08.16.2017 by 51kikey
Iceland rests in the North Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by cold waters and inhabited almost entirely around its Southern coastline. Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, sits within its Southwest corner and makes up for over one third of the country’s population. By comparison the entire population of Iceland is less than that of the United States’ smallest State, Wyoming by almost half. A fairer comparison would be to that of a County within the 50 States. Jefferson County New York, Calhoun County Alabama and Napa County California all have similar populations to that of the most densely populated city in Iceland of approximately 120,000 inhabitants.
Back in January of 1974, Gudmundur Einarsson, inebriated after an evening spent at a club, unwisely took the 10km journey home by foot in freezing conditions. The start of his journey was witnessed by several people including drivers as Gudmundur failed in attempting to hitch a ride. He was never seen again. His body never recovered. Approximately 10 months passed when a second man, Geirfinnur Einarsson (non related) also went missing after visiting a harbour cafe local to his home. Due to the low crime rate within Iceland as a whole the police rightly or wrongly drew a connection between both men and began an investigation. The investigation was carried out, yet no evidence of foul play was forthcoming. That is until Erla Bolladottir, a 20-year-old local was brought in for questioning on an unrelated embezzlement charge some 2 years later. During law enforcement’s investigation of Bolladottir’s fraudulent activities (She had embezzled close to 1 million Icelandic Krona/ 10 thousand US dollars) they showed Bolladottir a photograph of Gudmundur. Bolladottir recognized the man and said she had met him at a party some time ago and that she could recall a dream that had occurred on the night that he went missing. A dream that involved her boyfriend, Saevar Ciesielski with what was possibly a body standing outside of her room. Ciesielski was known to the police at the time as part of a group of ‘hippies’ that were involved in thievery and violence. Ciesielski and four of his friends were brought in along with Bolladottir for questioning and so begins their story. A story of false confessions and in turn false narratives tailored to a crime that needed to be accounted for whether the truth or not.
I shall not go into great detail as to the chronological details of their case. Below is a far more in depth retelling of their story. BBC 4 in Great Britain and Netflix have recently released a fascinating documentary based on all of their plights.
The Icelandic Six
How do six people confess to the murder of two unrelated individuals over the space of ten months? False confessions have been highlighted in the US over recent years with many cases being placed under the microscope. From Juan Rivera to Kevin Fox and Charles Erickson to Jeffrey Deskovic, examples of false and coerced confessions continue to litter the history of the United States justice system. Cases of individuals admitting to crimes they did not commit are commonplace, yet awareness is being raised that a confession does not necessarily equate to guilt. There is a long way to go but, steps in the right direction are being taken. Surely though, six individuals confessing to crimes spanning two separate murders is unheard of? This is not the case however. One need not look no further than the Central park 5 or the Norfolk 4 for case studies that offer striking similarities. Still, the question remains. What factors lead to these extraordinary confessions?
The events that lead up to the false confessions in Iceland deserve to be looked at in greater detail. Saevar Ciesielski who had fathered a child with Erla Bolladottir, spent 615 days in solitary confinement and was subjected to 180 interrogations that lasted in excess of 340 hours during this time. Whilst in solitary confinement, Ciesielski endured sleep deprivation. Caused by prison guards who named him ‘The rat’ as ‘He was guilty after all’ and due to his fear of water, Saevar’s head was often submerged in water with similar results akin to that of water-boarding. Bolladottir, the mother of a baby at the time was placed in solitary confinement for 241 days and was the recipient of 105 interrogations. During her confinement she was administered drugs to sedate her. Bolladottir was not charged in direct connection with the murders but served 3 years for her involvement in the embezzlement concocted by Ciesielski and herself. Kristjan Vidar attempted suicide twice whilst in custody and Tryggvi Leifsson was held in solitary confinement for nearly two years. The disorientation felt by the six suspects lead to what is called ‘Memory Distrust Syndrome’ A condition where the individual doubts their own memories and becomes susceptible to fabricated stories. Add this to suspects being played off or against each other, much like that in the case of the Central Park 5, and the likelihood of false confessions becomes greatly increased.
