Isdal Woman






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Isdalskvinnen
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The Isdal Woman is the most fascinating unsolved mystery I’ve stumbled across in recent years.

I say ‘stumbled’ as like many I first came across it on a special feature on the BBC...more

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THE Isdal Woman
© STEPHEN MISSAL
Sketch created by Stephen Missal from study of morgue photographs to depict an estimation of the victim in life. Now an iconic image.
IMAGE SOURCE: Isdal Woman: The mystery death haunting Norway for 46 years


FINDING THE ISDAL WOMAN

I say ‘stumbled’ as like many I first came across it on a special feature on the BBC website (they do do compelling and in-depth articles from time to time) entitled Isdal Woman: The mystery death haunting Norway for 46 years (The podcasts mentioned below would make the case famous with the title: Death in Ice Valley).

Reading through it I came compelled to find out what actually happened to this unknown woman in such a remote location. Mountains, vast lakes, tall pine trees...and lost for we don't know precisely how long but discovered by walkers on a sunday is a beautiful woman's badly burnt body whose story, life, we know little more than the day she died nearly 50 years ago.

Anyone have any details or photos of her they would like to share here? . Please email anything here (ihuppert5@aol.com) and I will add it.

Remote but not that remote, within a few kms of Bergen, Norway. Near enough on the aerial map to see in the same shot Bergen Hospital, the Funicular, the market place, the outline of historic Bergen city as it stands, rugged but picturesque, against the North sea.

Near to life but a wild, stark landscape nonetheless and forever now connected as a backdrop for the final moments of the Unknown Woman.

I read all the BBC's article hoping there would be some kind of conclusion by the end but obviously there wasn't. I was drawn to a link to the NRK site (Norway’s licence-funded, public-service broadcasting channel) and realised that many of the facts reported on the BBC site came from here and that this mystery must of been part of Norwegian folklore since 1970 and only now, via the BBC, was it entering the wider world.


THAT PHOTO

The facts and the police photos just added to the mystery. So startling was that photo (original on this page - scrowl down to about half way to see it - under the photo is the description: "The police are met by this sight as they arrive on the scene on November 29, 1970. The Isdal woman is lying on her back between big rocks in the steep, wooded terrain." Photo © Bergen State Police) of her corpse (from the Bergen State Archives) it was astonishing to see really; the video of a drone taking you across the valley to where she died; the NPK piece (in English) was at times troubled and troubling. There was so much info ... you'd think, somehow, somewhere, there would be some clue, something. And yet at the end .... nothing.
The Isdal Woman Body
Photo © Bergen State Police

That is the thing you have to accept in investigating the case - nothing and nothingness. There is no quick-fix for any armchair enthisiast; there's is nothing even approaching any kind of closure.

I then returned to the BBC's piece and through that discovered the now massive (in terms of popularity) podcasts. As of June 2019 there are 11 of them and consist of a British journalist (Neil McCarthy - BBC) and Norwegian one (Marit Higraff - NFK) travelling to Bergen and beyond, interviewing witnesses, scientists and journalists and trying against all odds to piece together all the info to find out who she actually was and how did she come to finish her life (or be finished) in such a desolate place.

The first 10 are excellent and must-hear - the latest whilst good tends to pad it out a bit.

I was hooked and the eerie music of the podcasts took me to the Isdalen Valley, in my mind's eye, to a place in 1970 across the lake, to the burning flames obscuring just what went on and to muffled voices, cries and whispers, just too far away for the wind to carry for me to make out what was said.

Below are the facts and for what it's worth, my conclusions. I can say here that I know alot less that many experts and the conclusions are only my gut instincts.


ANSWERED PRAYERS

Oh, and regarding the Podcasts: whilst fascinating I can't help but thinking that the eerie music isn't eerie enough. Here's something you can try:

Close your eyes and think of a frightened, possibly fragile, woman as she approaches death in a remote land of creaking winds, overpowering landscapes of water and mountains, of tall trees that envelop you and cold stone beneath. And whilst you do this play this on YouTube for its 2 minutes or so duration. It is David Sylvian's Answered Prayers from 1986.
The Isdal Woman Body
Photo © Bergen State Police

Then, I hazard, you will have an idea of just what it feels like to enter that Chamber of Death the Isdal Woman found herself on that cold, forbidden day all those years ago.

Advert: The Isdal Woman - Operation Isotopsy: Death in Ice Valley @ amazon.co.uk (direct link to book)






Facts
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Base Source for most of the facts below is: Wikipedia. I will elaborate on these facts when I get the time.

