Goose Fair in Doubt?

It seems that Goose Fair, Nottingham’s travelling fair with 800 years of history may not take place this year. The Showmen’s Guild have reacted badly to the possibility that the fair will fenced off and and visitors required to prove their Covid19 status. They may even be required to pay a fee to enter the fairground.

The fair was cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic, but with restrictions on events being lifted, everyone hoped that this important cultural event would return this year.

My novel The Showman would not have been written had it not been for my own memories of Goose Fair.

The Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain is the principal trade association for travelling showmen. The people it represents gain their livelihoods by presenting amusements at funfairs. They come from wide variety of historical backgrounds. There are some whose roots go back to the time of the strolling players and entertainers, but most are the descendants of those who were attracted into the fairground business during the period of great expansion that followed the introduction of steam-powered rides in the nineteenth century.

Here’s a short section from The Showman, where Michael is meeting someone from The Showmen’s Guild, hoping for answers about why he was taken away from his family as a child.

“But all is not lost Michael. There are a few options that I can suggest. But first, I want to show you some photographs which I think you will be interested in. At least they will confirm that the Mattoni family were travelling showmen back in the day.”

James looked around and saw that a larger and more private table had become available nearby.

                “Let’s move to that table where we can talk better.”

No sooner had they moved then a man and a woman took their place at the small table and sat down. The man saw that a packet of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes had been left and took them over to Michael, who thanked him. The man joked that they weren’t his brand anyway.

Michael liked his friendly nature and insisted that he tried one. The man accepted. Michael provided him with a light using his Zippo lighter.

When the man had returned, James Proctor then produced two photographs from the envelope. Both were black and white copies of originals. The quality was not great but the images were sufficient to appreciate them.

Michael was left to look and absorb their content.

The first showed three men stood in front of some kind of fairground machinery and a painted wooden structure. On the ornately carved wooden fascia were the words ‘Mattoni’s Cake Walk’. The men in the photograph, whilst looking at the camera, had little expression on their faces. Whenever the photograph was dated, it was from a time when photographs were rare and normally taken in a formal setting. The subjects looked inconvenienced and uneasy. The three men all had a similar swarthy complexion and features. One was clearly older and wearing a brimmed hat and the two younger ones were about the same age, and wearing floppy caps.

Michael wanted to ask questions but James suggested he takes his time and look at the second one. This was a photograph of a larger group of people, possibly an extended family. They were gathered in a field and there were wooden caravans behind them.

Michael scanned his eyes over the photograph and saw what looked like the same three men, this time with women of similar ages. There were children too, three in total, a girl of about seven and a girl of about six. This girl was holding a baby in her arms.

                “Is this my family? Is my stepmother on here?”

The Legacy of The Black Panther

As co-presenter of true-crime podcast The Six O’Clock Knock, Jacques has recently looked at the The Black Panther case from the 1970s. The Black Panther was a name given to an unidentified armed robber who had targeted sub post-offices in Britain. He had already killed on two occasions.

In 1975, the Black Panther changed his Modus Operandi. He kidnapped a teenage girl named Lesley Whittle and attempted to extort £50,000 from her family. Lesley was taken from her home and kept hostage in an underground drainage chamber in Bathpool Park, near to Kidsgrove in Staffordshire.

She spent three days underground before the ransom plan went awry. The Black Panther had planned it meticulously, but the vital instructions for the ransom drop were badly communicated. Lesley Whittle died at his hands and the police did not have a suspect. It was several months until his chance arrest in Rainworth Nottinghamshire.

Only then did the police have a name for him.

Donald Neilson.

Jacques reflects on the widespread criticism of the police handling of Lesley’s kidnap and the subsequent investigation into her murder.

Now, as a former detective, I can say it was not a proud moment for the police service. Not only was there a lack of coordination to catch the Panther before he turned to kidnapping. It was the tragedy of Lesley Whittle’s death that exposed the police blunders in the worst way possible.

The question has always remained. Could she have been found alive?

