Inside the 2017 Murder Mystery That Rocked Iceland

Xan Rice looks at the case of Birna Brjánsdóttir for the 'Guardian'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2018 11:54 AM CDT
She Vanished From Reykjavik's 'Best-Known Street,' Turned Up Dead
Laugavegur street during a snowstorm in the late evening, Reykjavik, Iceland.   (Getty Images)

Laugavegur is Reykjavík's "best-known street" and a well-lit one, a place where a single woman walking alone at 5am would not be considered endangered. Except Birna Brjánsdóttir was. After having gone clubbing, the 20-year-old vanished from that street in Iceland's capital in the early hours of Jan. 14, 2017. When Brjánsdóttir didn't show up for work Saturday, her friend called her mother, who went to the police. They were slow to act in the absence of proof of foul play. Detective Grímur Grímsson, who was assigned to head up the investigation, wasn't initially worried, writes Xan Rice in a look at the case for the Guardian. Between 2000 and 2015, Iceland saw an average of just 1.6 murders per year; young people who go missing generally turned up at a friend's house. But then Brjánsdóttir's boots turned up.

Two locals went looking in the harbor-area where her phone last pinged and discovered her Dr. Martens. CCTV from the docks showed a red Kia Rio—one identical to a Kia seen on Laugavegur around the same time as Brjánsdóttir. Police determined it had been rented by Thomas Olsen, a crew member of the Polar Nanoq. The Greenland-flagged ship left the harbor Saturday afternoon, and that posed "a major logistical and diplomatic challenge," explains Rice: Icelandic officers couldn't board the ship now that it was in Greenland's waters. But the captain read about the case—and decided to return to Iceland under the pretense of having engine issues; he also cut the ship's wifi so Olsen couldn't read about any developments. Read the full story for more on how Brjánsdóttir's body was found, how she died, Olsen's story, and the evidence against him. (Read more Longform stories.)

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