Homicide in Denmark
»I have no desire to open up this man’s skull. I do it because I have to«
Forensic scientists, the police and crime scene investigators master horror with a steady hand. This article gives a rare insight into the post-mortem examination of a homicide.

English | Dansk
Homicide in DenmarK
»I have no desire to open up this man's skull. I do it because I have to«
Forensic scientists, the police and crime scene investigators master horror with a steady hand. This article gives a rare insight into the post-mortem examination of a homicide.

English | Dansk
Warning! Graphic material.
Danish daily Information was granted access to a homicide post-mortem examination on the condition that the victim was fully anonymized. The police, prosecution authorities and the Department of Forensic Medicine reviewed the material prior to publication. In addition, the next-of-kin gave their approval to Information’s access to the autopsy and the crime scene. All material have subsequently been approved for publication.
By Line Vaaben
Photographs by Peter Nygaard Christensen
He is lying on a steel table. A middle-aged man with skin the colour of wax. His chest is punctuated by a series of gaping knife wounds, which gleam a deep red, and from a neck wound a little blood seeps out and creates a pool on the shining metal. The smell of the place is reminiscent of an open fridge, a whiff of decay, cold and sweet.

It is early on a Monday morning in the cellar under Aarhus University Hospital. The man on the table is lying there, ready for the autopsy. He has been stabbed in his chest, his arms, his back and his neck.

»Given what he has been through,« says the forensic pathologist at the Department of Forensic Medicine at Aarhus University, Asser Hedegård Thomsen, as he covers him with a sheet, »he’s actually looking pretty good.«

Between 1992 and 2016, a total of 1,417 homicides were committed in Denmark. Asser Hedegård Thomsen has intimate knowledge of each one of them. For he has spent the last five years reviewing every single Danish homicide case going back 25 years. He has read autopsy reports of women stabbed to death by jealous ex-husbands, seen photos of children strangled by their parents, and gone through toxicology reports of young men bludgeoned with clubs or bottles. In the process, he has noted every conceivable detail about each individual homicide. From sex, age and relationship between victim and perpetrator, to witnesses, motives, and the extent to which the victim was intoxicated right down to every single cut, fracture and bruise on the deceased’s body.

Since 2010, he has been collating and analysing this wealth of data, and in august 2019 the first of his research findings was published in Forensic Science International: Synergy as part of his PhD dissertation, which will be published within the next year.

One of the aims has been to create a kind of scientific reference book:

»My data should be used when a forensic pathologist is confronted with a homicide and needs to understand what it involves compared to other cases. Many forensic pathologists base their conclusions on the cases they have encountered over the years. But what I have collected is objectifiable knowledge that extends beyond personal experience,« says Asser Hedegård Thomsen.
He has just changed into blue hospital scrubs and leaves the cellar by the stairs leading to the department's office corridor. Before the autopsy, there is a briefing, and three crime scene investigators have just arrived. They are here to take pictures, collect trace evidence and offer advice along the way. Occasionally the homicide investigators also take part – typically if the cause of death leave them completely bewildered.

»But there’s not much doubt about this one,« says Asser Hedegård Thomsen, who is holding an A4-size sketch in his hand of a man's body under the heading ’Penetrating trauma’. On it he keeps track during the day of all the wounds and notes down their direction of thrust and depth.

He calls homicide »a serious off-shoot of society«, and data about who kills whom and how it is investigated and solved provide significant information for citizens.

»And when we talk about homicide and violent crime, it is very important that we do so on the basis of facts rather than our own presumptions,« he says.

The 43-year-old forensic pathologist, Asser Hedegård Thomsen, has spent the past five years reviewing all Danish homicides during the period from 1992 to 2016.
At the centre of the table in the department's meeting-room lie two kitchen knives and a hunting knife wrapped in plastic. The suspected homicide weapons. From a statistical point of view, this homicide case is very typical. Over the 25-year period of the study, stabbings are the most common. One out of every three homicides was carried out using a sharp object. That makes 471 in all. After this come shootings and blunt force trauma.

