The disappearance has riveted Scandinavia, and his new account appears to raise more questions than it answers.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — 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 Aug. 10 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 Madsen was arrested. A search operation found the sunken vessel in Koge Bay, south of Copenhagen after Madsen had plunged into the water and swam toward a boat, his rescuer, a private citizen, said.
Madsen now asserts that “there was an accident on board which caused Kim Wall’s death and that he consequently buried her at sea,” the Copenhagen police said in a statement Monday.
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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 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, the UC3 Nautilus, 26 feet long, was found 22 feet below sea level and was brought ashore shortly after it sank.
Using divers and sonar, the authorities were searching for Wall’s body along the submarine’s route, north and south of Copenhagen, the police statement said. On Monday evening, the police announced that a woman’s torso had been found on a shore south of Copenhagen.
“It’s a torso without a head, arms or legs,” said Jens Moller, chief homicide investigator of the Copenhagen police, adding: “It’s way, way too early to say if it’s Kim Wall. We don’t know if it’s her.”
He added that the torso had been in water for “some time,” and that identifying the body could take days.
Madsen’s new account of Wall’s death was only disclosed Monday, with the approval of both the prosecution and the defense, although he had given it in court, behind closed doors, on Aug. 12, a day after his arrest.
Madsen’s lawyer, Betina Hald Engmark, told the Danish television network TV2 that her client was cooperating with 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 Wall’s family. Her relatives have said they believed Wall, 30, had traveled to Denmark on a reporting assignment.
Friends of 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, Wall had signed a lease for a small studio apartment in Beijing.
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.
Wall had reported on the legacy of Ugandan torture chambers and on Cuban internet pirates who distributed episodes of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” without authorization. With Greve, she reported for Swedish Radio on affluent American women who support President Donald Trump.
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 traveler 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,” 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 Wall, her colleague, 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 traveled to North Korea and reported from Haiti, should disappear in Denmark,” she wrote. “Perhaps it speaks to the vulnerability of female freelance journalists. To work alone and do everything. Kim can photograph and shoot film as a complement to the texts.”
For some Danes, the mystery had the air of the Scandinavian crime thrillers for which the region is known. “This story is endlessly fascinating and as in any good crime novel we find the truth piece by piece,” said Lone Theils, the author of “Fatal Crossing,” a novel about two young girls who go missing on a ferry.
“There’s still a lot of mystery and lots of speculation. Everybody here has their own theories on what happened. I haven’t been anywhere at dinner or coffee with more than two people where this story didn’t come up. People share what they’ve heard and what they think.”
“Denmark is such a small country and everybody feels close. A colleague of mine’s brother has a friend who knows him,” she said, referring to Madsen, “and another colleague knows Kim Wall’s parents.”