the isdal woman


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.

In November of 1970, hikers came across the charred, battered body of a woman in Norway’s Isdalen Valley. The body was surrounded by sleeping pills (many of which had been ingested) and bottles of gas. Her fingerprints were sanded off.

She was later linked to a pair of suitcases found in a train station in Bergen; police found all the labels in her clothes had been removed. They also found 500 German marks, a prescription bottle for lotion (with the doctor’s name and date torn off), and a diary with coded entries.

Her autopsy indicated dental work performed in Latin America. It was eventually discovered that the woman had traveled throughout Europe using different fake names. There were other clues; witnesses reported her in different wigs, changing hotels frequently, and speaking multiple languages.

Information on the case is scant and hard to come by; a witness came forward three decades later, claiming to have seen the woman in the forest followed by two men in black coats, saying the police told him to keep quiet when he initially reported what he’d seen.

It is generally assumed that the Isdal woman must have been some sort of spy; 1970 would have been a ripe year for undercover activities in the Cold War. Despite one of the most massive investigations in Norwegian history, the woman’s identity will likely forever remain a mystery.

Curiously—and very creepily—this tale bears a striking resemblance to the Tamam Shud case in 1948 which also involved an unknown victim with tags removed from his clothes, a coded diary, and a suitcase turning up in a train station abandoned. That case is also still unsolved.