The Avenger. A Finnish true crime story.

The following is a strange true crime story from the history of Finland. The text is from the book Poliisi kertoo 1985, and was translated by Salla Juntunen.

The term “troll” is now widely used in reference to Internet harassment, and Internet “trolls” are everywhere.

This is the story of a particularly creepy “troll” from before the Internet age.


All names in this story have been changed, but the facts remain the same. Imagine how you would act if one day you received a letter in which you and your loved ones are insulted in every possible way. In addition, the letter threatens your life, the safety of your children on their way to school and threatens to set a bomb behind your door. Furthermore, the letter says your spouse has had intercourse with people you both know…

Out of anger and due to the feces included in the letter you might throw it away, but after reading the letter again and deeming the sender to be someone you know, possibly even a member of parliament, you keep it for now. You inspect the letter further and discover that its signature has been confirmed with a stamp. The letter has been paid for with a meter stamp, and, as far as you know, those cannot be owned by private persons, only institutions and companies.

The letter is in your possession for a few days. You wonder if there is some truth to the death threat. After your children get home from school you call them and ask if anything strange has happened to them. At the same time you hear of a mail delivery which can be picked up at the post office. Once you go to pick up the delivery, you see that it is a book set. You reproach your spouse for ordering more books; you have too many of them anyway.

Over the next few days you get more deliveries. You ask the post office to return them to the sender with notes that there must have been some mistake because you haven’t ordered anything. Magazines and comics start arriving daily. You also get phone calls telling you about for-sale ads posted in your name in nationwide newspapers. You also get letters from sexual deviants and in time you find out that your name has been used to seek company on the dating ad columns of men’s magazines.

Your patience begins to run out. You take the information you’ve gathered and go to your local police station. You hear that other people have also received similar letters and deliveries. You list the people you suspect, namely your neighbours and someone from work, because the first letters contained details about your family.

You go home, relieved, because you have given the police good leads and the matter will surely be handled in no time. Possibly already the next day the phone rings. The call, however, is from the collection agency of a large publishing house and the caller is asking about your unpaid orders. You begin to explain, but they don’t believe you and instead the caller threatens you with forcible collection unless you pay your bills by the due date. There are similar calls from many companies.


Years of suffering

This goes on for years. You get frustrated with the police who don’t seem to be doing anything about it. You still go to work the next day in high spirits. You get a call to go see your boss immediately. Your boss thinks you are playing dumb, but immediately informs you that you have sent a libelous and feces stained letter to the general director of the company. Your explanations are not believed and you have to give a written answer, and you offer to give a handwriting sample while you’re at it. Your coworkers hear that you had to give a written explanation for having insulted the higher-ups of the company.

The torment continues. You get called in to a clinic for AIDS testing and the appointment has already been booked. The phone rings and when you pick up you hear an angry parent threaten you with legal action and the police because according to a letter received by the caller you have molested their underage children. You keep trying to explain. The railway station calls to inform you that the 150 kilograms heavy weightlifting equipment you ordered have arrived. Matkahuolto informs you that the furniture you ordered have arrived. The phone even rings during the night, but once you pick up, the call disconnects.

In the morning the doorbell rings. Your spouse goes to open. An acquaintance of yours gives their condolences with flowers and leaves sympathetically. Only after receiving more condolences on the phone you find out that your obituary has been published in the day’s newspaper. The activity continues…

Foul, disgusting, sick…

The avenger kept sending letters containing extremely foul text. Often they also included feces. The avenger marked someone the recipient knew or should have known as the sender. The letters often mentioned that first the recipient would have items ordered for them, then they would be signed up for a sexual deviants’ clubs, then shot, etc. When the recipient began receiving deliveries and such, they would start to wonder whether the threats also come true as the letters said. After all, the first phase had already happened.

The letters also included pictures cut from porn magazines. The photos often featured comments about the resemblance between the recipient’s face and the private parts of the woman in the picture. The envelopes were clean and they had often been stamped with some company’s or community’s name or logo. Postage had mainly been paid by counterfeit meter stamps. The meter stamps were so well made that none of them were intercepted at the post office even though there were hundreds of deliveries. In addition, the avenger drew and pressed some stamps with plates they had made.

The Avenger also ordered items. It was easy and cheap because nearly every magazine has mail order coupons whose postage is paid by the recipient. There are also coupon booklets containing dozens of coupons. Items ranging anywhere from pens to washing machines were sent. The recipient of the orders was left in the lurch with cancellations, and companies suffered losses from postal charges, packaging, etc.

The Avenger posted newspaper ads under other people’s names. One person’s apartment, for example, was visited by approximately 200 people seeking to rent it on a Sunday.

The Avenger also made packages. They filled them with tights, bloody tampons, metal junk, pieces of cord and shell casings, among others. They took the packages to the neighbouring stairways of the recipient. Often the packages were handled as bombs, because they truly looked like ones when x-rayed.

Foul, disgusting or sick. Whichever it is, the things recounted here happened to several dozens of Finns between the years of 1974 and 1984. The full number of the targets may never be discovered as some who received only singular letters disposed of the materials they received and never reported it to the police. There is, however, knowledge of several hundreds of victims.

Leaker of information

Tiina Kiviharju was one of the people who did report the events. Tiina was working at a branch office of a major banking group in the outskirts of Helsinki. As a teller, Tiina was extremely conscientious and exact at her job and as such was well liked among her coworkers. Tiina’s home life was also doing fine. She was happily married and was expecting her first baby, which was due to arrive in June 1978.

The leader of said office was bank manager Riipinen who one morning received a letter that on the outside appeared to be perfectly normal. Upon opening the envelope, however, Riipinen changed his mind. He read the letter slowly and carefully seeing the seriousness of the matter. The letter insinuated that mrs Kiviharju had sold information covered by bank secrecy about the bank’s clients to third parties. The evidence was airtight, according to the letter. The letter stated that the writer considered it their duty to report the crime to the police and make a complaint to the bank’s general director. The letter was signed, but so illegibly that one couldn’t make out the name. Riipinen could already see his career development grinding to a halt.

Kiviharju was immediately called in to the office manager’s room amd after a serious discussion they came to the conclusion that there was no cause for such a letter. The matter was eventually forgotten.

When approximately three weeks had passed, office manager Riipinen received an official and valuable looking letter with his morning mail. Riipinen’s name was stamped on the envelope and the name of a certain Finnish registered party was marked as the sender. The office manager opened the letter and saw immediately that the letter was written in its entirety with stamps of separate letters. The letter read: “Because I have discovered the bank’s secrets through mrs Kiviharju, I intend to report you unless you pay 3000 marks to our party. We will give the press information of your clients unless you agree to our demands”.

And so Kiviharju ended up explaining herself in the manager’s office yet again. After the workday they held a meeting at the bank’s office regarding the letter and potential measures that could be taken. The matter was reported to the police.

Time passed and Tiina was distressed by the thought of a person who wanted to sully her reputation. She considered her options and filed reports, but investigations yielded no results. Summer of 1978 began and Tiina gave birth to her firstborn. The letters were forgotten during her maternity leave, and family bliss showed all its good sides to Tiina and her whole family.

In July of the same year, once Tiina was home from the maternity ward, a letter arrived to her home appearing to be sent by Mauri Kuhala, a member of the parliament. Kuhala represented the same party that had sent the blackmail letter to office manager Riipinen. Tiina’s heart leapt. She opened the envelope carefully and found her fears confirmed. The letter demanded “the Kiviharju whore” to pay the party 5000 marks or Tiina’s throat would be slit. The letter also stated that Tiina was “pure shit” and that the feces smeared on the letter was indeed much purer than Tiina had ever been.

Tiina was afraid. She couldn’t sleep all night and the police could give no other aid than “we’ll do our best”.

The next day Tiina got another letter. This time the sender was marked as Kerstin Granlund from Vaasa. Tiina didn’t know such a person and could anticipate the contents of the letter. Still she opened it and read: “Your time is almost up. Pray the Lord. Dying young is to be your part. God’s knives are sharp. You will soon have your last meal. You will die ugly”.

Likely as a consequence of giving birth, Tiina was more sensitive than usual. The threats deeply upset her. Tiina felt that the threats were also aimed at her baby, who was only about a week old. Locks were added until there were three on the front door.

Tiina’s husband’s work shifts changed into evening shifts. After dark Tiina sat with the baby in her arms waiting for the threats to come true. The torment grew in Tiina’s mind and eventually the situation got so bad that she no longer dared to spend nights alone and had to go with her husband on his nightly calls. Finally the Kiviharjus decided to change apartments and eventually the thing began to fade from memory. Not entirely, however.

Approximately five years had passed since the letters when Tiina received mail containing materials for attending a marketing conference. Around the same time several items were ordered for Tiina from various stores. The orders were written and from them could be concluded that the writer hadn’t forgotten Tiina. The fear returned; how long would this continue before…

The forger of stamps – deceased

Riitta and Rauno Stenström were an ordinary middle-aged family from eastern Helsinki. Both had jobs and they lived comfortably in their cosy two-room apartment. In 1978 they received an announcement, according to which Rauno had ordered some items by mail. Rauno wondered about this and asked Riitta if she had possibly ordered something. They came to the conclusion that it must have been a mistake. Rauno called the post office and informed them that he had not made the order and that it could be returned.

In the following days similar activity continued; they received more announcements and both Riitta and Rauno cancelled orders as often as they remembered. They naturally forgot to cancel some and received reminders and collection letters about them.

The doorbell rang at the Stenströms. Riitta opened the door and two men carried in a washing machine, asking where it should be placed. After what felt like an endless explanation the men believed her and took the machine away with them.

Now they also began receiving letters that insulted Rauno in strong terms. The letters also contained threats of getting shot at their door, gasoline being poured in the mail slot and being lit and getting tortured by nailing one’s tongue to the table, etc. The letters were often sent in the name of some celebrity. The Stenströms even delivered some letters to the police, who “helped” by telling them that this had happened to several people lately.

