The Reykjavik Confessions
May 16, 2014 10:12 AM   Subscribe

On a bitter Icelandic night in 1974, teenager Erla Bolladottir was having a nightmare. Voices, whispering outside her room. Who were they? What were they saying? It seemed so real. Terrified, she wet the bed. The dream would continue to haunt her for years to come.
posted by Jelly (21 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I just can't get through the interface. Is there a text version anywhere?
posted by Curious Artificer at 10:44 AM on May 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

Seconded. These media-laden stories are becoming more popular as big publishers like the Times and apparently now the BBC try to make a more 'immersive' story experience. But the result just seems to combine the worst aspects of video, photography, and print. Don't try to control how I read the story, just tell me the story.
posted by tooloudinhere at 10:50 AM on May 16, 2014 [18 favorites]

The other thing it reminds me of is a weird video game.
posted by tooloudinhere at 10:51 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

In August 1976 the Icelandic government brought in a 'supercop' from Germany, Karl Schutz.

I feel like I've heard that name recently.

He had taken on and broken the Baader-Meinhof gang...

Oh that explains it.
posted by justkevin at 10:59 AM on May 16, 2014 [28 favorites]

I don't mind the faddish interactive formatting. That said, splashy interactive articles of this sort always remind me of the short-lived attempt at storytelling via interactive CD-ROMs in the 90s, From Alice to Ocean and all.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:06 AM on May 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

Everyone here in Iceland is well familiar with this case. One thing that I first learned from this article is that the shipyard where the statements placed Geirfinnur's murder is the same one I worked at for eleven summers, from the time I was fifteen. The same shipyard my father worked in from the mid-50s until last year. It's somewhat strange that, given how much this case has been argued about, that nobody thought to mention that - to, say, point out the place he was supposedly killed.

Writing about that reminds me of a death that I was actually told about while working there. The company electrician old me how, sometime in the seventies, he got fed up with the addicts that sometimes climbed up the power cables leading up into the ships and stole the morphine from the first-aid kits. This still happened regularly when I worked there, in spite of captains always taking such medicine from board as they left, and often hanging up signs announcing as much to potential robbers. The electrician proceeded to grease up the top length of the power cables to deter them. Turns out it worked. One Monday morning, the workers discovered a blood stain at the base of a cable, and later heard of a man being brought in to the local emergency room with a broken skull by his friend. He died from his injuries a short while later.

Sorry for the rambling.
posted by Zero Gravitas at 11:12 AM on May 16, 2014 [12 favorites]

Here's a few english articles on an icelandic site about supreme court case 214/1978, guðmundar og geirfinnsmál, suitable for viewing in lynx and later: Mál 214

(cannot read enough icelandic to determine if the rest of the site has an agenda, but those pages seem to be fairly straightforward)
posted by effbot at 11:18 AM on May 16, 2014

I just can't get through the interface. Is there a text version anywhere?

I tried printing the article as a PDF, and some of it came out a bit wonky, but it was a stable document to read.

Otherwise, here's an article from last year from The Reykjavik Grapevine,
posted by filthy light thief at 11:18 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

(the grapevine article also works in lynx, and is quite a bit fresher than the other stuff :-)
posted by effbot at 11:25 AM on May 16, 2014

You can also listen to it on BBC Radio 4.
posted by Jelly at 11:29 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

He wanted to help but, for whatever reason his memory was fuzzy. He couldn’t remember what he was doing in November 1974 or indeed for much of that year.

This probably sounds weird to a lot of people, but I'm totally this sort of person, and not because of drugs, alcohol, medication, brain damage, etc. ... I just don't register my life experiences this way, like "oh, last November I was doing blahblah." Not even last week, usually. Or what year I did [SIGNIFICANT THING]. Seriously, I can never remember what year I got married (and I'm very, very happy with husband and marriage – probably the best thing in my life, ever, so.) Some stuff I forget entirely, other things I do remember, but very rarely in a linear way. I can remember all sorts of facts and details about a wide variety of subjects and hold a pile of long, complicated passwords (for example) in my head, but if you asked me what I had for lunch yesterday, I might not remember. If you asked when I last saw a particular person, I might not be accurate within a one or two year window. It's a very, very good thing I've never been suspected of murder.

And now, I'm never leaving the house again.
posted by taz at 11:37 AM on May 16, 2014 [41 favorites]

I went to Wikipedia for the executive summary since I can't break free from work right now, but the article is hilariously devoid of content, almost diametrically opposite from the BBC story. EDIT: Never mind, I saw the article was started just today, probably as a result of this Metafilter post.
posted by crapmatic at 12:19 PM on May 16, 2014

The issue is not the bad memory of the suspects but the bad techniques used by police to extract confessions called the "Reid Technique."

