pugilistic attitude

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The unsolved murder of the “Isdal Woman” has haunted Norway for almost 50 years. The story began on the brisk afternoon of the 29th of November, 1970. A man and his two young daughters were hiking along Isdalen Valley in Bergen, Norway. As they climbed across the rocks and underbrush, they spotted the body of a woman lying on the rocks in a pugilistic attitude, meaning she had been set alight. The body was burnt all over the front, including her face and hair. However, she was not burnt on the back. Due to the fire damage, she was unrecognisable.

Several objects were found at the scene: jewellery, a watch, sleeping tablets, bottles that smelt like petrol, a silver spoon, and a broken umbrella. Bizarrely, the jewellery was not on her person but scattered around her body. “It looked like there had been some kind of ceremony,” said forensic investigator, Tormod Bones. An autopsy concluded that the woman died from Fenenal and carbon-monoxide poisoning; she had ingested over 50 pills. Due to the smoke particles in her lungs, she had been alive when she was burning. Adding to the mystery of her identification, all of the production labels had been cut off her clothes and filed off the objects. Furthermore, her face and neck showed signs of bruising and her fingerprints had been sanded away. Somebody certainly didn’t want her being identified.

She was described as being 5 feet 4.5 inches tall with long brownish-black hair and brown eyes. She was estimated to be between 25 and 40 years old. Police shortly discovered two suitcases belonging to the woman at a nearby railway station. Inside the suitcases they discovered money, clothing, rubber boots, several wigs, a comb and hairbrush, silver spoons, glasses and a prescription for eczema cream. If investigators thought this was going to be the smoking gun in identifying the “Isdal Woman” then they would be sorely disappointed. Once again, any identifying features were removed. It was noted that one item of clothing that was found, a dress, was particularly provocative and had an Italian style.

Several witnesses who claim to have met her came forward. They told how she wore wigs and could speak a plethora of different languages. She stayed in several hotels and used fake names. Even more bizarre, if she stayed in a hotel more than one night, she would always request to change room. It was assumed that she must have had numerous fake passports as they were needed to check in to the hotels. As this was during the Cold War, many people theorised that she was a spy. Investigators eventually concluded that she had committed suicide however many experts disagree. From the remote spot to where her body was found and the method of suicide, it seems quite unlikely. Her identity still remains unknown, as does the reason she was murdered or ended her life.