Chief Superintendent Booth had been reluctant to hand over the reins to John Morrison of Scotland Yard. He was forced to eventually, for some reason though, all the Panther’s earlier crimes were not brought under one central command. Was this another case of egos getting in the way of proper management decisions? I don’t know, but whatever rivalries there were, there was one simple objective in the days of Lesley Whittle’s disappearance. That was quite simply to Find Lesley Whittle Alive.

Now in my career, I was fortunate to benefit from the lessons learnt from the mistakes of, what now seems like the ‘wild-west policing’ in the Britain up to the 1980s.

I have experience of kidnaps and hostage situations. They are stand-alone investigations, referred to as a Crime in Action. They all have the same objective. The safe resolution and rescue of the hostage. The criminal investigation, nailing the offender, comes second. It is a real time investigation, using every intelligence opportunity possible

A Crime in Action requires specially trained staff, and their work is done when the hostage is found. Regional police forces are now able to deal with these cases. The key to them is to set them up in a covert way, even within the police organisation.

We are now much much better at it, and I have to say for Simon’s credit, so are the journalists. The police put far more resources into Media and Communications now. The days of those conversations in pubs between the police, journalists and lawyers / are long gone.

You have to have some sympathy for Mr Booth. News of the kidnap had been leaked to a freelance journalist and this put Booth ‘on the back foot’ at a critical time. There were even rival press conferences about a linked crime in the West Midlands, and in Staffordshire about Lesley Whittle. It was disorganised to say the least. Nowadays kidnap cases come with a news blackout.

There was also the blame game over why Bathpool Park wasn’t searched, after the failed ransom drop. Mr Booth had ‘assumed’ that the Met Police had searched it. A critical error, particularly when all communication from The Panther stopped at that point. A search could have been made in a reasonably covert way, even in those days. A search of the drainage shaft could have been done without drawing too much attention.

I don’t want to sound critical though. You have to look at the fact that Neilson was a rare type of villain. Extremely dangerous and calculating. Let’s face it, if he aborted the whole operation at Bathpool Park with Lesley being alive, he could have made one phone call to alert the police to where she was. He didn’t, either because he knew she was dead, or didn’t care what happened to her.

My career was made easier by the organisational changes that came from others mistakes. I get the fact that there used to be strong rivalry between departments, not only police forces. It still doesn’t justify the squabble between West Mercia and Staffordshire who took the overall lead in investigating Lesley Whittle’s murder.

There’s an article published in the Police Review magazine from 1984. It reports on the final public humiliation for the police, at Neilson’s trial.

Neilson’s defence to murder was that Lesley must have fallen to her death. The prosecution used the accounts of Staffordshire and Metropolitan police officers, to explain how she was found (weeks after the kidnap) and the interpretation of the scene. Chief Supt Booth who had been the Senior Officer, was expecting to be called to give his evidence. Having waited outside the court for days, in the end he was not called. This is not unusual for a witness not to be called to give their evidence. The prosecuting barristers try to not over complicate how the evidence is put to a jury. They have to find a balance between calling live witnesses, and other evidence from exhibits and documents.

The defence team did call Chief Superintendent Booth though, and it turned out not to be his finest hour. Instead of sticking to his evidence and the facts, he openly criticised other officers. The Judge would later tell the jury that Booth’s opinions were completely irrelevant.’

Do you know, the thing that I find most chilling is that Neilson was behaving like a terrorist. He dressed like a paramilitary, and he behaved with military discipline. And yet the police service as a whole, were unable to stop him. If he’d been a member of the IRA, acting alone, just imagine what havoc he could have caused?

Donald Neilson died in prison in 2011.

Episode 14 of The Six O’Clock Knock titled Donald Neilson ‘The Black Panther’ is published on Spreaker but can be found on all the main podcast platforms.

The cover to the inspection chamber at Bathpool Park, where Lesley Whittle was taken after her kidnap in 1975. Even today, flowers are left in memory of the teenager from Shropshire

Goose Fair 2020 – Cancelled

Nottingham’s Goose Fair in Abstract
Photograph by Lamar Francois

On 21st August 2020, Nottingham City Council and the Showmen’s Guild announced the cancellation of the 729th Goose Fair. This decision was inevitable I suppose

The incredible photograph above is by Nottingham photographer, Lamar Francois. It shows the fun and the joy of the Goose Fair, an abstract take of the Big Wheel and Tower Slide attractions.

