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Norway’s Greatest Mystery: The Isdal Woman

  • Written by The Lineup
  • Published in Mysteries
  • Read: 197
Photos by: Wikimedia Commons Photos by: Wikimedia Commons

Does this face look familiar?

If so, you may hold the key to the Isdal Woman -- a 44-year-old cold case that remains one of Norway’s greatest mysteries.

In a chilly November morning in Norway’s Death Valley, a university professor made a gruesome discovery: the charred remains of a naked woman lay hidden amongst the rocks at the end of a remote hiking trail. Surrounding the body were a dozen pink sleeping pills, an open bottle of booze, two empty kerosene containers. A nasty bruise discolored what remained of her neck.

Police launched an investigation soon after the discovery. They connected the victim to two unclaimed suitcases at a Bergen train station. Inside were clothes neatly folded with all tags removed, and a legal pad filled with encrypted messages. Upon closer inspection, police found wads of West German currency sewn into the case lining.

Autopsy results only deepened the mystery: the victim’s fingerprints had recently been sanded off; distinct dental work suggested she visited a dentist in South America.
   
Who was this woman? With the help of Interpol, investigators produced a composite sketch. Intriguing details emerged from individuals who claimed to have interacted with the mystifying figure.
   
The Isdal Woman spoke several languages and used nine different assumed identities. She had open accounts at hotels across Bergen, where she had a habit of changing rooms soon after checking in. Conflicting descriptions of hair color and style suggested she wore wigs to disguise her identity.
   
The last sighting occurred on November 23, when she checked out of her room at Hotel Marin. The Isdal Woman paid in cash before disappearing into a taxi.
   
Then the trail runs cold. Police still do not know her true identity or what happened in the days leading up to her demise. They eventually ruled her death a suicide, though the decision remains highly controversial. Many are convinced the Isdal Woman was a spy and her end an execution.
   
It would take years before investigators and amateur sleuths caught a major break in the case. On November 24, 1970, five days before the discovery of the burned body, an Isdalen man was hiking through Death Valley. He claims to have encountered a woman rushing up the trail, her face distorted by fear. As they passed she mouthed words but was too frightened by a pair of men in black coats hurrying behind her. The bizarre trio disappeared into the wilderness before he could do anything else.
   
When news broke of a brutalized body found in Death Valley, the hiker contacted police. He immediately recognized the composite sketch as the terrified woman on the trail. Yet, according to the man, authorities were strangely indifferent to his story. “Forget her,” one officer said. “She was dispatched. The case will never be solved.”
   
So he took their advice, waiting 33 years before finally going public.

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