The State Forensic Pathologist, Lene Warner Boel, sits down at the table with the crime scene investigators. She was on duty when the homicide was committed and carried out the body inspection at the crime scene with the police. She kicks off the meeting by making a brief report while she shows photographs.

»Yes, well, there he is,« she says.

A photo of the victim on his back in a dark pool of blood swims up out of the large TV screen.

There was »smearing« of nearby furniture, she says. And the victim had »defence lesions« and »post-mortem lividity that disappeared with pressure«. The latter give an indication of the length of time since death. She estimates between six and 12 hours. Everyone round the table nods. She lists the number of stab wounds. »This could be a long day«, comments the crime scene investigator from the Danish National Police, Bo Reitz. »Has he had a CT scan?«

The scan provides an overview of internal injuries. A tall man with a beard and black-rimmed glasses, who has just entered the room with a pot of coffee, nods in affirmation.

»I admitted him,« he says.
It has been three days since the homicide was committed, and on the dead man's body faint purple post-mortem lividity has formed, for example on the hip.
Erling Laursen is originally trained as an electrician and hairdresser but for many years has been employed at the Department of Forensic Medicine as a forensic technician. He looks after the practical side of things, from fetching the coffee to laying out knives and scissors and carrying out the rougher work like sawing, cutting and sewing.

Lying on the conference table there is also a bag with bottles and boxes from the dead man’s medicine cupboard.

»It is important to know what is in the victim’s body when we have to determine the cause of death,« explains Asser Hedegård Thomsen. »We always look for any competing causes of death. And we have to say pretty precisely whether someone died from a fist to his face or of his cancer. Otherwise it will suck for the one who might get convicted.«

43-year-old Asser Hedegård Thomsen qualified as a doctor in 2005 and today he is one of nine forensic pathologists at Aarhus University. Today’s autopsy is his 26th homicide. In addition, he has been an assistant at 30 other homicides and has carried out almost 450 autopsies following deaths involving poison, suicide or other causes.

Even though the cause of death here may be obvious, the forensic pathologist has to embark on the autopsy with an open mind.

»The art is to have a mind-set that tells you it could have been something else. That way you stay alert,« he says.
The police draw chalk marks when they move furniture around at the scene of the crime. A sticky ooze of blood indicates where the victim has been lying. Photos: Peter Nygaard Christensen
At the scene of the crime experienced crime scene investigators mark evidence traces after the knife killing.
Crime scene investigators test to see whether splashes in the area are blood or, for example, coffee.
Even minor splashes can be used in the search for evidence. For example, the direction of the splash can be determined by its form.
The police draw marks using chalk when they move the furniture at the scene of the crime.
The police draw chalk marks when they move furniture around at the scene of the crime. A sticky ooze of blood indicates where the victim has been lying. Photos: Peter Nygaard Christensen
At the scene of the crime experienced crime scene investigators mark evidence traces after the knife killing.
Crime scene investigators test to see whether splashes in the area are blood or, for example, coffee.
Even minor splashes can be used in the search for evidence. For example, the direction of the splash can be determined by its form.
The police draw marks using chalk when they move the furniture at the scene of the crime.
Somewhere in a different part of Denmark police officer Jørn unlocks the house where the homicide was committed. We have chosen to mention only his first name, to guarantee the victim’s anonymity. On the front door there is a yellow sign: »NO ENTRY – trespassing is a criminal offence.« The edge of the door has been sealed with a special tape that shows whether it has been opened.

The police officer breaks the seal and turns the handle with a rubber-gloved hand. Inside a smell of tobacco is mingled with the faint tang of metal.

»That’s the blood,« explains Jørn.

He is the liason officer to the crime scene investigators, and he was one of the first to arrive at the scene early on the morning after the homicide. It was his job to start gathering evidence, until a special unit from the National Forensic Services arrived a little later.

»I also took a ton of photos,« he says.

The first thing was to get the whole area fenced off, and the sniffer dogs were sent in. When a dog indicates it has scented blood, saliva or other recent traces, they are marked with small yellow signs, so the crime scene investigators can take tests.

