Case Notes on Norway's Mysterious Isdal Woman

November 29, 1970, a Professor and his two young daughters were out for a Sunday walk in the mountainous terrain in Isdalen, a popular hiking spot right outside of Bergen, Norway. The youngest daughter trailed over to a clearing where she discovered a partially charred female in a mound of rocks. 

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This discovery started one of Norway’s most infamous mysterious death cases. A full investigation followed with 25 detectives being assigned to find out exactly who this woman was and how she met her fate. When the body was discovered, they found a dozen pink sleeping pills of the brand name of Fenemal (which you can not get in Norway), a packed lunch, an empty bottle of liquor, 2 empty plastic bottles that smelled like gasoline, a silver spoon with the monogram filed off, a burnt passport, an umbrella, and the charred remains of what seemed to be a bag. The woman was completely naked, with her clothes, earrings, ring, and watch laying next to her. All the tags had been removed from the clothing, and the woman’s fingerprints seemed to have been sanded down. 

When the autopsy was completed they concluded that the cause of death was Suicide from carbon monoxide poisoning and an overdose of sleeping pills. 50 sleeping pills were discovered in her stomach however not all pills had been dissolved. On the side of her neck, a bruise was found and it was determined this would be consistent with either being hit by a branch or someone hitting her in the neck. 

The woman’s face was burnt beyond recognition, which furthered the mystery on who this woman could have been. Specialists looked at her teeth for answers, when they concluded she had teeth work that had to have been done in South America. From the analysis of her skull and with witness accounts, sketches were created to show how the woman may have looked. These were circulated in Norwegian media as well as shared to many other countries via INTERPOL. To date, no-one has come forward with a positive match on who this woman could have been - which resulted in the woman to be named the Isdal Woman.

Four days went by after her body was discovered when Detectives were able to locate two suitcases that belonged to the woman. In the lining of the suitcase they found a postcard from an Italian Photographer, 500 Deutsche Mark, Clothes with all labels removed, Silver Spoon with Monogram filed off, a prescription lotion with the doctor’s name and date scraped off, non-prescription glasses, a very provocative dress, a notebook with coded messages, and 8 fake passports. When detectives circulated the sketches, they quickly were drawn to three hotels where witnesses stated they had seen the woman there as a guest. Hotel staff explained the woman had several wigs she would wear, and she spoke French, German, Dutch, and some English. She had been telling people at the hotel that she was a traveling sales woman and an antique collector. The woman would demand to see the room before she would stay in it, and she refused to stay in a room that had a balcony or could be seen from the outside. Maids also mentioned that the woman would refuse to allow them to make up the bed, instead insisting she would do it herself. Hotel staff describes the woman as very beautiful, 30 to 40 years old, 5’4” tall, dark hair, wide hips with small eyes, and they mentioned she dressed very sophisticated. She had kept to herself in her room, and staff members said she acted very nervous. Staff also mentioned she only smoked South State cigarettes, which were thin and not normal in Norway. Her appearance gave the impression that she was from the South of Europe as she did not have the typical Scandinavian look. 

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When the coded messages were deciphered in the notebook, detectives learned it was a very weird travel pattern. The earliest trace of the woman picked her up on March 20 of that year in 1970. She travels from Geneva to Oslo staying at Hotel Viking for 3 days under a false name. Then she traveled from Oslo to Stavanegr and hops on a boat to Bergen where she stays at Hotel Bristol over night under a different false name. On March 25th to April 1st she stays at Hotel Scandia in Bergen. April 1st she travels to Kristiansand, then into Germany. This was the last trace of the woman until she arrives in Oslo 6 months later.

October 3rd she Travels from Stockholm, Sweden, to Oslo, Norway, and then to Oppdal. She stays here at a Tourist Hotel and meets an Italian Photographer. When the Photographer was tracked down, he said they met by coincidence at the Tourist Hotel. He tells detectives that she told him that she was from a little town north of Johannesburg, South Africa and that she had 6 months to travel around and see Norway. She told him this information while having dinner with him at Hotel Alexandra, but he claims they went their separate ways when they returned to the hotel. 