John E. Reid & Associates Inc. — which originated the technique — trains more interrogators than any other company in the world, Starr writes. That's a little scary since experts told Starr that "Reid-style" techniques can produce false confessions. Psychology professor named Saul Kassin believes the technique is "inherently coercive," Starr writes. "The interrogator’s refusal to listen to a suspect’s denials creates feelings of hopelessness, which are compounded by the fake file and by lies about the evidence," Starr writes, summing up Kassin's viewpoint. "At this point, short-term thinking takes over. Confession opens something of an escape hatch, so it is only natural that some people choose it." Kassin has used the Reid Technique to obtain false confessions from students during a research experiment. His study has been criticized since those students falsely "confessed" to hitting the Alt key on a keyboard, which of course has less serious consequences than, say, murder. But the Reid Technique has also produced false confessions in real life. One unfortunate suspect, Darrel Parker, confessed to killing his wife in 1955 after being interrogated by "Reid Technique" founder John Reid himself. Parker's name was only cleared decades later after a man in prison provided a detailed confession to the crime.

posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 1:04 PM on May 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Agreed, I'm just saying that it's maybe easier to apply to people who don't already have a firm memory imprint – at least in the sense that they don't have to wipe out and replace an existing, persistent reality-based memory.

I actually have fairly frequent conversations with my husband in which he insists I did something, and I doubt that I did because I have zero memory of it. This is usually him insisting that we saw a particular movie together, or that I went to a party and met a particular person, or we went to a restaurant and had a specific dish – nothing bizarre. I don't know. He's probably right. I'm inclined to believe anyone who claims they have a firm specific memory of something that I did (if it isn't completely out of character for me), because I frequently don't retain those kind of memories myself. In this way, my own history can be somewhat mutable for me... and if we layered psychological torture, extended solitary confinement and respect for / trust in authority onto this specific memory deficit and doubt problem, at a younger age perhaps I could be more easily persuaded than someone with a better memory that in my blank spaces I killed or helped to kill someone.
posted by taz at 2:11 PM on May 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

It reminds me of Winston Smith in "1984" who, through torture, is convinced that 2+2 is 5.
posted by Zpt2718 at 7:13 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are four lights.
posted by flaterik at 9:13 PM on May 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

The film Gaslight -- either British or American versions, both are pretty good -- is essentially the Reid system as used by a husband to control his wife (for a bit of a Macguffin of a reason, the weak ankle of the whole thing, alas). I'd sort of like to see a modern adaptation without, say, the rampant sexism.

But it may be that Compliance is the modern take on the same basic idea (and has the added bonus of being based on something true).
posted by dhartung at 11:03 PM on May 16, 2014

Re: the formatting, I read the article on my phone and it rendered like a normal text-based piece, so that's one way to get around the 'immersiveness'. I did skip all the videos, like I usually do, but I don't think I missed out on any vital information.

Re: the content, what a great piece of journalism! Thanks for sharing it, Jelly. It's frightening to think either how corrupt the Icelandic police were, to be able to pass off this kind of warped confession as the truth, or how ignorant they were back then, to see no problems with it. I know this kind of coercion still takes place nowadays but there are fewer excuses, thanks to research in psychology that includes the work of Gisli Gudjonsson.

I wonder (as one tends to after reading this sort of article) how I would have responded in the position of Erla Bolladottir or the other five. I guess I have an average or nearly average command over my own memory, but I don't really think the average is very good. I also tend to clam up under pressure and avoid saying anything, let alone anything incriminating -- but then again, I've fortunately never been tortured or held in prolonged isolation. I worry that I would be susceptible to the good cop/bad cop routine, or the, "We just want to help you recover your memories," line they used on Erla. On the whole, I don't rate my chances too well.
posted by daisyk at 4:56 AM on May 17, 2014

I wonder about the same thing and all I can think is, no way would I cave. But I'm American and I've been taught that the police can't hold you without charging you and you have a right to counsel. I suspect if I didn't have those long held beliefs to back me up, my confidence wouldn't be so strong about how I would hold up.
posted by double bubble at 6:04 AM on May 17, 2014

cannot read enough icelandic to determine if the rest of the site has an agenda, but those pages seem to be fairly straightforward

The site is a collection of articles on the case from various media.

There is really no way for this case to have bias here in Iceland. I think there's pretty much a universal consensus that this case was a grievous miscarriage of justice.

I've read about the case many times, as it is the most well-known criminal case in icelandic history, but this article is by far the best, most straight-forward and simple explanation of the case.

It's been widely published here in iceland.
posted by svenni at 7:10 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I guess I was more worried that the parts I didn't/couldn't skim was full of crank theories or accusations against random people. Single-issue sites with outdated designs can contain anything...
posted by effbot at 10:20 AM on May 18, 2014

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