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The Real-Life Horrors That Inspired ‘The Valhalla Murders’

March 13, 2020
4 min read

Netflix’s ‘The Valhalla Murders‘, created by Thordur Palsson, marks the streaming giant’s debut in Iceland with an absorbing whodunit crime-thriller. Interestingly, it also marks Palsson’s debut as a series creator as he has previously only worked with short-films. This is, of course, hard to believe given how masterfully the murder mystery is crafted.

As the title suggests, ‘The Valhalla Murders’ looks at multiple murders, centering around the country’s first serial killings. The eight-part series is Iceland’s latest addition to Nordic noir. In fact, the show has it all – from a bleak setting, to protagonists haunted by their dark pasts, to, of course, some really gruesome murders.

‘The Valhalla Murders’ is a riveting crime drama that has plenty to offer to the fans of the genre. This makes sense considering that the series has been co-written by Margrét Örnólfsdóttir, Otto Geir Borg, Mikael Torfason, along with crime author, Óttar M. Norðfjörð. The series follows officers Kata and Arnar as they investigate the serial killings. All of which lead them to Valhalla, an abandoned institution for young boys – eventually tying the recent killings to a 30-year-old cold case involving the murder of a young boy.

The crime drama explores concepts relating to child-abuse and broken families in an effective manner. ‘The Valhalla Murders’ offers a sensitive portrayal of these as it looks at the victims and the survivors of abuse, along with its perpetrators. The larger theme the series follows is that of the past haunting the present. Given that the series follows Iceland’s first serial killings. And that it centers around child abuse in state institutions, one can’t help but wonder how much of ‘The Valhalla Murders’ could be true. In case you’re wondering the same, we’re here to help. Here’s everything you need to know.

Is ‘The Valhalla Murders’ Based on a True Story?

To answer it simply, no, ‘The Valhalla Murders’ is not based on a true story. However, the series was inspired by a real-life case that the series creator, Thordur Palsson, learned about some years back. Though Palsson never revealed its details, he mentioned it in a recent interview. He spoke of how his co-writers were all familiar with the case, but they decided not to exploit the story, and focused on raising the topic instead.

The Horrors of Breidavík

Palsson mentioned that the inspiration came from a state-run institution for troubled boys from the late 1940s. The institution was located in a remote location in Iceland, much like Valhalla, where kids between 7 to 14 years were brutally abused by staff-members. The scandal was swept under the rug, and the boys were given small financial compensations.

This becomes relevant to the initiative that was taken by the government in Iceland in 2007. Through a committee appointed by Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde, child-abuse claims by inmates of the state-run institution for troubled boys in Breidavík, in the West Fjords, were investigated. The claims were based on the experiences these men had as boys back in 1950s to 1970s, which included brutal beatings, humiliation, and rape. As these claims were proven to be true, the victims were given a financial compensation from the government.

Interestingly, not much about Breidavík is mentioned in the news, and I could not come across a single global news platform that delved into the matter. But on digging deeper it became apparent that the horrors of Breidavík have become a part of the Icelandic psyche. And though Palsson never revealed the institution, there is a good possibility that it was, in fact, Breidavík. The state-run institution was eventually shut-down in 1979.

According to a study conducted by Gisli Gudjonsson, 75% of the boys who attended the state-run institution between 1953 and 1970 became convicted criminals later in life. This has a direct connection to ‘The Valhalla Murders’. In the series, half of the child-abuse victims, including Andres Hauksson and Steinthor Jonnson, end up becoming criminals.

Read More: ‘The Valhalla Murders’ Recap/Review

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