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Norway’s Greatest Mystery: The Isdal Woman

The mysterious death of Norway's Isdal Woman continues to transfix investigators across the globe.


Was it suicide or murder? Was the so-called Isdal Woman a spy? It’s been almost half a century, but sleuths around the globe are still trying to solve the puzzle of the mysterious woman found dead in Norway’s so-called Death Valley.

A man hiking with his two daughters discovered the body in November 1970 on a remote trail in the foothills of Norway’s Mount Ulriken. Some clues suggested suicide: Next to the body laid a dozen pink sleeping pills and an empty bottle of liqueur. But other clues pointed to murder. Her fingerprints had been sanded off; her passport had been burned; and someone had made an attempt to burn the corpse. And there was a bruise on her neck. As investigators dug deeper, the mysteries only increased.

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.

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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.

Hungry for more intrigue? You’ll love the Somerton Man – Australia’s unsolved murder mystery from the Cold War.