The Isdal Woman (Norwegian: Isdalskvinnen, c. 1930–1945 – November 1970) is a placeholder name given to an unidentified woman who was found dead at Isdalen ("The Ice Valley") in Bergen, Norway, on 29 November 1970.

The Isdal Woman
(Norwegian: Isdalskvinnen)
2016 sketch by a forensic artist from morgue photographs
Bornc. 1930–1945 (approximate)
Unknown (most likely Southeast Germany near Nuremberg, Bavaria)
Diedc. November 1970 (aged 25–40)
Cause of deathCombination of carbon monoxide poisoning and barbiturate overdose
Body discovered29 November 1970
Isdalen, Bergen, Norway
Resting placeMøllendal cemetery, Bergen
Known forMysterious death
Height164 cm (5 ft 4+12 in)

Although police at the time ruled a verdict of likely suicide, the nature of the case encouraged speculation and ongoing investigation in the years since.[1] Half a century later, it remains one of the most profound cold case mysteries in Norwegian history.[1][2]


Isdalen, where the woman was discovered.

On the morning of 29 November 1970, a man and his two young daughters were hiking in the foothills of the north face of Ulriken, in an area known as Isdalen ("Ice Valley"); it was also nicknamed "Dødsdalen" ("Death Valley") due to the area's history of suicides in the Middle Ages and more recent hiking accidents.[2]

They came across the charred body of a woman located among some scree.[2]



Bergen police responded quickly and launched a full-scale investigation, filed as case name "134/70". Examining the site, police noted the woman's supine position, her clenched hands up by her torso and the evidence of a nearby campfire. The front of her body and her clothes had been severely burned, and her face was unrecognisable. Also located or placed near the body, and affected by the fire, were an empty bottle of St. Hallvard liqueur; two plastic water bottles; a plastic passport holder; rubber boots, a woolen jumper and a scarf; nylon stockings; an umbrella, purse, and a matchbox. There was also a watch, two earrings and a ring. Around the body were traces of burned paper, and beneath it was a fur hat which was later found to have traces of petrol.[3] All identifying marks and labels on these items had been removed or rubbed off.

Three days later, investigators found two suitcases belonging to the woman which had been abandoned at Bergen railway station.[4][2] In the lining of one suitcase, police discovered five 100 Deutsche Mark notes (c. US$137 in 1970).[5] Among other items, they also found clothing, shoes, wigs, makeup, eczema cream, 135 Norwegian kroner, Belgian, British and Swiss coins, maps, timetables, a pair of non-prescription glasses, sunglasses with partial fingerprints (which matched the woman),[4] cosmetics and a notepad.[2] All identification information had been removed from the items.[2]

An autopsy at the Gades Institutt concluded the woman had died from a combination of incapacitation by phenobarbital and poisoning by carbon monoxide.[4] Soot was found in her lungs, indicating she was alive as she burned, and her neck was bruised, possibly from a fall or blow. Analysis of the woman's blood and stomach showed that she had consumed between 50 and 70 Fenemal brand sleeping pills,[6] and found next to her body were a further twelve sleeping pills. At autopsy, her teeth and jaw were removed due to her unique dental work, and tissue samples of her organs were taken.[2]

Police then launched an appeal for information in the Norwegian media regarding the case. The last time she was seen alive had been on 23 November, when she checked out of Room 407 of the Hotel Hordaheimen. Hotel staff told police that she was good-looking and roughly 1.63 m (5 ft 4 in) tall, with dark brown hair and small brown eyes. Staff noted that the woman kept mainly to her room and seemed to be on guard. When she checked out, she paid her bill in cash and requested a taxi. Her movements between then and the discovery of her body remain unknown.

