UPDATE (FEBRUARY 7, 2017):
The autopsy report in the Birna Brjansdottir case has been released. Her cause of death is drowning, and it seems likely that her body was thrown from a bridge. The report determined that the 20-year-old had been alive when she was tossed into the North Atlantic Ocean.
Her naked body was discovered 20 miles south east of Reykjavik, with bruises on her neck.
One of the suspects, who was determined to have been the one who rented the Red Kia seen on surveillance footage, is Thomas Moller Olsen. Olsen has a police record, for dealing hashish. When the Viking Squad caught up with the vessel he was on, they also discovered $2 million worth of hashish onboard.
As murder is so rare in Iceland, this case captivated the nation. Hundreds of mourners showed up at the funeral of the victim, who has come to be known in the Icelandic press as simply “Birna,” including the President.
Olsen has not yet been charged with any crime.
ORIGINAL STORY (JANUARY 25, 2017):
The shocking murder of a 20-year-old Icelandic woman whose body was found on the beach has captivated the small island nation, where murder is extremely rare, and police walk the streets unarmed.
In a scene that mimics a real-life Twin Peaks, Birna Brjansdottir went missing on January 14 after an evening of drinking in Reykjavik’s bars.
Eight days later, her remains were found after over 700 volunteers reportedly took part in the biggest search and rescue operation in Icelandic history.
Two Greenlandic sailors, aged 25 and 30, are being held in connection with her disappearance. Police said in a statement on Sunday they were treating the case as murder although “currently it is not possible to determine the cause of death.”
Below are five things to know about the case that is a national obsession in Iceland.
- Video footage shows the last hours of Brjansdottir’s life. According to police, surveillance footage around 5 A.M. shows Briansdottir walking by herself through snowy and foggy streets and buying a kebab. Video-surveillance cameras also showed a small red car, a Kia Rio, parked near a Greenlandic trawler, the Polar Nanoq, around 6:30 A.M. – identical to a vehicle observed near the spot where Brjansdottir was last seen.
2. The victim’s shoes were found miles away from her body. Brjansdottir’s boots, a pair of Doc Martens, were found at docks outside the city center more than 20 miles from where her body was recovered. Authorities say that they located the shoes in the port of Hafnarfjordur, south of Reykjavik, not far from the dock where the Polar Nanoq was moored.
3. Police claim to have forensic evidence linking the sailors to the crime. Traces of Brjansdottir’s blood were reportedly found in the red Kia that had been rented by the sailors, according to police.
4. Homicides are extremely rare in Iceland. With a population of 330,000, Iceland has registered an average of 1.8 murders per year since 2001, according to police statistics. It is widely believed to be one of the safest places in the world.
5. The case has also made headlines due to the fact that the suspects are foreign. Helgi Gunnlaugsson, a sociology professor at the University of Iceland, told The New York Times: “Most murder cases in Iceland are not mysteries — the victims and their killers usually know each other, the murderer rarely seeks to cover up the crime, and cases are usually solved quickly,” he said. Foreign involvement, he said, is “almost unheard of.”
The sailors’ ship, the Polar Nanoq, lifted anchor a few hours after Brjansdottir went missing, but members of Iceland’s elite police force, known as the Viking Squad, flew out to the ship by helicopter to question the crew.
According to The Arctic Journal, both men maintain their innocence.
The investigation continues.
Main photo: Birna Brjansdottir [The New York Times/Facebook]