"Ich komme bald"
May 15, 2017 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Norwegian police, in conjunction with public broadcaster NRK, have reopened the case of the Isdal woman, an unidentified burned body found in a remote hiking area in 1970. The BBC and Wikipedia have more info on Isdalskvinnen. (Content Warning: graphic photo at BBC link)
posted by Etrigan (21 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you are easily squicked just turn images off cause the BBC link is the most interesting. It's a B&W photo and we've all seen worse.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:52 AM on May 15, 2017


Extremely interesting, thanks for the link!

Reminds me a lot of the Tamam Shud case from Australia.
posted by m0nm0n at 8:11 AM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I was a little irritated that the only suspicious part that made them think she was a spy was all the aliases she used for hotels and such. You know who else uses aliases and hotels? Women fleeing abusive partners.
posted by agregoli at 8:23 AM on May 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


"I was a little irritated that the only suspicious part that made them think she was a spy was all the aliases she used for hotels and such."

Well, that and (from the BBC link) the fact that "since most hotels required guests to show a passport and fill in a check-in form, this means she would have had several fake passports."
posted by komara at 8:31 AM on May 15, 2017 [11 favorites]


I am really interested in the description of how a very insular place constructed her as a "foreigner". Like, "she smelled really strongly of something, maybe that was garlic?" Or the police deciding she was likely Catholic. What made them think that? We don't have any description of "they thought she was Catholic because of X"; did they just construct this as "she's a brunette and Not From Here, therefore she's Catholic?" I'm not saying they were wrong about this, but the heuristics seem really fascinating.
posted by Hypatia at 8:36 AM on May 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


I think the assumption that she was Catholic may have been taken from witnesses statements indicating she spoke Flemish Dutch. The Flemish people who are religious tend to be Catholic.

Of course, it's a weird assumption that she was even religious, but this was also the early '70s.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:14 AM on May 15, 2017


The boots are the part of the story is out of whack for me. Everything else could be a spy suicide but those boots...are pretty nice.
posted by srboisvert at 9:18 AM on May 15, 2017


I ended up reading quite a lot about this case after watching a highly fictionalized movie inspired by the Isdal Woman. As a result, I've read quite a bit of speculation on the garlic odor detail--it may be that she had horrible breath due to extreme gum disease, explaining the massive amount of dental work evident during autopsy.

I'm glad they're re-opening this case and I hope they end up being able to identify her.
posted by xyzzy at 9:46 AM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


It is a fascinating reminder of how life will always present more mysteries than solutions.

Full disclosure - the author of the BBC piece is an old friend
posted by fallingbadgers at 10:39 AM on May 15, 2017


This is one of my favourite unsolved cases, and from my home country no less. And yeah, once you get into the details, it's hard to make a case that this was just someone fleeing an abusive partner or some such.

She seems to have had as many as 8 different passports, spoke four languages, had German currency on her, her dental work was typical of work done in Central/Southern Europe, Asia or Latin America, and they found her suitcases in a locker at a train station, containing clothes and personal items that had all been meticulously anonymized, including removing all labels on clothes. She told a man who gave her a ride she was a tourist from Johannesburg, while she told other people she was a travelling antiques dealer.

This would be unusual even today, but in 1970s small town Norway, it's unheard of.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:59 AM on May 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


As a result, I've read quite a bit of speculation on the garlic odor detail--it may be that she had horrible breath due to extreme gum disease, explaining the massive amount of dental work evident during autopsy.

A strangely real touch in what seems to be the story of a glamorous lady spy who died under mysterious circumstances.

(It's true that an abused woman with an obsessed abuser might have taken similar measures and told similar lies, but abused women are generally very low on resources. Where would she have gotten so many passports? I am definitely inclined to think she was a spy of some kind rather than fleeing an abuser, although possibly she was both.)
posted by Countess Elena at 12:09 PM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't want to sound like I'm blaming a victim, but wouldn't a prostitute also use a lot of fake names and stay in different hotel rooms while telling different cover stories? And potentially have the independent means to pay for extensive dental work.
posted by yhbc at 12:35 PM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


"After months of work, scientists have an extended DNA profile of the woman. The latest results, published on Friday, show the woman was of European descent - making the theory that the woman was an agent from Israel much less likely."

What a strange assumption. I mean, I have no idea and the evidence is thin anyway, but ruling her out as a Mossad agent, in the 1970s, because she was of European descent is odd.
posted by atomicstone at 1:13 PM on May 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


…ruling her out as a Mossad agent, in the 1970s, because she was of European descent is odd.

I had the same thought. I also wondered about the possibility she was involved in some sort of criminal enterprise, likely involving smuggling.
posted by TedW at 2:43 PM on May 15, 2017


I also thought that conclusion that she wasn't from Israel/wasn't Mossad because she was of European descent was super weird. I have what may be some startling news for you about Israelis, Norway, especially Israelis 25 years after the end of the war.

I'll be interested to see if they can really pinpoint where she grew up from the composition of her teeth.

All those passports make just about any routine explanation unlikely. I suspect that any foreign woman checking in alone without a corporate reservation or other specific cover story got the "possible prostitute" eyeball from management, so if there had been any kind of comings and goings it would have been noticed. Also, while Bergen and Stavanger were right at the dawn of their offshore oil boom, they still weren't really the sort of places a high-end escort would spend much time unless she was traveling as a companion to someone specific. That would still have to be a very peculiar specific person, to have so many passports.

It seems like her job was to watch (see the demands for room changes) and wait for something or someone, and either it/they arrived or the competition did. It either had to be politics or business, both probably equally likely in coastal Norway in 1970.

I guess it's always extra-intriguing when a very unusual homicide takes place somewhere that has very few homicides in the first place. I don't doubt that Norwegian police personnel then and now were well-trained and dedicated to their jobs, and certainly the available files seem thorough for the available technology at the time, but you do have to wonder if a lot of evidence didn't get overlooked or mishandled just out of inexperience. There might have been much more information to be had except that they weren't accustomed to finding it.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:00 PM on May 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


I have what may be some startling news for you about Israelis, Norway, especially Israelis 25 years after the end of the war.

I'm listening. Jews have a bunch of common DNA markers, many in common with Middle Eastern people in general, and I assume the news here isn't "she had European ancestry", but rather that "she didn't have Middle Eastern ancestry".

The Mossad suggestion most likely came up because of the Lillehammer affair three years later, when the solidly Israel supporting Norwegian government pretty much let the assassins slip out of the country quietly, which created an impression Mossad killers could operate in Norway with impunity.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:00 PM on May 15, 2017


Guys, she really, REALLY looked like Tatiana Maslany.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:26 AM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


I am sure there have been women with fake passports and docs fleeing abusive partners too. Doesn't refute what I said.
posted by agregoli at 1:07 PM on May 16, 2017


Naah. If you've the connections for fake passports you just vanish the guy and maintain current identity.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:33 PM on May 16, 2017


All the identities she gave to hotels were from Catholic-majority countries, so I don't think it is that weird that they chose to give her a Catholic burial.
posted by magnusbe at 12:54 PM on May 17, 2017


It's funny how a minor detail can cause an empathic connection. I've also used Betnovat cream. Suddenly she became that much more real to me. Oh, and I remember when reading about it online seeing someone complain about a strong smell (not my experience). I wonder if that smell that this one witness remembered had something to do with that.
posted by Kattullus at 2:24 PM on May 17, 2017


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