Danish inventor Peter Madsen denies murdering former SCMP journalist Kim Wall on first day of trial
The 30-year-old reporter vanished after going for an evening sail with him on August 10 last year, her dismembered remains found weeks later in plastic bags
Danish inventor Peter Madsen on Thursday denied murdering Swedish journalist Kim Wall aboard his self-built submarine last year as his highly anticipated trial opened in Copenhagen. Madsen asserted that Wall died when air pressure suddenly dropped and toxic fumes filled the vessel.
But the prosecution painted a picture of a sexual sadist obsessed with beheadings who murdered her as part of a sexual fantasy.
Madsen, who has previously admitted dismembering Wall’s body and throwing her remains overboard, told the Copenhagen district court that the former South China Morning Post reporter, died accidentally on board his submarine.
He maintains that the air pressure suddenly dropped in the engine room, where the 30-year-old freelance reporter was located, while he was up on deck.
Wearing a black T-shirt, jeans and black eyeglasses, Madsen appeared calm in court, his gaze often looking downwards.
The trial, scheduled to last until April 25, is expected to shed more light on the circumstances of Wall’s grisly death on board Madsen’s Nautilus submarine on August 10, 2017, when she vanished after going for an evening sail with him to interview him for an article.
Pleading not guilty to premeditated murder, he admitted he had lied to investigators and changed his account of what actually happened to Wall several times.
“I wanted to spare her family and the world the details ... about what actually happened when she died, because it is gruesome.”
He said a vacuum effect meant he was unable to open the hatch to get in to Wall, who was screaming for help.
“I try to explain to Kim through the hatch how to stop the necessary engines, for 5 to 15 minutes I try to get in to her,” Madsen said.
“When I finally manage to open the hatch, a warm cloud hits my face. I find her lifeless on the floor, and I squat next to her and try to wake her up, slapping her cheeks.”
He said he sailed around for a few hours, contemplating suicide, and then slept next to Wall’s body for two hours.
Cutting her up was not a big deal, as he already knew how to amputate limbs “to save lives”.
“I don’t see how that mattered at that time, as she was dead,” Madsen said with a small grin.
“I tried first with an arm, and that went very fast... It went very fast, and I got her out of the submarine.”
Her chopped up body parts, weighed down in plastic bags with metal objects, were later recovered from Danish waters off Copenhagen.
More than 100 journalists from around the world were in place to follow the opening day of the trial at the Copenhagen District Court, also attended by members of Wall’s family.
Prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen started by presenting his opening arguments to the court. He has previously said he will call for a life sentence, which in Denmark averages around 16 years.
An eccentric semi-celebrity in Denmark who built rockets and dreamed of developing private space travel, Madsen faces charges of premeditated murder, desecrating a corpse and aggravated sexual assault.
Wall was reported missing by her boyfriend after she failed to return home from her trip on the 18 metre vessel on August 10, 2017.
On that evening, the couple were having a going-away party – they were due to move to China a few days later – when Madsen, whom she had been trying to interview, contacted her and invited her out on the sub.
On a large screen in the courtroom, the prosecutor showed a series of text messages Wall sent her boyfriend from inside the submarine that evening.
“I’m still alive btw [by the way],” she wrote, adding “But going down now!” and “I love you!!!!!!”
A minute later, she added: “He brought coffee and cookies tho.”
Madsen has changed his version of what happened on board several times. He has insisted her death was an accident but provided no explanation.
An autopsy was unable to determine her cause of death, nor has a motive been established.
But prosecutors have previously said they believe Madsen killed Wall as part of a sexual fantasy.
They believe he bound the 30-year-old freelance reporter by the head, arms and legs before beating her and stabbing her repeatedly in her genital area.
They said he then killed her – probably strangling her or slitting her throat – and cut her up with a saw, stuffing her torso, head, arms and legs in separate bags weighed down with metal objects, and dumping them in Koge Bay off Copenhagen.
Madsen has denied any sexual relations with Wall.
He told investigators he panicked after her death, and dismembered her and buried her at sea.
According to the prosecution, investigators seized a hard drive in his workshop containing fetish films, in which women were tortured, decapitated and burned alive.
Madsen said the drive was not his.
When Wall failed to return home from her interview, her boyfriend reported the Nautilus missing in the middle of the night.
Madsen was plucked from the sea the next morning by a pleasure craft, just as his vessel was sinking.
Investigators believe Madsen deliberately sank the Nautilus.
Wall – who wrote about Chinese feminists rising up against US President Donald Trump’s “misogyny” and Cubans using hard drives to access foreign culture – criss-crossed the globe in search of unique stories.
Soon after her death, the Columbia Journalism School graduate’s family and friends set up a fund in her name to help women journalists reporting on similar issues.
“This will be a way for everyone to focus on the future instead of it all ending that night on the submarine,” her mother Ingrid Wall told Swedish TT news agency ahead of the trial.
“This means her legacy will live on.”