A letter arrived to the police station. It contained forged stamps similar to those used to send the so-called defamation letters. The letter also contained a couple of pencil sketches of a man from whom the writer had allegedly bought the forged stamps, and the address where he supposedly lived down to the corridor and floor number. It was the Stenströms’ apartment and the sketch portrayed Rauno. Therefore the writer knew the Stenströms.

Summer of 1981. Riitta Stenström received a phone call. The tearful voice of someone Riitta knew gave their condolences. Riitta was so confused that at first she couldn’t explain that Rauno was still alive. After hearing this it was the caller’s turn to be amazed. They also received flowers with condolences from their relatives. Riitta took a closer look at the newspaper and saw that according to the paper, Rauno Stenström was dead. It was very challenging to get Rauno back to the land of the living. They were disgusted.

Riitta picked up the phone: “I would like to give my condolences to Rauno Stenström’s widow. We have some very affordable tombstones…” It was very hard to get these callers to believe that they had no use for their services at this time. The cruelest part of these obituaries was their effect on other people. The police inspected and mapped out the situation. Clues were collected, but no facts.

Gasoline thief, adulterer

Alpo Kankare drove a bus in Northern Finland. Alpo was a family man whose life was no different from that of any average citizen. That, however, was about to change. At the end of the 1970s Alpo received a letter containing photocopied ten mark bills. According to the letter, Alpo had ordered them to use them on fuel dispensers. The letter mentioned that Alpo was stealing gas from the bus company by taking some from the tanks of the cars, little by little, to make it seem like they had a higher mileage. Alpo pondered. This had happened nearby recently. That letter was sent by Hojo-Hojo-Pena. Alpo ignored the letter, it was simply the work of some nutcase.

Some time passed and Alpo got called into questioning at the police station. He was confused. At the station Alpo discovered that he was suspected of sending an obscene letter to an editor-in-chief from Tampere. The letter had called the editor-in-chief “a parasite and a crab louse in the crotch of Maiden of Finland”. The letter also threatened to slit the editor-in-chief’s throat. The letter had been covered with feces, because, according to the letter, giving better food to a louse would be a waste. It was sent in the name of Alpo Kankare, with his correct phone number and address. It was immediately made clear that Alpo had nothing to do with the letter. What kind of rumours would start to spread, Alpo wondered.

Alpo came home from work and his wife seemed oddly tense. Alpo checked the mail and could guess the reason. With the mail had arrived an open card with the text: “Dear Alpo. I have a surprise for you. I’m pregnant. So it would be good if you got in touch immediately, my love. Last time you said something about posting banns, but it was left unclear to me. This was a surprise for me as well and so I await your reply. Your beloved Kirsti”. Explanations…

This was only the beginning. Alpo caught wind that various complaints about him had been made to the bus company’s supervisor in Helsinki. Alpo had refused to pick someone up from the bus stop and had sometimes driven past stops on purpose, etc. All the letters were clean and seemed genuine; they were signed by people living in the northern hinterlands who were not easily reached by phone. Alpo’s new job became rectifying the management’s conceptions of him.

After a while, a letter arrived to the home of the Kankares, addressed to Mrs Kankare, in which Riitta Sivonen wrote that she had received a peculiar letter from Alpo. In it, Alpo suggested sexual intercourse for a monetary compensation. Riitta wondered in her letter if Alpo could not satisfy his animalistic instincts with his wife since he was thusly harassing other people. Perhaps there really was something to it, Alpo’s wife pondered.

More was to come. The avenger had written a letter in Alpo’s name in which Alpo asks the National Board of Health for a castration due to the fact that when driving a bus and seeing a beautiful woman, Alpo gets a strong erection and ejaculates, leading to embarrassing situations with wet trousers. Alpo asks the board to send their response to the company’s garage’s address. What’s more, the avenger has replied to the castration request in the name of a doctor working for the National Board of Health and manufactured the board’s stamps etc. in the reply. Included was “Alpo’s” original request letter, and these were then sent to the garage.

The avenger ordered Alpo items by mail. He was sent, for example, penis enhancing equipment, ring seals, insoles and all sorts of other things.

Lovely nights – forgotten pants

Ritva Suomaa, a member of parliament, is a well-known woman. Ritva also has a job elsewhere and therefore she is not just an MP. Ritva had received numerous letters in which she had been called every offensive name in the Finnish language. Ritva is a strong woman and didn’t care much about the letters although they caused some bother, as did the orders that kept coming for years and years. Sometimes people she knew would call Ritva and she’d find out that more similar letters had been sent in her name to these people.

Ritva arrived to her workplace and discovered that she had been sent a package, which had had to be opened at the office since only the company’s name and address were written on it. The package contained a pair of women’s panties and a letter to Ritva. The letter communicated that Pasi Kuitunen, a known TV personality, was sending Ritva her underwear that she had forgotten at Kuitunen’s place after a lovely night.

Risto Sahra, the leader of a certain union, had over the years gotten used to the fact that someone was ordering things in his name. He had also received some foul letters smeared with feces to his home and place of work. Upon bringing the mail to their boss, there was something peculiar in the behaviour of the secretary. The secretary uneasily announced the arrival of a package, which was at the bottom of the pile. Sahra looked at the package and found it opened, as it was only labelled with the name and address of the union. The contents were something else. The package contained a pair of men’s feces stained underwear and a letter to Risto Sahra. The sender was Ritva Suomaa, a member of parliament, who in the letter insinuated that Risto had left his underwear at Ritva’s house last time and apologised for the pants getting stained in the throes of passion. Outrage and disgust overtook him. The letter was written in the same hand as the previous ones.

Pekka Pelkonen from Kontiolahti received his first letter in late 1980. The letter was sent from Helsinki. Known to be a calm man, Pelkonen was not upset by the first letters. But when various magazines and mail order items began arriving almost daily, Pelkonen went to the police. Pelkonen worked as the foreman at a large company and he had at best a couple hundred subordinates. Pelkonen suspected one of them to be the writer, as he had been forced to punish some with dismissals. Pelkonen could not name other enemies.

Newspapers, magazines, comics

Between the years 1980-1984 foreman Pelkonen received nearly 40 different deliveries in addition to various newspapers, magazines and comic books. In addition, obscene letters had been sent to other people in Pelkonen’s name.

Sometimes newspaper ads claimed Pelkonen was selling a villa property by Saimaa, sometimes a log cabin by Koitere. There were dozens of calls from interested buyers and even an offer from abroad.

Still worse was yet to come, however. An obituary of Pekka Pelkonen was posted in the local newspaper. The elegy read: “his burden has been lifted and he has found eternal peace”. This obituary of course referred to foreman Pekka Pelkonen from Kontionlahti. However it contained one noteworthy detail: According to the obituary, Pelkonen was born in 1950, when in fact he was born much earlier. Condolences were once again sent to Pelkonen’s “widow”.

Gay, AIDS-patient

For some reason that at the early stages of the investigation could not be explained, the avenger sent a lot of letters to the small village of Tohmajärvi. There are a dozen known recipients, two of whom, teacher Matti Manninen and security guard Kari Kelo faced the worst of the harassment. Teacher Manninen had worked in the municipality for over 25 years. He, too, is a family man and known in the area as a sympathetic and conscientious person. Matti was modest, he never made a big deal of himself.

Upon first opening the libelous letter in 1980, Manninen could not anticipate all that he would come to experience. As in most other cases, a few initial letters were followed by an onslaught of mail deliveries. When the deliveries didn’t appear to be ceasing, he asked the post office to automatically return all deliveries to the stores that sent them. The letters of complaint proved to be the most troublesome for Manninen.

In late 1983 the avenger had sent a letter to the National Board of Health in Manninen’s name. In it, Manninen casually mentions that he is a teacher in Tohmajärvi. He also tells that he has AIDS and that he has had homosexual relations with a male student of his. In the letter Manninen asks what actions he ought to take.

Manninen himself never received a reply, but the board, sensing that something was unclear about the whole thing, sent the letter to the bailiff of Tohjmajärvi.

Things didn’t end so well with a letter that was sent in the name of another Tohmajärvi teacher to the board of education. It told of teacher Manninen’s homosexual relations with his male students. It also mentioned that Manninen had AIDS. The board sent a letter containing this information to the department of education of the provincial government of North Karelia and asked for an investigation to the matter. The department did as requested, and in turn asked Manninen himself to give a written explanation. To be safe, Manninen asked for a statement from a local police officer. The rumour mill was churning once again.

The avenger sent many letters to different public utilities in the name of the National Board of Health in early 1984. The letters mentioned Manninen’s homosexual relations and informed that he had AIDS. The letters asked for information and observations of his comings and goings. The letters were equipped with the signature stamps of the board and a doctor who used to work there. The rumours escalated.

The avenger also sent a letter in teacher Manninen’s name to a sexual health clinic in Helsinki. The letter requested an appointment to get tested for AIDS. A letter arrived in response informing Manninen of the appointment.

Feces to the general director

Security guard Kari Kelo faced similar treatment. Kelo, just like Manninen, received letters and mail deliveries, for-sale ads of various items and of course an obituary. The nastiest situation Kelo ended up in when a feces stained letter was sent in his name to the general director of the company in Helsinki. No more than two hours after the general director opened the letter in Helsinki, Kelo was in his boss’s office in Tohmajärvi giving a handwriting sample. And there was talk…

The avenger

The avenger and his targets were being mapped from the beginning. It was established that most of the targets had been public figures at some stage of their lives. There were exceptions, however, and based on tips from those cases some strong leads could be gathered. For example, it was established that the avenger could draw and etch.

The contents of the letters always referred to political affiliations and that aspect was examined. It could only be stated that the avenger’s range varied from one extreme to another, however with an emphasis on the right wing.

The harassment focused on an area covering, among others, the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen. The entire Finland got their share of the letters, however, all the way up to Inari. During the investigation, another point of focus was located in the North Karelia province. At the centre of this point was the small municipality of Tohmajärvi. This was chosen as the starting point for the investigation, as it was suspected that the avenger had at some point lived in the area and had possibly moved away. Other more promising leads could not be forgotten, however.

