It started as a routine meetup between a journalist and her subject. It ended with a dismembered body, a sunken submarine, and an ever-changing story that became more chilling with every telling. This month HBO is unveiling The Investigation, a six-part Danish-language drama about the brutal murder of Kim Wall. If you’ve never heard of this case, you’re not alone.
In August of 2017 freelance journalist Kim Wall was working on a story. Peter Madsen, an engineer and entrepreneur, had made a name for himself building private submarines. His first attempt, the UC1 Freya, became the first private submarine in Danish history. His third vessel, the UC3 Nautilus mini submarine, had been an even greater success. It had served as inspiration for Ubisoft’s video game Silent Hunter 5 and had been used on several missions. A singular man redefining the shipbuilding industry — it was a good story for a reporter who knew how to find them.
It was also a story Wall had been struggling to source. Earlier in the year Wall had requested an interview with Peter Madsen. Madsen finally agreed to meet with her on August 10 of 2017, the same night Wall and her boyfriend Ole Stobbe were supposed to be throwing a farewell party before they left for Beijing. That’s what led Wall to board the Nautilus — dedication to her story and the allure of an elusive source. Kim Wall never returned.
That same night Wall’s boyfriend Stobbe reported the submarine as missing. Even when the sub was found at the bottom of the bay, what happened that night came out in disjointed pieces. Later that month a cyclist found Wall’s torso washed up on a beach. In October police divers found two bags containing Wall’s head, legs, clothes, and a knife. A few days later a saw was discovered. In late November Wall’s arms were found in the bay.
Even odder than Wall’s disturbingly brutal murder was the state of the sub itself. As authorities and the court proceedings would reveal, it’s uncommon for a submarine to one day sink. The only explanation for a vessel as reliable as the Nautilus to sink was for Madsen to scuttle it, the act of intentionally sinking a ship by letting water into its hull.
By August 11, one day after Wall had boarded his submarine, Madsen was arrested for Wall’s murder. Throughout the trial his story changed several times. Originally he claimed that Wall was fine and that he had let her off the boat sometime in the middle of the night. Later he claimed that Wall’s death was an accident, the result of hitting her head too hard against the hatch. Still later after the dismembered body had been found, he claimed she died of exhaust gases, something that was never found in Wall’s lungs. While Madsen’s story kept changing the prosecution continued to find evidence against Madsen. There were stories of Madsen storing videos on his computer of women being murdered or of people seeing Madsen watch decapitation videos.
Though Peter Madsen has never fully explained what happened that night, he was not allowed to walk free. In January of 2018 the court found Madsen responsible for Kim Wall’s death. Altogether he was charged with murder, indecent handling of a corpse, and sexual assault, all of which sentenced to life. For years Madsen maintained his innocence, shifting his story this way or that to appease whoever was asking him. That changed in 2020. While being interviewed for the documentary The Secret Recordings with Peter Madsen, Madsen admitted that he and he alone was responsible for Wall’s murder.
Another interesting wrinkle pertains to the documentary itself. In January of 2020 a second documentary about Madsen, Into the Deep, premiered at Sundance. The film was supposed to go to Netflix. But when it was revealed that the documentary used footage of two people without their consent, the streaming giant pulled away from the project. Unlike with The Secret Recordings with Peter Madsen, Into the Deep didn’t have a confession. Rather it marketed itself as chronicling a murderer days before he commits his crime.
Even with Madsen’s confession, the case of Kim Wall is still haunted by whys. Why did Peter Madsen murder her in such a graphic fashion? Why her? Why submarines? Articulating those endless questions is what The Investigation hopes to accomplish.
The Investigation premieres on HBO NOW and HBO Max on Monday, February 1 at 10/9c p.m.
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