Transcript: 64. Bad Blood | Iceland

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Our cases have been researched using open source and archive materials. It deals with true crimes and real people. Each episode is produced with the utmost respect to the victims, their families and loved ones. 

It was the early afternoon on the 8th of November 2000, when Reykjavik clothing store manager, Ruth Einarsdottir, was trying to get a hold of the store’s owner. She had spoken to 27-year-old Einar Örn just after 11am and he said that he would be there at one.

The GAP Collection store at 7 Laugavegur only opened a couple of days before. It was quite an event as Einar had received exclusive rights to sell big international brands GAP, Banana Republic and Old Navy in Iceland.

Near closing time on the Wednesday afternoon in question, Einar’s business partner, Atli Helgason showed up. He also had no idea where Einar could be. Einar was supposed to give him a ride earlier in the day and never showed up – which was very unusual for a reliable person like Einar. 

Atli confided in Ruth and told her that Einar had been under a lot of stress with the opening of the store. He was concerned that Einar’s stress had caused depression and perhaps Einar has done something to himself. Ruth was shocked to hear about Einar’s state of mind, because in her experience, Einar was exactly the opposite. He was upbeat and happy because his store had just opened, it was a dream come true for him. 

By nightfall there was still no sign of Einar. When he did not show up for a dinner party, his fiancée and sister knew something was terribly wrong. The search for Einar continued for a week, in the frosty cold of the Icelandic autumn, with no result.

How can a successful young man with close family ties and countless friends simply disappear into thin air? What happened to Einar Örn Birgisson?

>>Intro Music

Atli Guðjón Helgason was born on the 7th of March 1967. He was the fourth of six children. His dad was a banker and his mother stayed at home to raise the kids. They lived on the outskirts of Reykjavik.

The family was close and their lives revolved around the local soccer club, as the boys were all keen players. 

In 1980, Atli’s eldest brother was 25 years old when he died tragically. Atli was only 13 at the time. His brother was his hero and the circumstances of his death, came as a great shock to the whole family. The brother was driving a car, being chased by police when he lost control on an ice-covered road and drove his car into the harbour, straight off the dock. Police divers found the car about 20 yards from the dock with all the doors locked and the body of Atli’s brother inside.

Things were never quite the same after that. His father also passed away shortly after his brother’s death and the family that was once happy and close became fragmented, broken by grief. 

Atli’s brother was a very good player.  In honour of his brother’s memory, Atli dedicated all his time and passion to soccer. 

He rose through the ranks of club soccer, where he was chosen as the captain of the first team for Víkingur (or Vikings) – one of the oldest sports clubs in Iceland. He led the team into victory in the Icelandic Championship of 1991.

Atli Helgason eventually played three games for the national team of Iceland. First was against Cyprus in 1991, another, against Malta later in the same year. Then against United Arab Emirates in Dubai in 1992 where he scored the winning goal. Everyone in Iceland knew who Atli Helgason was.

But, as a young man with ambition, Atli realised that he could not play professional sport forever and decided to study law. He had no trouble finding a job, as he was quite the celebrity at the time of his graduation. At work his natural leadership qualities shone through and his colleagues liked working with him.

He continued playing club rugby between 1994 and 1997. During this time, however, he gradually became more and more addicted to amphetamines. He worked hard during office hours and played even harder after hours. 

By January 1997, he realised he needed help and booked himself in to rehab. The previous year he was laid off from work for mismanagement of funds. Suspicion was that he had used company funds to buy drugs. There was also concern and unconfirmed allegations that he was dealing drugs.

His therapists were happy with his progress and felt that he was ready to resume his career and piece together his personal life. He found a job at a family law firm, but things were slightly different than before. This time, he did not socialise with colleagues and besides work meetings – he kept to himself.

Another of Iceland’s favourite sons was a young man by the name of Einar Örn Birgisson. Einar was born on the 27th of September 1973 in Reykjavik. He was the son of former basketball star Birgir Örn Birgis and Aldís Einarsdóttir and grew up in Fossvogur. Einar was close to his sister and brother and summer holidays always consisted of some or other ballgame outside with evenings ending in boardgames.  

