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Owner Of Danish Submarine Held On Murder Charges


A mystery has been unfolding in Copenhagen over the weekend. And it has all the elements of a Hollywood thriller - an inventor and his homemade submarine, a young journalist and, allegedly, a murder. Sidsel Overgaard joins us now from Denmark to talk about what's been going on. Sidsel, who are the people at the center of this mystery?

SIDSEL OVERGAARD, BYLINE: So the people that you just alluded to there are Peter Madsen and Kim Wall. We'll start with Peter Madsen. He's a 46-year-old self-described inventor-entrepreneur. And he's known here in Denmark as Rocket Madsen. And you might guess from that name that he's something of a character. He's best known for trying to design and send amateur-built rockets into space. You can think of him maybe as a wannabe Elon Musk or Richard Branson on a much smaller scale. But he has that anything-is-possible attitude that anyone trying to get into space would have to have and a certain willingness to take risk.


OVERGAARD: In addition to his work with rockets, though, he's also built three submarines. And the latest of those is what's at the scene - is the scene for this story. It's called the UC3 Nautilus. It's about 60 feet long. It's one of the biggest homemade submarines in the world. It was finished in 2008. But after an accident in 2010, it's been dry docked for six years while he and his team of mostly volunteers have been working to fix it. But it was finally put back in the water this spring...


OVERGAARD: ...Which brings us to Kim Wall, who's a 30-year-old Swedish journalist who was reportedly writing an article about Madsen and Nautilus, which is why she set sail with him on Thursday. We don't know what the angle of her story was beyond that.

MARTIN: OK. So they set off on Thursday. And then what happened?

OVERGAARD: Well, they set sail from Copenhagen Harbor and were last seen together by a boater about an hour and a half later. Then in the middle of the night, Wall's boyfriend called authorities to say that he hadn't been able to get in touch with her. That launched this whole search-and-rescue operation. But there was no sign of the submarine until the next morning, when it was spotted south of where it had set sail. Madsen made contact and said he'd had technical problems but was going to try to sail the submarine to harbor.

But then half an hour later, it suddenly sank - as in 30 seconds, and it was underwater. And he was rescued in a private boat. But there was no sign of Wall. The search for that submarine was already a big story because of Rocket Madsen. But the disappearance of Wall is what's made this front-page news in Denmark and Sweden for a few days now. Initially, Madsen claimed to have dropped her off back in Copenhagen the night before. Police are now saying his story has changed, but they aren't revealing any details about how it's changed.

MARTIN: But he has been charged with killing her?

OVERGAARD: Yes. And the police announced the charge already on Friday evening just hours after the sub sank. In court on Saturday, Madsen said he was not guilty. That hearing was held behind closed doors, which is a big part of the reason that this case remains so mysterious. On Sunday morning, the police said they'd recovered the submarine, and there was no body inside. But they had reason to believe that Nautilus had been intentionally sunk.

MARTIN: Wow. OK. So if this does turn out to be a homicide, any idea of motive?

OVERGAARD: Well, we don't know. But, of course, with a case this riveting, there's plenty of public speculation. I've seen a couple of tweets where people suggest this is some kind of big PR stunt. Other people think he's actually been accused much too quickly and that it may not be justified. Mostly, there's just a lot of people wondering what happened on the submarine. You know, she was a journalist. Did she have dirt on him? And what was so sensitive that that hearing on Saturday had to happen behind closed doors. It's said that some of the information could've been offensive to the victim's family, but we don't know what that could be.

MARTIN: All right. Reporter Sidsel Overgaard reporting from Denmark - thanks so much, Sidsel.

OVERGAARD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sidsel Overgaard
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