October 22nd she is tracked to Paris at Hotel Altona. The next day she changed to Hotel De Calais. On October 29th she travels to Bergen, Norway where she checks into Hotel Neptune under yet another false name. She stays at the hotel until November 5th, she is overheard telling a man in German “I will be there soon.” November 6th she travels to Trondheim, Norway, where she stays for 2 nights at Hotel Bristol under another false name. November 9th she travels to Stavanger and stays at a Hotel for 9 days under the name ‘Fenella Lorch’. November 18th she leaves for Bergen and stays at Hotel Rosenkrantz under the name ‘Elizabeth Leenhower’. From November 19th to the 23rd she stays at Hotel Hordaheimen in Bergen still under the name of Elizabeth. On the 23rd she checks out of the hotel, pays in cash, and asks for a Taxi. 

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When the Taxi driver was tracked down, he tells police that she wanted to go to the train station in Bergen. He also tells them she was traveling with a man, but no-one at the hotel could confirm this. At the train station, she puts her two suitcases in a lock box. This was the last confirmed siting of the woman for 35 years. 

In 2005, a man came forward claiming to have seen the woman on the 24th, the day after she was last seen leaving her suitcases at the train station. The man said he was hiking on a path not far from where her remains had been found. It was getting dark when he came across the woman on the side of the mountain. He felt she was dressed very oddly as she was dressed more like she was ready for a night out on the town instead of a hike on the mountain. As he got closer to the woman, he noticed she looked worried and started to move her mouth like she was about to say something. Nothing was said as he noticed two men in coats following quickly behind her. The man said he had gone to the police back in 1970 after the remains had been found, but the person he knew at the police station told him to forget about what he had seen as the case would never be solved. 

In 2016 scientists were able to isolate DNA from a tissue sample which showed that she was from Europe and her parents were also Europeans - Possibly French. 

Earlier this year an isotopic analysis of her teeth told scientists she probably spent her childhood in central or eastern Europe while her adolescence was spent further west in possibly France, Germany, or Belgium. 

There are two arguments on what could have happened to the Isdal woman; she either committed suicide or was murdered. I’ll go ahead and layout to you the main arguments for each - and let you draw your own conclusion on what could have happened. 

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Pointing to suicide, the woman did display signs of a possible mental illness with her very odd behavior of paranoia leading up to her death. When the autopsy was done, the Coroner found 50 sleeping pills in her stomach with no signs that she didn’t take them voluntarily. No defensive wounds were found on the body to suggest she was trying to fight someone off. No evidence of other people or finger prints were found, or at least no information was released saying otherwise by detectives. The woman went through a lot of effort to hide her identity at all of the hotels, so it makes sense that she too would remove tags from clothing and information from prescription bottles. 

The argument that the Isdal woman was murdered is much stronger in my opinion. I believe her behavior leading up to her death suggests she was scared and was running/hiding from someone. Why would she have packed a lunch the day she planned to commit suicide and bring it with her to carry out her plans? The witness that said he saw her on the side of the mountain seems very credible, especially because he said he knew the person at the police station that he reported his sighting too - this could be easily verified so I wouldn’t expect to see this from a person lying about it. After taking the sleeping pills, if she committed suicide she would have had to of then removed her clothes and jewelry, cover herself with gasoline, and then light herself on fire. There was such a huge effort to hide her identity, while I do believe she was the one that gave false identities and removed identifying information from pill bottles - I do not see her filing down her own fingerprints. When police found the locker at the train station, they found fingerprints. They traced these prints back to the partial prints of the woman’s - which points to her fingerprints being filed down after she left the train station. Why would she have gone to the side of a mountain to commit a painful suicide when she could have peacefully done it at the hotel? Why would she set herself on fire, naked, when the 50 sleeping pills would have been enough to kill her? 

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