Friends loved spending time at the Einar’s family’s home. Einar’s mom, Aldís always greeted his friends with a warm smile and made them feel welcome. Einar was always close to his mother and even as a grown man he would speak with her a couple of times a day. 

When he was a kid, Einar loved sports. He had exceptional ball skills and naturally took to sports like soccer, handball, table tennis and basketball. From the young age of seven he played soccer at Víkingur. He eventually played for the club’s first team. Growing up, playing for the Vikings, Einar idolised Atli Helgason. He was six years older and Einar looked up to him.  

When Einar left school, he started playing for the club Valur. But soccer wasn’t his only past time. Because of his good looks and well-spoken manner, his friends encouraged him to try his hand at modelling. In 1996 he represented Iceland in Finland at the Mr Scandinavia competition. He came second.

Although Einar decided that he was more of a sportsman than a model, his brief stint in front of the cameras fostered an appreciation of fashion. This would play a big role in his future – after he was done with soccer, of course. 

To know Einar, was to love Einar. His friends, family and team mates said that he had a ‘comfortable presence’. He was so much more than tall, dark and handsome: he was also warm, mindful and funny. Anyone who spent time with Einar, knew they were in for a good time with lots of laughter. He made the most of each day and seized every opportunity that came his way. Although he was a competitive sportsman, he always had a smile on his face and was liked by his team mates and competitors alike. 

People who followed Einar’s soccer career, felt that 1997 was arguably his best soccer year ever. He played for Throttur FC and his coach said that he was…

“…a fine boy who made the whole team better.”

Because of his stellar year on the soccer field, he was given a contract to play professional soccer in Norway for the 1998 season. He spent 11 months in Norway, playing for Lyn Football Club. During this time he still maintained daily contact with his family back in Iceland. For his birthday, his mother contacted an Icelandic baker in Oslo and had them bake a cake for Einar. 

He returned to Iceland at the end of 1998 where he worked as a salesman for wholesale retailer Ásbjörn Ólafsson. He also joined the football club KR. The following year – 1999 – Einar’s team won the Icelandic Championship (the KSÍ Cup) for the first time in 31 years. It seemed like wherever Einar went, success followed. However, at the end of the 1999 season he decided to quit the club, after a fight with his coach and management.

This is when he reached out to his former Víkingur team mate and captain, Atli Helgason, to help him with severing his contract with KR. The two ex-soccer players had a lot in common and their acquaintance turned into a close friendship. By this time, Atli’s drug addiction was something of the past and he seemed like his old self again. 

In February 2000, Einar took a job as purchasing manager for menswear wholesaler at Águst Ármann in Reykjavik. He was known to be eager and ambitious. He was learning a lot and he knew that his newly acquired knowledge would come in handy when he opened his own store one day. 

The fact that Einar wasn’t a big drinker or substance user meant that he could focus on work. His bosses noticed that he was a meticulous worker, who approached every task with the same vigour as a professional soccer match. 

Einar’s personal life was also blossoming and him and his girlfriend, Guðlaug Harpa Gunnarsdóttir, moved in together. They lived in an apartment in Kópavogur and life was good.

Einar’s dream was to open his own clothing store one day. With some hard work and good networking, he managed to obtain exclusive rights to sell the brands GAP, Banana Republic and Old Navy in Iceland. This is something many other small businesses tried to do before them, but Einar was the one who got it. This was a huge accomplishment for someone who was so young and relatively new to the world of retail.

In order to make the most of this opportunity, Einar needed money. He had a vision of a world-class clothing store in Reykjavik City Centre. To help him in securing investors, Einar approached his friend Atli Helgason. With Atli’s legal knowledge and Einar’s experience in fashion and retail, they seemed to be a good match. 

The business community in Reykjavik was impressed that Einar managed to secure the GAP contract and they were keen to invest; they had a lot of faith in his business. Einar was the heart and soul of the company who networked and made connections, but it ultimately became Atli’s job to lock the investors in.