Jørn talks about the crime scene investigator's ten commandments. One of the first is, ’Keep your hands in your pockets’. Another, ’Think before you act’. When you gather evidence – or ’secure’ it, as the professionals say – it is, the experienced officer explains, all about moving slowly forward a step at a time. Starting at the front door and work gradually towards the place where the dead person is lying. On the way, evidence from the kitchen sink, light switches and handles are secured, and important items such as mobile phones and cigarette stubs are placed in bags and sealed.

Jørn provides forensic assistance in cases involving crimes against the person. He has been in the force since 1981, and the greatest difference between now and the old days is the use of DNA.

»That has changed police work forever,« he says.

In the first years of DNA a whole head of hair was needed to identify someone, but today they need virtually nothing.

»Just by coughing you leave traces,« says Jørn.

One of his most important tasks is to keep the scene of the crime as ’pristine’ as possible, as he puts it.

»In the old days everyone just waltzed in, but now everyone has to wear protective clothing, plastic shoe covers and masks.«

Jørn describes in detail the many different techniques for documenting traces of blood, fingerprints and footwear marks. The latter can be sucked up and burnt onto a particular form of foil. And using a product containing hydrogen peroxide technicians can find traces of blood after they have been washed off a floor or a wall and cannot be seen with the naked eye. The test most frequently used at the scene of a crime, however, consists of a small striped stick that Jørn fishes out of a plastic tube. In a few seconds it can indicate whether a stain is made by blood.

»It could be lots of other things besides blood, coffee for example,« says Jørn, touching a tiny spot on the wall. In a matter of seconds, the stick has changed colour from yellow to green.

»No doubt about this one.«
Although qualified as an electrician and hairdresser, forensic science technician Erling Laursen (left) now gives practical assistance to forensic pathologist Asser Hedegård Thomsen (centre) during the autopsy and performs the rough work such as sawing, cutting and sewing.
Hic Gaudet Mors Succurrere Vitae is written in Latin over the door to the autopsy room – »This is the place where death delights to help the living«. All the homicide autopsies are conducted in a closed room specially equipped for the purpose called The Homicide Room. The crime scene investigators come in rolling suitcases carrying their special equipment. On one of them is printed the words ’Crime Scene Investigators Evidence’ and underneath the words ’Blood-case’.

All five participants have pale blue disposable coveralls and white clogs, hairnets and masks. Erling Laursen and Asser Hedegård Thomsen add plastic aprons. The walls are covered with tiles and glass cabinets with equipment.

The victim is still lying under the sheet. At one spot, the blood has seeped through and stands out red against the white. Erling Laursen draws back the sheet.

The man has stiffened into the position in which he was found. That is why his left arm and right leg stick out unnaturally on each side. He is wearing jeans. His torso is bare. Around his feet, hands and head there are brown paper bags to preserve potential evidence.

When Asser Hedegård Thomsen pulls off the paper bags, a stream of blood runs down across the floor and over his clogs. Erling Laursen mops. The forensic pathologist changes shoes and socks. Then he moves around the deceased, talking into a dictaphone.

»The body is identified by toe tag,« he says. »Full stop. New paragraph.«

Everything he sees and does is recorded. Shoes, socks and trousers are placed one by one in bags and sealed by crime scene investigator Ib Jensen. Until there is only a pair of pink underpants.

Asser Hedegård Thomsen takes a break from the dictaphone and asks:

»What colour are these?«

»Cerise?« suggests crime scene investigator Ruth Glerup. »That is, as in cherry in French.«

»How do you spell that?«

The man is naked now. It feels rude to stare. But the feeling is drowned in activity. Using cotton swabs, samples are taken from anal and oral orifices and from under the nails. These will be sent for analysis at the Department of Forensic Genetics in Copenhagen.

»The body is swabbed. Full stop,« says Asser Hedegård before adding, »Will you roll, Erling?«

The deceased is turned over onto his belly. The forensic pathologist dictates descriptions of the victim’s tattoos. They are faded and smudged at the edges. Ruth Glerup takes photos of everything as they proceed, both for the forensic report and for the investigation. Once in a while, she needs a step ladder to help her get the right shot. Before taking a photo, she makes sure that no one but the victim is in the frame, and she keeps wiping away the worst of the blood.

