In 1970 the corpse of a woman was found near Bergen, Norway. In her car police found encrypted notes. These notes were deciphered, but the identity and the cause of death of this woman have remained a mystery until today. Thanks to blog reader Bjarne, I can now present a few new facts about this strange story.

The story of the Isdal Woman has everything a journalist likes – secret services, an unexplained death, an unidentified corpse, a good-looking woman, and an encrypted notebook. A story like this is usually covered in numerous newspaper articles and TV features. However, the Isdal Woman mystery appears to be an exception. So far, the media outside of Norway have shown little interest in this spectacular case. At least, this gives me the chance to write almost exclusively about this mystery, although cryptography only plays a minor role in it.


The Isdal Woman mystery

“Isdal Woman” is the name given to a woman found dead at Isdalen Valley, Norway, on November 29, 1970. The Isdal Woman has never been identified. She died from a combination of burns and carbon monoxide poisoning, and an autopsy showed traces of at least 50 sleeping pills in her body. The woman was described as 30-40 years old and good-looking.


Police found out that the Isdal Woman had travelled around Europe with nine different false identities. She was traced to two suitcases found in a train station nearby Bergen, Norway. The labels had been removed from the clothes she wore, her fingerprints had been sanded away. In one of the suitcases police discovered 500 Deutsche Mark. Witnesses reported that the Isdal Woman had spoken French, German, English and Dutch. One person testified that she had said “Ich komme bald”, which means “I am coming soon” in German.

Authorities eventually concluded the woman committed suicide.

In the trunk of the Isdal Woman’s car police found several cryptic diary entries. These cryptograms are the reason why the Isdal Woman is covered on this blog. Police codebreakers had no trouble in deciphering these notes. The details are available in my blog post from October last year. My first two posts on the Idsal Woman (in German) were published in 2015.


News about the Isdal Woman

In fall 2016 blog reader Bjarne informed me that there were new developments in the Isdal Woman case. In fact, Norwegian police recently started new examinations, and the Norwegian media have reported on new facts. Although this sounds quite interesting, newspapers and TV stations outside of Norway apparently are still not very interested in this story. At least, this gives me the chance to write about the Isdal Woman without having much competition. Thanks to Bjarne, who has translated a number of Norwegian texts for me, I can present some interesting new information about the Isdal Woman, as presented in Norwegian media. Here’s a list of the most important facts:


  • The following pictures shows forensic technicians at the crime scene, on the day after the woman was found (courtesy: The Police/Bergen State Archives).


  • Here’s a picture taken at the funeral (courtesy: The Police/Bergen State Archives):


  • The following scan shows a hotel registration form the Isdal Woman filled in using the false name Claudia Tielt. The nationality stated is Belgian. Blog reader Thomas and others pointed out that this form contains a few inconsistencies. The form is filled in in German, as words like “Antiquitätenhändlerin” or “Fremdenverkehr” indicate. The word “belgish” doesn’t make sense, it might be a misspelled version of the German word “Belgisch”. But why would a Belgian woman fill in such a form in German? As my readers pointed out, the word “Kreisleitung” was mainly used in Eastern Germany. Was the Isdal Woman an Eastern German agent?


  • As it seems, the Norwegian secret service started investigations soon after the corpse had been found. This is not very surprising, as a woman using false identities almost certainly was a secret agent. However, these investigations have been kept secret for decades. It is well possible that the Norwegian authorities declared this death a suicide just to cover up the real facts.
  • According to new evidence, the Isdal Woman went to several places where tests of a newly developed sea missile took place.
  • Police recently took DNA samples from some of the Isdal Woman’s mortal remains. This might help to identify the woman herself or relatives of her. So far, nothing has been published about the results.
  • The handwriting of the Isdal woman is typical for French speaking countries.
  • The dentures of the Isdal Woman could be of Eastern European origin.

The Isdal Woman case remains a mystery. However, we might see new evidence in the near future.

Thanks very much to Bjarne for informing me about these developments and for translating many text passages.

Further reading: An unusual cipher from a WW2 intelligence officer


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Kommentare (20)

  1. #1 David Allen Wilson
    21. Februar 2017

    That’s bizarre that a Belgian would misspell “belgisch”, since the Dutch/Flemish word for “Belgian” is also “belgisch”.

    However, I see her address in Brussels in 1943, so maybe she spoke French…

  2. #2 Thomas
    21. Februar 2017

    Some words in this registration form are German (Antiquitätenhändlerin, Brüssel Kreisleitung, Fremdenverkehr), not Flemish. “belgisch” is German and, as you said, also Flemish. Why should a French native use German expressions?