Lamar is offering for sale a limited number of the image, and each on sold will include a donation of £1 from each print sold will be donated to Autism East Midlands. See Lamar’s website for details

Porchester Press is making a similar pledge. For every sale of the paperback version of The Showman, a donation of £2 will be made to Autism East Midlands. This offer will run until 31st December 2020.

Nottingham City Council gave this statement about the decision

Despite current Government regulations allowing fairground rides and attractions to open, the challenge for the council’s Events team and the Showmen’s Guild has been how to manage the 420,000 visitors who attend the five-day event, while maintaining social distancing and ensuring that other Covid-safe measures are in place. Several options were considered, including creating a number of timed sessions to limit capacity to 25,000 people, or extending the length of the fair to ten days. However, neither of these options came close to providing capacity for the more than 400,000 visitors who would normally attend. The other consideration was one of atmosphere. With reduced numbers, social distancing measures in place and lowered music levels, it was felt that if the event had been staged, much of the traditional atmosphere would have been lost.

Here’s a section from ‘The Showman’ where Michael attends the Goose Fair in 1978

Now within sight of the fairground, Michael could appreciate the location better in daylight. The fair actually covered about a third of a large public park, flanked by a wooded hillside. The sun was out and although low in the sky behind him, it was warm enough to create a mist-like vapour to rise from the dew on the grassed areas away from the trees. He could see activity in and around the fair but he was one of only a few pedestrians.
 
At the first opportunity he asked a stall holder where he could find Bob Collins’ Waltzer. He was given vague directions which did not really help, but he soon found it. As he approached, some men were removing a tarpaulin cover from the side of the ride.

   “Is Mr Collins around?”
   “Which one?”
   “Bob Collins.”
   “You after lost property?”
   “No, I’ve been told that he may be able to help me about the history of   the fair.”
   “He’s over at the Big Wheel. He’ll have a black woolly hat on.”

Michael made his way to the Big Wheel that was right in the centre of the fair. A man in a black woolly hat was talking to some other men near to the control booth. He was about sixty years old and wearing a black workman’s jacket that had an orange patch across the shoulders on the back. Music was playing and the lights were flashing but the wheel itself was still.

   “Mr Collins?” said Michael
   “Who wants him?”
   “I’m told you may be able to help me find out about my family who worked on the fairs.”
   “Americans?”
   “No, English but with an Italian name. Mattoni?”

Mr Collins had a wise and weathered face that suggested he was astute. Despite this, his looked to the ground and paused. The name had clearly meant something to him.
                
    “Who are you to them?”
    “I’m Michael, born to the family in 1948 but taken to America as a baby after my mother died.”

Mr Collins looked thoughtful and nodded his head very slightly after he listened to what Michael was saying. He reached inside the control booth and turned the music off then whistled to attract the attention one of the men nearby. The man came over.
    “Start her up Joe! I’m going to take a ride with this gentleman. Check each car in turn for safety.”

Mr Collins then turned to Michael.
                
     “We open in about half an hour. Jump in and I’ll see what you know. I don’t know much to be honest.”

They got into a car on the Big Wheel, an open bench that behaved like a rocking chair. A metal bar was closed and locked into place across their thighs. The wheel started its rotation, moving forward then up and round, stopping as each of the sixteen cars reached the gangway. Michael felt like he was on the second hand of a giant clock, time ticking away with each stop. He felt as though he had sixty hypothetical ‘seconds’ to get whatever information Bob Collins had for him. Once the wheel had turned its full circle, his time would be up. Michael told him all that he knew. He blurted it out in almost one breath. Whilst Michael knew very little, it was his account of Rosie going to the United States, raising a family before dying of cancer that seemed to resonate with Bob Collins. When he replied he also seemed to take a deep breath.
     “Well we did not know the Mattoni’s well. I can remember the Mattoni boys and their father. The boys were similar age to me. As you have rightly said, they only produced girls. They had no sons to continue their name or the business. After the death of your mother, they must have had enough. They did not disappear, they sold up and went to Italy. Not really heard any more about them.
     “How did my mother die?”
     “Well you’ll have to ask the coroner about that. As we understood it she fell onto a railing.” 
     “On this fair ground? At the Goose Fair?”

