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Danish inventor charged with killing journalist Kim Wall says she hit head on submarine hatch

Peter Madsen was sentenced to life in prison on April 25 in Sweden for killing and dismembering journalist Kim Wall aboard his submarine in August 2017. (Video: Allie Caren, Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post, Photo: Tom Wall/The Washington Post)

Danish inventor Peter Madsen contends he did not kill Swedish freelance journalist Kim Wall. He says he did not dismember her body, and can’t explain why her headless torso washed ashore without her limbs last month.

But speaking to a court in Copenhagen Tuesday, the 46-year-old who stands accused in her killing admitted that Wall died while reporting aboard his submarine. It was an accident, he said, that began when he lost his foothold while trying to hold open the submarine’s hatch. As Wall made her way up the vessel’s tower, Madsen claimed, she was fatally struck in the head by the 155-pound hatch, the Associated Press reported.

“There was a pool of blood where she had landed,” Madsen said in court, Reuters reported. He then threw her body overboard in a panic, he said.

The hearing was Madsen’s first public court appearance since he was taken into custody Aug. 12 in connection with the 30-year-old journalist’s death. He was initially charged with involuntary manslaughter, but on Tuesday, a judge upgraded those charges to murder, Jakob Buch-Jepsen, special prosecutor with the Copenhagen Police, told The Washington Post.

The judge, Buch-Jepsen recounted, was not convinced by Madsen’s explanation in court, in light of the prosecutor’s evidence.

“Two people are on a boat. Her legs and head and arms were cut off, and we can prove that,” Buch-Jepsen said. “You can draw your own conclusions.”

But, Buch-Jepsen said, it is still early in the investigation, and the cause of Wall’s death is still unknown.

Wall vanished off the coast of Copenhagen after embarking on a reporting trip aboard Madsen’s submarine on Aug. 10. The same day Wall was reported missing, Aug. 11, Madsen was plucked from the water after police say he deliberately sank his submarine.

Wall’s remains were found on shore almost two weeks later, police said. After recovering the sunken submarine, authorities matched blood found in the vessel with DNA from Wall’s torso and from her toothbrush and hairbrush, police said in a news conference.

Journalist mysteriously vanishes after boarding submarine. Sub’s designer is arrested after it sinks.

Her disappearance and subsequent death captured worldwide attention and underscored the risks faced by many female and freelance journalists. Wall reported in-depth stories worldwide, from diverse locations such as postwar Sri Lanka to North Korea. During her brief career, she was described by her friends and family as a brave, intrepid reporter.

The case has been one of the most highly publicized criminal investigations in Denmark in recent memory, Buch-Jepsen said. 

When Wall hit her head against the hatch, the blunt force fractured her skull, Madsen said in an earlier testimony read by the prosecutor in Tuesday’s hearing, Reuters reported. He declined to answer a number of the prosecutor’s unanswered questions, including why Wall’s clothes were missing.

Madsen told the court her shoes and tights came off when he dragged her body through the submarine’s tower with a rope following the accident, the AP and local news outlets reported.

Asked why he threw her body overboard, Madsen told prosecutors that he was panicked and suicidal, and thought it would be best to give Wall a burial at sea, Buch-Jepsen recounted.

“In the shock I was in, it was the right thing to do,” Madsen told the court, AFP reported.

He said he considered taking his own life, but changed his mind because he wanted to see his wife and three cats, Reuters reported.

Madsen then sank the UC3 Nautilus submarine by opening its valves and letting the water flow in, according to a statement read in court, the Local reported.

In the court hearing, prosecutors pressed Madsen on his relationships with women. Although he has been married since 2010, he said he and his wife have an open relationship, according to the prosecutor.

Madsen also confirmed that he had previously brought other guests on his submarine, and had sex on board with at least one of them, the prosecutor said. He said he didn’t have sex with Wall.

When the prosecutor asked him whether he had previously taken part in sadomasochism, he admitted that he had, Buch-Jepsen said. He has been to a number of “kinky” sex parties and is interested in the “diversity of eroticism,” Swedish news outlets reported. However, he said he always treats women gently and respectfully, and would never actually hurt anyone, the prosecutor said.

Madsen’s defense attorney, Betina Hald Engmark told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that her client is “not quite like other people.” While he has “different sexual preferences,” that does not make him a murderer, she said.

According to reporters who attended the hearing, Madsen was dressed in army fatigues and displayed a stoic expression in his court appearance.

The court ordered that Madsen be held in custody for four more weeks and undergo a psychiatric evaluation. If convicted, Madsen could face five years to life in prison. His next court date is Oct. 3.

Police identify headless torso as that of missing journalist Kim Wall

“Now that he remains jailed we can go further with the investigation,” Buch-Jepsen said. Hundreds of people have called police in recent weeks, reporting to have information relevant to the case. Authorities still have numerous witness to interview and evidence to uncover, Buch-Jepsen said.

Police are still looking for the rest of Wall’s remains, which could provide leads to her cause of death.

In the days after Wall disappeared, her friends and family were shocked. Compared to other destinations Wall had reported from, the coast of Denmark appeared relatively safe. It was less than 30 miles from her Swedish home town and in a country ranking among the world’s safest.

“She trusted somebody, and then this is what happened,” Christopher Harress, an Alabama-based reporter and good friend of Wall, told The Post.

Wall had been pursuing a story about Madsen, an amateur rocket builder and well known fanatical character in Denmark. His submarine was described on its website as “one of the world’s largest home-built submarines.”

Madsen initially told authorities he dropped Wall off safely in Copenhagen after she completed a day’s worth of reporting. But then he changed his story, admitting he “buried” Wall at sea after she died aboard the submarine in an “accident,” police said.

Heba Habib reported from Stockholm.

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