Letters delivered around 1978 made many references to an already disbanded extreme right wing political movement, which had been found guilty of burning down a left wing printing house. So they searched for a person fitting the avenger’s framework among the members of the disbanded movement. House searches were conducted as well as forensic investigation, but they seemed to yield no results.

They also endeavoured to find an explanation for the fact that several letters had been sent in envelopes of company called Kustannus Oy. Where had the avenger gotten these envelopes? Did he perhaps work at the company? It turned out that Kustannus Oy had printed 6000 such envelopes at Painopaikka Oy in 1977. From there the envelopes had been sent to the mail service Postitusosakeyhtiö Saari, who had, according to the contract, mailed 5877 of these envelopes to the clients of Kustannus Oy. Where were the remaining 123 envelopes? The employee directories of Postitusosakeyhtiö Saari from nearly a decade were reviewed and the backgrounds and handwritings of suspicious individuals were inspected. It was futile. The envelopes could also be from Painopaikka Oy, but the company had gone bankrupt and the employee directories were no longer available.

We recall the letter sent to the police in which the avenger had included a drawing of Rauno and informed that he had bought fraudulent stamps from the man in the picture. Rauno had never appeared in the public eye so how did the avenger know him? Rauno himself suggested some options but upon investigation they yielded no results. It was established, however, that Rauno had begun receiving letters after changing jobs in the summer of 1978. Employee directories containing hundreds of names were procured from Rauno’s old and new workplaces. Suspicious persons found on these lists were investigated, but once again to no avail.

The investigators tried to fit hundreds upon hundreds of people into the “framework of the avenger”, but they always came away empty-handed, as they say. When taking some things to the cellar storage, a musician had heard hurried footsteps from the stairway and, upon going to see who it was, had found a package left by the avenger. Based on the sound of the footsteps as well as other factors, it could be deduced with some certainty that the avenger was a man. Some progress was made.

Tohmajärvi in focus

Tohmajärvi was once again put under the microscope, and one by one they began going through names of men who had gone to school in the area and were born between 1948 and 1952. The year of birth was narrowed down to this period due to the the fact that upon inspecting the local recipients of the letters it was noted that eight of them were born in 1950. Furthermore, they all had been in the same class in primary school in 1964. They all had at some point been taught by Matti Manninen and one of the students was Pekka Pelkonen.

Student registries were found in the municipal archive and each person was interviewed in their turn. No one could name certain suspects. There appeared to have been no general victim of mockery or such in the school. Manninen also didn’t recall having to discipline any one student in particular. Over twenty years had passed and no one could recall specific events any longer. The question arose whether the avenger could’ve been a student’s brother, current spouse or something similar.

The case of Pekka Pelkonen was addressed. There was foreman Pekka Pelkonen, who had received letters, and chauffeur Pekka Pelkonen, who was in the category of people born in 1950. The avenger had apparently targeted the wrong man. However, the real Pekka Pelkonen could not name anyone likely to be the perpetrator either.

The selection of men born between 1948 and 1952 was narrowed down to those who had moved to the metropolitan area. Approximately 50 names remained and hopes were high. An arduous phase followed. There was still no certainty that the avenger was among this group of 50 people, so other leads were continuously being followed on the side. Several binders of material were gathered and based on the facts discovered the group had been narrowed down to approximately 20 people. Among the material there was a handwriting sample from one Asser Niinistö, who had moved away from Tohmajärvi already in 1965, but there seemed to be no similarities.

Asser

The dead end seemed to open up when an official of the North Karelian garrison contacted the investigators. He had received libelous letters and mail deliveries. The officer was from Tohmajärvi and he was presented with the narrowed down list of names. The man immediately picked out Asser Niinistö, who had been his neighbour back in the day. According to the man, Asser had been a very quiet young man and enthusiastic about building “infernal machines” and other such devices. The man also told that Asser had served his military service in the North Karelian garrison as late as 1975 due to postponements.

Asser Niinistö was taken under close inspection. No fact based on which he could be suspected more than anyone else seemed to surface. Besides, there were many better leads to examine. What’s more, Asser was established to be a man with a job and a family and therefore wasn’t likely to have the time to do all the things that had come to light.

The very next day Asser’s former neighbour from the garrison called the investigators and told them that the garrison’s matron had received a similar letter as the one he had received. Upon inspection the letters were found to contain things that no outsider could know about. It was discovered that Asser Niinistö had worked in the garrison’s kitchen. Having drawn their conclusions, they decided to conduct a house search at Asser’s home and workplace the next day.

Fainted

On a winter morning in 1984 the police arrived at Asser’s workplace and the foreman was asked to fetch Asser. Asser was asked to open his desk drawers and his locker.

Having done this, Asser fainted.

In the locker there were several pre-filled mail order coupons and letters. The avenger’s journey had come to an end. Asser was searched and a loaded, self-made .22 caliber revolver was found in his possession.

Asser was arrested and in the interrogation he confessed everything. He said that from the year 1974 onwards he had sent hundreds of libelous letters mainly to people in leadership positions. He also said that he had made at least 1500 orders of items. In addition there were the packages, harassing phone calls and newspaper ads.

A capable man

Asser was a capable man. Three more handguns were found at his house, two of which were self-made. According to a statement from the laboratory, they could all be labelled as firearms. In addition, there were paintings at Asser’s house that were painted by him. Asser had also worked as a touring musician, but had stopped touring for his family’s sake. During the house search they found equipment used to make the counterfeit meter stamps, and offset printing plates with pictures of 100 mark bills. The police had already previously procured a brass sheet with a lion themed stamp carved on it, with which Asser had manufactured some stamps.

A detailed index

So how did Asser remember the hundreds of people that he had sent letters and items to? To this there are to answers: Firstly, Asser had a detailed index of approximately 1000 names with addresses. The index was divided in sections such as National Coalition Party members, Centre Party members, the military and the police together, Christians and miscellaneous. Secondly, Asser had a very good memory and upon hearing a name he could recall off the top of his head why he had chosen that particular person as a target.

There were some people who were targeted for personal reasons. They had at some point in their lives said or done something bad or hurtful to Asser. Among these people were Tiina and Rauno, for example. However, these people didn’t make up even one percent of the targets.

Why?

Why did Asser do this, then?

Excerpts from Asser’s interrogation transcript: “… I was a small child and perhaps had a tendency for being nervous … Also there was a teacher with a very authoritarian and militant approach to teaching … (Matti Manninen) … I developed a hatred towards authoritarian and aggressive people … Then there were some housing concerns due to illegal dismissals when I wouldn’t agree to illegal rent increases … The pressure was at its peak and the knowledge that I would have to join the army triggered it all. I remembered my pistol and decided to go outside to shoot at everyone and everything. I abandoned that thought, however, because I couldn’t have hurt another person physically. Since my own troubles were psychological, I decided to avenge the wrongs I had experienced psychologically …

Screenshot_20181204-162322_YouTube

(Pens used in creating the letters. Police photo.)

Asser’s wife never knew or suspected what his husband was up to late in the evenings. Asser also had other good opportunities to do his avenging work, as his wife did shift work. Excerpts from the wife’s interrogation: “… My husband is very quiet. Sometimes it’s like he’s in a different world. He also has a very strict stance on what is right and what is wrong”.

Asser also had detailed notes of all the letters and his other doings. There were some two dozen notebooks and the parts about the avenger’s actions Asser had written down in a cipher he had invented. The notebooks, as well as the other avenger material, were in a locked cupboard to which others had no access and no keys. The locks Asser naturally made himself.

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(Some of Asser’s “tools” he used to create counterfeit papers and documents. Police photo.)

Asser was arrested for his deeds and he is accused of frauds, counterfeiting a private document, illegal possession of a firearm, making and using counterfeit stamps, illegal threats, defamation, libel via printed documents, attempts of fraud, slander, etc. Now Asser is in prison, waiting for the court’s ruling on the matter. [Article written in 1985; see post scriptum for an update. -admin]

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(Pistol found among Asser’s possessions. Police photo.)

Asser is a good worker and possesses a very demanding set of skills. He owns an apartment, has a wife and a kid, a job.

But why all this?


Post Scriptum, 2018, written by Teemu from Mysteries, Crimes, Curiosities

As far as I know, this is the only photo of Asser publicly available. I took this photo from an old issue of Alibi, a Finnish true crime magazine:

“Asser” was sentenced to prison time, but only did a short portion of it, as he was deemed by the court to have been in a mentally unstable state during the crimes.

After his prison sentence, “Asser” returned to his old job. As far as I was able to determine through my research, he never committed any more crimes.

Interview with Monika Nordland Yndestad

Monika Nordland Yndestad is a Norwegian writer and expert on mysteries surrounding her hometown Bergen. That city is home to one of the most enduring unsolved mysteries of all time: the case of the Isdal Woman, an unidentified female found dead in the middle of a rock formation on a mountain just outside Bergen in 1970. The case is still unsolved.

Monika has written a book called Drapsmysterier fra Bergensområdet (2005), the definitive book on Bergen’s strange history. 

Below is my interview with her. Thank you, Monika!


monika

1) Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Monika N. Yndestad and I live in Bergen. I wrote my first news story in 1987. In 2007, I took a four year break from the press to teach journalism. Then I started as a publisher in a magazine. In 2013, I became an author full time. I have released three crime books. The main character is journalist Alice Bratt. I have also released three non-fiction books, among them Drapsmysterier.

2) You wrote a book about the city of Bergen’s mysteries and crimes. What inspired you to write this book?

I have always been more than average interested in mysteries. Put simply, I was a big fan of true crime long before the term was invented. In Bergen there were several old murder cases that people still talked about, even after decades. But did they remember correctly?

I decided to investigate, and spent a lot of time in the archives, both public and in the newspaper archive. It was really exciting! The first case I wrote about in the newspaper Bergensavisen was a miscarriage of justice that occurred in 1906. A father and his son were convicted of killing the neighbor. The reason for the verdict was that a psychic woman supposedly “saw” the murder. It took 43 years before they were acquitted.