29th November 1970: An unidentified woman is found dead at Isdalen (“Ice Valley”) in Bergen, Norway.

A man and his two young daughters discover her whilst hiking in the foothills of the north face of Ulriken. Neither of the daughters will speak about it publicly from that day to this.

Found in a scree.

Body charred and a burning smell (see NFK for picture). Body in a supine position.

Bergen Police contacted. Full investigation launced.

Case name: 134/70

Police find no nearby campfire.

Front of body and clothes severely burned.

Body & face unrecognisable. Photo © Bergen State Police.


ITEMS FOUND

Items found by body and affected by the fire:
A low-cost liqueur)
2 plastic water-bottles
A plastic passport container
Rubber boots
A woolen jumper
A scarf
Nylon stockings
An umbrella
A purse
A matchbox
A watch
Two earrings
A ring.

Around the body were traces of burned paper, and beneath it was a fur hat which was later found to have traces of petrol.

All identifying marks and labels on these items had been removed or rubbed off.

2nd December 1970: Two suitcases belonging to the woman found at Bergen Railway Station.

In the lining of one was 5 100 Deutsche Mark notes.

Other items found:
Clothing
Shoes
Wigs
Makeup
Eczema cream
135 Norwegian kroner
Belgian, British and Swiss coins
Maps
Timetables
A pair of glasses (with non-prescription lenses)
Sunglasses (with partial fingerprints that matched the body)
Cosmetics
A notepad.

Any possible identifying information had been removed.


AUTOPSY

Autopsy revealed the woman had died from a combination of incapacitation by phenobarbital and poisoning by carbon monoxide.

Soot was found in her lungs, indicating she was alive as she burned.

Her neck was bruised, possibly from a fall or by a blow.

Analysis of her blood and stomach showed that she had consumed between 50-70 Fenemal brand sleeping pills.

Found next to her body were a further 12 sleeping pills.

At autopsy, her teeth and jaw were removed due to her unique gold-filling dental work and tissue samples of her organs were taken.

Police launch an appeal for information in the Norwegian media regarding the case.

Last time seen alive was on 23 November. she checked out of room 407 of the Hotel Hordaheimen.

Physical description revealed.

Roughly 1.63 m (5 ft 4 in) tall.

Good-looking.

Dark brown hair. Brown eyes.

Hordaheimen staff she kept mainly to her room and seemed to be on her guard.

Paid her bill in cash and requested a taxi whem leaving the Hotel.

The four days between this and the discovery of the body remain unaccounted for.


NOTEPAD ENTRIES

Police decode the notepad entries. They discover thus:

Dates and places the woman had visited.

Based on handwritten check-in forms, police determined that the Isdal Woman had travelled around Norway (i.e. Oslo, Trondheim, Stavanger) and Europe (Paris) with at least eight fake passports and aliases.

She claimed to be Belgian.

She had previously stayed at several hotels in Bergen, and was known to change rooms after checking in.

She often told hotel staff that she was a travelling saleswoman and antiquities dealer.

One witness said that she overheard the woman talking to a man in German in a Bergen hotel.

Others who met her mentioned she also spoke Flemish and broken English.

Witnesses state shesmelt of garlic. From the Podcasts I learn that garlic was a rare smell in Norway at the time.

People who saw or met her also commented that she wore wigs.

Composite sketches, based on witness descriptions and analysis of her body, were then circulated in many countries via Interpol.

Despite the significant police resources deployed, the unknown woman was never identified and the case was quickly closed. I recall from the Podcast that it was actually closed within three weeks which seems incredibly quickly.

Authorities concluded that she had committed suicide by ingestion of sleeping pills.

Many believe that there is evidence that she was murdered.

5 February 1971: the Isdal Woman was given a Catholic burial (based on her use of saint’s names on check-in forms) in an unmarked grave within the Møllendal graveyard located in Bergen.

Funeral attended by 16 members of the Bergen police force

she was buried in a zinc coffin to both preserve her remains and for ease of disinternment.

Her ceremony was also photographed in case relatives came forward at a later date.


SEEN ON A HILLSIDE WITH TWO "SOUTHERN" MEN?

This is the most fascinating point in the case for me.

