This Day In Icelandic History: Murder Duo Bjarni And Steinunn Get Sentenced To Death - The Reykjavik Grapevine

This Day In Icelandic History: Murder Duo Bjarni And Steinunn Get Sentenced To Death

This Day In Icelandic History: Murder Duo Bjarni And Steinunn Get Sentenced To Death

Published May 3, 2018

Phil Uwe Widiger
Photos by
Phil Uwe Widiger

In summer 1802 two curious murders happened in Sjöundá, near Rauðasandur beach in the Westfjords. The village consisted only of two families: Bjarni Bjarnason with his wife Guðrún Egilsdóttir; and Steinunn Sveinsdóttir with her husband Jón Þorgrímsson.

Jón disappeared on 1st April 1802 and was initially thought to have fallen off one of the dangerous cliffs at Skorarhlíðar. Guðrún mysteriously died three months later with the local priest being unable to find anything unusual about her death.

It was only in late September that year when Jón’s body washed up on the shore of Rauðasandur that the provincial folks started suspecting foul play. Bjarni was arrested and taken to court where he and Steinunn confessed to the murder of both of their spouses. Jón had been beaten to death with a rod by Bjarni but Guðrún was a team-kill. After the poison had failed, Steinunn held Guðrún’s hands while Bjarni made sure she would take her last breath.

The partners in crime were consequently sentenced to death on 4th May 1803 and after two prison breaks and difficulties finding an executioner in Reykjavík, both were to be deported to Norway and executed there. However, Steinunn inexplicably died in prison before that could happen.

Bjarni wasn’t so “lucky”. In Norway, he went through both the breaking wheel and the stretching bench (google at your own risk) before his head and hands were cut off and put up on spikes. If you are still eager to know more, check out Gunnar Gunnarsson’s novel “The Black Cliffs”.

Read more on Iceland’s history here.


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