Using a false confession by itself to convict without physical evidence to corroborate the admission can, and certainly does lead to wrongful convictions. If used as the primary source of evidence the confession itself can often drive the discovery of evidence. As often happens law enforcement end up with a case where the narrative leads the evidence rather than the evidence leading the narrative. When solely using a confession to base a case around, often the evidence becomes either corrupted or unavailable. This makes sense because the story told is untrue. The case of Brendan Dassey is where it is now because there is no physical evidence that a crime took place that involved himself. All the State has is a confession and if said confession is believed to be true, that should lead to evidence discovery. In the case of the Icelandic 6 there is no physical evidence. No body, no crime scene, no murder weapon and so on.
Investigative team in 1974
Accountability can often be paramount. The prospect of certain crimes being unsolved and just as importantly unpunished can lead to insurmountable pressures by those in positions of power. From the ground-force up, law enforcement through State prosecutors onto Government officials there is always someone to answer to. The role that the media plays within this hierarchy of power is often duplicitous with whom controlling whom often a sticky subject. Needless to say, both sides feed off each other and public opinion, whilst integral plays a part in both their rise and fall in popularity.
The United States of America could just as easily be named the United Countries of America. With State law varying greatly between its members and Federal law only being called upon in certain situations and often when irreconcilable damage has already occurred it’s not surprising that each State develops its own characteristics. What occurred in Iceland in the mid-1970’s is not dissimilar to many cases that occur in Counties within the States of the US. Smaller communities demand somebody or somebodies be held to account for grievous crimes. Look no further than the West Memphis 3. The pressure put upon law enforcement to match a face to the murder of 3 young boys was incredible. I’m not justifying the imprisonment of 3 teenagers and whilst they were released via an Alford Plea I personally consider them innocent but I will say there is an unhealthy need for retribution. Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin became the scapegoats for a community that demanded a monster(s) be caught. Without theirs or somebody else’s timely arrests and most importantly convictions, jobs were going to be lost. The scramble for accountability often leads to mistakes.
Reykjavik’s current prison built in 1872 soon to be replaced by modern facility
Whilst the incredible pressure put upon law enforcement still cannot justify wrongful arrests the public must take responsibility for their actions that can lead to witch hunts. The media can often be detrimental in the assertion of assumed innocence before proven guilt not being levied. Trial by media is something that needs to be stamped out but at the same time misconduct by prosecutors happy to utilize this shortcoming should be dealt with even more firmly. There is a responsibility that is not being undertaken by varying professions that when put together violate the rights and freedoms of the public and inturn lead communities to wanting quick justice that can lead to errors by law enforcement that then become magnified higher up the judiciary system. Whether that be in the USA, Iceland or Argentina human nature runs throughout the globe. Sadly sometimes at the cost to the planet itself.
We at this site primarily discuss justice reform. Citing wrongful convictions is a clear way to look deeply into the shortcomings of not only the USA but of all countries around the world. It is not only the publics right to question but also the their responsibility. It would be easy to believe that all mistakes made should easily be rectifiable and by a set of simple changes these mistakes would be reconciled. Of course this is not the case but lessons learned do originate from home and often quick judgements lead to erroneous outcomes. I will be the first to admit to jumping to quick conclusions when faced by stories played out by the media. Stories that often hold weight and truth behind them. However on occasions when they do not and there is ulterior motives behind them it is oh so easy to be led down the wrong path.
Take time to form your opinions as it is with these opinions that we can help shape a more progressive world in which we live in.
Out of Thin Air the new Netflix true crime documentary explores the famous unsolved Icelandic Six murder case from 1974. Six suspects confessed to the murders of Guðmundur Einarsson and Geirfinnur Einarsson. The case is now being re-opened under a new investigation.
More on the Icelandic Six here:
A 2017 murder case involving a pretty, young Reykjavik woman, 20-year-old Birna Brjánsdóttir has the close-knit Icelandic nation revisiting the 1974 cases of Guðmundur Einarsson and Geirfinnur Einarsson:
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