»The photos have to be clean. For ethical reasons, they can't look sloppy when they go to court,« she explains.

Erling Laursen washes the body with a showerhead at the end of a green plastic hose. The blood colours the water to a frothy pink. It disappears through a drain at the edge of the table.

The deceased stares out into the room with a stiff blue gaze. Asser Hedegård Thomsen draws out his lower eyelid with a pair of pincers. Ruth Glerup goes right up close with her Nikon. The mucous membrane is pale. A sign that the victim has lost a lot of blood. Asser Hedegård Thomsen closes the deceased's eyes in a careful movement.

»It's not because I don’t like him staring. It’s about decency. And respect for him. I’m thinking: ’Now it’s OK for you to close your eyes.’«
Using a metal ruler, the forensic pathologist measures and describes every single wound on the dead man's body. The deepest is ten centimetres.
In Asser Hedegård Thomsen’s research, homicide is most commonly carried out between people who know each other – they call it ’relational homicide’. The most common is intimate partner homicide, which makes up 27% and is typically committed by a man. Other homicides in the family make up 17%. Homicide related to substance abuse between two men is the third most common at 15%, while homicide in the criminal world only makes up 7%. Often it is the exotic or special cases and gang homicides that fill most space both in the media and in textbooks, says Asser Hedegård Thomsen.

The very first homicide autopsy he attended was a case of domestic violence. An imprint from a ring with the initials of the attacker were found on the face of the dead woman.

»But domestic homicide is not something that people make a fuss about, even though it is far the most common. This is something my research hopefully will set straight,«

Over the 25 years that he has studied, the number of homicides has taken a zigzag course downwards. 1992 was the year with the highest number, 78, while the fewest, a mere 29, were in 2012. It is hard to give a clear reason for this reduction. The forensic pathologist believes that it has to do with the fact that criminal activity and violence generally are on the decrease in society.

»And, all things being equal, this has to rub off on homicide statistics.«

He considered calling his dissertation Detected Homicides in Denmark.

»Strictly speaking, we cannot know how many people have been killed. There can be homicides we know nothing about.«

This is the proportion of all homicides in which the victim is a partner. Eight out of ten are women.

This is the proportion of all homicides committed within the family. The great majority of the children among them, were killed by a parent.

This is the proportion of victims who are men, when the homicide is committed in the context of drinking or drugs. Homicides often occur during drinking binges in private homes.

This is the proportion of all homicides in which the victim is a partner. Eight out of ten are women.

This is the proportion of all homicides committed within the family. The great majority of the children among them, were killed by a parent.

This is the proportion of victims who are men, when the homicide is committed in the context of drinking or drugs. Homicides often occur during drinking binges in private homes.
One of the areas he focuses on in his research are homicides that are detected late in the process because it was initially thought to have been an illness, suicide or accident.

»If a death appears to be suspicious, the doctor is duty-bound to contact the police, so that an investigation can get under way. But in my material I have come across a fair number of cases where a homicide was not detected until it reached the forensic pathologist’s table. They represent a type of case that we may have to be more aware of in the future, so we don’t overlook a homicide,« says Asser Hedegård Thomsen, who in his future research will be looking more closely at this kind of cases.

One of the most insidious homicide methods is asphyxia – strangulation. In his review of 249 cases of asphyxia, Asser Hedegård Thomsen has been surprised at how little injury is actually found on the victim.

»If a man has a knife sticking out of his heart, you can fairly easily conclude that this is what he died of. But a bruise on someone's neck is not in itself dangerous. Not unless it got there because someone squeezed it. I have had a case where a man admitted that he had strangled his wife. But all she had was a single abrasion. If he hadn’t admitted it himself, it is far from certain it would have been discovered.«
The crime scene investigator takes fingerprints of the dead man using finger print powder. Samples are also taken of the dead man's cell tissue, blood and urine.
Now hours of work begin, describing and registering every single wound on the killed man – right down to the slightest cut. Technically called lesions. About 10% of them go unseen at the scene of the crime, Asser Hedegård Thomsen says. He starts at the top.