In 2005, a Bergen resident who was 26 in 1970 told a local newspaper that after seeing the sketch circulated, he had suspected that the dead woman was the woman he had seen five days before the body was found, when he was hiking on the hillside at Fløyen. Surprisingly, she was dressed lightly for the city rather than a hike, and was walking ahead of two men wearing coats who looked "southern". She appeared resigned and seemed about to say something but didn't. He went to someone he knew at the police to report this, but was told to forget about it. Therefore, neither his name nor his alleged sighting was recorded at that time.

Was it her? If the dates are correct, then after this sighting she would have returned to the Hotel so why would she been travelling with two ominous ans strange men, dressed inapproriately and yet the men are not, looking fearful as though she knew her fate but all the while knowing she was returning to the safety of her hotel room? Doesn't make sense unless they were searching for somewhere to die at a later date. Sounds inplausible but then alot sounds like that in this case.





Random Trivia
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Random facts regarding the Isdal Woman:

1) Took an age in buying boots at a shoe shop in Stavanger.

2) Travelled at least 2 times between Stavanger and Bergen by ferry.

3) Where there is now lockers for luggage at Bergen Railway Station in 1970 it was a manned property section.

4) The first local newspaper report of the Isdal Woman suggest she was a 'young woman'.

5) A few weeks after her body was fund, the head of the Bergen Criminal Investigation unit, Oskar Hortines held a press conference on the case. BBC have a 2 minute clip of it here (English subtitles).

6) Hortines completely rules out the premise that she was a spy.

7) Hortines seems to have some evidence at that stage that she was from France, possibly Paris.

8) Body was found on a Sunday.

9) Visited Norway in March.

10) Case has amazing similarities to the Tamám Shud case in Adelaide, Australia some 22 years previous. It's as if the Isdal Woman was some kind of daughter to the Somerton Man. Surely she or someone with her at the time of her disappearance and then death was aware of the case?

11) Stayed several nights at the rather grand Hotel Neptun in Bergen. Witness, a worker at the hotel, says she had dinner with a grey haired man though this never appears in police reports.

12) Witness at a home furnishing shop in Bergen reported the Isdal Woman visiting the shop with a man to buy a mirror. Both, the shop worker reported, were foreign thpugh not English or German - possibly from eastern Europe.

13) No relatives attended her funeral.

14) One name she used was Finella Lorck. Claimed to be Belgium but the Belgium suthorities had no record of her.

15) Takes 1 - 1 1/2 hours to walk from Bergen to the place of her death.

16) Last timeline, taxi driver drops her off at hydrofoil in Stavenger and helps carry her luggade on Wednesday 18th November. Monday 23rd November luggage checked in at Bergen Railway Station and Sunday 29th November body found.

17) Now trail to where the body was actually found. Had been lost for many years but through the popularity of the BBC podcast peple have travelled and found it again.

18) Travelled around Norway with at least 7 different identities.

19) Several witnesses reported her with a man and yet the police reports at the time made very little of it.

20) When her and her companion were buying the mirror (see above) they were seen arguing. Witness describes them arguing in what seemed like an Eastern European language.

21) Why buy a wall mirror when you are staying in a hotel?

22) Possibly wearing one of her wigs in that mirror shop. Her natural hair was always described as neat, tidy and straight whereas in this shop it was described as untidy with alot of curls. Is this the behaviour of a spy? Attracting attention to oneself.

23) Stayed at the Rosengarten Hotel in Bergen on the 18th November 1970 for one night. Checked in as Elisabeth Leenhower. Room 426. A chambermaid witness reported that she locked herslf in to change the bed when she came across a woman sitting on the bed and a man sitting on a couch. Neither the man or the woman said one word to the maid when she made the bed or before or after.

24) We still don't know whether the man seen with her by witnesses was one and the same. This I think is one of the strangest aspects of the whole case - well a strange aspect in a whole ocean of strangeness.

25) Wasn't pregnant at time of death and it was determined had never given birth.

Advert: The Isdal Woman - Operation Isotopsy: Death in Ice Valley @ amazon.co.uk (direct link to book)





Conclusions
T H E   I S D A L   W O M A N


I believe she died where she was found. There is no evidence to suggest she died elsewhere and was transported to that spot. No reports of fires elsewhere or any reports in Bergen of suspected foulplay in the city itself in those last four days.

I am also convinced that the body was supposed to be found. As I said above it was remote but not that remote. If it was a murder and supposed to be covered up then he/her/they could have easily disposed of the body. Buried her, weighed her down in the water but leaving her here?

So she is supposed to be found but with all clues of her idenity removed, erased. The authorities are meant to find the body but not allowed to know who she is.

