George Sandeman – The case of a woman who burned to death on the slopes of a Norwegian valley that has left police stumped for nearly 50 years has been reopened.
Using the latest DNA analysis techniques they have built a genetic profile of the woman and hope that by sharing the data with forces across Europe they will be able to solve the decades-long mystery.
On November 29, 1970 a man and his two daughters were walking in the Isdalen valley when they came across the burnt corpse that was so badly disfigured that police couldn’t tell what she looked like.
Officers struggled to identify her as all the labels and tags were cut out of her clothes and her body arranged in an odd way with her personal items arranged on the ground around her as though it was part of a ceremony.
The Isdalen valley is known to locals as the ‘Valley of Death’ as it was a popular place for people to take their own lives in the medieval period and was the site of multiple tragedies involving hikers falling in the fog.
After being unable to identify the woman police thought they had earned a breakthrough after finding two suitcases in the lost luggage department at the train station in the nearby town of Bergen, reported the BBC.
But identifying items such as labels and prescriptions had been cut out or scratched out from the items inside with officers discovering a multitude of different currencies, disguises and fake passports.
They also found a tube of eczema cream but the victim was so meticulous in concealing her identity that she scraped off her name and her doctor from the label.
A coded message was discovered in one of the suitcases and eventually cracked it to show that the woman had stayed in several hotels across Europe using aliases before she died.
She was given a Catholic burial and interned in an unmarked grave but they kept a photo album of the funeral service in the hope that they would one day give it to her relatives.
They also buried the body in a zinc coffin so it wouldn’t decompose and kept tissue samples and her jaw in a lab.
Although the official verdict recorded in the 1970s was suicide it was not something that sat well with officers and the local population who had all become intrigued by the case.
Some thought she was a spy, as she seemed wealthy and well-travelled, who had come to observe rocket tests the military were doing in western Norway with one shopkeeper who served her saying she spoke English with an accent.
Gunnar Staalesen, a Bergen crime author who was a student at the time, said: “This was during the Cold War, and there were definitely a lot of spies in Norway, including Russian spies.”
Alvhild Rangnes, a waitress, was 21-years-old when the Isdal woman came to stay at Hotel Neptun in Bergen and said: “My first impression of her was one of elegance and self-assuredness.
“She looked so fashionable – I wished to be able to mimic her style. In fact, I remember her winking at me… from my perspective it felt as though she thought I had been staring a bit too much at her.”
She added: “On one occasion while I was serving her, she was in the dining hall, sitting right next to – but not interacting with – two German navy personnel, one of which was an officer.”
Among the aliases the Isdal woman used during her hotel stays were Fenella Lorch, Genevieve Lancier, Claudia Tielt, Claudia Nielsen, Alexia Zarne-Merchez, Vera Jarle, and Elisabeth Leenhouwfr.
Forty-six years later, Norwegian police and journalists from NRK decided to reopen the investigation after reporters rediscovered the jaw in the cellar of a hospital.
They found it in 2016 and the jaw is distinctive because it has 14 fillings, including gold crowns, which are not common dental procedures in Norway.
DNA analysis and tests that were not around in the 1970s have now been carried out on the woman’s teeth and tissues samples which show she is of European descent.
Norwegian police announced the results of the new tests yesterday and are going to send the results to police forces across Europe in the hope they will find a match in one of their DNA databases.
NRK journalist Ståle Hansen said: “If someone in her close family is in a DNA registry somewhere, we will get a hit.”
This story originally appeared in The Sun.