Together Atli and Einar set up a limited liability company, registered under the name GAP, for the store. In the agreement, Einar had the lion’s share at 80% and Atli 20. Atli also took out personal liability insurance and promised to invest some of his own money.

Einar’s friends were sceptical of the partnership and warned Einar not to get involved with Atli. They were concerned about Atli’s history with drugs and the fact that he had embezzled money on a previous occasion. Einar did not want to hear it and was adamant that he wanted to give Atli a second chance. He assured everybody that Atli was doing well and as far as he knew, he was not using drugs at the time. Besides, when they played at Vikings, all younger boys idolised Atli. Einar still believed that there was a hero inside of him.

The two business partners found the perfect location for their store, GAP Collection, at number 7 Laugavegur. Laugavegur is the main shopping street in Reykjavik with boutiques, restaurants and bars. 

Tireless effort and countless hours went into the preparation of the store. They pooled all their resources: friends, family, anyone who was willing to lend a hand. A friend of Einar’s remembered how Einar and his dad worked together, marvelling at the sincere, close relationship between father and son. 

There was a lot of pressure as the expectation was very high. Einar poured all his energy and enthusiasm into the store. Atli was very involved with setting up the business before launch. He also oversaw construction and shopfitting of the new store. It was a highly stressful time, because he had never done anything like it before. What Einar didn’t realise, was that Atli was buckling under the pressure. As he had done many times before, Atli turned to drugs to help him cope. Einar had no idea that his friend and business partner had relapsed.

Despite a couple of hiccups and near-disasters, GAP Collection was ready as promised for opening night on Saturday the 4th of November 2000. It was one of the best nights of Einar’s life. Family and friends could see how proud he was of what he had accomplished together with his friend Atli.

The week that followed was great and business was good. Einar was the face of the business, greeting all customers with a smile and a chat. He was involved with orders and shipping and the day to day running of the business. Atli’s job was to do the forward planning and ensuring all contracts and legal matters were in place.

On Wednesday November 7th 2000, three days after opening his store, Einar left work, as always with a smile. Things were going well and he could not be happier. 

After work, he met some of his professional sporting friends for a friendly game of handball. Einar’s team was made up of a bunch of sporting legends and they played a team of retired professional handballers. The game was followed by a couple of drinks at a pub. Einar had a couple of laughs and left for home after an enjoyable evening out.

When he got home, he followed the US presidential campaign of George W Bush and Al Gore on television. Einar loved international politics and followed the campaign blow by blow. He only went to bed around 3am, as he wasn’t needed at the store before midday and would be able to sleep in. 

On Thursday, the 8th of November, Einar was still asleep in bed at 9am when Atli called his home. Einar’s girlfriend Gullu picked up the phone and said that Einar was still asleep, but she could wake him if Atli needed him urgently. Atli said that it wasn’t necessary. He was only calling because he saw Einar’s photo in the newspaper, of the handball game the night before. He wanted to tease him about it a bit – as the girls at the store said he looked cute.

When Atli called again, about an hour later, Einar picked up the phone. Atli had car trouble and asked Einar if he could meet him in Öskjuhlíõ, a park nearby and give him a ride into the city. The car was still going, but he felt something wasn’t quite right. They often met at the same spot, then left one car and drove into the city with the other one, so Einar knew exactly where to go. 

Just after 11am, fire inspectors arrived at the store and the manager, Ruth Einarsdottir, called Einar and asked if he could come and speak to the inspectors himself. Einar said he would be in a bit later as planned and told Ruth that he was on his way to meet Atli. Ruth found it strange that Atli’s car had broken down again, because it had been in the shop for repairs just a couple of days before. 

Einar left home and drove off between 10 and 11am, to go and meet Atli and kept an eye out for Atli and his red Volkswagen Passat. 

The phone call from Ruth, was the last call Einar ever took. And he never did show up at the store. Later that afternoon, Atli arrived at work without Einar. Ruth was confused that he was alone and asked him where Einar was. Atli told her that he never showed up to give him a ride. 

