HBO’s The Investigation takes a tried-and-true theme — a well-known true crime — but with a twist: instead of focusing on the mystery of what happened, the series focuses on the real investigation that followed said murder.
The Danish crime series, directed by Tobias Lindholm (Borgen), is based on the murder of Kim Wall, a Swedish journalist who went missing after going on a submarine for an assignment. Rather than focusing on the grisly crime, however, The Investigation follows the chief detective, Jens Møller Jensen (Søren Malling), as well as the prosecutors and team of investigators and divers who worked to bring justice to the Wall family. But there is a woman's life and career tangled up in this true story, one that merits some focus as viewers follow the HBO series.
Wall was born on March 22, 1987, in Trelleborg, Scania, to Ingrid and Joachim Wall. She received her bachelor’s at the London School of Economics and a dual master’s at Columbia University, and later became an award-winning journalist.
Throughout her career, Wall wrote for various well-known publications, including The Guardian, The New York Times, Vice, and Slate, about everything from real vampires to Japan’s “fake food capital.” Her reporting took her around the world, from The Marshall Islands and Haiti to Uganda and even North Korea. In March 2016, she won the Hansel Mieth Prize in Germany for a report on climate change and nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands. At the time of her death, she had been living with her boyfriend, Ole Stobbe, in Copenhagen, but the couple had been preparing to move to Beijing so she could write about China.
“She was always going for subcultures or foreign affairs seen through a pop culture lens, finding the odd one and doing her best to make it not look like the odd one,” Caterina Clerici, Wall’s friend and a fellow journalist, told The New York Times in 2017. Wall and Clerici met during an entrance exam at Columbia in 2011, and were each other’s first reporting partners.
“Kim was always on the go, always running after the next thing — a show, an interview, some kind of food she had never tried before,” Clerici wrote in The Guardian in July 2020.
On August 10, 2017, everything changed for Wall. That day, she boarded the UC3 Nautilus, a homemade submarine, to interview its inventor, Peter Madsen. The interview was supposed to be “quick,” Clerici wrote in The Guardian, as Wall had already done most of the legwork ahead of her move to Beijing — she agreed to only two hours on the submarine. The Nautilus never returned to harbor, so her boyfriend reported her missing that night.
The Nautilus was seen in the Køge Bay, southeast of Amager, at about 10:30 local time the next morning — and half an hour later, it sank. After the submarine foundered, Madsen was rescued, arrested and charged with negligent manslaughter, with police under the suspicion that he was to blame for its sinking. He initially claimed he had dropped Wall off on land.
Ten days later, on August 21, a cyclist found Wall’s torso, which had washed up on a beach southwest of Amager. Fifteen stab wounds were later discovered. Several months after that, on October 6, divers and cadaver dogs found two plastic bags in the Køge Bay containing her head, legs, clothes, and a knife; several days after that, they found a saw. A little over a month later, divers found both her arms in the Køge Bay.
Meanwhile, on September 5, Madsen testified in court that Wall had died after being hit in the head with the hatch cover. An examination showed there was no blunt trauma on her head, however, and prosecution said police discovered videos on Madsen’s computer of women being murdered. Madsen then changed his story, claiming she had died due to poisonous exhaust gases, and admitting to dismembering her. Examinations showed no signs of the gases in her lungs, however.
On April 25, 2018, Madsen was convicted of murder, indecent handling of a corpse, and sexual assault, and sentenced to life.
Wall’s family and friends, in the meantime, tried to take back the journalist’s story and control the narrative around Wall. Her parents chronicled her story, including her travels, achievements, and murder, in the book A Silenced Voice: The Life of Journalist Kim Wall. “We don’t want her to be remembered as the victim,” her mother, Ingrid Wall, told Clerici for The Guardian.