Police were able to decode the notepad entries, and determined that they indicated dates and places the woman had visited.[7] As a result, based on handwritten check-in forms, police determined that the woman had travelled around Norway (i.e. Oslo, Trondheim, Stavanger) and Europe (Paris) with at least eight fake passports and aliases.[8] While details such as birthdays and occupations changed from one form to another, she consistently gave her nationality as Belgian; the forms were filled out in either German or French.[2][4]

These were her false identities:

Geneviève Lancier, place of birth Leuven, living at Rue Sainte-Walburge 2, Leuven;
Claudia Tielt, place of birth Brussels, living at Place Saint-Walburge 17, Brussels;
Claudia Tielt, place of birth Brussels, living at Rue de la Madeleine 3, Brussels;
Claudia Nielsen, place of birth Ghent, living at Rue Sainte-Walburge 18, Brussels;
Alexia Zarne-Merchez, place of birth Ljubljana, living at Rue St. Hildegaarde 81, Brussels;
Vera Jarle, place of birth Antwerp (the form with address in Brussels has been lost);
Fenella Lorck (the form with an address in Brussels has been lost);
Elisabeth Leenhouwer, birthplace Ostend, living at Philipstockstraat 44A, Brussels.

With the exception of Rue de la Madeleine, all street names also turned out to be false.

It was also learned that the woman previously stayed at several hotels in Bergen, and was known to change rooms after checking in.[9]
She often told hotel staff that she was a travelling saleswoman and antiquities dealer. One witness said that she overheard the woman talking to a man in German in a Bergen hotel. Others who met her mentioned that she also spoke Flemish or broken English and smelled of garlic.[4][10] People who saw or met her also commented that she wore wigs.

Composite sketches of the unknown woman, based on witness descriptions and analysis of her body, were circulated in many countries via Interpol. Despite the significant police resources deployed, the woman was never identified and the case was quickly closed.[2] While authorities concluded that she had committed suicide by ingestion of sleeping pills,[1] others believe that there is evidence that she was murdered.[11]


Møllendal cemetery, where "The Isdal Woman" is buried.

On 5 February 1971, the woman was given a Catholic burial (based on her use of saints' names on check-in forms) in an unmarked grave within the Møllendal graveyard located in Bergen. Attended by sixteen members of the Bergen police force, she was buried in a zinc coffin to both preserve her remains and for ease of disinterment. Her ceremony was also photographed in case relatives came forward at a later date.[2]


Norwegian Penguin missile.

Much remains unanswered about the case, especially the reasons for the woman's many identities and unexplained travel plans, which raise the question of espionage or criminal activity.[4] Multiple investigations point to the possibility that she was a spy,[2] given the Cold War context of the period. Norway had experienced other strange disappearances in the 1960s, close to military installations, which traced back to international espionage.[12] The declassified records of the Norwegian Armed Forces also reveal that many of the woman's movements seem to correspond to top secret trials of the Penguin missile.[13] A fisherman is also reported to have seen the woman in the area of Penguin missile testing in Stavanger;[14] her presence in Stavanger is corroborated by a shoe salesman who sold her a pair of rubber boots.[4]

Later developments


The taxi driver who took the woman from the hotel to Bergen railway station was never found. In 1991, however, a taxi driver wishing to remain anonymous said that after picking up the unknown woman at the hotel, they were joined by another man for the ride to the train station.[15]

In 2005, a Bergen resident, who was aged 26 in 1970, told a local newspaper that after seeing the sketch circulated, he had suspected that the Isdal Woman was a woman he had seen five days before the body was discovered, when he was hiking on the hillside at Fløyen. Surprisingly, she was dressed lightly for the city rather than a hike, and was walking ahead of two men wearing coats who looked "southern".[16] The woman appeared resigned and seemed about to say something to him but did not. He went to someone he knew at the police to report this incident, but was told to forget about it.[17] Therefore, neither the man's name nor his alleged sighting was recorded at that time.