The one word answer of Bob Collins was the most important and informative word that he had ever heard to date. It made his heart miss a beat.
                
      “Yes.”

To order your copy of The Showman, go to https://www.porchesterpress.co.uk/product/the-showman-paperback-only-copy/

Jacques Morrell – True Crime Podcaster

Jacques Morrell has teamed up with a former journalist Simon Ford to create a new true-crime podcast that takes a fresh look at murder.

The first episode was released earlier this year having been recorded on location in Warwicksire (before the COVID lockdown).

On Location in Lower Quinton

Here’s an introduction:

On Valentine’s Day in 1945 a brutal murder took place which remains unsolved, seventy five years on. This murder was not some gangland killing where people are afraid to speak out. It was not a domestic crime of passion where the suspect got off on some legal technicality. It was not a tragic death where the actual cause is in doubt, or open to interpretation.

It is savage and brutal murder with no apparent motive. Not only that, it occurred in a sleepy village in the heart of England. If that is not enough to get you interested, then let’s throw in some local folklore and superstition, with stories of witchcraft and phantom black dogs roaming the area at night.

Let’s find out more about the location.

Lower Quinton is a small and unassuming Warwickshire village, just six miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. It is also the final resting place of the immortal Bard William Shakespeare, who was buried here in 1616.

There is a mix of the old and the new in Lower Quinton. Tudor period thatched cottages sit side-by-side with modern 1970s houses. English villages like this are not complete without at least one ancient pub or a mediaeval church. Lower Quinton has both, The College Arms and St Swithins.

St Swithins Church dates back to 1100.

It includes the tomb of Sir Henry Knight, who fought with distinction at the Battle of Agincourt.

The village consists of little more than a few streets surrounded by countryside. A place to escape from the rest of the world and find peace of mind and tranquility surely?

The thing is, Lower Quinton has a few dark secrets, and not just what happened on Valentine’s Day 1945. Secrets and superstitions that go back beyond the founding of St. Swithins nine hundred years ago. Events that go back before Lower Quinton was named and even before Julius Caesars armies marched upon these fields and claimed this land as a back-water of the Roman Empire.

If you visit Lower Quinton, you will notice the imposing plateau of Meon Hill.

Meon Hill from Lower Quinton

Meon Hill is 194m above sea level and is visible above the farms and villages in the area. It has an odd look about it that makes it stand out. It has an almost flat top. Imagine a mound of clay with the top sliced off.

Meon Hill has existed here pretty much unchanged since the last glaciers rolled ponderously across the landscape, at the end of the last ice age.

The ancient Britons made their home here. The Druids would have performed rituals on the slopes of Meon Hill. With the arrival of Christianity, there is a local legend that reminds the locals of good and evil. It is said that the Devil tried to destroy the abbey at Evesham by hurling a huge mound of earth at it. The Bishop of Worcester saw the flying mountain and prayed for salvation. His prayers were answered and the missile came down next to Lower Quinton, to form Meon Hill.

Let’s bring ourselves more up to date, to Valentine’s Day 1945 and the events that took place at Firs Farm on the slopes of Meon Hill.

The Second World War had been raging for over 5 years. The war has taken its toll on the country, even in quiet farming communities like Lower Quinton. The farms were providing essential food for the people but farm workers were in short supply. Most young men were serving in the armed forces. Women were taking on roles usually done by the men. There was rationing, and people were struggling. There was also a nearby Prisoner of War camp.

Edith Walton lived with her 74 year old uncle named Charles Walton.

Charles was an agricultural worker and had lived in Lower Quinton all his life.