»On the left side of the forehead a reddish abrasion. Full stop. New paragraph.«

He presses a metal ruler into the man’s chest hair. Every wound is given a number, is measured and described. Ruth Glerup takes a photo, and Erling Laursen takes notes in pencil on the sketch following Asser Hedegård Thomsen’s dictation. They all work together with rapid, concentrated movements.

»Sharp-edged lesion measuring 4.5 centimetres in length and gaping 1 centimetre. Full stop. New paragraph.«

Using instruments and words, Asser Hedegård Thomsen gradually draws a map of the lesions over the man's body. Some stab wounds have only just penetrated the outer layer of skin. Other have gone deeper into the flesh. And then there are those that have gone right through into the organs.

»The large number of stab wounds are an indication that the attacker was agitated. If this had been my first case, I would probably have thought that it was very brutal. But today, not least because of my research, I know that this is not uncommon. That's why it’s good to have objective data.«

Lesion number 25 is an incision to the upper arm, and number 36 is a scraped knee. When all lesions have been measured and counted, the time is 2:10 pm and it’s time for lunch. Before leaving the room, Asser Hedegård Thomsen covers the body again with a sheet.

»If we don’t have to look, there is no reason to look,« is how he puts it. »And if there’s a power cut in the building, the blinds roll up and then people can look right into the room. Pretty unfortunate if someone were to walk by outside.«

When Asser Hedegård Thomsen gives lectures about his work to the police or students, he occasionally shows a picture of Elvis and Nixon shaking hands in 1970. That’s how far back we have to go in time to find the last scientific survey of homicide in Denmark. Asser Hedegård Thomsen started his research in 2014 alongside his job as a forensic pathologist initially because he felt that a lot of important data was in short supply.

»Really it just a matter of sitting down and doing what ought to have been done many years ago,« he says.

It was not until 2016 that he had the project approved as a PhD study. He has, however, retained his job as forensic pathologist part-time alongside his research.

»Three years away from routine work is too long. I would end up missing my job.«
The victim’s clothes are carefully removed and placed in paper bags. As they proceed, crime scene investigator Ruth Glerup takes photos for the forensic report and for the investigation.
»What we are going to do now can seem a little brutal,« warns Erling Laursen. »And a bit messy.«

We are back in the cellar after a ryebread sandwich, a couple of liquorice sweets and a cup of black coffee in the conference room. It is time to open up the body. With practised movements and a small black-handled knife, Erling Laursen makes an incision in the back of the victim's head from ear to ear. He strips off the skin and folds it back over the victim's face – almost like a rubber mask. Then he takes a small electric circular saw, makes a triangular cut in the skull with a high-pitched rasping sound and flips the skull to one side with a sharp little crack.

It takes no time, and suddenly there is a clear view of the brain. Erling Laursen cuts a few membranes and transfers the brain into a metal bowl. The interior of the cranium is left, bared and pale.

On a table at the other end of the room, Asser Hedegård Thomsen weighs the brain and cuts it into slices. He examines the vessels for bleeding and disease.

»It’s important to determine whether, for example, he has been hit on the head or has had a haemorrhage.«

In the meantime, Erling Laursen is cutting open the ribcage with a serrated knife. He cuts through a yellowish layer of fat and eases the skin covering the chest out to each side. It's clear now where the various stab wounds have penetrated the ribcage. Asser Hedegård Thomsen counts and dictates.

»Between left fifth and sixth rib a sharp-edged lesion can be seen. Full stop.«

The autopsy feels most brutal when you dwell on details that remind you of a lived life: the lifelines in the hands, the stubble speckled with grey, the toenails that need cutting. But as the autopsy progresses the man gradually become more flesh and less human. Asser Hedegård Thomsen is fully aware that it is invasive.

»When I carry out my work, I do things that I would prefer not to do. I have no desire to open up this man’s skull, but I do it because I have to. And I don't walk in off the street and do it for fun. They have called me because there is a job that needs to be done.«

Once in a while in his thoughts he might comfort the person lying on the table.