They were both confused, because Einar was very reliable.  He was never late and if he said he would be there at a given time; he would be there – no matter what. Atli confided in Ruth that he was concerned about Einar, as he had been depressed recently. He didn’t seem to be himself and Atli was concerned that Einar might have done something to himself.

This did not make a lot of sense to Ruth. Yes, there was a lot of pressure in opening the store, but this was Einar’s dream and it was finally coming true. He was as happy as he had ever been. He also had no history of depression or any other mental health issues.

In the course of the day, his mother tried calling Einar a couple of times. Every time her calls went unanswered. His brother and sister also called, with no success. From 2pm onward, Einar’s phone was off. His friends also tried to call; nobody could get a hold of Einar. This radio silence was highly unusual as he was known to call and talk to friends and family every day. 

When Einar’s girlfriend, Gullu, arrived home, there was a message on the answering machine from Atli. He said: 

“Where are you, man? We were supposed to meet. Call me when you get this.”

Atli also called Einar’s parents and expressed his concern about Einar’s disappearance. He was worried because it was unlike Einar to leave him stranded next to the road. Nobody had a clue as to what had happened to Einar.

Gullu had called everyone she could think of and nobody had seen Einar since 10am when he left the apartment. At 8:30pm she called police to report him missing. Police were not too concerned, as Einar was a grown man who had not been missing for more than 24 hours. There was nothing they could do.

Einar’s family and friends took to the streets of Reykjavik, driving around in pairs, trying to find any sign of him. When midnight rolled around, Einar was still not home and they had the feeling that something was seriously wrong. At 1:30 Einar’s parents went into the police station and insisted on a formal search. Einar had not been in touch and they knew that he was in trouble.

At 9am on the morning of the 9th of November, Einar’s VW Golf was found in the parking lot of Hotel Loftleidir, not far from Öskjuhlíõ. It had not been parked there on the night of the 8th. His mother and sister drove around looking for any sign of Einar and would definitely have spotted the car. Other searchers also confirmed that the car was not there before. 

The same afternoon, police brought in sniffer dogs to see if they could pick up a trail of Einar’s scent. But there was nothing. This suggested that Einar was not the one who had parked his car there. His mom believed this. She said that the car was locked when police discovered it and Einar NEVER locked his car. The location of the car was also strange – as it was far from the hotel’s entrance. Einar would always park as close to an entrance as possible. If he had intended to go into the hotel, he would have parked closer to the building.

Police questioned around 30 men at the Reykjavik Police Station regarding Einar’s disappearance, but nobody could provide any useful information. 

Because of Iceland’s location, and island with the closest country either a flight or a boat ride away, police were able to determine that Einar had not left the country. He was still in the country, but where?

Extensive searches were launched, looking for Einar. All emergency services were informed and hundreds of volunteers showed up and offered their help in the search effort. The search received a lot of media attention and people who did not know Einar personally volunteered to help in the search.

A concerned Atli Helgason was among the searchers, together with old Vikingur team mates and Einar’s family. At times, it got too much for Atli and he made up excuses to get away. At one point he even said he could not continue looking for Einar because he had to take his wife to the dentist. Einar’s friends thought that Atli was acting weird, but put it down to the fact that he was highly stressed about his missing business partner. 

During one search, he looked particularly distracted, bored even. The search party planned to expand the area of the search and Atli had made a strange comment. He said that he wasn’t going to another location, as Einar’s body wasn’t there anyway. His fellow searchers found that to be a very unsettling thing to say. Everyone knew that Einar was on his way to meet Atli when he was last seen, but nobody thought that Atli would ever do anything to Einar. Or would he?

Atli gave a short TV interview, saying that he was saddened by the disappearance of his business partner. The statement contradicted what he had said to store manager Ruth about Einar, that he was depressed. On national TV, Atli said:

"Myself and Einar had both worked hard for the opening and were tired, but there was nothing in Einar's mind that indicated depression. He is an extremely positive person and it was precisely this confident and positive attitude that made him secure our GAP commission in this country…” 

About his last contact with Einar, Atli said:

“Einar called me at just after ten o'clock on Wednesday morning and said he was on his way to me; that he would arrive within five minutes. I haven't heard from him since. I stand on a precipice and think in circles because I don't understand it."