He had lived at 15 Lower Quinton since World War I.

On the day of the murder, Edith Walton had been working and returned home at 6pm. Concerned that her uncle was not at home, she went to see her neighbour, and together they made their way to Firs Farm to alert the manager Alfred Potter.

Potter had seen Charles earlier in the day, slashing hedges in a part of the farm named Hillground. The three of them set out in the semi-darkness, to check the location where Charles had been working.

When they reached Hillground, Edith was completely unprepared for what she discovered. She was immediately overcome with grief and shock, and began to scream loudly. Harry Beasley tried to pacify her and bring her away from the appalling scene before them.

Charles Walton’s body was lying near to a hedgerow. He was clearly dead. Like all corpses, it take the finder a few seconds for the finder to recognise it as a corpse. Even bodies that have no obvious injuries can appear strangely unreal. The position of their lifeless limbs can often make them not look human. The position of Charles Walton’s body was certainly odd. The injuries told those present that this was a murder, and a savage one.

Charles had been beaten repeatedly over the head with his own walking stick. He had also received horrific injuries from the tools and implements he needed for his work. His neck was cut open with the slash hook. He was also pinned to the ground. The prongs of his pitchfork had been driven either side of his neck and into the earth. The handle of the pitchfork had then been wedged under a cross member of the hedge and the slash hook had been buried in his neck. Charles Walton was not meant to survive this attack. His killer (or killers) had made sure of that.

A Murder Investigation was launched, and the Chief Constable sent the following message to Scotland Yard:

I would like Scotland Yard to assist in a brutal case of murder that took place yesterday.
The deceased is a man named Charles WALTON, age 75, and he was killed with an instrument known as a slash hook. The murder was either committed by a madman or one of the Italian prisoners who are in a camp nearby. The assistance of an Italian interpreter would be necessary, I think.
Dr Webster states deceased was killed between 1 and 2 pm yesterday. A metal watch is missing from the body. It is being circulated.

Find out more about the case by listening to the Six O’Clock Knock, a brand-new true-crime podcast, taking a fresh look at murder.

More recording in the grounds of St Swithins Church

Image of Charles Walton from an article in the Coventry Telegraph

What’s Jacques Up To Now?

Since the launch of his debut novel in 2017, we though it was time to find out what Jacques Morrell has been up to since.

Having described himself as a ‘Jacques of all trades and master of none’, who knows what he might have got himself into?

A quick check of his social media accounts, he seems to have added a podcast to his repertoire, although this seems to have started in February this year (2020).

We asked Jacques to reflect on his status as ‘a published author’ and where his writing has taken him since The Showman was published.

Apart from the countless requests from the media for interviews, and the daily fan mail through the door, it’s been fairly steady.

Joking aside, what it has done is to allow me to meet other writers on an equal footing. Writing is about learning to create pieces of work. It is about finding a style of writing that suits you.

The Showman came naturally and organically. It was always going to be a suspense thriller with an atmosphere of the paranormal. I think most people expected it to be a crime thriller. Some people have in fact encouraged me to write for that genre. These people are academics and professional in the business. They see the advantage that I have with my policing experience.

So have you taken that on board?

Not yet. I have also attended a few workshops for writers and literary people. I learnt a few things from them. In particular, I learnt to play around with ideas and words. I was encouraged to try writing in different styles, poetry, short stories, vignettes, comedy, script-writing etc. This taught me to be open minded about my writing. It helps to focus on how I write. To make the best use of it and to make it more meaningful.

I went to a talk by Henry Normal about comedy script writing. Henry is a comedian who went on to write and produce some of the finest English comedy shows of the last 30 years. He gave us advice on script ideas for sit-coms. He advised on what the production companies will look for, such as the ideal number of characters, the setting, the target audience, even the cost of producing it. I had already been playing around with an idea for a comedy, centred around a group of retired police officers.

I went away and worked on it. I got talking to someone in the pub who was also writing a comedy script. We shared ideas. It is almost ready as a script, but there is one character who hasn’t quite found her identity yet. There is something missing and I am not ready to release it yet. It could equally be a short story too.