After the case was reopened in 2016,[4] Norwegian broadcaster NRK commissioned the American artist Stephen Missal to create six alternative sketches of the Isdal Woman, which were shown to people who had seen her.[18]

In 2017, stable isotope analysis of the woman's teeth (taken from her unburied jawbone[19]) indicated that the woman had been born in about 1930, plus or minus four years, in or near Nuremberg, Germany, but had moved to France or the France–Germany border as a child.[20][21] This reinforced earlier analysis of the woman's handwriting, which suggested that she had been educated in France or a neighbouring country.[4] Analysis also indicated she had been to a dentist in either East Asia, Central Europe, Southern Europe or South America.[22][23]

In 2018, NRK and the BBC World Service published a podcast series titled Death in Ice Valley, which included interviews with eyewitnesses and forensic scientists, also suggesting that the Isdal Woman's birthplace may have been southern Germany or the French-German border region, and that she was likely born in or around 1930.[24] She was also likely raised in French-speaking Belgium.[25] In June 2019, the BBC revealed that listeners of the podcast had given more clues.[19] Further, Colleen Fitzpatrick, a geneticist with the DNA Doe Project, contacted the Death in Ice Valley team to offer her help in identifying the woman through genetic genealogical isotope testing of autopsied tissues.[19] It has since been revealed that she is of mtDNA haplogroup H24, indicating a matrilineal line of descent originating in South East Europe or South West Asia. The woman also seems to have had a French passport based on the fact that an unidentified French national was registered on one of the flights she took to Norway.[26]

Author Dennis Zacher Aske proposed that the Isdal Woman was a sex worker, based on the way that her route was planned (goal oriented and always returning to the same point, likely her home), her wish to remain anonymous, her behaviour at hotels (including marking the doors in different ways) and the fact that the different men she was witnessed meeting never came forward. Aske argued that another person was likely at the crime scene when the woman died, based on evidence from the scene and her medically intoxicated condition in the hours before her death. He noted there were arguments that supported the death being either murder or assisted suicide, believing murder to be most likely.[27]

In 2019, after a publication of an article in the French newspaper Le Républicain Lorrain,[28] a resident of Forbach claimed to have had a relationship with the Isdal Woman in the summer of 1970. According to this informant, the woman was a polyglot with a Balkan accent who often dressed herself up to look younger than her age (26), refused to share personal details and often received scheduled phone calls from abroad. Looking through the woman's belongings, the informant found various wigs, colorful clothes and a photograph of the woman riding a horse. Suspecting she was a spy, he considered contacting the authorities but was afraid to do so. Both the informant's story and the photograph were published in a subsequent issue of the newspaper.[29]