The night after his disappearance, Einar’s family held a prayer service at a church in Kópavogur, praying for Einar’s safe return. Atli was there too, supporting the family during their meetings, offering his help. This was a deeply personal time for Einar’s family and emotions were running high. 

Einar’s dad was the first one to suspect that Atli knew more than he was letting on. But he did not want to accuse him head-on, he gently pushed for more information, hoping he could get to the bottom of the mystery. In the week following Einar’s disappearance, his dad, Birgir Birgirs met Atli every single day, at Kaffivagninn in Reykjavik. Birgir questioned Atli, persisted, tried to make sense of what happened to his son. But Atli appeared to be as puzzled about the vanishing as Birgis was.

Police had interviewed Atli the day after Einar’s disappearance. Then again on the 11th and a third time on the 13th of November. That is three times in one week. Initially they only spoke to him as a witness. But the more they spoke to him, the higher he moved up on their list of possible suspects. 

Firstly, Atli had no alibi for the time when Einar went missing. He lied to police about his whereabouts, saying that at 12pm, he was at a business meeting at a restaurant in Reykjavik. Turns out the restaurant had a security camera and when police followed up, it was clear that Atli never was at that restaurant.

In searching his home, they found Atli’s shoes and clothing with blood stains on. They also took his car in for examination and found blood in the trunk, blood that matched Einar’s. On the day of Einar’s disappearance, his phone was in the same vicinity as Atli’s phone, until 2pm when it was turned off.

A week after the murder, on the 15th of November, Atli Helgason was arrested at his home and charged with the murder of his business partner and friend. At first he denied everything. But confronted by the mountain of evidence against him, he confessed. 

Atli told police that he met with Einar in the park at Öskjuhlíõ at noon, as they had arranged. They sat in Einar’s car and talked for a while, still buzzing from the excitement of their store’s success in its first week. Then the conversation turned and the topic of finances came up. Initially, Atli had promised substantial amounts of money, of which he promised to invest 200,000 – 300,000 Euro personally. But Atli did not have the funds and told Einar he would not be able to pay. Atli later said that he felt it was unfair that Einar leant so heavily on him for all matters relating to the money-side of things. 

When Einar learnt that his business partner was flaking on him, he flipped and got out of the car in anger. The argument continued and turned into physical altercation. 

Atli said they were standing by the passenger side of his Volkswagen Passat when Einar pushed him, then tried to kick him. Atli then ran around the car and opened the back-passenger door. There were tools on the back seat, left there from the recent store renovations. Atli grabbed a hammer, with the sole intention of threatening him, not hurting him.

At this point Atli became hallucinatory and felt that his life was in danger. He said that Einar was lunged towards him and that is why he swung the hammer at him – in self-defence. After the first blow, Einar dropped to the ground immediately.

The whole event felt surreal, like he was watching it, not executing it. From this point on, his memory about the event became a bit foggy. Forensic examination would later conclude that Einar was still alive at this point, but unconscious. 

Atli claimed that he immediately regretted what he had done. But instead of calling for help, he tried to resuscitate him by giving him CPR. When Einar didn’t respond, Atli panicked, and believed that his friend was dead. He then picked him up and put him in the trunk of his car. He also threw the hammer in the trunk and kicked up the dust at the scene to try and erase evidence. Then he drove off.

According to Atli, he drove around for a while, not knowing what to do next. Then he turned to go south, where saw a quarry near an aluminium plant in Straumsvik, but after looking around, decided he did want to leave Einar there, and continued his aimless journey.

From Straumsvik he drove past Grindavík, where he filled up his car with gas. He drove to the wharf at Grindavík harbour and thought about throwing Einar into the water, but decided against that too, as there were too many witnesses around. 

