Who was the mystery woman with eight names found dead on an isolated mountainside?
Eight names. Jenevive Lancia. Claudia Tjelta. Vera Schlosseneck. Claudia Nielsen. Alexia Zarna-Merchez. Vera Jarle. Finella Lorck. Elizabeth Leen-Hoywfer…
And apparently all belonging to one woman.
But still no-one knew who she was.
Her body was found on 29 November 1970, in Dodsdalen, a remote part of Isdalen Valley in the steep Ulriken mountain range that surrounds Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city.
She was naked, her body partially burnt.
Strewn around her were a dozen pink sleeping pills, an empty bottle of spirits, and two full bottles of petrol.
Each of her fingerprints had been sanded away.
There was no clue to her identity.
An autopsy found the woman had suffered a blow to the back of the neck, and had taken several sleeping pills before she died.
The police report concluded suicide. The woman was laid to rest in an unmarked grave, and there the story would have ended.
Until the woman’s suitcases were discovered, abandoned at Bergen train station.
Not a single fingerprint was found on the two leather cases.
Inside one were passports in eight names, wigs and clothes.
The clothes’ labels had all been cut out. But experts identified the expensive Italian brand.
And there was a diary – but even that didn’t give investigators very much information.
Scrawled in it were coordinates of famous European landmarks.
The police had composite sketches made of what they believed the woman had looked like – dark, attractive, petite, aged between 30 and 40.
And it was hoped when the picture was circulated, someone might come forward to identify her.
A brother, sister, friend, lover…
But no-one came forward except witnesses to the last days of her life.
They claimed they’d seen her around Bergen. That she’d checked into several hotels, using a false name every time. And in each hotel, she’d asked to change rooms.
Other witnesses claimed the woman spoke in French, German, and Flemish.
One hotel guest had heard the woman talking to a man in German.
Then came a minor breakthrough. A man told police he’d been on a date with the woman.
She told him she was from Johannesburg, in South Africa, and was in Europe sightseeing. He said she’d smoked a Norwegian brand of cigarettes.
On 23 November 1970, she’d checked out of the Hotel Holberg, paying in cash, and a taxi took her to Bergen station, where she’d left her suitcases.
Then, nothing…until her body was found six days later.
Forty-six years on, the woman’s identity remains unknown.
At the time, Bergen’s police chief denied any crime had taken place. He insisted the woman had committed suicide. That somehow, her injury was self-inflicted and, as she was dying, she’d set herself alight.
Other officers disagreed. In the mid-70s, retired officer Hans Thue told journalists the woman had been part of an international cheque scam. Indeed, soon after her death, two South American men had been arrested in Bergen for cheque fraud.
They, too, had used false passports and identities.
But many believed the police were being deliberately misleading – on the orders of Norway’s secret service.
The fake passports, wigs, coded diary, and expensive clothes…it all pointed to the woman being a spy.
During the 1970s, the world was in the grip of the Cold War – tension between the countries of the West and the Eastern Bloc.
Much of the West’s covert operations were run out of Haakonsvern, the largest naval port in Scandinavia.
And Haakonsvern is just 15km outside of Bergen.
And at the time of the woman’s death, there had been suspected sightings of a wanted, Russian agent in the Norwegian city Trondheim.
But no-one knows what he was doing there.
Had the woman been after information on military activity in Haakonsvern? Had she been caught and silenced?
Or was she perhaps a defector from the East, murdered by her own?
Some 32 years later, in 2002, a Norwegian man identified himself as a witness.
He told journalists in Bergen he’d been hiking through Dodsdalen with his friends on 24 November 1970.
They’d come across a woman in an elegant black dress and heels – and wondered at her outfit on a mountain.
And the witness swore it was the mystery woman.
He said she’d seemed frightened, and started to speak to the hikers.
Then, she’d stopped herself and walked off quickly.
Behind her were two men in black coats and dark sunglasses.
But why had the hiker taken 32 years to come forward?
It seems he had tried before.
As soon as he’d seen the original appeal for information, he’d called the police. The next day, someone claiming to be a police officer had called him back.
‘Forget what you saw,’ he was told.
So he’d tried to do just that.
But no one can forget the woman found naked and dead in Dodsdalen.
A woman with eight names. But not a single one that belonged to her.
The Valley of Death
Dodsdalen is Norwegian for Valley of Death. The valley, in the Ulriken mountain, got its name from the high number of hikers and skiers who’ve lost their lives there. Most recently, a man was found dead in Dodsdalen on 27 March 2016. He has yet to be identified…