Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wednesday Weird: The Isdal Woman

In 1970, a University professor and his two daughters outside of Bergen, Norway, discovered the partially charred, naked body of a woman in the middle of the Isdalen Valley hidden among some rocks. Her body was laced with alcohol and sleeping pills, and had evidence of blunt force trauma on the back of her neck. The investigation that followed was so strange that it landed it on my Wednesday Weird post.

Isdalen Valley

Beside the Isdal Woman, items including bottles of gasoline and liquor, a mostly burnt passport, and a ton of sleeping pills were close enough to have been quickly dropped. But the Isdal Woman herself was difficult to identify. Her fingerprints had been sanded off, and her dental records returned no matches, though it seemed she'd had some work done in Latin America.

Two of her suitcases were found in a safety deposit box at a train station, but all of the clothing inside had been stripped of their labels. There was a prescription bottle, but the label had been peeled off. In addition, the police found several fake passports with entrance stamps from Moscow (this was during the Cold War), and there were 500 deutschemarks sewn into the lining of one of the bags. She also apparently wore a collection of wigs and wrote notes to herself in code.

Despite over 100 eyewitnesses all claiming to have seen her on the days leading up to her death, nobody could agree on anything except that she looked like "an attractive foreign lady in her 30s or 40s." She might have been German, or  French, or Italian or she just might have known how to speak those languages. She used nine different, fake names at multiple hotels around Norway and Europe, and the primary witness, an Italian photographer who'd had dinner with her before she died, said she was an antiques collector from South Africa on a sightseeing trip, but he couldn't remember any useful details. Though it's important to note he had previously been questioned in an unrelated rape case.
She was last seen hiking in, oddly enough, evening wear and being closely followed by two large men in black clothing. The police were so baffled by every single facet of the case that they ruled the Isdal Woman's death a suicide because of course they did.

Thoughts? Theories?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If she was a spy, I guess it finally caught up to her. At least that's what it sounds like to me.

Matthew MacNish said...

Everything points to spy, but I suppose she could have been some kind of master criminal too.

Jay Noel said...

She has been erased.

This woman was a spy for sure.

Maria Zannini said...

Suicide--yeah, right. Sounds like a lot of stuff was kicked under the rug, including justice and truth.

Rena said...

This really sounds like a spy. Which is sort of odd, because that's still a lot of evidence for a spy to leave behind. On the other hand, this was the 70s and that kind of meticulous removal of traceable evidence would have been considered topnotch at the time. Very interesting.

Michael Offutt, "Johnny on the Spot" said...

You find the strangest stuff. I have no idea.

Jamie Gibbs said...

My guess is she was a turncoat/double dealer who was selling secrets to the enemy, and they caught up with her.

Leandra Wallace said...

And this hasn't been made into a movie...why? =) I vote Daniel Craig for the strong silent type detective in charge of the case!

Max Smart said...

She definitely was a spy IMHO!

It is obvious that her disposal was botched. This may be due to...

1) The perpetrator(s) were disturbed in the act, which could mean someone out there saw them try to dispose of the body.

2) Her murder was unplanned, which could be due to...

- The victim moving around alot, thereby foiling tracking and targetting.

- A sudden change in the operation/mission that she was a part of eg. The op may have been compromised.

3) The ad-hoc manner in which she was being disposed of. Whoever did it was either under serious time pressure IMHO, or did not have experience in such activities.

Regarding her mission...

Well, the time periods when she was in Norway coincided with NATO exercises "Arctic Express" and either "Adventure Express" or "Ardent Ground". These were military exercises that involved a NATO multinational military formation called ACE-Mobile (Land), a.k.a NATO's Fire Brigade. They were a rapid reaction force who, in these particular exercises were practicing the defence of NATO's left flank (Norway) from possible Soviet Invasion. Norway was the only NATO western european country that had a border with the USSR.

There was also secret naval installations near Bergen that were never acknowledged until the 1990s.

She may have been a courier to transfer messages and secret documents from a spy or mole inside Norway, or she could have been a honeypot whose role would have been sexual blackmail, most likely of an intermediary, or someone with access to information. A common thread to witness statements is that she was very pretty.

It has been stated she received medication in the form of an "anti-allergy" skin cream. This was most likely due to having bed bugs from her numerous hotel stays.

Whatever she was doing, something must have went wrong

She was being pursued by two men of Middle Eastern appearance according to the last person to see her alive. She was in evening-wear that was inappropriate for the outdoors. The day before that, she checked out of her hotel, and IMHO, rendezvoused with someone(s) at a safehouse nearby. Her luggage, including documents and disguises were found in a locker at the Bergen Train station, which means she was expecting either another move to a hotel or going home. I speculate that she either caught on to what was going to happen to her while she was in the safehouse, or she was prevented from reaching the safehouse. The choice of going into the "wilderness" as it were may have been out of desperation and confusion. It could also mean the safehouse was one of those lodges that dot the area where she was last seen alive.

Now she spoke a heap of languages, including English...all with an accent. Her dental work was done in Latin America. One of her cover IDs is that of a South African. She spoke to a man in the lobby of a hotel in German. Her appearance is "exotic" non-european. That and the initial entry and exit points to and from Switzerland hints of her being Israeli.

Another thing...sometimes when people get so nervous and frightened they do familiar things to calm them down. In the case of the Isdal Woman she made repeated orders for porridge. Porridge may have reminded her of home. Definitely scared shitless. Sad when you think of it.

Makes me wonder if she was a newbie plucked from whereever she came from and given some training, then sent out into the field. Perhaps some bright-eyed, naive person who wanted to serve a cause or something...

Also KGB station chiefs in Norway came and went with unusual frequency at the time she was there and up until her death.

Norwegian Secret Service would definitely have a photo of her. At the time they were one of the most intrusive, Gestapo-like internal security organisations in the Western World.

Just hope one day we will have a name for this woman and that her family can claim her body and rebury her in her country of birth.

Anonymous said...

I think she was a French spy. There is an italian article on the woman of Isdal on

Graham Clayton said...

This case has intresting similarities to the Taman Shud Case, also known as The case of the Somerton Man. This occured in 1948 in South Australia. A man was found dead on the beach board walk. No cause of death was determined and the man was never identified. A suitcase was linked to the body, found in a near by hotel. All labels had been torn out of the clothing in the suitcase, no finger prints, no identification, nothing.
There was a small piece of paper found on the body, hidden in a small pocket in the victims trousers, it had been torn from a book. It read, "Taman Shud". That fraze is from a poem called The Rubaiyat, and taman shud translates to "it is finished".
An individual not related to the case later came forward with a rare copy of the Rubaiyat he had found in the back seat of his car; which was parked near to where the body was found. Someone had deposited the book through his cracked window. Inside the book, on one of the inner covers was a cypher code, which to this day has never been decoded.
There are so many congruencies between these cases. It makes me wonder if they are somehow connected, perhaps the murders; as murders they certainly are, were perpetuated by the same shadow organization.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Thanks, Graham. I actually have a Wednesday Weird post on the Taman Shud case. It was one of the first ones I did:

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