3) The most internationally well-known mystery in Bergen is the “Isdal Woman”. In your own words, what is this case of “The Isdal Woman”?

The Isdal Woman is our biggest mystery. No doubt about it.

Isdal Woman was found dead in Isdalen on Sunday, November 29, 1970, almost fifty years ago. It was a family on a Sunday trip that found her in the hillside; the first to see her was a twelve-year-old girl.

Isdal woman was found at the entrance of what is called “the valley of death”. The name comes from an accident in the early 1900s when a group of skiers on the top of Ulriken Mountain took the wrong path and fell to death.

It was a horrible sight. Isdal Woman was found lying on her back over a bonfire. The body had been exposed to intense but short-lived warmth. Her hair had burned up, but remains of a blue hair loop were found. The clothes were also just some remains. There was a men’s armband watch next to the body. The clockwork had stopped at 12.32.

In her stomach a fatal dose of Fenemal sleeping tablets was found. She had swallowed between 50 and 70 tablets. The cause of death was a combination of poisoning by sleep medicine and carbon dioxide, as well as combustion.

The investigation revealed that Isdal Woman had checked out from Hotel Hordaheimen in Bergen city center on Monday 23 November around eleven. There was smoke seen in Isdalen one and a half hours later, and it was believed that was when she died. But the time frame does not quite match: it is unlikely she may have managed to get so far in such a short time. She was also at the train station, where she placed her suitcases.

The investigation showed that Isdal Woman had traveled around Norway under several names. The last month she stayed at hotels in Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim under the names: Claudia Nielsen, Alexia Zarna-Merchez, Vera Jarle, Fenella Lorch and Elisabeth Leenhower. She spoke broken English but was steady in German. She was seen with men the police have never found the identity of.

Isdal Woman was 164 centimeter, 56 kilos, and probably around 30 years old. In her suitcases there where found notes written in code with letters and numbers, possibly an itinerary.

Isdal-Corpse

(body of the Isdal Woman. Police photo.)

4) What are the most widespread theories about her identity among the people of Bergen?

There are several theories. Last year, a documentary about her was issued claiming she was a prostitute. But there are not many who support that theory. Today, it’s mostly crime authors and journalists who care about the mystery. For most people, Isdal woman is just a term.

One possible theory is that she was an agent of Israel in search of old Nazis. This theory is used by the city’s most famous crime author, Gunnar Staalesen, in his trilogy Bergenstriologien. The books are translated into French.

Most people agree that Isdal Woman was affiliated with an organization of some kind, or was a criminal. Some believe she was a part of a fake coin league, but it is less likely than the agent theory. Remember, it was 1970. Probably the Norwegian authorities (PST) know much more than what has been revealed. The police concluded that she had committed suicide. Afterwards, only her identity has been investigated.

5) What is your own personal belief as to who she was?

I think she was an agent of some kind.

6) Some of the items related to the case are still in the police archives, such as her jawbone and personal belongings. Have you seen them personally? If so, what was it like seeing them?

No, those items were found quite recently and after I had released Drapsmysterier.

7) What is the area like where she was discovered? Is it far from downtown Bergen?

The area is about five kilometers from Bergen Railway Station, where she placed two suitcases for storage. The mountain side where she was found is steep and inaccessible and not a place for a tourist in November. Or in the summer, for that matter.

8) Do you think she intentionally walked there or was she taken there by someone else?

There are two mysteries here. Was Isdal Woman killed or did she really commit suicide alone on a mountain side? And who was she?

I do not think she committed suicide. She lived in a hotel and if the tablets really were hers, it’s illogical to leave the hotel bed, take the pills up in a mountain side and then lay on a fire.

Therefore, I do not think she was alone. She was taken into Isdalen by someone. And killed.

9) Is the police still actively investigating the case? Do you think it will be solved one day?

It is the press, including the BBC, which conducts investigations. Not the police. I do not think the case will be resolved ever, but she can still be identified. Isdal Woman is buried in a unmarked tomb. There was a police officer carrying her coffin to the grave, and a Catholic priest was used during the ceremony. Everything was documented with images that still exist. The police wanted to give the album to the family, but there was never anyone who claimed her. Now she belongs to Bergen.

isdal-woman-funeral

(Funeral for the Isdal woman.)

10) Another famous person in Bergen’s history is Varg Vikernes, notorious metal musician who murdered a colleague in the early 90s. Is he still famous around Bergen? Do locals still talk about him?

Varg Vikernes never returned to Bergen after the release. He lives in France and the case is little discussed.

But the church fires are not completely forgotten. Recently, two framed front pages of Bergens Tidende, which an individual had collected, sold for 14.000 NOK each. The front pages showed a picture of Varg Vikernes, who confessed to burning churches.

There were a total of 40 churches and church buildings that burned down in a few years.

varg1

(Varg Vikernes.)

11) How did the murder of Euronymous happen?

Varg Vikernes had had two comrades as an alibi that he was home in the apartment in Bergen. But instead he drove to Oslo, and on Tuesday, August 10, 1992, he killed Øystein Aarseth with 23 knife cuts. Afterwards, Greven said he did not regret the murder because it was about the survival of the strongest. And he was proud to be the strongest, the one who lived.

12) What do you think was the true reason behind it?

I look at it as a broken youth’s wrongdoing.

13) In your opinion, why did the Black Metal scene happen in Norway of all places?

In the 1990s there were many good bands and good producers in Bergen that contributed to the growth of black metal. It could probably have just happened somewhere else. But it was a little funny that especially Italian students at that time began to learn Norwegian because of black metal.

church

(Church arsons were a notorious feature of the Black Metal days. Adherents to BM believed Christianity was unlawfully planted into Norway, and burning a church was, therefore, a strike against the Christian establishment and a celebration of Norway’s pagan past.)

14) What other mysteries from Bergen would you like the readers of this blog to know about?

Many! Did you know, for example, that the lions in front of the Norwegian parliament, a symbol of democracy, were sculpted by a man convicted of a killing in Bergen? The assassination happened not far from the place Isdal Woman was found. But it’s 120 years that separates them in time.

15) What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on my fourth crime book in the series about journalist Alice Bratt; it is scheduled to be published in the autumn of 2019. In addition, I have just established the website monikayndestad.no There I talk about books and publish true crime news.

16) Any chance of your book being translated into English?

Who knows? Cappelen Damm Agency will hopefully sell my books abroad. Maybe to Finland? Then I wont be able to read my own book …

draps

(Monika with her book about Bergen’s mysteries. Photo: Bergens Tidende)

17) Anything I forgot to ask about that you would like to add?

Well, you can ask if it really rains as much in Bergen as people think. The answer is yes.

The Disappearance of Piia Ristikankare, Finland, 1988

1988. Rick Astley is rick rolling the world, and Bruce Willis is fighting bad guy in the Nakatomi building. The 1980s are coming close to their end, and the world has yet to see the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise and fall of Nirvana, and other curious incidents of the early 90s.

Far away from the red carpets of Hollywood and the secret dealing of the Kremlin, in a small town, a young girl disappears, leaving behind an enduring mystery that lives on after the last time she herself is ever seen.


piia2

Piikkiö is the kind of town you pass by on your way somewhere else, most likely Turku, a bigger city about 20 kilometers away.

Home to about 7000 residents, walking down the streets there you can almost feel the gazes on your back as locals give you an extended glimpse when you pass them by, trying to guess who you are and which house you’re visiting. ”Is he the son of [enter name here], visiting from Helsinki? No, maybe it’s [insert name here] all grown up, visiting from Turku!” Having grown up in a small town myself, I understand this dynamic.

Near the town’s health center is a short street and on that street stands a grey house that gives the impression that it’s standing still in time. The exterior looks like it is not actively cared for, and the grass in the yard is overgrown. This is the home of a single dweller, an old man named Heikki Ristikankare, father of a young girl named Piia who went missing in 1988, leaving behind a creepy mystery that lingers in the public consciousness to this day.

The Ristikankare family had a tumultuous history. They were a Jehovah’s Witness family whose mother drank. A lot. So much, in fact, that during her lowest points she used the family’s savings to pay for booze for her drinking buddies. She was a loud drinker who would go off on her family, screaming at her husband and children. Finally, husband and father Heikki had enough, took his children, and separated them from their unstable mother.

He got custody, and became the sole provider for the kids.

In 1988 Piia was 14 years old, and the oldest of the children. Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, her school photograph shows her with a pretty, toothy smile and a knowing look in her eyes, as though she’s in on something funny you haven’t noticed yet. Nothing in her appearance is particularly exceptional; outwardly, she blends into the mass of late-80s working class teenagers.

ristikankare_piia

Her diary bespeaks a reasonably normal youth, with its crushes and early attempts at flirting with the opposite sex. From her journal:

May 3rd 1988. Today we waved at two guys who passed us by in their car. They stopped, and we got in.

Two days later she writes about another encounter with the same guys:

May 5th 1988. Today after the disco we waved at them again. I got in [the guy’s] car. He was alone at the time. We went to the forest for a while.

Besides the early signs of a burgeoning love life, the writings hint at an inherent trust in people, even males: Piia gets in the car despite probably a lifetime of warnings from grown-ups in her religious community – or perhaps because of them, in teenage defiance of the paranoia of all parents towards prospective male pursuers? She also hints at being at a disco that night, and talks of accompanying her pursuer to the woods, perhaps for a walk and some alone time.

Piia’s life had its shadows, too. Friends and student peers report that Piia was bullied at school, sometimes harshly. The daughter of a Jehovah’s Witness family can’t escape her background in a small town, and will occasionally stick out from the bunch. The exact theology of this religion is generally somewhat mysterious to Finns, and many of them have an image of the religion’s followers as irritating door-knockers and doorbell-ringers who want to sit you down in your kitchen and tell you about The True Way to Salvation.

Regardless of Piia’s joyful personality, the reputation of her religion may have preceded her, and been a factor in the bullying. And regardless of whether she emphasized this aspect of her identity outwardly or not, for Piia, being a Witness was apparently not a matter of passing significance: she took part in religious services and sang religious songs at home, her father accompanying her with a harmonica.

