The Story Of The Unidentified Isdal Woman In Norway

On November 29, 1970 (via BuzzFeed Unsolved Network), in a remote section of dense forest surrounding Isdalen Valley (or Ice Valley) in Bergen, Norway (via BBC), the scorched remains of a petite woman were found by a family on a hiking trip. She was described as being 5 foot 4 inches tall and somewhere between 25 and 30 years old. The front of her body was severely burned, but the back of her body was not. Petrol, used in igniting the fire, was also found on the site.

This story of a seemingly innocent woman with a painful death elicits questions about who she was and how this tragedy occurred, but her true identity was never discovered. She became internationally known as the Isdal Woman, but her identity isn't the only mystery. Strange evidence found in the case's investigation suggests the story goes so much deeper than the little we already know.

How she was found

A fun day of hiking turned incredibly dark when a local Norwegian family discovered the charred remains of the Isdal Woman, wedged between two large rocks in Ice Valley (via BuzzFeed Unsolved Network). The scent of burnt flesh filled the air, and the body had its arms in a boxer position, which is common for burn victims. Strangely, the back of her body was not burned, indicating a possible explosion — or foul play.

Even stranger, her jewelry was found placed on a boulder next to her. Whether this was the final act of a dying woman or someone present at the time of the death has caused speculation. Incredibly, it gets even stranger than that — other items found on the scene were a broken umbrella, bottles, ripped remains of nylon stockings, blue rubber boots ... oh, and the labels on all her clothes and the bottles were ripped off.

Odd possessions

Police investigators were thoroughly stumped by what they had found, but the plot only thickened when more belongings linked back to the Isdal Woman were found at a local train station (via BuzzFeed Unsolved Network). Three days after the discovery of the body, two suitcases were found at the Bergen train station, and they contained a slew of unusual items — countless wigs, non-prescription glasses with the woman's fingerprints on them, clothes, a comb, hairbrush, eight fake passports with different identities, makeup and prescriptions (with labels ripped off), and currency from Germany, Norway, Belgium, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The odd combination of clothes and possessions caused rumors of possible espionage affiliation, as the items could be used as disguises — not to mention the various foreign currencies that funded her conspiratory behavior. Even more cryptic, there was a note inside one of the suitcases with code written on it in blue ink that was later paired with her handwriting by analysis of hotel records (but we'll get there later).

Quick to rule as suicide

The death was ultimately ruled a suicide, but many, including several officers on the case, were not satisfied with the outcome (via BuzzFeed Unsolved Network). The Police Security Service even admitted at the time to having been contacted by the Bergen Chief of Police to investigate possible espionage affiliation. In an autopsy, 50-70 sleeping pills that were not absorbed fully into her bloodstream at the time of death were found in her system (via BuzzFeed Unsolved Network). There were also high levels of carbon monoxide and smoke in her lungs — suggesting she was alive when she was burned to death — and a large, unexplained bruise on the side of her neck.

The findings raised many questions: Why would she burn herself after ingesting a fatal dose of pills? What caused the explosion to only burn her front half? Who placed the jewelry next to her body, if not her? And why was there petrol present? Well, investigators had the same questions, especially after the police chief in charge of the investigation declared the case would remain unsolved until the woman's identity was found, only to rule it a suicide not long after. The area where she was found in Ice Valley was actually known as "Death Valley" by locals because of all the suicides that had occurred there throughout the ages. Hikers had also fallen and died on that same trail in the 1960s (via BuzzFeed Unsolved Network) due to its treacherous terrain through the remote wilderness — leading some to believe the Isdal Woman's tragic fate was just an accident.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Foul play or bad luck?

Despite the unusual evidence indicating otherwise, some believe the death could have been an accident (via BuzzFeed Unsolved Network). Investigators believe the Isdal Woman could have built a bonfire while out in the woods, only to accidentally drop a can of hairspray in it (which was found at the scene of the death). This resulted in an explosion that made her jump back over the nearby cliff to her death, explaining the burns to the front of her body and her being wedged between two rocks. However, this does not explain the pills, petrol, or jewelry placed next to her body. Investigators also found no evidence of an explosion.

Those who saw her around the time of death also indicate otherwise. She had supposedly been checking into various local hotels with her eight different false identities, where she often requested to switch rooms. She often used the name "Fanella Lorch" — seemingly her favorite false identity — and claimed to be from Belgium when registering. Though she sometimes spoke Belgian, she also used German, Flemish, and English (poorly, with a heavy European accent). Witnesses described her as medium height, with brown hair, brown eyes, and an apparent affluence, based on being well-dressed and having enough money to switch hotels so regularly. Just 130 miles away and days before her time of death, she also purchased the blue pair of rubber boots found at the scene (via BuzzFeed Unsolved Network). The store owner's son confirmed her appearance and also mentioned an overwhelming scent of garlic on her (which was never explained).

The most popular theory: A spy

Another witness was local sea captain Ketil Kversoy, who was on the trail in Ice Valley that day (via BBC). He said he saw three well-dressed people — a woman and two men — who did not look Norwegian, nor like they were dressed to be on a rugged hiking trail. The woman, matching the Isdal Woman's description, walked ahead looking scared and defeated, while the two suspicious men trailed about 66 feet behind her. Were these the men who murdered her? And if so, why? Several factors led investigators to believe she was a spy who was murdered. She regularly lied about her identity and country of origin, though DNA testing later revealed she was of European — possibly North American — descent (via BuzzFeed Unsolved Network). Other records indicated she could have been North American, but her European accent discredits this theory (unless she was faking it, as spies often do).

The code found in her suitcase was also later cracked, proving to be a track record of all the hotels she stayed at. Amidst the ongoing Cold War, people were quick to question espionage, especially with Norway actively building the U.S.-funded anti-ship Penguin missile at the time (via Norway was also known to be home to Russian spies and Israeli Mossad agents, some of whom were questioned about the case, but all said they had no knowledge of her. Of course, spies are not often known for giving up information so easily.