Why were the bags found in a locker in Bergen Railway Station just a few days later? Why? Again I think they were supposed to be found. This was part of some overall agenda - a game, a riddle - as again all clues to her real identity had been removed.

But why were they there at all? The wigs, the passports could all have disposed of easily enough if they weren't supposed to be found.

If this was a highly planned murder then it wasn't a good one. Whoever it was had scant regard for covering his/her tracks. They may have wiped all trace of her idendity but wouldn't it have been easier just to make her disappear?

I can only conclude that the body and the items were meant to be found.


WHO WAS SHE?

This is the crux of the matter. What is so frustrating is not what we know of her but what we don't know. A kind of 50 year wilderness. What do we know about her from the BBC podcasts which wasn't in the public domain before was that there's a tentative suggestion (based on science) she was of Eastern European origin, that she was perhaps from Germany, maybe Nuremberg. And a woman matching her description was in Stavanger near a miltary base. Maybe. Maybe not.

And that she was probaly older, closer to 40 than 30, maybe even older than 40, than was originally suggested.

Don't get me wrong: I wouldn't have known of the case without the informative podcasts and am grateful to them - they inspire people to take an interest in the case and put flesh on the bones of the story of the Isdal Woman.

But even with this extensive coverage no-one has come forward to say they know her.

So we can only surmise she came from a family who weren't close or was at a stage in her life where she didn't need familye close to her. Which means she would have cut ties with those close to her at some point. Or maybe she was an orphan, maybe a loner who liked it thay way - whatever- but it seems no-one close to her in the last 49 years has even lifted a finger to locate her.

She had money or access to money. She travelled extensively in Norway and further afield at a time when only the well off could do that. Even today Norway is a "HOW MUCH?" country so the mind boggles at just how expensive it would have been to travel and stay there some 50 years ago.


SPY & SPYING

Was she a spy? Well if she was she wasn't a very good one. A spy is supposed to blend into their environment and not be noticed to be effective. She was doing everything she could to draw attention to herself. She was striking enough for witnesses to have remembered her decades later. She was of a type, whatever that means, that was seldom seen in Bergen in the early 1970s. She smelt of garlic which was a new thing in Norway at the time. She was requesting to move rooms once in a hotel as she was unsatified.

All these things draw attention to oneself. She was fearful of something, I would say, from what a few witnesses said. Maybe it was a real fear - maybe paranoia but she was behaving in a way most people would do if they thought they were in danger.

When I first read about the Isdal Woman I thought she was a spy. I didn't think she was part of the KGB or East German as they just weren't trained to behave like her. I never thought the Norwegian Secret Service were involved as if they were she would have vanished without a trace.

I thought maybe the Israeli Mossad was involved and that this was something to do with Nazi hunting in Norway.

But I read more and just don't think there is enough evidence to suggest tnis was the case.


MY TAKE

For what its worth I think she committed suicide. The authorities closed the case within three weeks and I think there's a reason for that. Everything pointed to suicide.

I think she planned her death. It wasn't something that was spur of the moment like some suicides are - she planned it so all but one wouldn't know who she was. Everything was erased.

But at the same time she wanted to be found. She wanted this mystery - she wanted clues out there.

What went on in her life in the weeks before brought her to this. She may have been part of some kind of organised crime though her behaviour Was erratic for someone who was involved.

The mutiple wigs, the passports, the various names and nationalities she used - these are not normal unless there is a reason, a person.

I think there was one person she was running from. One who she feared as much as she loved.

One person who she would go to the ends of the world to avoid and yet who she wanted to know who it was she who died in the Isdalen Valley.

I think that person was wealthy enough to fund her extravagent lifestyle. A powerful man. Probaly already married.

I think he loved her less than she loved him - always a recipe for disaster.

Life goes on. Life runs out like a pocketful of change. She was approaching middle age and the promises that had been made about a future hadn't materialised and, she knew, would never do so.

I think her death was the ultimate message to him. A message only he would understand. A truth she wanted to pierce him like an arrow but with a love so huge she wanted to protect him from the ruin it would have brought had her identity been known.

He would not share the secret as he would not compromise himself.

And he hasn't.

But hey these are just my thoughts and I'm probaly wrong. But I think it's as compelling as anything out there.

Without the DNA checks on commercial sites we will probaly never know the truth.

Paul Page - July 2019

If I've made mistakes or if you have anything to contribute here then please E-mail.

Advert: The Isdal Woman - Operation Isotopsy: Death in Ice Valley @ amazon.co.uk (direct link to book)




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