  3. #3 schorsch
    21. Februar 2017

    What is the meaning of “The handwriting of the Isdal woman is typical for French speaking countries”? What – beyond certain special letters or accents – are typical nationalist characteristics of a handwriting?

    David: There might have lived a person with this name in Brussels in 1943 – but according to the norvegian newspaper article linked in the text, the belgian police informed, that all the identities used by this woman were faked. So, for a better legend, she might have used the identities of real (maybe dead or missed) persons.

  4. #4 Horst
    21. Februar 2017

    It would be interesting to see what the Stasi archived about the case. But I guess there is no way to find out…

  5. #5 Klaus Schmeh
    21. Februar 2017

    Bart Wenmeckers via Facebook:
    Good to see there are new developments in the case.

  6. #6 Peter
    21. Februar 2017

    Irgendwo im Osten oder nahen Osten gibt es ein Elternpaar, welches aus ‘Rücksicht auf übergeordnete nationale Interessen’ nicht einmal eine Blume auf dem Grab der Tochter niederlegen darf oder durfte.

    N.B. zu viel Wissen kann Ihre Gesundheit gefährden:

  7. #8 schorsch
    22. Februar 2017

    Thomas: Thanks for the link. But honestly – that article is by far not convincing. It ‘s no problem to find hundreds and hundreds of letters handwritten in french or from french people – but I found none, were the author in a comparable way notoriously missed the t when striking it with the crossbar.

    I found a lot of other quirks – Marcel Proust for example wrote the t like the handwritten letter l with a bar, so that the t sometimes looks like an f. His ‘partout’ reads like ‘parfait’… Others (letters from adult people) show the same infant style you find in handwritten texts from german pupils.

    Of course, I’m not a graphologist. But sometimes I think, that graphology is more a humbuggery than science…

  8. #9 Thomas
    22. Februar 2017


    I fully share your opinion and had the same doubts (in the German thread, #48)

  9. #10 The_Piper
    22. Februar 2017

    look how the dates are written, look at the number one “1”, thats at least not german style writing.

  10. #11 Thomas
    9. März 2017

    “In her car the police found encrypted notes.”

    According to the Wikipedia entry the encrypted notes were found in the suitcases in the train station. I’m not aware of a source in which a car is mentioned.

  11. #12 Andreas
    15. Mai 2017

    BBC, 13.05.2017:
    Isdal Woman: The mystery death haunting Norway for 46 years

  12. #14 Thomas
    9. Januar 2018

    According to NRK, further analysis of the teeth has revealed that she must have been born around 1930, +/- 4 years.

  13. #16 Norbert
    11. Januar 2018

    DIE ZEIT (German weekly newspaper) features a long article on the Isdal woman in today’s issue. Online (only after registration):

  14. #18 Kerberos
    21. April 2019

    die “7” mit Querstrich sieht deutsch aus,
    oder gibt es das auch in anderen Ländern?

  15. #19 helmut
    28. April 2021

    Wenn ich mir die Schreibweise der Wörter “Antiquitätenhändlerin” und “Kreisleitung” ansehen, sieht es so aus, als hätte meine Großmutter (Österreicherin) das geschrieben, die Schreibweise muss also nicht unbedingt aus einem französisch sprechenden Land sein.

  16. #20 Lawrence Alexander
    Brighton, United Kingdom
    2. Dezember 2021

    Her choice of false names is puzzling when you consider their geographical distribution and origin.

    For example, the surname Tielt, for her Brussels identity, is recorded by Ancestry as being mostly found in the Netherlands, as is Leenhouwer. (Because of the latter’s rarity, I did wonder whether this was inspired by the harpsichord maker)., MyHeritage and Ancestry place the surnames of her other Belgian personas (Lancier, Jarle, Nielsen and Lorck) pretty much anywhere but Belgium – including France, Germany, the US and Scandinavia.

    So, these selections seem counterproductive if the aim was to construct convincing Belgian identities.

    The Ljubljana details are also inconsistent. “Zarna” could be a mispelling of “žarne”, which appears to be a correct Slovenian word, but this effect is tainted by then hyphenating with the very French “Merchez”. Why not just leave it as Zarne?

    The first names make more sense. According to, Genevieve, Alexia, Finella, Claudia and Vera appear together in a number of English-language baby name books of the era (ex: “Name your child: a handy guide for puzzled parents” by Partridge [1968]) easily found in any lending library.

    One witness account apparently has a male caller for the Isdal Woman asking for a “Ms. Mercier”. This makes me wonder whether her real name was indeed Mercier, with “Lancier” and “Merchez” derived from it.