»I can find myself thinking, ’There, there. It’s a shame that the two of us have to meet like this.’ Especially when it’s children, it’s heartbreaking. But then I remind myself that this knowledge is needed. And we do try to do it in a thorough and decent way.«
A kitchen knife from the crime scene has also been secured as part of the search. Photos: Peter Nygaard Christensen
The dead man's t-shirt has also been secured by the police. It was full of holes and blood after the many stab wounds.
The killer used several knives in the attack.
A kitchen knife from the crime scene has also been secured as part of the search.
The homicide weapon in the case is examined prior to the autopsy and then sent for safe-keeping with the police. Photos: Peter Nygaard Christensen
The dead man’s t-shirt has also been secured by the police. It was full of holes and blood after the many stab wounds.
The killer used several knives in the attack.
A kitchen knife from the crime scene has also been secured as part of the search.
In front of Asser Hedegård Thomsen, the victim’s ribcage is open, with the ribs arching out on each side like a striped fan. The left lung cavity is full of blood. A stab in the back has caused severe inner bleeding. Erling Laursen spoons it up into a measuring jug. There is about a litre.

»That explains is why he is so pale,« he says and puts the filled jug to one side. Small drops of condensation quickly form on the outside. He uses a plastic syringe to suck urine up from the bladder. Half a litre. It is noted on a form.

»He seems to have had some prostate problems,« states Asser Hedegård Thomsen, who is in the process of examining one of the wounds by passing thin metal probes out through the veins to see where they have been severed.

»Can we start rolling his fingers?« asks Ruth Glerup.

The forensic pathologist nods.

Ib Jensen carefully holds the deceased's hand, while Ruth Glerup rubs ink powder onto his fingers. They take fingerprints, which are then fixed on a transparent sheet for further investigation.

During the autopsy, samples are also taken of tissue, blood, urine and from the nostrils. They allow the forensic chemists to determine whether, for example, the victim was drunk or high when he died. The tissue samples can help exclude other causes of death.

»You never know what might be relevant before you have tested for it. This guy here might have been snorting cocaine with his attacker. And if the victim behaved strangely leading up to the homicide, might it have been because he had meningitis,« asks Asser Hedegård Thomsen.

All the internal organs are placed on a metal table. Asser Hedegård Thomsen lifts them up in front of him like a curtain. He goes through each one using a pair of pincers, scissors and knives of varying sizes and tries to determine what injuries each individual stab wound has caused internally and in which direction.

»It is always difficult when the body has been stabbed many times. And I need to think hard now,« he says.

Stomach, pancreas, liver and heart have been struck several times. There was plenty of force behind it.

»My greatest fear in an autopsy is that we overlook something. That someone comes along after the victim has been buried and says, ’It was me. I killed him,’ when I have pointed to another explanation. My other worry is the opposite: overinterpretation.«

Almost an hour passes before he is confident. The man died from a stab wound in the back, which struck the aorta and led to major bleeding in the lung cavity.

»From a legal point of view, it is important to know which stab wound killed the victim. If there are a number of wounds, their sequence is important, so the offender is not sentenced for something that, for example, may have happened two days previously, when the victim fell off his bike and hit his head. And if there are several attackers who hit or stabbed him, then it is important who administered the fatal lesion.«

He weighs each individual organ and notes the weight to the nearest gram. After that, he assesses the depth of each stab wound by passing a ruler through the holes. The deepest is ten centimetres. All these measurements are to be used as documentation, he explains.

»We take something disorderly, measure it precisely and in so doing create another kind of order.«

Forensic pathologists rarely make lightning analyses and conclusions of the kind seen in crime series and films.

»We discuss, have doubts and reservations. We are rarely as sure of ourselves as those you see on TV. But they off course have to hurry on to the next scene,« says Asser Hedegård Thomsen.

The research project has given him extra experience, for even though he has not been present at all 1,417 cases, he does in a way have them in the back of his mind when he descends into the cellar.

»I will only manage to do a certain number of autopsies in my career, but through my research I have had the opportunity to see a lot more. When I look at this fellow here, I get a picture in my head of ten other homicides, where the victim also was stabbed in the chest and neck. You can compare it to people who have heard an awful lot of music and who can say, when they hear a new piece, that its rhythm and key remind them of Thin Lizzy one moment and of Art Garfunkel the next.«

When the department secretary has laboriously typed in all his many observations, Asser Hedegård Thomsen will have to spend the days ahead finishing drawings from his sketches, writing a summary and a conclusion. The whole thing has to be watertight when at some stage the case comes before the court, when he will probably be called in as an expert witness.

