'Suicidal' Danish submarine owner says journalist killed by hatch cover

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Swedish journalist Kim Wall died when she was accidentally hit by a heavy hatch cover on board a home-made submarine, the Danish owner of the vessel testified in court on Tuesday.

A photo of Swedish journalist Kim Wall who was aboard a submarine "UC3 Nautilus" before it sank. TT NEWS AGENCY/ Tom Wall Handout via REUTERS

Peter Madsen, who denies killing Wall, said he was holding the hatch for her but it slipped and hit her head as they sailed in the strait between Denmark and Sweden last month on the UC3 Nautilus submarine he had built.

Madsen, 46, was speaking in court after being charged with killing the Swedish journalist on the submarine and mutilating her body -- a case bearing many of the attributes of the region’s popular Nordic Noir books and films.

It could mean a sentence of five years to life in prison for Madsen, if found guilty.

The court on Tuesday ordered a psychiatric evaluation and that Madsen be kept in custody for four weeks.

In its preliminary investigation, the court had ordered Madsen detained until Tuesday on the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Madsen said Wall’s death was an accident.

With the vessel at the surface, he said he had crawled out through the hatch and was standing on top, while holding it open to let Wall follow him. At that moment, the submarine was rocked by a wave from another boat.

“I lose my foothold and the hatch shuts,” he told the Copenhagen court, saying Wall was knocked to the floor. “There was a pool of blood where she had landed.”

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A prosecutor also read earlier testimony from behind closed doors in which Madsen said the impact had fractured the journalist’s skull and killed her.

Madsen said he tried to bury her at sea but denied mutilating her body, and added that he had contemplated killing himself while still on board.


Wall, a 30-year-old freelance journalist who was researching a story on Madsen, went missing after he took her out to sea in his 17-metre (56-foot) submarine on Aug. 10.

On Aug. 23, police identified a headless female torso that washed ashore in Copenhagen as Wall’s. The cause of her death has not been determined.

In court, Madsen denied having amputated her limbs and said he dropped her “whole” body into the water, several hours after her death, after having a sleep because he was “tired and exhausted”.

He admitted that he wanted to “bury her at sea” by attaching metal to the body in order for it to sink.

“I had no contact with the body and didn’t want a dead body in my submarine,” Madsen told the court. “I put a rope around her feet to drag her out of the hatch,” he said, adding that he was crying during this operation.

“I am suicidal at this stage (and) thought a fitting end for Peter Madsen would be on board the Nautilus,” he said. “I was in a condition where I decided I couldn’t continue the life I had been living.”

He changed his mind, he said, because he wanted to see his wife and three cats.

The submarine is one of three Madsen had built and one of the largest privately built ones in the world. It could carry eight people and weighed 40 tonnes fully equipped.

A day after taking Wall out to sea, Madsen was rescued in a navy operation after deliberately sinking the vessel.

Reporting by Julie Astrid Thomsen; writing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Mark Trevelyan