Iceland shaken by mystery murder of young woman

  • 25/01/2017
Birna Brjansdottir
Birna Brjansdottir (Facebook)

The body of a young Icelandic woman has been found near Iceland's capital city Reykjavik after the largest missing person search in the island nation's history.

Birna Brjansdottir, 20, had been missing since January 14 when she didn't turn up for work and her parents called police. The case has been the focus of local media attention, and Iceland's police are treating the case as a murder.

It's so unusual to the country that when police announced they found the body, crowds reportedly gathered around a large TV screen at the Reykjavik mall where Ms Brjansdottir worked, to see the news.

Over the last two decades, Iceland has seen a murder rate averaging about two each year, the New York Times says. In 2003, 2006 and 2008 nobody was murdered in the small nation.

Ms Brjansdottir was last seen leaving a Reykjavik bar at 5am on January 14.

CCTV cameras caught her on the street before she walked out of sight. Only a few seconds later, a red Kia Rio car was seen in the spot where she disappeared, Iceland Magazine reported.

Nearly 800 volunteers joined officials in the search for the young woman. They covered 7000km of coast and roads looking for her.

The car was found on Tuesday with Ms Brjansdottir's blood in it. They traced the car to two Greenlandic men, working on a trawler which had just left Iceland.

Police sent the Viking Swat team - their special forces officers - in a helicopter to stop the boat. They dropped onto the trawler and arrested the two crew members.

When police investigated the boat they also found about US$2 million of drugs on board, prompting a total of four arrests and a second investigation.

No murder weapon has been found, and nor has Ms Brjansdottir's phone. The last signal from her mobile was in Hafnarfjorour, near where police found her shoes were found.

Police believe her body was thrown into the sea from the coast, and currents would have pushed it onshore, Iceland Magazine says.

Another element of strangeness to the case is that the suspects are foreigners, local media says.

"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," University of Iceland sociology professor Helgi Gunnlaugsson told the New York Times.

"Foreign involvement is almost unheard-of. The reaction would be different if the suspects would've been two Icelandic boys."

The case is ongoing, as the two Greenlandic men have reportedly denied the crime and police continue to question them.

An opinion piece on the Iceland Monitor website said: "In the midst of winter with storms looming over, the daze over the country has a similar vibe as a gloomy Scandinavian crime novel.

"And as much as you hope, want and will, you know that, like in a Scandinavian crime novel, there is no guarantee for a happy ending."