So apart from those ‘media interviews’, have you been telling your story to people?

Yes, I suppose so. I have spoken to reading groups and book groups about my career and my writing. I was also interviewed by Giorgia, one of the young ambassadors at the Nottingham City of Literature. The interview is online here

I have learnt that The Showman seems to be well received by the younger generation of reader. Initially I though it was the context of it being set in 1978, but I also think it may be down to the style it was written. This review probably explains it better.

The words this person has used makes me feel proud that they have understood the innocence of the characters in The Showman. That is exactly how I see them, a wholesome and naive family caught up in a very difficult situation.

What else have you been working on?

I have made a good start on my memoirs. The story of my police career, starting with ‘First Shift’..

I don’t want you to confuse my first shift with ‘First Shift’, which is the morning shift. When I first wore the uniform, this was from 6 am to 2 pm.     It was the first shift of the policing day, followed by days, afternoons, evenings and nights. I suppose the night shift could have been called ‘Last Shift’, but working through the night was dangerous enough, without the added connotation of it being your last shift.                                     My very first shift was an afternoon shift. 'Afters' is always a busy time for the police. I have no idea what day of the week it fell on. Days of the week are immaterial to police officers. The police rota covers seven days in a week, and apart from some quieter periods, it is the ‘same shit’ that goes off.                                                                  Burglars don’t look at the calendar and say to their partners,‘Blimey it’s Friday already. We’re at the theatre tonight with Oliver and Abigail. I think I’ll screw a couple of houses this morning and knock off at lunch-time.                                     Drug dealers don’t send a text to their customers saying, ‘Have a great weekend everyone and stay safe. Back Monday from 9 am’.                  People in crisis do not limit their psychotic episodes or cries for help to office hours.

So when will the memoirs be published?

I have paused it for the moment due to the podcast taking up quite a lot of time?

This is a true crime podcast isn’t it?

Yes. It’s call The Six O’Clock Knock. This term is police jargon for the dawn raid.

It’s going well. There are three of us involved, me and a couple of guys who used to work together at the BBC a few years ago. One is the producer and the other the presenter. They are both very bright and professional. I suppose I bring the authentic voice of a copper. We take a fresh look at cases.

I think we are all enjoying it for what it is, a serious bit of fun. Looking at old cases helps me keep my detective brain ticking over.

That sounds good fun. So what else is new?

There is a new apartment block where my first police station used to stand. I took a few photos before it was developed.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, those media interviews did happen

Jacques Morrell – The Case of the Isdalen Woman

Here is my review of a 50 year old case in Norway.

The Isdalen Woman was found dead at a remote location outside the town of Bergen in 1970. Her body remains unidentified and as a consequence the case still attracts a lot of attention. Add to that some rumours about Cold-War espionage and Nazi-Hunters, then you have a story.

One of the artist impressions of the Isdal Woman

In 2018, BBC World Service created a fascinating podcast titled Death in Ice Valley. Produced in conjunction with NRK in Norway, the podcast consists of ten episodes (of about 30 minutes) that looks into the case and revisits some of the original witnesses. The purpose of Death in Ice Valley was to re-examine the case in the hope that the woman can now be identified, her family traced, and the mystery of her death solved.  

I suggest you listen to the podcast in its entirety. After one episode you will be desperate to hear more. It is very atmospheric and in journalistic tradition, it adds to the conspiracy theories.

Having read the public response to Death in Ice Valley, I can conclude that we (as humans) have certain traits: We like to think there is something sinister in unexplained or unusual deaths. We don’t like to think that people can die alone without someone being concerned about their disappearance.

My thirty-year police career was pretty extensive. A couple of years in uniform, then a major-crime detective, interspersed with a few years in intelligence and immigration related matters. Thirty years of responding to and dealing with people on the street and in their homes. As a detective, the incidents and crimes are looked into in detail, in order to make sense of the sequence of events. These incidents generally involve people under stress and human behaviour displayed ranges from irrational to the down-right bizarre.