At the end of the day, a colleague comes by. Together the two forensic pathologists go through the day's findings and their hypotheses. The colleague also has to read and sign the report before it is sent on to the police.

»That is to ensure that I haven’t cut any corners or overlooked anything,« says Asser Hedegård Thomsen.

At a few minutes to four, the crime scene investigators make their way home with their evidence cases. The room is silent, apart from the soft humming of the ventilator. Erling Laursen replaces the skull, pulls skin and hair back over the cranium, threads a leatherwork needle with white cotton thread and starts sewing. Within a few stitches, the thread has turned red. He starts along the temples, and 40 minutes later, the body is almost intact. Through a small hole above the navel, he replaces all the inner organs in the body. Then he closes the man up. The wounds are part of the investigation. They remain open.
Finally, Erling Laursen threads a leatherwork needle and sews the homicide victim together again with cotton thread, so he is ready to be viewed by his next-of-kin.
It is now five o’clock and all the offices at the department are void of people, when Asser Hedegård Thomsen picks up the phone and calls the detective responsible for the case. On the wall of his office, next to a photo of The Sopranos, hangs a map of Denmark with a red dot for every homicide case he has worked on.

»We’re finished in the basement now,« he says and sums up the number of stab wounds for the policeman at the other end of the line.

»Yeah, it took a long time. But, given the number of holes, it went fast.«

After the conversation, he looks through his papers and gets an overview so that he can continue working on the report the following day. Then he takes a shower and changes his clothes, just in time to make it to one of his children’s birthday party with the family at 6 pm. In the car on the way home and tomorrow morning, when he wakes up, images of the day's work will be running through his head. That’s how it always is.

»It’ll come in small flashes in the days ahead. There’s no sound. And it’s not scary. It might be an image of a heart with stab lesions, where I ask myself, ’Which wound came first?’ Or if I see a man on the street wearing the same kind of jeans as the man today, I think, ’That guy survived.’ But they are just sensory inputs that have to be laid to rest.«

In the cellar, Erling Laursen has finished washing and drying the deceased with cloths and sponges. He lifts him up in the air using a crane. For a moment he is suspended there, like a bird, his arms spread in the air, palms open to the ceiling. Then he is lowered onto a trolley, where he is wrapped in a sheet and then in transparent plastic. After that, he is driven down the corridor and into cooler room no. 2. When the police give their permission, he will be handed over to the undertaker in preparation for the funeral. Erling Laursen prepares about 150 bodies like this every year.

»I do it as well as I can for the sake of the next-of-kin. If a victim looks really awful, we write a note saying ’not suitable for viewing’,« says Erling Laursen. »But this guy looks pretty good,« he continues. »And ready to be seen by his mother.«
In the victim’s house, the blinds are drawn. Jørn shines a torch round the sitting room. On the coffee table there is a mouthful of coffee in a cup next to a remote control, a completed lottery coupon and half a packet of cigarettes.

»It’s a clean and tidy home,« he says. »Apart from all the blood, that is.« And there is plenty of that. Especially on the carpet in the sitting room, where a thick and sticky spread indicates where the victim had been lying. There is also blood on the sofa and the armchair and small star-shaped splashes on the walls several yards away. One of them has hit a little framed black-and-white photo of the victim as a child.

A wall calendar signals that the dead man had an appointment with the doctor next week. In the kitchen, an apple lies all by itself in a fruit bowl and in a bag the crust of a homemade loaf of bread. But in the knife rack one knife is missing.

Jørn empties a carton of whole milk out of the fridge and brings the rubbish bag outside. The crime scene will be sealed off for several months, until the case is finally concluded.

»It could be a long time before anyone comes in here again,« he says.

In the bedroom, the mechanical alarm clock on the bedside table has stopped.
Writer: Line Vaaben
Photography: Peter Nygaard Christensen
Editor: Mikkel Vuorela
Production: Jens Christoffersen

August 2019
Dagbladet Information