The bullying, however, apparently seized after Piia started studying at the Vocational Institute in Turku. Piia got new friends there, and people who knew her report this transition as something of a fresh start for the young woman.

At home, however, Piia’s role as something of a surrogate mother (or at least female caregiver) for her younger siblings most likely grew after her parents’ divorce. This may have added to the young woman’s worries and stress, and ultimately caused some kind of a psychological strain to break the night of her disappearance when she stormed out of her home and into infamy.


7th October 1988

The night of her disappearance was seemingly not too different from any Friday night in a small Finnish town. The only noticeable difference was that that night there were more youngsters out on the town than usual, possibly due to a disco being held at a local youth center. The weather for the weekend was rainy and gray.

Piia had originally made plans to spend the weekend with a friend in the town of Paimio, another small town roughly 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Piikkiö. But father Heikki, a bricklayer, had a work assignment for Saturday, so he had asked Piia to stay home and look after her younger siblings. The responsible Piia had agreed.

But as it turns out, the person Heikki would be working for had unexpectedly told him it would be possible for him to take the youngest child of the family with him to work, which again made it possible for Piia to go to Paimio. Ultimately, however, Piia decided to stay home.

On the evening of that Friday, 7th October, the Ristikankare family did what essentially every Finnish family does to mark the end of the week: heat up the sauna. This is the quintessential Finnish way to rinse the old work week off the skin and relax after a week on the job. There’s a touch of ”zen” to the practice, at least as much as a nation as practical and formal as Finns dare to engage in.

While father Heikki was in the sauna with a friend, Piia and her three siblings were in the living room watching television. At some point in the evening, Piia and her younger brother got into an argument over the ownership of the remote control, and as a result, Piia stormed out of the door and into the Friday night.

This is time she has been seen for certain.

She left with her regular clothes on, and had about 20 marks of money and a credit card.

When father Heikki got out of the sauna, the younger kids explained what had happened. At this point there wasn’t yet a reason to worry: maybe Piia had simply gone out to walk around the block and cool her head a bit. This wasn’t the first-ever argument between two siblings in the history of the world, after all.

Piia had occasionally spent weekends at relatives’ and friends’ houses, so Heikki was not yet terrified at Piia’s absence; his initial suspicion was that she had headed to some friend’s house once again, and would be present at that Sunday’s religious service.

Sunday came. The service came. Piia didn’t.

Heikki called the police to officially place a missing person report. The report is dated 08.45 the next Monday morning, October 10th. The police began their routine procedures: search parties, information gathering, interrogation of potential suspects.

Nothing. Something was seriously wrong.

Despite endless searches, sleepless nights, and silent sorrow and longing for a lost friend and family member, Piia remains missing. Millions of cars have passed through the highway that passes her hometown since then. None of them have brought her back.

In 2007 the lead detective in the case was interviewed for a Finnish television show entitled Kadonneet (”The Missing”). Of all the various details in the disappearance, one sticks out like a sore thumb.

As mentioned earlier, there were a lot of youngsters out on the town that night, probably gathered around the youth center and the disco. And even though Piikkiö is a small town, it isn’t a town-sized graveyard – there are people on the move on a Friday night, going out, walking their dogs, heading to the store for groceries to cook something special on the eve of the weekend, et cetera. And even if you discount the people outside, that still leaves many a family or couple sitting at their kitchens, looking out into the street as they sip their evening teas or eat their meals.

And yet, not a single verifiable sighting of Piia was made after she left home that night. Not one. It’s as though she walked into a vortex and disappeared into thin air.


The 1980s turned into the 1990s, and the 90s turned into a new millennium. The silence around the Piia Ristikankare case was like a still pond of black water, motionless, denying even the slightest glimpse at its murky bottom.

Until one day in 2002 someone took a big rock and broke the water’s surface, sending new ripples across the dead calm surface.


The Letter

It had been mailed from Sweden, and bore the earmarks of having been written by someone under duress.

The writer didn’t seem to be accustomed to letter-writing; it seemed like a simple communique meant to convey something dramatic the author had held inside for years.

kirje_piia

(the actual letter)

It was first received by the producers of a Finnish television show titled Poliisi-TV (”Police TV”), a show that features news on police investigations into famous crimes, as well as reports on the latest crimes, with requests to viewers to help identify their perpetrators. Think of it as Finland’s “Unsolved Mysteries”.

After opening the letter, the producers of the show had determined that the letter needs to be forwarded to the police, so they sent it to Kaarina police department, Kaarina being the town where the investigation into Piia Ristikankare’s disappearance had initially began. The Kaarina police forwarded it to Keskusrikospoliisi (”Central Bureau of Investigations”; basically Finland’s equivalent to the American FBI), where the Ristikankare investigation had been delegated after local police departments failed
to solve the mystery.

The author of the letter claimed to remember something shattering from the night of the disappearance. According to his letter, he had been on his way to eastern Finland, and had passed Piikkiö on his way. Driving through the highway, he had noticed a young girl fitting Piia’s description entering a car.

And as if that wasn’t eerie enough, there was an additional shocker to the author’s story: he claimed to remember the license plate number of that very car.

The police immediately ran the number through their system, and came up with a name. The person whose name it was lived in the Turku region (close to Piikkiö, in other words), and had a criminal record – for sexual assault.

He was brought to the department and interrogated. He swore he had no connection to Piia’s disappearance, and eventually the police came to believe him. He was released for lack of evidence.

The lead detective believes the letter writer may have tried to take revenge for something by accusing the suspect of this notorious disappearance. Nevertheless, the police believe this letter is still an essential piece of the puzzle, and that the author most likely knows more than he’s telling.


Flash forward

Investigative threads currently employed by the police to solve this disappearance are easy to articulate: none. The police lieautenant currently in charge of the investigation openly admits that in light of the existing evidence (or lack thereof, rather), the case is a total mystery. The only thing that can realistically solve it is a phone call or email from someone who remembers something conclusive from the night of Piia’s vanishing.

The possibility of suicide has been ruled out. Piia’s personal diary reflects an overall sunny disposition and attitude towards life, and hints at an emerging interest in boys – and even courage to engage in some light flirting. It’s also reasonable to assume that, had Piia taken her own life, her remains would most likely have been discovered by now. Local forests were searched thoroughly and local rivers drenched.

An intentional dropping off the map can confidently be ruled out as well. Such a maneuver demands an enormous supply of funds and social contacts across the country (and possibly beyond), neither of which Piia possessed. Finns who disappear intentionally are generally well-to-do individuals who have gotten into some kind of trouble, often financially.

This leaves homicide as the only realistic option. But who, and why?

The most likely scenario for murder in this case goes like this.

After Piia leaves home, she walks to the nearby highway, intending on hitchhiking to Turku and the nightlife of a bigger city, or to Paimio and her original plans for that Friday. The destination, I believe, is not essential – ”away” is the key word.

As she stands by the road with her thumb in the air, someone with a dark intent spots her, a lonely female figure moving under the streetlights in the darkness. He is almost unable to believe his luck; this opportunity is not to be wasted!

He drives his car to the side of the lane and stops. The girl standing outside in the chilly evening air walks to him and bends down to talk through the open car window. She explains that she needs a ride. The man nods his head: ”Get in”.

The car takes off, its wheels crunching on the ground as the driver steers them back into the lane, the car’s rear lights casting a long red glow onto the dark ground.

The glow slowly fades as the car takes off, transporting the unlikely pair into the dark.

piia

(exclusive artwork done for this blog post by artist Ninni Rönkkö)


Epilogue

It’s 2016, and though the case makes the occasional appearance in the papers, there’s nothing to show that the investigation into Piia’s disappearance would have gathered any new wind under its wings in the passing decades. The case is official open, but badly needs a new clue for the police to chew on.

July, 2016. My wife and I walk down a street in Piikkiö Piia may have chosen as her path that night.

My wife notices two raspberries growing in a tiny bush next to the paved road and stops to pick them. There’s a house nearby, and its living room window is open. I can hear the music blaring in the stereo inside.

The song is ”I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2.

Your Paranormal Stories, September 2018.

Time for another set of creepy stories from my readers and Instagram followers.

Huge thanks to everyone who contributed!


Izak:

I was always a rational kind of guy. Never believed things I didn’t see or experienced myself, on my own skin. Even when I was a kid, things like ghosts, aliens and monsters never really got to me. It was just not part of my reality- that is until one day, which I will never forget.

People can call my story BS, a lie… I don’t care. I will just write exactly, as it happened to me.

Date isn’t hard to remember- it was 1st November 2010. I was eight years old at the time. The date really sticks with me, because it’s the day in our country when we remember our lost ones. It’s not really like Day of the death in Mexico, because we don’t celebrate it, we just remember it. On this day, especially for elementary schools and pre-schoolers, it’s nothing unusual going on a field trip to local cemetery, where we go from grave to grave of the families, and remember the ones we know.

So we arrive and we’re walking around, nothing creepy, since it’s daylight, around 10 o’clock maybe. We go from grave to grave, until we stop in front of the grave of a young boy, 15 or 16 years old at the time of his death, called Damjan, (pron. Dam-yan). It struck us all, we were standing in front of this boy’s grave, until the teacher spoke; ,,This boy was just like you. Going to school, field trips… well on one of them, they went to a WW musem, (there are lots of those in our region, because of the impact of the fasciscs), and while they were checking out guns, one of the boys took one and aimed it at him, as a joke… little did he know, the gun was actually loaded. It killed him instantly.”

I’m not the one usually thinking about other people dying but… I know his mother, she is an old lady in our little town. He was her only child, and his death seemed so… bizzare to me, I couldn’t have stopped thinking about it the whole day, even after school. I was the last to leave cemetery… I spoke to him on his grave, I don’t remember what, words of comfort maybe…? And then I left. But I do remember this- I was absolutely certain, he heard me. Something like an invisible force was keeping me at that grave, until teacher called us all to go back. The next part of the day is a black hole. Until the most creepy, horrifying event in my short lifetime.

