The Sjöundá double murder and trial

  • The Sjöundá double murder and trial

Iceland's best-known crime story took place at the Sjöundá farm by Rauðisandur in 1802. Half the farm was allocated to the farmer Bjarni, who lived there with his wife Guðrún and their three children.  That left half the farm uninhabited until the arrival of farmer Jón, his wife Steinunn and their five children.

Sjöundá was an extremely isolated spot and hardly the place for unquiet souls. With not much diversion on offer, Bjarni and Steinunn commenced on an illicit affair. With not many places to hide, during the following winter communication at the farm became strenuous, to say the least.

Then on 1st April the following year, Steinunn's husband Jón, disappeared. He was believed to have fallen into the sea from the steep cliffs of Skorrahlíðar. But, when Guðrún, Bjarni’s wife, suddenly died mere two months later, rumors started circulating. Bjarni and Steinunn's affair was common knowledge, and the death of their respective spouses was considered suspicious. The rumors were so intense that the local priest decided to have Guðrún's coffin opened before burying her. Her body was inspected for signs of injuries, but none was found.

At the end of September, Jón's body was washed ashore at Rauðisandur. The forensics team was baffled not to find any of his bones broken, which was quite contrary to what would have happened if Jón had fallen from a great height into the ocean. Bjarni was arrested and a few days later, so was Steinunn. At their trial, they confessed to having murdered their spouses. Bjarni had used a staff to kill Jón. Together, he and Steinunn had tried to poison Guðrún. They didn't succeed so Bjarni suffocated her while Steinunn strained her hands.

Both Bjarni and Steinunn received a death sentence. Additionally Bjarni was to be pinched with red-hot pliers three times and his right hand chopped off.

The whole drama was described it one of the best novels by an Icelandic writer, Svartfugl, by Gunnar Gunnarsson. A novel that was first published in Denmark in 1929 and was quite successful in Europe in the thirties. The small farm, Sjöundá, is in the center of the photo.

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Below is the location of Rauðisandur on the map of Iceland