Copenhagen (AFP) – An eccentric “inventrepreneur”, or a sexually depraved murderer? Danish prosecutors have portrayed Peter Madsen as a “pathological liar” who enjoyed videos of women being beheaded, but he insists the death of journalist Kim Wall was just an accident.
The evidence presented against Madsen has provided some clues about how the Swedish freelance reporter may have died on board his homemade submarine, but failed to provide a conclusive cause of death.
A Copenhagen court on Wednesday is due to rule whether Madsen is guilty of murdering 30-year-old Wall, cutting up her corpse and then tossing her body parts into the sea on the night of August 10-11 last year.
Nicknamed “Rocket Madsen”, he was well-known in Denmark before his arrest as an inventor who dreamt of exploring worlds beyond. He built his own submarine and was developing plans for private space travel.
Now he faces a life sentence for premeditated murder, desecration of a corpse and aggravated sexual assault against Wall.
Throughout the high-profile trial that lasted most of March and April, prosecutors have relied on violent sex videos found on a hard drive in Madsen’s workshop — including so-called snuff films — of women being beheaded, tortured and impaled, to provide a motive for the gruesome crime.
They claim Madsen tied Wall up before beating her and stabbing her repeatedly in the genital area.
They say he then killed her, possibly by strangulation, dismembered her torso, head, and legs, and placed them in separate bags weighed down with metal objects before tossing them into Koge Bay off Copenhagen.
Madsen, meanwhile, has insisted the hard drive was not his, and said Wall died when the air pressure suddenly dropped and toxic fumes filled the vessel while he was up on deck.
But prosecutors argue he planned it all by bringing a saw, knife, plastic strips and metal pipes on board.
Described by psychiatrists as having “psychopathic traits” and at “high risk” of recidivism, Madsen has changed his version of events several times.
But he has always maintained Wall’s death was accidental.
He did however tell investigators he panicked after her death: he took a nap, then chopped up her body and threw it overboard.
– Rocky past –
Peter Langkjaer Madsen grew up in the small town of Saeby, 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Copenhagen.
His parents divorced when he was six and Madsen went to live with his father, whom he has described as authoritarian and violent.
“When I think about my father, I think how children in Germany must have felt if their dad was a commandant in a concentration camp,” Madsen said in a 2014 biography.
At 15, he started his first company, Danish Space Academy, to buy spare parts to build a rocket.
He studied engineering, but quit once he thought he knew enough to build submarines and rockets.
“My passion is finding ways to travel to worlds beyond the well-known,” Madsen wrote on the website of his now-defunct Rocket Madsen Space Lab.
In 2008, he launched the Nautilus, the biggest privately made submarine whose ownership was later transferred to him after a row with former colleagues.
Around the same time, he developed his idea for private space travel.
In June 2011, he successfully launched a rocket from a floating platform on the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm.
Madsen reportedly had an open marriage. Some of his ex-girlfriends have told the media he was into sado-masochism and erotic asphyxiation.
– ‘Loving psychopath’ –
His half-brother Benny Langkjaer Egeso told AFP in August that Madsen is “very strange”, but also “very open and likeable”.
But others describe him as an erratic person who had spats with former colleagues and an interest in violent pornography.
“His sexual fantasies slowly got out of hand,” an associate, who had worked in Madsen’s laboratory, told the Copenhagen court, adding that the inventor called himself a “psychopath, but a loving one.”
The associate said Madsen toyed with the idea of making a pornographic film showing acts of torture and was “interested in snuff films,” or movies where a person is really killed or kills themself.
Madsen has denied searching for or downloading such films but admitted to watching them “to be able to feel emotions and to cry” about the women’s suffering.
But another apprentice engineer who had worked with him told the court the inventor was a “kind, empathic, passionate man who was ready to listen”.