As everywhere, tradition is to go give flowers for the late ones, so me and my mom went to our local flourist. Another thing I want to mention- she ALWAYS speaks. And so do everyone in that shop. Everyone is constantly chit-chatting. This day wasn’t any different. We walked in, my mom was choosing flowers and talking to the flourist. Then, a man walked in. Big man, in a rain coat, short black hair, but oddly familliar, even though I have NEVER seen him before. Our town is quite small, and people know each other by the names of grandparents, so he nicely asked me, seeing my questioning gaze; ,,Aren’t you a curious one? Which house are you from?” (We reply to that question by naming our grandparents). ,,Ah yeah, I know your dad! You must be a smart kid then!” he said, still smiling, and everyone behind us talking. I suddenly feel something. A call maybe? Something inside me… I didn’t resist, I just said the name; ,,Damjan. Do you know him too, sir?” And suddenly, everything stopped. People weren’t talking anymore, my mom had a terrified look on her face, flourist was quiet for the first time in her life, and he… lost his smile almost instantly. He said, with his voice shaking a bit; ,,W-who?” And I repeated; Damjan. He is the boy who was killed by his friend in a musem many years ago, we learned about him just today… do you know him?” He turned around, slowly, but before that saying, while staring right into my eyes; ,,Where in the world did you find me, boy?” with a deep, dark, now not-so-pleasant voice. He then turned around and left. People were still quiet, trying not to look at me, my mom grabbed me by my hand and took me to the car, and drove home without saying a word. I wasn’t sure, what in the world I did wrong, so I asked; ,,Mommy, did I say something wrong?” She, driving seriously, just said; ,,No, you didn’t. But you should know… that man, you talked to in there… he is the friend from the museum. He killed Damjan.”

To this day, I don’t know why I questioned him. I used to tell people about things I learned in school, and maybe it was all just an insane coincidence. But I don’t think so. I felt a connection with that boy… and I still visit his grave, just so I know he now, when he reminded his killer of his doing, rests in peace.

IG @notdepressedjustreallytired:

One night, very recently, I was in bed. It was dark in the studio I shared with my husband and I have insomnia, so many nights I lay awake with the lights off, simply letting my mind wander and my eyes lose focus as they notice the shapes that form and flicker in the dark.

I did happen to notice a particularly “formed” shape move around and about me and I got sort of scared or thrilled, as I do, sometimes when noticing these things (What is it/are they? Imaginary/real/other dimensional?? Who knows). I closed my eyes to wet them, opened them and then happened to look immediately to my left, when I noticed that the lip of the blanket that was on me had been raised and sort of.. poised, as if someone was lifting it up. It was as if a hand, specifically, had simply grabbed a corner and lifted it up to see what was underneath.

There was, of course, nothing to be seen that could have been lifting it, but as soon as I’d looked and CAUGHT the blanket being raised, it dropped, dead, back to resting position.

I then spent about 5 minutes attempting to prop up the blanket in a million different ways to recreate what I had seen. To see if it was possible that it had simply been standing up, peaked like meringue might do, then dropped when I moved, because I’d disturbed it. It hadn’t been in that shape or position prior to me closing my eyes, though. The blanket was flat on my body.

I couldn’t, for the life of me, seem to make that blanket stand up again the way it did, with the edge of the lip such a few inches that it couldn’t have been what was maintaining the shape. As I attempted to recreate it, I also realized that the tip of the “peak” of the blanket being held up had seemed pinched, as opposed to the fluffy pyramid the blanket would have needed in order to sustain such a position. It hasn’t happened again since.

If I were to explain, very simply, what it looked like (and hopefully without sounding delusional), I would say it looked EXACTLY as if someone had stood at the edge of my bed and lifted a small part of the blanket up to see what was underneath. Minus the hand… And entire body. The way it dropped from having been suspended was the most shocking part. As if the imaginary or invisible hand had noticed it was caught and immediately let go.

Nicole:

When I was younger my parents always told us about when they bought the house I grew up in and the weird occurrences that happened. It was a new construction, but when my dad did a walk-through, he went into the attic and found a baby bonnet. We always had weird things happen growing up. My mom would be putting away clothes, and the hangers would move. The TV would change channels on its own; always change to a children’s show. Closets would open by themselves. My no claimed to smell her grandpa’s pipe smoke before.

And one night, my older sister and I were the only ones home. I was about 16 at the time and we shared a room. Since my parents were out of town, my sister slept in their room, and I slept in ours by myself. I woke up one night with a strange feeling and when I looked over to my sister’s bed I saw a man standing at the end. He was old. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t look at me. I took one look at him and buried myself under my blankets for about 5 minutes before I got the courage to look again. The man was gone. My sister is convinced I was dreaming. My parents are convinced I saw my mom’s grandpa hanging around. Whoever it was, the spirits in the house were harmless and never caused any problems to us while we lived there.

Sarah:

I’ll start off with some background story. I was born in Europe to a European mother who had converted to Islam and a Middle Eastern father. When I was around 5 or 6 we moved back to his home country. According to my mother (she’s been telling me this story since I could remember and she’s quite religious and wouldn’t lie about things like that) that when I was around 3 or 4 years old I told her that I heard a voice whispering and telling me not to listen to Allah. And she’s convinced that it was the Shayten (devil) and I have long stepped out of Islam and moved back to Europe but that story still creeps me out and she said that when I was 6 I told her that I could see clouds in the room and she says those must be angels. I actually vaguely remember the clouds thing, I think. It’s a weird sensation.

Anne:

While growing up I was labeled “the ghost girl”. Why? Ok, this is why.

Somewhere way up north, my parents built a house. Already during construction weird things were happening; tools went missing or they were found at peculiar locations, and none of the builders could explain it. After a while, some of the workers refused to continue, but my parents shrugged it off, thinking they were lazy or just forgetful about their tools.

And then, about three years later, I was born. I’ve always had a vivid imagination, and played well by myself. So when I was about 4, it came as no surprise that I had an imaginary friend. But my parents, mom in particular, found it odd that I’d only play with said friend in the basement. She’d ask me about it, and I’d say that the Angel Girl couldn’t leave the basement. There were always things happening, you’d hear doors being opened and closed, you could hear snoring(!) and you’d even se shapes once in a while. My mom couldn’t deal with it after a while; this being a small, rural town word got around, so she contacted the local priest to come bless the house. He just laughed and said that she shouldn’t care about what the others said about us or our house. But then, some weeks later he called back saying “they won’t leave me alone” and that he’d soon come to bless our house. He wouldn’t clarify who “they” were, but we had our suspicions.

Some days later, I came up from the basement, upset and crying. My mom asked me why I was so sad, and I replied: she can’t play with me anymore! The priest said she had to go home.

I didn’t know the priest had been there that day, and suddenly my mom realized that maybe she wasn’t imaginary after all.

 

Murder on the Upper Deck. An Unsolved Crime.

In 1994, cruise liner M/S Estonia sank, taking hundreds of lives with it to the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

What most people don’t know is that some years before it’s sinking, the same ship (then known as the Viking Sally) was the scene of an unsolved murder.

This article is taken from the book Poliisi kertoo (“Police Stories”). Translated into English by my friend and talented translator Salla Juntunen.

This is the first time this story has been told in English.


A homicide and an attempted homicide on a ship

German students Klaus Herman Schelkle (born January 28, 1967) and Bettina Taxis (born May 10, 1965) met in early winter, 1987. They enjoyed each other’s company and soon began dating and planning their future together.

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(Klaus Schelkle and Bettina Taxis)

The future, however, turned out to be entirely different from what they had pictured. Happiness turned to death and horror and horror into painful memories that no one involved will likely ever forget.

The story has remained unclear so far. The police appeals to the public for help.

The groundwork for the shared life of these two hardworking and in every way exemplary youths seemed to be in order. During the spring and summer they saved money and planned a trip to the Nordic countries. A mutual friend and Klaus’s acquaintance of many years, Thomas Schmid, would also be brought along.

The plan was fulfilled and on July 23, 1987 the trio took off from Stuttgart towards the Nordics with the purpose of travelling all the way to Nord Kap. They travelled via Denmark to Sweden, where they stayed in Stockholm for a few days. According to their original travel plan they were supposed to travel through northern Sweden, but instead they decided to experience a cruise across the Gulf of Bothnia together and travel to their original destination through Finland.

Postcards and phone messages home told that the journey was going well and according to expectations. At 10 pm on  July 27, 1987, the youths boarded Viking Sally cruise ship in the port of Stockholm in order to travel to Turku, where the ship would arrive the next morning at 8 am.

Other passengers

English engineer Patrick Haley (name made up) had experienced more by the age of 26 than most of his peers. His studies had not gone too well, he had gotten personally acquainted with drugs and had broken up with his fianceé. When the young mind flared up, Patrick left London in early spring of 1987, or as he said: “I turned around and found myself working on a kibbutz in Israel.” A Finnish student from Lapland, Maija, had also ended up there. They got acquainted and decided to go see Maija’s beautiful home country. The journey to Finland took a few months. The penniless youths worked in different countries, mostly in orchards and agriculture to earn the money to travel onward.

In the evening of July 25, 1987, Maija and Patrick boarded a ship from Stockholm to Helsinki. In Helsinki, on the morning of July 26 they were surprised: Maija was naturally welcome to her home country, but the shabby, junkie-looking and penniless Patrick was sent back to Stockholm.

However, the attachment between the two was strong and thus on the very same day Maija sent Patrick 4000 marks by express to a Stockholm bank. Patrick did not now want to travel via rude Helsinki, and after mucking about in Stockholm for a day he ended up boarding Viking Sally in the evening in order to travel to Turku and from there to Helsinki, where Maija would meet him.

Tauno, a businessman delivering car parts from Germany to Finland, and his partner Sakari drove their van to the port of Stockholm via Denmark and also travelled to Turku on Viking Sally.