On Grindavík road in the Southern Peninsula (or Sudurnes), he pulled over and looked at the barren wasteland of lava fields surrounding him. This was the spot, he thought, and took Einar out of the trunk of the car and dragged him down a steep slope. He found a hole and threw Einar into it, then covered it up with rocks. 

Einar was still alive, though Atli did not know this. He left Einar in the icy cold, with temperatures averaging around 35 degrees (that’s about 2 degrees Celsius). Without looking back Atli got back into his car and drove back to Reykjavik.

Atli said that he was almost catatonic at this point, in a kind of psychotic state. He became extremely paranoid and thought someone had seen him. He considered killing himself, then decided against it. He carried on driving and driving and eventually found an abandoned lot in an industrial area. Here he disposed of the hammer and some of Einar’s clothes. He also cleaned the trunk of his car as best he could. 

Then he managed to pull himself together and returned to Reykjavik. When he arrived at the store, he pretended that he had no idea where Einar was. He told Ruth that he was concerned about Einar’s mental state, to cast suspicion away from him.

In the days following the murder, Atli drove many miles around the areas surrounding Reykjavik, discarding of evidence, bit by bit: Einar’s cell phone, his car keys… Atli was still in a state of shock and could not recall where he had left everything. The only evidence ever uncovered by police, were Einar’s keys, which they found in Ellidaárós. They could never locate the industrial lot where Atli claimed to have disposed of Einar’s clothing.

The initial search of the lava plain was not successful – the police could not find Einar’s body anywhere. It was a difficult area to search: the terrain is rugged with many crevices and uneven lava rock, covered with moss. They realised there was only one way to find Einar and that was to let his killer show them where he had left his body. When Atli arrived at the scene, he knew exactly where the body was and took investigators straight there.  

A post mortem examination revealed that Einar Birgisson had four injuries to his head, made by a blunt object, like a hammer. Forensic experts concluded that three of the injuries could have been enough by itself to cause his death. Each one of those three injuries was severe enough to have caused the victim to lose consciousness immediately.

Einar’s funeral took place two weeks after his death, on Thursday the 23rd of November. Tributes flowed in as friends, family and former team mates remembered the guy that was loved by everyone. 

Atli Helgason’s trial began in the spring of 2001. Addressing the court, he stated:

"There was no one else involved this, I did this, but don't ask me how this horror occurred. The moment of Einar’s death is foggy and I cannot remember what happened. It was horrible and I never would have believed that this would happen to me…" 

Prosecution presented its case, giving evidence to support Atli’s version of what happened on that fateful Thursday the 8th of November. 

A taxi driver said that he passed the car park where Atli’s was parked. The taxi driver saw a man sitting in the driver’s seat of a red Volkswagen Passat, talking on the phone. He paid no special attention to this and carried on his way. A short time later, he drove back the same way. This time there was no one in the Passat, but he drove past a silver Volkswagen Golf about 30 to 40 yards from the parking lot, heading towards the Passat. There were two people in the Golf. The taxi driver said the car had been on its way to the parking lot, where the Passat was parked. He identified the driver of the Golf as Einar Birgisson. 

Atli confessed, that at the time of the murder he had been using drugs again. He said that he honestly believed that he was defending his life as he was high on cocaine, but in hindsight realised that was not the case. Investigators were = able to establish that Atli had been using again since the start of summer 2000 (that is before he entered the partnership with Einar). 

Psychiatrists felt that, despite his claims of hallucinating while killing Einar, Atli was culpable. Yes, he may have had a hallucinatory incident, but there was no evidence from his past that indicated that he had ever (even when he was using) resorted to such extreme physical violence. There was no proof that he had ever experienced a psychotic break because of his drug use. 

There was no way to determine how severe Atli’s high was at the time of the murder. The fact that he had the presence of mind to try and conceal his crime made psychologists sceptical about his claims of having a psychotic break, driving around the Southern Peninsula to discard of evidence seems too calculated for someone suffering from psychosis.

Atli said that when he realised what he had done, he tried to resuscitate Einar, without avail. He also could not remember hitting Einar four times and said he was sure it was, at most, twice. He said that Einar’s other injuries must have occurred when he dumped his body in Grindavík. 

