The Isdal Woman

On the 29th of November 1970, a father and his two daughters were out hiking in the foothills of the north face of Ulriken, the highest of seven mountains that surround the city of Bergen, Norway. The area is called Isdalen but is commonly referred to as the “Ice Valley” due to how cold it can get, and can also be known as “Death Valley” due to the area’s history of suicides in the Middle Ages.

Whilst the trio were walking, they started to smell something burning. One of the daughters then located the burning body of a woman at the base of a cliff, surrounded by rocks. The trio, now startled and shocked by what they had just discovered, returned down the mountains and informed the police immediately.

The woman was found lying face up, with her hands clenched up by her chest. The front of her body, as well as her clothes, had been badly burnt which made her unrecognisable.

Close to her body, and also burnt, the police found an empty bottle of St.Hallvard liqueur, two plastic water bottles, a plastic passport container, rubber boots, a woollen jumper, a scarf, nylon stockings, an umbrella, a purse, a matchbox, a watch, two earrings and a ring. There were also traces of burnt paper around the body, and beneath the body was a fur hat which was later shown to have traces of petrol.

All the tags or identifying marks on the clothing items had been removed.

At her autopsy, it was discovered that the Isdal Woman had died from a combination of becoming incapacitated by the drug phenobarbital and carbon monoxide poisoning. Soot was found in her lungs, which strongly suggests that she was alive when she was set on fire. She had also consumed between 50-70 Fenemal brand sleeping tablets, and a further 12 tablets were found next to her body. Her teeth were removed due to her unique gold-filling dental work, and tissue samples of her organs were taken.

Despite her face being hard to recognise, authorities in 2016 were able to come up with this sketch of what the Isdal woman may have looked like in life.

Sketch of what the Isdal Woman may have looked like in real life. Credit: Wikipedia / Stephen Missal

Three days after her body was found, police found two suitcases that belonged to the woman at Bergen railway station. In the lining of one suitcase, they found 100 Deutsche Mark notes, along with 135 Norwegian kroner, and Belgian, British and Swiss coins. Clothing, shoes, wigs, makeup, eczema cream, maps, timetables, a pair of glasses (with non-prescription lenses), sunglasses (with partial fingerprints that matched the woman’s), cosmetics, and a notepad were also found inside the suitcases.

Just like the clothing that was found next to her body, any tags or identifiable information was removed from the clothing and suitcases.

The last time this woman had been seen alive was on the 23rd of November when she checked out of room 407 at the Hotel Hordaheimen. The hotel staff told police that the woman was very attractive, and roughly 5″4′ tall with dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. They said that she mostly stayed in her room, and seemed to be on guard. When she checked out of the hotel, she paid in cash and asked for a taxi.

What the Isdal Woman did after leaving the hotel, and before her body was found, is unknown.

Investigators managed to decode the notepad that was found inside her suitcase, which allowed them to see where the woman had been before coming to Bergen. She had travelled to several different cities in Norway, including Oslo, Trondheim and Stavanger, and Paris in France, with at least eight fake passports and aliases.

Whilst details such as birthdays and occupations changed with each alias, the one thing that remained consistent was her nationality; Belgian. The hand-written check-in forms were also always filled out in either German or French.

It was also learnt that the Isdal Woman had stayed in several different hotels in Bergen, and was known by hotel staff to change rooms after she had checked in. She would often tell staff that she was a travelling saleswoman or an antiquities dealer. One witness said that she overheard the woman talking to a man in German in a hotel, whilst others say that she spoke Flemish and broken English. Other people that met her said that she smelt of garlic and would often wear wigs.

Despite the huge police investigation, the Isdal Woman was and still has not been, identified. The police ruled that she had committed suicide by ingesting the sleeping tablets, and her case was closed. She was given a Catholic funeral and buried in an unmarked grave in the Møllendal graveyard, located in Bergen.

However, many people believe that this woman was actually murdered. There is also speculation that she was a spy.

The reasoning behind thinking that the Isdal Woman was a spy was because, at the time she went missing, the Cold War was very much ongoing. To add to this, in the 1960s Norway experienced a number of strange disappearances, most close to military locations, which all traced back to international espionage.

Furthermore, the woman’s locations seemed to be consistent with the top-secret trials of the Penguin missile. One fisherman in Stavanger reported seeing the woman observing military movements.

The use of nine different identities indicates that the Isdal Woman was either part of a very professional organisation, or she may have been involved with a criminal gang.

In 1991, a taxi driver who wishes to remain anonymous came forward and said that he picked the woman up from the hotel and that they were joined by a man on their ride to the train station.

In 2005, a resident of Bergen said that he saw the woman five days before her body was found whilst he was hiking the hills in Fløyen. He said that she was dressed lightly for a hike, and looked more as if she was going into the city. The woman was walking ahead of two men who appeared “Southern.” The man said the woman seemed as if she was going to tell him something, but she never did.

The man told someone he knew who worked with the police about this at the time, but he was told to forget about it. Neither the man nor his report was recorded at the time.

In 2016, the case of Isdal Woman was reopened.

In 2017, a stable isotope analysis of her teeth indicated that she had been born in 1930 (plus or minus 4 years), in or near Nuremberg, Germany. She had then moved to France or the France-German border as a child. The analysis also indicated that she had received dental work in either East Asia, Central Europe, Southern Europe or South America.

In 2019, a resident of Forbach, France, claimed to have had a relationship with the woman during the summer of 1970. He said that she had a Balkan accent, and pretended to be about 26 years old though she would often dress herself up to look younger and refused to share any personal details with him. She apparently had several scheduled phone calls from abroad, and when he looked through her belongings he found several different wigs and colourful clothes.

The man suspected that she was a spy, but was too afraid to contact the authorities.

Isdal Woman has not been identified for 52 years. Her identity remains a mystery, and the circumstances leading up to her death also remain suspicious. Will she ever get her identity back?

Isdal Woman Sketch. Credit: Youtube / NRK


Unsolved, Mystery, Unidentified, Homicide, Suicide, True Crime, Isdal Woman, Bergen, Norway, 1970s, Unusual Circumstances, Jane Doe, Unidentified Person, Murder, Unsolved Mystery, Unsolved Death, Strange, 1970

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