Sami, Pentti and Ville, young men from Kangasala, had spent the day in Stockholm and lost all their money on booze and amusements. With tickets acquired from the Stockholm social welfare office in their pockets, they, too, began their voyage to Turku. Kalle and Ossi from Kotka boarded the ship under nearly identical circumstances.

A few hundred scouts had eagerly awaited all summer for their trip to Finland where they would attend a scout camp organised in Sauvo, approximately 50 kilometers from Turku. Among them were families, retirees, war veterans and different travelling groups. The passengers represented at least nine different nationalities.

A crew of approximately 200 members was ready to serve the passengers.

Meetings on the ship

At 10 pm Finnish time, the eight-storey ship, built in Papenburg in 1980, with a capacity for 2000 passengers and over 400 cars, departed from the port of Stockholm. The announcements were informing passengers about practicalities and the shipping company wished everyone a pleasant journey.

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(the Viking Sally)

Queues formed in the ship’s restaurants and shops. Passengers who had booked cabins took their belongings to them, others tentatively looked for places to sleep in salons and other interiors of the ship. The bars also slowly began filling up.

Everything seemed perfectly normal and ordinary.

Klaus Schelkle, Bettina Taxis and Thomas Schmid also began their journey in a very ordinary manner. They also made their few purchases in the shop, familiarised themselves with the ship and searched for a suitable place to sleep. Klaus and Bettina decided to watch the sun rise during their sea voyage. They decided, therefore, to sleep up on the helicopter platform. Thomas Schmid, perhaps out of discretion, did not stay there and chose instead to sleep indoors, one floor down.

The weather was warm and therefore quite a few passengers gathered around the helicopter platform late in the evening. From there they could enjoy watching the beautiful Stockholm archipelago disappear into the horizon in the setting sun.

The youths from Kangasala, who had on their recent journeys managed to acquire a few bottles of beer, also enjoyed the beginning of their journey on the helicopter platform. They have afterwards recalled two young foreigners with their sleeping bags staying on the same deck behind the plexiglass windshield.

Before going to bed, Klaus and Bettina walked around on the ship. There they met, among others, Tauno, who was very proficient in German. In conversation with Klaus, they discovered their mutual interest in cars; Klaus was studying automotive technology after all. They even planned to drop by the car deck to look at Tauno’s cargo of car parts. The doors to the car deck were locked, so they agreed to go look at the parts in the morning.

At the end of their time together they decided to exchange addresses, since a new pleasant acquaintance had been found on both sides. Afterwards, when talking about Tauno, Bettina has used the phrase “the fun Finn”.

At around 1 am, Klaus and Bettina returned to their sleeping place on the helicopter platform. The darkness of the night and the chilly wind had driven the rest of the people away from the upper deck.

Sami, Pentti and Ville from Kangasala met Kalle and Ossi from Kotka at a restaurant. They were soon joined by Patrick. Patrick had the money sent by Maija and, having found the others nearly penniless, benevolently bought beer and food to others as well. The party behaved in such a “showy” manner that quite a few of those staying up late noticed them. Little by little they all “passed out” or otherwise fell asleep in different parts of the ship. In the morning, Patrick was found on the floor of the salon on the sixth floor.

The crime

As the evening passed into the small hours, the situation on the ship was peaceful. The last bars closed between 3 am and 4 am. Most of the passengers were asleep in their cabins and those who had enjoyed themselves in the restaurants to the last also found their way to their sleeping places. The ship had advanced past Mariehamn, but was still in the Åland archipelago.

The tired crew prepared for a moment’s rest before their morning’s duties. The security officer Raimo Vahlsten also prepared to hand over his duties to the next person on shift.

The wild feeling of freedom and the new, strange surroundings kept some of the scouts in lively spirits and they roamed the ship to the point of causing disturbance. After wandering around aimlessly, three Danish youths ended up on the helicopter platform at 3:45 am.

At first glance there appeared to be no other people on the deck, but then one of the scouts noticed two figures by the air vents. The boys concluded that they were drunk or drugged as they, upon repeated attempts to get up by leaning on the wall, kept feebly falling back down on the deck. After observing the situation for a while, one of the boys went closer to see if he could help. He then saw that it was a young man and a woman. Both their faces were covered in blood. Two boys stayed with the victims as one ran to the help desk to tell someone what they had found.

Thus began one of the biggest investigative operations of the Finnish police.

Immediate measures

The help desk attendant immediately alerted security officer Raimo Vahlsten. He found the victims Klaus Schelkle and Bettina Taxis to be severely injured. Vahlsten suspected a crime because the victims’ heads clearly showed severe trauma from being hit with an object. The victims’ speech could not be made out. With the help of other crew members Vahlsten helped Klaus and Bettina to the cabin of the ship’s nurse.

The nurse immediately saw the severity of the situation and began giving first aid while ordering a rescue helicopter to be called to the ship immediately to transport the victims to Turku University Hospital. Klaus and Bettina arrived to the hospital by helicopter already at 5:48 am.

The doctor found Klaus dead from blows to the head that had pierced the skull. Bettina’s condition was extremely critical due to similar injuries.

The Turku Police Department received a notification from the ship about what had happened at 4:28 am. The police considered the situation to be very serious, and the same helicopter that had transported the injured to the hospital was used to take four detectives of the Turku Police Department to the ship.

The detectives arrived on the ship at 6:30 am.

The scene of the crime turned out to be the upper deck. The victims had been found there next to their sleeping bags in a corner partially covered by a plexiglass wall. The scene had been dark during the night due to the device, which was supposed to light it, having broken earlier.

The detectives immediately secured the crime scene and began passenger interrogations. The forensic investigation was also initiated. Vahlsten, being an experienced security officer, had earlier partially secured the crime scene and he had valuable information he had gathered while they were waiting to relay to the police.

The detectives on the ship were in contact with the police department, where they immediately began summoning additional police forces for when the ship would arrive in Turku.

The ship’s regular arrival time was at 8 am. Now it was only allowed to dock at 8:10 am, when preparations had been made and the police could secure the ship.

Such an arrangement was necessary because the initial investigation on the ship had afforded no clarity on the identity of the perpetrator. The situation was very difficult.

The ship and the passengers under surveillance

The ship’s passengers were informed of the delay in disembarking and its cause. All the passengers were guided off the ship through one exit, all other exits had been closed. Two police boats were patrolling outside the ship to make sure nothing was thrown overboard.

Due to the special circumstances, three video cameras had been acquired, one of which was used to film all passengers, the other used to film young men specifically, and the third to film any even slightly suspicious persons, who were then also interrogated. Initially there was also an attempt to document every passenger’s personal details, but that had to be given up due to the scene having gotten almost unbearably congested. However, only the elderly, children and families with small children, as well as others considered safe to be excluded by common conception were left undocumented.

The passengers who could not immediately prove their identity were guided to separate rooms and their identities were verified after the other passengers had left the ship.

Approximately twenty passengers were brought to the police station for additional investigation for different reasons. Among them was Patrick Haley. He had been found, bloody, in his sleeping place in the morning. In the interrogation Haley explained that his nose had begun to bleed during the night. The blood on his clothes was his own and nothing came up at that juncture that casted doubt on the truth of his claims.

The youths from Kangasala and Kotka also ended up on the police station.

The reader must now be wondering about Thomas Schmid’s involvement in the matter. He, too, was interrogated, but nothing indicated that he had anything to do with what happened and he was allowed to leave after interrogation. Thus, nothing conclusive or pivotal to solving the case came up in the initial investigation.

The pressure on the police was immense from the start, since

  • the congestion and waiting were too much for some to bear
  • connections were missed
  • the ship’s departure was delayed
  • the media immediately demanded detailed information
  • the local superiors of the police as well as the ministries had to be informed of the event as soon as possible.

Generally, however, both the departing and the arriving passengers were understanding of the difficult situation.

The investigation has lasted over four years already

The crime took place within the region of Åland, and therefore its investigation would normally have been conducted by the local police. Due to the lack of resources this was not possible in Åland. The provincial government of Turku and Pori assigned the Turku Police Department to conduct the investigation. The undersigned was appointed to lead the investigation. That was the beginning of a difficult task that has yet to be completed.

Because the crime could not immediately be solved in the initial investigation, solving it afterwards has been challenging due to the special characteristics of the case. The work has continued interminably for over four years. The fact that approximately a thousand people have been interrogated or at least interviewed on account of the case might give the reader an impression of the scope of the task. Forensic investigators have sent over 250 different samples for examination to the National Bureau of Investigation. Different investigative tasks have been carried out in nine different countries.

Computers have also been utilized in the investigation. Without them we would have long since lost track of the very vast material. Over 2000 documents have been saved on the computer.

A vast amount of material of the crime has, then, been gathered. Addressing it in detail is not possible at this juncture, nor would it be tactically right for the solving of the case.

What, then, was the motive of that brutal crime? That mystery, which has puzzled the investigators from the start, has yet to be solved. It cannot be financial or sexual. The crime may have been brought on by a minor thing, or committed by a mentally ill person.

At least the following matters have complicated the investigation:

  • the initial investigation had to be conducted too quickly due to the circumstances
  • even a slightly more thorough search of the ship would have taken at least a week
  • there were approximately 1400 people on the ship
  • this whole mass of people dispersed in the port and scattered all over world. Reaching them to perform even extremely significant inspections has been difficult
  • the crime scene was too remote for eyewitness accounts
  • the delays caused by a foreign country’s legal formalities have often prevented conducting effective investigative work abroad

The crime caused upset

The crime, which drew a lot of attention, has also clearly upset many already sick minds. Three people, for instance, have confessed to this crime.

In further investigation it has, however, turned out that none of them could possibly have committed the crimes described earlier.

The public has participated commendably in the police’s efforts to solve the crimes. There have also been a few concerned phone calls from the public upon their noticing they had been filmed. They have mainly been requests by the caller that the videos not be made public, as their companion on that voyage had, for some reason, not been their spouse!

Current situation

No conclusive knowledge of the perpetrator has been gained to this day.

Some foreign parties under investigation have yet to be reached.

