died in accident on vessel and he buried her at sea

 Submarine UC3 Nautilus being lifted on to a  truck after being salvaged   in Copenhagen’s harbour, on August 12th. Photograph: Jens Noergaard Larsen/EPA

Submarine UC3 Nautilus being lifted on to a truck after being salvaged in Copenhagen’s harbour, on August 12th. Photograph: Jens Noergaard Larsen/EPA

 

The mysterious disappearance of a Swedish journalist who vanished after boarding a Danish inventor’s submarine took a dark turn Monday, when police revealed that the inventor had changed his account, telling investigators that she died on his vessel and that he had buried her at sea.

The inventor, Peter Madsen, is being held on charges of involuntary manslaughter.

He initially told the authorities that he and the journalist, Kim Wall, had gone out on August 10th in the UC3 Nautilus, a 26-foot submarine he had built, and that he had dropped her off back on land in a remote section of the port of Copenhagen later that night. The next morning, her boyfriend reported her missing, and Mr Madsen was arrested.

A search operation found the sunken vessel in Koge Bay, south of Copenhagen after Mr Madsen had plunged into the water and swam toward a boat, his rescuer, a private citizen, said.

Mr Madsen now asserts that “that an accident happened onboard the submarine which lead to Kim Wall’s death and that he subsequently buried her at sea”, Copenhagen police said in a statement Monday.

Danish inventor Peter Madsen, who changed his earlier statement that he dropped Kim Wall off alive from his submarine in Copenhagen. Photograph: Scanpix Denmark/Ida Marie Odgaard/Reuters
Danish inventor Peter Madsen, who changed his earlier statement that he dropped Kim Wall off alive from his submarine in Copenhagen. Photograph: Scanpix Denmark/Ida Marie Odgaard/Reuters

The disappearance has riveted Scandinavia, and his new account appears to raise more questions than it answers: If there had been an accident, why didn’t Mr Madsen call the police? Why didn’t he bring her body to shore? Why did he initially say he had dropped her off on land? The submarine was found 22 feet below sea level and was brought ashore shortly after it sank.

Search for body

Using divers and sonar, authorities were searching for Ms Wall’s body along the submarine’s route, north and south of Copenhagen, the police statement said.

Ms Madsen’s new account was only disclosed Monday, with the approval of both the prosecution and the defence, although he had given it in court, behind closed doors, on August 12th, a day after his arrest. He is due again in court next month.

Mr Madsen’s lawyer, Betina Hald Engmark, told the Danish television network TV2 that her client was co-operating with police investigators and that he maintained that he was not guilty.

The details were not immediately made public, officials said, to protect the police investigation and out of concern for Ms Wall’s family. Her relatives have said they believed Ms Wall (30) had travelled to Denmark on a reporting assignment. Friends of Ms Wall have told local news media that she was about to move to China with her boyfriend.

According to her friend and fellow journalist Victoria Greve, writing in the Swedish daily Expressen, Ms Wall had signed a lease for a small studio apartment in Beijing.

Journalist Kim Wall, who vanished on August 10th, when she left the port of Copenhagen on the UC3 Nautilus, a submarine built and operated by Peter Madsen. Photograph: Tom Wall via The New York Times
Journalist Kim Wall, who vanished on August 10th, when she left the port of Copenhagen on the UC3 Nautilus, a submarine built and operated by Peter Madsen. Photograph: Tom Wall via The New York Times

A freelance journalist and a graduate of Columbia University in New York, she had written for a wide range of international publications, including the New York Times. Ms Wall had reported on Ugandan ghost stories and on Cuban internet pirates who distributed episodes of Keeping up with the Kardashians without authorisation. With Ms Greve, she reported for Swedish Radio on affluent American women who support President Donald Trump.

‘Rocket Madsen’

Mr Madsen (46) is known in Denmark as “Rocket Madsen”, an uncompromising builder of submarines and space rockets who was hoping to become the world’s first amateur space traveller riding in a homemade rocket. For years he was able to build a community that offered helping hands and raised funds for his projects.

But his temper caused conflicts with many of them, Thomas Djursing, a biographer, told BT, a Danish newspaper. “He argues with every Tom, Dick and Harry,” Mr Djursing said. “I’ve argued with him as well. But that’s what it’s like with people driven by deep passion.”

In her Expressen article about Ms Wall, her colleague, Ms Greve, reflected on how improbable it was that a short day trip to Denmark would end up being the last reporting trip of her friend’s career.

“There’s a dark irony in Kim, who travelled to North Korea and reported from Haiti, should disappear in Denmark,” she wrote. “Perhaps it speaks to the vulnerability of female freelance journalists.”

New York Times service