The death of Kim Wall has sent ripples of disbelief and fear through journalism communities and among women around the world. Her loss to her family must be beyond heartbreaking. Her friends and colleagues have expressed that they have lost a shining light. And her intellect and expression will both be a loss to the media and the public.
While the details of her death are still unknown, there are some facts that are not in dispute.
On Thursday 10 August, she boarded the submarine of Danish inventor Peter Madsen at Refshale Island, Copenhagen. It is widely understood that she was working on a story about him – but no publication has come forward to claim the commission. It is possible that she was still intending to pitch it.
The vessel did not return to harbour that day.
When Wall had not returned home by Friday morning, her boyfriend alerted the authorities. Later that morning, the submarine was sighted in a strait between Denmark and Sweden.
Communication was established with Madsen. The vessel sank, and Madsen was taken in to speak to the authorities.
He initially said that he had dropped Wall off in Copenhagen, but then changed his story to say that there had been an accident on the submarine, she had died, and he had buried her at sea.
On 21 August, Wall’s headless and limbless body was found by a passing cyclist, south of Copenhagen.
Authorities have suggested that the submarine was deliberately sunk and that Wall’s body had been weighted, presumably so that it would not be found.
While there is still a great deal of evidence to come to light, very few people believe that there is any doubt that Madsen killed Wall, then attempted to conceal her body, and then sunk his submarine to obscure the evidence.
The news of her death is horrifying. One can only imagine the events that led up to her demise, but it is fairly certain that these were not pleasant moments. Death in a tin can under the sea at the hands of a madman is way down on my list of options of how I’d like to go.
While her loss is tragic to her family, friends and colleagues, it resonates with all women because of the way in which she died. It brings into focus the flimsy nature of all the checks and balances we put in place to secure our own safety – buying in to the “trust economy”.
We believe that if we send our families a WhatsApp when we’re on our way home and we go missing, a search party will find us before too much damage is done.
We believe that if we use an Uber, the sophisticated driver and account tracking will keep us safe.
We believe that if we stay in an Airbnb, the fear of a bad review will keep a lecherous host from overstepping too many social boundaries.
And we believe that if we meet with someone for work, someone we are known to be with, they won’t kill us because our colleagues and families know where we are.
All of these beliefs – all of these little extra steps that women take to keep themselves safe – count on one thing: that murderers generally think about what they are about to do, and would rather not get caught.
The chilling truth that Kim Wall’s murder brings home to us all is that sometimes, some women will be unfortunate enough to encounter a homicidal maniac – one who doesn’t plan, and for whom the need to kill you overrides any concern he has for his own freedom or place in society.
And all the apps, and cell phone tracking and family knowledge of your whereabouts won’t make an ounce of difference to your safety, should you meet one of these beasts.
Hundreds of women meet horrific ends all around the world every day at the hands of men like these. While we can only hope that we don’t encounter one, we never really know.
And the problem is that we can either move through the world and hope for the best, or hide in terror from the madmen that are lurking. The problem with stories like these is that they can’t even serve as a cautionary tale, because what could Wall have done – what can any of us do – differently?
My condolences go out to Kim Wall’s family. I hope that with time they will be able to celebrate her intellect and her passion without always remembering the horror of her death. And I hope the authorities find the evidence they need to bring down the full might of the law on her murderer.