Torso's DNA matches journalist believed killed in amateur submarine

A headless torso found on a beach off Copenhagen is identified as that of missing Swedish journalist Kim Wall, who is believed to have died on an amateur-built submarine earlier this month.

Human remains weighed down in apparent effort to keep submerged, police say

Kim Wall, shown in a 2015 handout photo, was working on a profile of amateur submarine builder Peter Madsen when she died. (Peter Thomson/AFP/Getty Images)

A headless torso found on a beach off Copenhagen has been identified as that of missing Swedish journalist Kim Wall, who is believed to have died on an amateur-built submarine earlier this month, Danish police said Wednesday.

Wall, 30, was last seen alive on Aug. 10 on Danish inventor Peter Madsen's submarine, which police believe he intentionally sank off Denmark's eastern coast the following day.

Madsen, 46, who was then arrested on preliminary manslaughter charges, denies having anything to do with Wall's disappearance. Her family says that the freelance journalist was working on a story about Madsen.

It doesn't change my client's explanation.— Betina Hald Engmark, lawyer 

The torso was found Monday on a beach by a member of the public who was cycling on Copenhagen's southern Amager island, near where she was believed to have died. Copenhagen police said Tuesday that her head, arms and legs had "deliberately been cut off" her body.

Blood in submarine

DNA tests confirmed the torso is Wall's, Copenhagen police investigator Jens Moeller Jensen told reporters Wednesday. He said it was attached to a piece of metal "likely with the purpose to make it sink."

Police match DNA from torso to missing Swedish reporter

4 years ago
Duration 0:39
Kim Wall believed to have been killed aboard amateur submarine 0:39

The body "washed ashore after having been at sea for a while," he said. He added police found marks on the torso indicating someone tried to press air out of the body so that it wouldn't float.

Dried blood belonging to Wall was also found inside the submarine, he said.

"On Aug. 12, we secured a hair brush and a toothbrush [in Sweden] to ensure her DNA. We also found blood in the submarine and there is a match," Moeller Jensen said.

The cause of the journalist's death is not yet known, police said, adding they were still looking for the rest of her body.

Vessel recovered

Madsen, who remains in police custody on suspicion of manslaughter, initially told investigators that Wall disembarked from the submarine to a northern Copenhagen island several hours into their trip and that he didn't know what happened to her afterward. He later told authorities "an accident occurred on board that led to her death" and he "buried" her at sea.

Madsen's defence lawyer said her client still maintains that he didn't kill Wall, and that the discovery of her torso doesn't mean he's guilty.

Police technicians investigate the UC3 Nautilus in Copenhagen harbour. Police believe Madsen might have sunk the sub on purpose. (Jens Noergaard Larsen/Scanpix Denmark/Reuters)

"It doesn't change my client's explanation that an accident happened," Betina Hald Engmark told Danish BT tabloid, adding "no matter what, we find it very positive that she has been found now."

The journalist's boyfriend alerted authorities Aug. 11 that the sub, named the UC3 Nautilus, hadn't returned from a test run. The Danish navy then launched a rescue operation, including a search by two of its helicopters and three of its ships. Madsen was picked up by a private boat.

The navy said the sub had been seen sailing, but then sank shortly afterward. Police believe Madsen deliberately sank the submarine. Authorities later found it and brought it up onto land for investigation.

Spacecraft and submarines

Madsen made headlines when he launched the submarine on May 3, 2008.

A self-taught aerospace engineer, Madsen was one of several entrepreneurs who founded an association known as Copenhagen Suborbitals to develop and construct a manned spacecraft and submarines.

Madsen, right, was picked up by a private vessel after his submarine sank. He told investigators Wall died in an accident and that he buried her at sea. (Scanpix Denmark/Bax Lindhardt/Reuters)

The group split in 2014, and Nautilus, described as the world's largest privately built submarine, is currently owned by Madsen's company Rocket Madsen Space Lab.

Wall, a Sweden-born freelance journalist, studied at the Sorbonne university in Paris, the London School of Economics and at Columbia University in New York, where she graduated with a master's degree in journalism in 2013.

'One of the most talented journalists'

She lived in New York and Beijing, her family said, and had written for the New York Times, the Guardian, the South China Morning Post and Vice Magazine, among other publications.

Her family had told The Associated Press she was working on a piece on Madsen.

Coleen Jose, who went to Columbia with Wall, said she and other Columbia students from the Class of 2013 have a private Facebook group where they share memories of her and emerging details of the investigation into her death.

She said a member of that group was talking to her on WhatsApp shortly before she went missing. She stopped messaging suddenly.

"It's hard to put it into a few words, but she is one of the most talented journalists that I have ever met and worked with," Jose told As It Happens guest host Jim Brown.

"As a friend, I admired her critical thinking about the world. She told human stories for incredibly complex issues that span generations or governmental agencies in a very human way, and she found commonalities in those connections for a global audience."

Died miles from childhood home

Jose said Wall had a "knack for the quirky things in life."

"She had the best knit sweaters from Sweden and elsewhere in the world. Amazing style and always wore her hair in a top-knot messy bun before it was a thing or it was cool. She was hilarious."

Her family said she had worked in many dangerous places as a journalist, and it was unimaginable "something could happen ... just a few miles from the childhood home."

In an email to The Associated Press, the family said it received the confirmation of her death "with boundless sadness and dismay," adding "the tragedy has hit not only us and other families, but friends and colleagues all over the world."

With files from As It Happens