On an island near Copenhagen, a Swedish journalist boards a homemade submarine. Hours later, her partner reports her missing. Then a mutilated body washes up on a nearby beach. But what happened to Kim Wall, and what role – if any – did the inventor Peter Madsen play in her disappearance?
Wall was born on March 23, 1987, in Trelleborg, a town in the far south of Sweden. After studying international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, she began focusing on journalism and international affairs.
After gaining a master’s degree from New York’s Columbia University, Wall embarked on a successful career in journalism. Featured in high-profile publications such as Time magazine, The New York Times and The Guardian, much of her writing focused on the very fringes of society.
Among the topics that Wall covered were torture in Idi Amin’s Uganda, the sideshow town of Gibsonton in Florida, and the existence of a subculture of self-proclaimed vampires. However, it was on the old industrial island of Refshaleøen where she would encounter her most dangerous assignment yet.
At about 7:00 p.m. on August 10, 2017, Wall traveled to Refshaleøen, located just across the water from the Danish capital of Copenhagen. There, she met with Peter Madsen, a Danish inventor with a unique claim to fame. Back in 2008, he had launched a homemade submarine, dubbed the UC3 Nautilus.
Madsen had taken three years to build Nautilus, at a cost of some $200,000. And, at more than six-and-a-half feet wide and over 58 feet long, when it was completed it was the biggest submarine that a private individual had ever made. It was certainly an impressive achievement.
For three years, Nautilus ploughed the seas, taking part in a variety of recreational events. In fact, it was even involved in the launch of Sputnik, a craft built by Copenhagen Suborbitals – the only amateur space program in the world. Madsen was involved with the organization at that time.
Then, in 2011, Nautilus was brought back to Refshaleøen in order for upgrades to be carried out. However, it took years for Madsen to raise the funds needed to get the submarine back in the water. Finally, on April 28, 2017, Nautilus was relaunched. Less than four months later, it would embark on its most bizarre journey yet.
When Wall arrived in Refshaleøen, her plan was simple. As part of an article she was writing about the Nautilus, she would interview Madsen onboard his submarine. It’s said that she then intended to sell the finished feature to the U.S. magazine Wired. Unfortunately, though, the journalist’s career was about to come to an abrupt end.
The day after Wall’s appointment with Madsen, Nautilus was scheduled to sail to Bornholm, an island off the eastern coast of Denmark. However, at some point during their journey, Madsen texted the rest of the submarine’s crew with a surprising message.
According to Madsen, the trip to Bornholm was to be canceled. Then came another twist in the tale – although Nautilus was due to return that night, it never arrived in the harbor. In the small hours of August 11, Wall’s concerned partner reported her missing.
Soon after, authorities launched a search and rescue operation out of Øresund, a strait located between Sweden and Denmark. Just after 10:00 a.m., the Nautilus was spotted, sailing in Køge Bay some 30 miles south of Copenhagen. But although Madsen claimed to be heading towards the harbor, something soon went wrong.
At around 11:00 a.m., Nautilus began to sink. Eager to escape, Madsen threw himself into the ocean, where he was picked up by a boat that brought him ashore. When questioned, he claimed that the submarine had experienced a problem with its ballast tank.
However, Wall was nowhere to be seen. According to Madsen, he had dropped her off in Refshaleøen at around 10:30 p.m. the previous evening. Suspecting foul play, police arrested the inventor later that day. Then, on August 12, a court ruled that he should be detained on suspicion of negligent manslaughter.
Meanwhile, Nautilus was refloated and brought to the harbor in the hope that it might shed some light on the mystery. Had Madsen deliberately scuttled the submarine in order to hide evidence of a terrible crime? As police investigated, Madsen changed his story.
In court, Madsen began to claim that Wall had died in an accident on board Nautilus, and that he had buried her at sea. But as ships, helicopters and divers continued to search for any trace of the journalist, a shocking new development occurred.
On August 21, a cyclist made a grim discovery on a Copenhagen beach. It was the mutilated body of a woman, missing its head, arms and legs. The following day, a police spokesman from Copenhagen confirmed that the body parts had been deliberately removed.
Finally, on August 23, came the news that many had suspected – that the mutilated remains were that of Kim Wall. What’s more, someone appeared to have gone to great lengths to ensure that the body would not be recovered. “There seems to be damage to the torso,” investigator Jens Møller told Danish news station DR Forsiden, “which is an attempt to ensure that air and gases should escape, so the body will not drift to the surface.”
Despite the alleged evidence against him, Madsen has stuck to his story. On September 5, 2017, he told a court that a heavy hatch had struck Wall on board Nautilus, fatally injuring her. In what he claims was a state of irrational panic, he disposed of her body. However, he denies any involvement in mutilating the journalist’s remains.
After the hearing, the judge ruled that Madsen be detained for four weeks on suspicion of murder. But as the world waits to find out the truth about Wall’s death, Madsen plans to lodge an appeal against the decision to hold him. Meanwhile, a Kim Wall Memorial Fund has been launched. According to her family and friends, they hope that it will support female journalists who wish to continue her legacy – a fitting tribute to a bold woman who met a tragically premature end.