He described how he took Einar out of the trunk of his car and dragged him out into the plain. He said that he lost his grip at one stage and Einar fell down. Atli heard a loud noise, like a snap and thought that Einar had broken his neck. He also believed that some of the injuries to Einar's head, which a forensic psychologist thought were the consequences of a hammer blow, were sustained because of this fall.

When asked, Atli admitted that he was the one who had moved Einar’s vehicle to the hotel parking lot, but he could not recall any details or even if he had driven it there before or after he dumped Einar’s body.

At the crime scene in the park at Öskjuhlíõ there was no blood. This puzzled investigators, because due to Einar’s injuries, he would have bled a lot. There could be two explanations for this. Firstly, by the time a crime scene investigations unit arrived at the scene, 11 days had passed since the murder. During that time there was rain as well as snow and most of the blood could have washed away.

Another theory was that Atli lured Einar to the open trunk of his car, hit him over the head, bundled him into the trunk. In this case, most of the blood would have been in the trunk of Atli’s Passat and at Einar’s final resting place in the lava field. In fact, it was the copious amount of blood at the scene in the lava field that proved to investigators that Einar was still alive when he was left there. 

After it came out that Atli had murdered Einar, it also came out that Atli had forged Einar’s signature on documents regarding loans and other administrative issues. Einar’s family brought this to investigators’ attention, and further charges of fraud were brought against Atli.

At Atli’s trial, Einar’s family sat right behind him and he avoided any eye contact with them. 

According to Atli, he was not the only one using drugs. Einar was using too. In fact, it was Einar that got him back into drugs. Everybody who knew Einar refused to believe that this is the truth. They found this accusation to be the final nail in the coffin. Why would Atli say something about Einar when he was no longer able to defend himself? Einar was always against drug-use. Even drinking alcohol. He would only have beer or wine with food and would not go out drinking for the sake of drinking. In the end, science spoke the final word when toxicology results showed no signs of toxins in Einar’s blood or urine).

On 29 May 2001 he was sentenced to 16 years in prison for the murder. Atli was then sentenced to pay a wife and parents of Einar Arnar total compensation of six million kroner. When the case was concluded, Atli was declared bankrupt. As a convicted murderer, he was also disbarred and lost his privileges as a lawyer.

Atli appealed his sentence to the Supreme Court, but he was not granted a retrial. His wife made the decision to support him through everything and visited him in prison as often as she could.

Einar’s parents pointed out that Atli never showed any remorse, and wondered if he would ever have come out with the truth if there wasn’t so much evidence against him. Einar’s family also felt that Atli never told the whole story, that there was more to it than just an altercation that got out of hand. Were the two business partners really just fighting about money, or was there more to it? 

During his prison Atli still made the news with frequent interviews. He became an advocate for prisoners’ human rights and called for better access to legal representation for the incarcerated. Atli stated that during his time in prison, he was sober. 

After serving 9 years of a 16 year-sentence, Atli Helgason was released from prison in 2010. Following his release, he continued working in a law office, but as he had been disbarred, he could not represent clients in court.

In 2016, Atli received ‘restored honour’, a controversial legal process which reinstates social standing to convicted criminals. Two years later, his request to have his licence to practice law reinstated was okayed by the District Court of Reykjavik. 

Einar’s family saw this as a final insult. Atli killed their son and brother in cold blood. Not only did he spend less than 10 years behind bars, he got his life back. A privilege that Einar never had.

During the course of events following Einar’s disappearance, his mom developed a stomach ulcer. Einar’s brother believes that the ulcer caused the stomach cancer that took her life. Einar’s father, Birgir Örn Birgis also passed away in 2017. Neither of Einar’s parents ever recovered from the pain caused by the loss of their son. 

For everyone who loved Einar, this story is a tragedy that changed their lives forever. He was in the prime of his life and destined for great things. He never got to see the success of his clothing store, nor did he get to start a family with his beloved Gullu. 

If you’d like to read more about this case, have a look at the resources used for this episode in the show notes. 

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