In the early afternoon of November 20th, 1970, a university professor and his two young daughters were out for a hike along the foothills of the Isdalen Valley in Bergen, Norway. As they walked along the remote trail, something within the nearby rocks caught their attention. When they moved in to investigate, they found the nude and partially burned body of a woman. They immediately contacted officials and an investigation was initiated.
Police found several items with the scorched body:
- 12 Sleeping Pills
- Packed Lunch
- Empty Liqueur Bottle
- Two Plastic Bottles that smelled of gasoline
A passport was also found, but it had too much fire damage to be helpful. With no usable identification, the next step was to conduct an autopsy, which found that a combination of burns and carbon monoxide poisoning had killed the woman. She was also found to have 50 sleeping pills in her stomach and blunt force trauma to her neck. Oddly, the official cause of death at this point was ruled a suicide, with the police stating that the woman took pills with narcotic side effects had stumbled into the campfire and died. However, they still needed to identify the woman.
With very little to go on, police were flailing when they got a break at nearby rail station. Two abandoned suitcases surfaced that were, based on witness statements and lack of claim to ownership, believed to have belonged to the woman. They were cracked open and searched and found to contain mostly clothing, but all labels had been systematically removed. They also found a prescription lotion bottle, but all names and dates had been removed from the labels. The suitcase appeared to hold nothing of value, until police opened the lining. Inside, they found 500 Deutsche Mark. They also found a cryptic diary filled with page after page of seemingly random notes, characters, and notations. After some time, investigators were able to partially decode it, and believed that it listed dates and locations of cities around the globe.
They also discovered fingerprints, but they all turned out to be partial and could not lead to an identification.
But now police had a corpse and verified witnesses of the woman, and took the next prudent step towards identifying her; building a composite sketch. Once completed, it was distributed worldwide via INTERPOL. It was believed that as with most other cases, this drawing would lead to a positive identification.
People who claimed to have seen the woman came forward from locations around the world. After being verified, they were able to provide details on the woman and her activities. It was reported that she spoke several languages, including French, German, English and Dutch. It was surmised that she was attractive and walked with a particular and identifiable sway. She stayed at several hotels in Bergen and was very particular at each hotel, changing rooms several times but requesting that each room had a balcony. When checking in, she had stated that she was a traveling salesman, with the exception of one hotel, where she stated that she worked with antiques.
After compiling the supplied information, police found that the woman had traveled around Norway and Europe with nine different identities: Jenevive Lancia, Claudia Tjelta, Vera Schlosseneck, Claudia Nielsen, Alexia Zarna-Merchez, Vera Jarle, Finella Lorck and Elizabeth Leen Hoywfer. All these identities were false. Different witnesses described her with different hair colors, leading detectives to believe that she had multiple wigs that she used during her travels.
A witness came forth that claimed to have had dinner with her in Bergan, but even he did not have a real name. He stated that the woman had told him that she came from a small town north of Johannesburg in South Africa, and that she had six months to see the most beautiful places in Norway. Again, police found nothing concrete to verify these claims.
The case was dead. The Isdal Woman’s death remained listed as a suicide, and the woman remained a Jane Doe. 3 decades passed, and it was assumed that the dusty case file would never again be cracked. Unexpectedly, one amazing piece of untold testimony remained. A man came forward to and stated that on November 24th, five days before the discovery of the body, he had been hiking through the woods near where the Isdal Woman was found. In the foothills, he found himself approaching an attractive woman of foreign appearance, who was dressed elegantly and not properly for being outdoors. As he came upon her, he observed that her face was distorted with fear. She started to speak to him, making an ‘O’ with her mouth, but stopped herself before saying anything. As she passed, the man then noticed two men in black following closely behind her. He found the experience strange, but didn’t know what to make of it. When he saw the news days later that the body had been found, he phoned the police. The officer he spoke to told him “Forget her, she was dispatched. The case will never be solved”. He followed the advice, waiting 32 years to tell the story publicly.
The official statement of suicide doesn’t seem to fit, especially with the information provided by the last man who had seen her alive. Many alternative theories are alive, with the strongest being that the woman was a cold war spy. With her extensive traveling, cryptic notes, lack of identifying materials, and fluency in multiple languages, she fits the profile. Another popular theory is that she was involved in criminal activity such as check or art fraud, which were both common in that time frame, that required her to travel internationally. In either case, she was caught and dealt with directly by her adversaries.
Ultimately, the case stands as the most comprehensively investigated cases in the history of Norway. 45 years later, the topic still remains hotly controversial and debated, and yet, mystery still surrounds the Isdal Woman – who was she, what was she doing, and how did she die? Who were the men following her in the woods? While we can certainly speculate about the mysterious woman and her strange end, its unlikely that we will ever really know.
If you enjoyed this, check out the Somerton Man, a strangely similar case with a male victim.