The Isdal Woman: The Coldest Case Of The Cold War

By | August 1, 2021

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Isdalen, where the woman was discovered. (Reinhardheydt/Wikimedia Commons)

On the sunny afternoon of November 29, 1970, a young Norwegian family was out on a hike when suddenly, one of the daughters smelled the unique scent of burning flesh. Upon inspection, the girl was horrified to find the charred remains of a young woman lying behind a large rock and quickly ran with her family back to the nearby town of Bergen to report the body. The disturbing discovery led to one of the most mysterious cases in Norway's history, the case of the Isdal Woman.

Officers arriving on the scene noted that her face was burned beyond all recognition, but interestingly, the back of her body was untouched, and there was no clear evidence of a fire around the area where she was found. Lying beside her was a burned bottle of liquor, an empty passport container, rubber boots, an umbrella, and several articles of clothing and jewelry. Strangely, all the labels in her clothing had been removed.

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Reconstruction of the face of an unidentified murder victim found in Norway in 1970. (Stephen Missal/Wikimedia Commons)

A few days later, what should have been a break in the case only led to more questions after police located two suitcases likely belonging to the woman that were abandoned at the local train station. They matched her fingerprints to those on a pair of packed sunglasses, but the suitcases contained no information about her identity—apparently by design. They were stuffed with things like wigs, fake eyeglasses, foreign currency, makeup, and train time schedules. One of them contained a notepad whose contents appeared to be written in code, which the Norwegian authorities determined was a record of her travels.

Using the handwriting from the code, they found several hotels where she stayed, including the location where she was last seen alive—the Hotel Hordaheimen, six days before her body was found—but because she paid in cash, the staff didn't know her name. At least once, she checked into a hotel under the name Fellena Lorch, but she swapped aliases frequently and likely traveled with as many as eight fake passports in and around Norway. She moved around often and reportedly spoke German, Belgian, and English as well as Norwegian.