The True Story Of Iceland's Only Serial Killer

Iceland is known for its extremely low crime rate, particularly in terms of the country's lack of murders. Per the Overseas Security Advisory Council, with the exception of four homicides recorded in 2017, the annual homicide rate has been less than one incident per year for several decades. Furthermore, there was only been one serial killer in all of Icelandic history, and his reign of terror was over before just before the 1600s.

As reported by Iceland Magazine, Björn Pétursson, better known as Axlar-Björn, eventually confessed to killing 18 people, most of whom were travelers who happened to pass by his land on the Snæfellsnes peninsula near Iceland's famous Snæfellsjökull waterfall. The actual number of victims is thought to be higher. Axlar-Björn's primary method of killing people involved drowning them in a small pond at the edge of some lava fields on his land and hiding the bodies there, although one victim's body was later discovered in a pile of dung. 

Because Axlar-Björn's murder spree took place so long ago, and because his crimes are so extreme and so unusual for Iceland, plenty of myths and legends have circulated about him over the centuries. One rumor alleges that Axlar-Björn's mother craved human blood when she was pregnant with him in 1555 and her husband obliged, letting her feed from him. This supposedly led to nightmares "so horrible they cannot be described" and the fear she would give birth to "some kind of monster."

A violent end for a violent killer

Axlar-Björn was thought to have committed his first murder around 1570 at the age of 15 after he went to work at and live on the land of a rich farmer named Ormur Þorleifsson. According to Iceland Magazine, he supposedly skipped church one day to take a nap and had a dream in which he was told to climb a mountain "where he would find an object which would make him famous." The next day he actually did climb a nearby mountain and found an ax at the peak, which he later admitted using to kill a fellow farm hand.

Axlar-Björn eventually took over Ormur Þorleifsson's beautiful farm. There Axlar-Björn lived with his wife and children for the rest of his life, apparently periodically murdering those who passed by. Several stories exist concerning how he was eventually caught, including one in which a woman who had taken shelter at the farm hid as he lured away and killed all three of her children, finally escaping to report what she had seen. When authorities came to the farm and investigated, they found the many bodies of Axlar-Björn's victims.

The serial killer was sentenced to death in 1596; he was reportedly "hanged, drawn and quartered, and after than chopped to pieces and each piece put on a stake." Per the Icelandic Times, there is still an active farm on the grounds where the murders took place, with the location of Axlar-Björn's execution, Laugarbrekkuþing, right nearby.