See also



  1. ^ a b c Tønder, Finn Bjørn (26 November 2002). "Viktig nyhet om Isdalskvinnen" [Important news about Isdal Woman]. Bergens Tidende (in Norwegian). Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Cheung, Helier (13 May 2017). "Isdal Woman: The mystery death haunting Norway for 46 years". BBC News. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  3. ^ "Tidslinje: Slik etterforsket politiet Isdalssaken". NRK (in Norwegian Bokmål). 17 October 2016. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ståle Hansen; Marit Higraff; Øyvind Bye Skille; Eirin Aardal; Ellen Borge Kristoffersen (29 November 2016). "The Isdalen Mystery". NRK. Translated by Bjørn Giertsen. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  5. ^ "Historical US Dollars to German Marks currency conversion". Retrieved 12 January 2020.
  6. ^ "The Isdal Woman". Futility Closet. 3 January 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  7. ^ "Kalde spor fra Isdalen" [Cold trail from Isdalen]. A-magasinet (in Norwegian). 19 November 2010.
  8. ^ "The Isdal woman's many identities". Death in Ice Valley. BBC World Service. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  9. ^ Eirin Aardal; Øyvind Bye Skille; Marit Higraff; Ellen Borge Kristoffersen; Ståle Hansen. "Slo bensin over seg og tende på" (in Norwegian). NRK. Retrieved 23 October 2016.
  10. ^ "Norway makes international appeal to solve 46-year-old mystery". The Local. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  11. ^ "If You're Never Heard Of The Case Of The Isdal Woman, It's One Of The Most Odd Cases You'll Ever See". BuzzFeed. 16 February 2018. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  12. ^ Ståle Hansen; Øyvind Bye Skille; Eirin Aardal; Marit Higraff (14 May 2017). "De kom til Norge og døde" (in Norwegian). NRK.
  13. ^ "The secret police file on the Penguin missile system". Death in Ice Valley. BBC World Service. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  14. ^ Ståle Hansen; Marit Higraff; Eirin Aardal; Øyvind Bye Skille; Ellen Borge Kristoffersen (30 October 2016). "Etterforsket for militærspionasje" (in Norwegian). NRK.
  15. ^ Ståle Hansen; Eirin Aardal; Marit Higraff; Øyvind Bye Skille; Ellen Borge Kristoffersen (21 October 2016). "Sporene politiet aldri fant ut av" (in Norwegian). NRK.
  16. ^ "11. Turning Detective – Live". Death in Ice Valley (Podcast). BBC World Service. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  17. ^ Yndestad, Monika Nordland (20 March 2005). "Turgåer møtte isdalskvinnen" [Hiker met Isdal Woman]. Bergensavisen (in Norwegian). Retrieved 22 May 2017. Glem henne, hun ble ekspedert. Saken blir aldri oppklart [Forget her, she's been seen to. The case won't ever be solved].
  18. ^ Eirin Aardal; Ellen Borge Kristoffersen; Øyvind Bye Skille; Ståle Hansen; Marit Higraff (20 October 2016). "Er dette Isdalskvinna?" [Is This Isdal Woman?] (in Norwegian). NRK. Retrieved 22 May 2017.
  19. ^ a b c Higraff, Marit; McCarthy, Neil (25 June 2019). "Death in Ice Valley: New clues in a Norwegian mystery". BBC.
  20. ^ Øyvind Bye Skille; Marit Higraff; Ståle Hansen (8 January 2018). "Tennene avslører: Isdalskvinnen eldre enn man trodde" [The teeth reveal: Isdal woman is older than previously thought] (in Norwegian). NRK. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  21. ^ "'Major breakthrough' in Norway's 46-year-old Isdal woman mystery". BBC. 19 May 2017. Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  22. ^ "Do you remember this woman?". NRK. 29 November 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2017. This is the description the Norwegian police sent to Interpol and police forces throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: 'Approximately 25–30 years of age. Height 164 cm, slim with broad hips. Long brownish-black hair, small round face, brown eyes, small ears. The teeth showed many repairs, several of the molars had gold caps, and the dental work is of a kind practised in the Far East, Central or Southern Europe, and South America. Fourteen of the teeth are partly or completely root-filled. There is a marked partition between the two upper front teeth'
  23. ^ Yndestad, Monika Nordland (20 March 2005). "Hær bæres Isdalskvinnen til sitt anonyme gravsted" [Here Isdal Woman is carried to her anonymous grave]. Bergensavisen (in Norwegian). Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  24. ^ Higraff, Marit; McCarthy, Neil (26 March 2018). "Death in Ice Valley" (Podcast). BBC World Service. Retrieved 1 November 2018.
  25. ^ "8. Case Closed". Death in Ice Valley (Podcast). BBC Sounds. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  26. ^ Aske, Dennis Zacher (2018). Kvinnen i Isdalen: Nytt lys over norgeshistoriens største krimgåte [The Woman in The Ice Valley: A new light on Norway’s biggest unsolved criminal case] (in Norwegian) (Digital ed.). Bergen: Vigmostad & Bjørke. p. 262. ISBN 978-82-419-1570-3.
  27. ^ Aske, Dennis Zacher (2018). Kvinnen i Isdalen: Nytt lys over norgeshistoriens største krimgåte [The Woman in The Ice Valley: A new light on Norway’s biggest unsolved case] (in Norwegian) (Digital ed.). Bergen: Vigmostad & Bjørke. pp. 248–249 and 231. ISBN 978-82-419-1570-3.
  28. ^ Grethen, Kevin (8 March 2019). "Faits divers. Mystère du corps calciné en Norvège : la solution pourrait se trouver dans le Grand Est". (in French). La Republican lorrain. Archived from the original on 5 June 2020. Retrieved 2 July 2023.
  29. ^ Grethen, Kevin (9 June 2019). "Un Forbachois pense avoir connu l'inconnue tuée en Norvège" [A Forbach resident claims he encountered the unidentified woman killed in Norway]. Le Républicain lorrain (in French). Archived from the original on 9 June 2019. Retrieved 2 August 2021.