True Crime Sunday: The Isdal Woman

Welcome back to True Crime Sunday! This week we’re taking a look at the mysterious death of an even more mysterious woman.

On November 29, 1970, a man and his two daughters were hiking in Bergen, Norway near Isdalen, aka “The Ice Valley.” It’s also known as “The Death Valley” due to the number of suicides and hiking accidents. While the trio was out, they caught the scent of something burning. They investigated and found the body of a woman.

The front of the woman’s body and her clothing were burned and unrecognizable. Strangely, there was no evidence of a campfire nearby. There were a number of items situated around the body, also burned. The labels and any identifying marks on her clothes and the items had been removed. She was wearing rubber boots that would become important to the case.

Three days after the discovery of the body, police located two suitcases at a Bergen train station. The suitcases contained clothes, shoes, wigs, local and foreign currency, maps, and timetables. There was also a pair of sunglasses with a fingerprint on the lens. They were able to connect the woman’s body with the suitcases. There was no identification, and like the clothes and items around the woman’s body, all identifying marks and labels had been removed. However, a bag in one of the suitcases could be traced to a shoe store over a hundred miles away. One of the employees remembered the woman, and police were able to track the woman to a local hotel.

The woman checked into the hotel under an alias, one of at least nine she used at different times.

An autopsy showed the woman died of a combination of carbon monoxide poisoning and an overdose of sleeping pills. There were 50-70 pills found in her stomach and there was soot in her lungs, indicating she was alive when she was burned. Her jaw and teeth were removed due to the unique dental work, including gold fillings.

Police had a composite sketch and were able to decode the notes found in the suitcase. Thanks to the notes, witness statements, and handwritten check-in forms, they were able to see that the woman had traveled all over Europe to different hotels using different names. She paid cash and often asked to change rooms once she was checked in.

As in so many of these unsolved cases, there are theories regarding the Isdal woman’s identity.

The most popular theory is that the woman was a spy. That would make sense with the labels on all of her items being removed, the aliases, and the coded notes and timetables. Norwegian Armed Forces declassified documents show that many of her movements corresponded to military movements and weapon testing.

Relatively recently, there’s been renewed interest in the case. A new examination of her teeth and jaw revealed where she may have been from. Allegedly police thought the case was closed too soon. It seems once the espionage theory emerged, that was that.

Who was the Isdal woman? We may never know.

Thank you for joining me! What case will we look at next week? Only one way to find out…

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