A lot of investigations are also still being conducted concerning the doings of Finnish passengers and the ship’s crew during the journey.

When the culprit is found, the police has binding comparative evidence to use against them.

A certain possibility, which has come up repeatedly, is that the perpetrator concurrently also made their own personal choice regarding their life and jumped overboard.

Bettina Taxis has recovered quite well. Information received from her cannot yet be made public.

The police strongly believes that they will still solve this brutal, senseless and motiveless crime, the investigation of which has by no means been discontinued.

What has been put forth here is merely a cursory glance to this crime, its backgrounds, and investigation. Hopefully in one of the following volumes its solution can be reported in detail.

The clothing find

The police are currently interested in some clothes found by two fishermen on the northern shore of the Lilla Björnholm Island by a seaway in August, 1987. The following items were found in a black trash bag:

  • Finnish made Umberto Loofer shoes with a so called hidden heel, shoe size 41
  • light shorts by an unknown manufacturer equipped with a Prym zip and two front pockets (see photo)
  • a Finnish made red woollen-acrylic jumper, material mostly acrylic (see photo). In the same batch of clothes were also a pair of commonly sold work gloves with the initials “H. K.”

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(the found clothes)

Based on the location, time and certain aspects of the forensic investigation it is considered possible that the person wearing the clothes in question had been on the ship at the time of the crime.

If You, esteemed reader, have any, even seemingly insignificant, information regarding this crime, let the investigators know via the nearest police or relay the information directly to the Turku Police Department, address: Eerikinkatu 40-42, 20100 Turku.

If you know anything about these clothes or anything else having to do with the crime, let us know. In addition to a good mood, for a clue leading to the solving of the case you will be given a significant money prize.

Interview with Marit Higraff, co-host of Death in Ice Valley (podcast)

This year’s best mystery/true crime podcast is, without question, Death in Ice Valley. The show is an investigation into the Isdal woman mystery (if you don’t know what it is, read on below). The show is a breath of fresh air in a “podosphere” filled with true crime shows featuring two people chatting and giggling among themselves: Death in Ice Valley features interviews, excursions into the field, and discussions with cops, locals, and other people who were actually involved in the events when they happened.

Death in Ice Valley is a collaboration between the Norwegian broadcasting company NRK and BBC World Service. It is hosted by Marit Higraff and Neil McCarthy.

Here is my interview with Marit Higraff, Norwegian investigative journalist and co-host of the podcast.

Thank you, Marit, for taking the time to talk to Books, Bullets and Bad Omens!


deathinicevalley

Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

I am an investigative journalist and reporter working for NRK, Norways public broadcaster. I have been working as a tv-reporter in different departments and for different programs in NRK for many years – investigative journalism is my special field. So originally, tv-journalist, lately also online and audio 😉

I am from the northern part of Norway – the land of the midnight sun – but have lived in Oslo since I started studying. Also lived 8 years in Salzburg, Austria.

I have a 15 year-old-daughter, Hannah.

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(Marit Higraff. Photo: Sigrid Winther)

In your own words, what is the “Isdal Woman”? What does that term refer to?

In November 1970 a woman was found dead and severely burned in a desolate valley outside of Bergen, a city on the west coast of Norway.

Objects were laid out around the body, and couple of days later, the police found her two suitcases at Bergen railway station – containing lots of curious clues, like sophisticated clothes, a wig, and glasses without prescription. The most significant thing common for the suitcases and the things found at the scene: there was nothing to identify who the woman was. The labels had been cut off her clothes, and scratched off the items.

The case immediately hit the headlines in Norway. It was a mystery: who was she – and what happened to her? The newspapers called her the Isdal Woman, because of the name of the remote valley where the body was found, called “Isdalen” in Norwegian, or “Ice Valley” in English.

The police investigated intensively for some weeks, and found that the woman had been traveling a lot, and with different fake identities. But then suddenly shut down the investigation – concluding with most likely suicide. A conclusion most doubted – then, and now. Without finding her identity..

Speculation went high that she could have been a spy, as this happened in the middle of the Cold War.

And the speculations have been going on, for almost 50 years. Still today, nobody knows who this woman was, what she was doing in Norway, and how and why she died in that remote valley.

Isdal-Corpse

(police photo of the body of the Isdal woman as it was found that day. Photo: Bergen Police Archives)

When did you first hear of this case? Were you hooked immediately?

I was an early newspaper and magazine reader as a child, and I remember reading about the case. It has been in the media every know and then.

When I was asked to have a look at it a couple of years ago, it immediately triggered my curiosity and investigative tentacles. Then, when reading thousands of files, I saw the potential of the case – riddle upon riddle – and the possibility of starting a whole new investigation, based on modern methods and technology.

Would you say the Isdal woman is the number 1 most well-known unsolved mystery in Norway? Are there other mystery cases that “compete” with the Isdal woman for that title?

Well, there are some other cases – but since we started publishing our investigation 1,5 year ago this case has got very well known in Norway. Also to the younger generations. And I guess it’s the one case with the most spectacular riddles and facts.

Is there a kind of unofficial prevailing consensus in Norway regarding the woman’s identity? In other words, what is the most popular theory as to who she was and why she ended up the way she did?

There have been a lot of theories and speculations about who she was and what she was doing in Norway. During almost 50 years one of the most discussed theories has been that she was some kind of an intelligence agent or spy, because of the use of several fake identities, the content in her suitcases, and her movements.

The reason we’re discussing this case is because you are the co-host of a podcast I consider the best of 2018, Death in Ice Valley, which deals with the Isdal woman. Can you tell us about the podcast? How did it come about, how are you approaching the case, etc.

Thanks a lot for your opinion on “Death in Ice Valley”! I really appreciate that.

Me and my colleagues in the NRK-team started working on this case two years ago, and have been publishing our steps in the investigation as an online-project since autumn 2016. We were surprised to get attention abroad, as we published only in Norwegian. But, we discovered that people were following us internationally, using Google translate.

Some journalists from international media also took contact, and made stories about our investigation and the project. And then, one year ago, we were contacted by the podcast editor of the BBC World Service, Jon Manel. He saw the potential of the case, and wanted to make the investigation into a podcast-series for a world audience, in collaboration with us. In autumn 2017 me and my colleague Neil McCarthy from the BBC started the work with the podcast. Simultaneously we continued our ongoing investigation into the case.

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(Marit and co-host Neil McCarthy interview a police officer at the exact spot where the Isdal woman was found. Photo: Anette Berentsen / NRK)

One reason I love Death in Ice Valley (besides the intriguing case it deals with) is because, rather than just sitting in a studio and chit-chatting about an old case amongst yourselves, you actually talk to people who were involved in the Isdal woman incident: cops, witnesses, et cetera. How did you go about finding these people? Was it hard to convince them to discuss the case with you?

I am glad you say that. Because, to us it was important that we wanted to take the listeners with us out in the field. To experience places, to meet people. We wanted to be as little studio based as possible – the opposite of most podcasts. We wanted to give the audience a great listening experience, in addition to the great story, and the ongoing investigation.

To find still living witnesses, police and so, has been a challenge in this project. It all happened in 1970, so most of the witnesses are dead – senior officers in the police and so. While reading thousands of police files and documents, we thoroughly registered interesting names of different witnesses. And then had to search in the registers, if they live or are dead. Some got married, changed names, were difficult to find.

Some were really hard to find.

We ended up with a list of rather few possible interviewees still alive. I interviewed many of them for the “Norwegian” part of the project, but we expanded for the podcast, and I contacted more of them. These are mostly quite old people, and it was hard to convince them to try to speak English for a world audience. But most of them participated.

Without spoiling anything for listeners, tell us, we’re you able to dig up anything surprising in your investigation for the podcast?

Yes, definitely! We continued our ongoing investigation along the production – and it was a challenge(and long days!) to research and produce at the same time. But we found some interesting new leads along the way.

And, first of all: we knew that we need attention “out there”. This woman was not Norwegian, we know that. So, our hope was and still is, that someone out there might know something. The goal was to reach out to that person or those persons who might recognize something about the story: about an aunt, a neighbor, a woman who disappeared in 1970…

And we have gotten some very interesting leads to follow up on, from listeners.

What are you currently working on? A new podcast series, perhaps..?

Currently I am spending the summer in the Caribbean, resting and learning Spanish😊 It is a good and necessary break, after an extremely intensive year at work.

Then, after summer, there are some very interesting leads to follow up on, as said. The team will go on investigating this case, and if we get any further – which I still strongly believe – we might come back with another podcast series, Death in Ice Valley season 2..😉

Where can people keep up with your work?

Everything published in our project about the Isdal Woman – articles, videos, timeline – can be found at nrk.no/isdal

It’s in Norwegian though.

Some main articles are translated; they can be found here nrk.no/isdal.en

The podcast “Death in Ice Valley” can be found on iTunes and everywhere else you find podcasts.

My investigative work from earlier on can be found by googling me.

Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask about?

Yes.

To me, as an idealistic investigative journalist, always driven by the motivation that I want to make life better for people, want to reveal the errors and gaps in the society, and so on.. I had to ask myself many times in this project: “Why? Why am I spending years of my life – and far too many working hours – on this case? It’s a woman found dead. A concluded suicide.”

And every time I come to the same answer: because it’s a life. A human being. A family that didn’t get to know about their loved one.

I want to give her back what she lost: a name. A dignity. And perhaps justice – if someone did that to her.

And, if possible – I want to bring her home, where she belongs.

FInally, my standard questions.

Your top 3 books?

When I have time, I prefer to read crime – I’ll answer with some favorite authors:
Swedish Jan Guillou, and the Norwegian Jo Nesbø. I also love reading John Irving.

And also historical books that give me new knowledge and reveal new truths, like the unknown story of Norwegians fighting “on the wrong side” during WW2, by Eirik Veum.

Your top 3 films?

Films, the same – crime, and also romantic films;

– The Bridges of Madison County
– Titanic
– Braveheart

And some more faves, all of them old…😄

What model phone do you use?

iPhone 7