The t-shirts fans of this blog and my Instagram (instagram.com/mysteries_crimes_curiosities) have been asking for for some time.
Order yours here! Available in various colors and sizes. Worldwide shipping.
The t-shirts fans of this blog and my Instagram (instagram.com/mysteries_crimes_curiosities) have been asking for for some time.
Order yours here! Available in various colors and sizes. Worldwide shipping.
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.
(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.
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.
(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.
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.
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
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 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!
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:
(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.
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!
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.
(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.
(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.
(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?
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
And some more faves, all of them old…😄
What model phone do you use?