These experiences qualify me to review the information made available in Death in Ice Valley.

See what you think. I have summarised the ten episodes and then given my interpretation of the case.

On 29 November 1970, in the remote Isdalen Valley near the Norwegian port of Bergen, a badly burnt woman’s body was found in strange circumstances. The police investigation lasted about three weeks and suicide was considered the most likely reason for her death. The woman had spent several days in Norway. She had stayed at a number of hotels and used a variety of false names. She claimed to be a Belgian national but was found to have links to Germany and France.

Here is my review of the information from listening to the podcast and some research in the Facebook Group. I have not seen all material available, but feel that the conspiracy theories are getting in the way of basic investigative work. Had this death occurred today, I have no doubt that the Isdalen Woman (IW) would have been identified, even using basic investigative methods.

I have typed in bold where I feel further enquiry or confirmation is required.

Episode 1

This episode sets the scene and describes how the IW was found. It mentions the scene of her death and what was recovered from it. A couple of things stood out:

All of her clothing (and other clothing belonging to her) had the labels removed. What enquiries were made to identify the manufacturer and retailers?

A metal photo ring (or rivet) was found, suggesting that it came from a passport that was destroyed in the fire. Which nations used these? How many types or manufacturers were there?

A pair of rubber ‘Seiler’ boots were found next to the body. These were traced to a recent purchase by the woman a couple of weeks earlier. Had she worn them only once (on the day of her walk to her death)?

An image of the type of Seiler Boot
Taken from BBC World Service

Episode 2

This episode details the recovery of two suitcases belonging to IW. These had been deposited at Bergen railway station’s left-luggage facility on 23rd November.

The suitcases contained more clothing (with labels removed) and items (wig and clear glass spectacles) suggesting that she changed her appearance.

There was also a note-book that contained a handwritten series of numbers and letters. These were interpreted as some kind of code (or shorthand) and were subsequently interpreted as a summary of her dates and visits to various cities in Europe.  

There was money (including Deutschmarks). There were some Norwegian coins were found in a purse marked ASKjobmandsbanken.

Have the manufacturer and/or retailers of this note-book been identified?

What else was recorded in the note-book?

Has it been assessed whether the code/shorthand was written in one go?

It also confirms that the police issued a media appeal the day after her body was discovered (29th Nov). What information (if any) came in as a result of this?

What media releases were made at the time?

The episode also explains that the IW stayed at a hotel in Stavanger for nine nights.

What enquiries were made at this hotel? What do they reveal about her lifestyle?

The code/shorthand in the notebook with possible interpretation

Episode 3

This episode explains that the IW left Stavanger on 18th Nov, taking a taxi from the hotel to a hydrofoil boat, and then to Bergen. The taxi driver recalled she spoke in English but not well. He recalls that she had a gap in her front teeth.

The episode then explains how the police made enquiries at hotels to compare registration cards with the handwriting from the IW’s stay in Bergen. They identify seven other hotel registration cards in the same handwriting. All were in different names and had passport numbers and addresses that did not exist. In all of them, the person claimed to be a Belgian National.

Did anyone at these hotels state they saw the passport?

What enquiries were made with the Belgian authorities?  

Episode 4

This episode continues to explain the use of seven other names by the person believed to be IW. These hotel visits also featured in the code/shorthand from the notebook found in the suitcase. IW had also visited Norway (including Bergen) earlier that year (Mar-April). A hotel in Paris was also identified. On each occasion, IW claimed to have been born in the 1940s (1942-1945). The handwriting is the same but the spelling changes between German and French. It also contains spelling errors. Interestingly the handwriting from the final registration card (19th to 23rd Nov) appears to be written more hurriedly. The handwriting is later interpreted as in the French taught style.

This episode then explains that the IW’s jaw was preserved and had a number of gold teeth. This was expensive dental work and was not considered Scandinavian, more likely German. The teeth suggested that the IW was over 25 years old, probably in her 30s.

The accounts from staff at the IW’s last hotel in Bergen were explained. She had breakfast in the hotel, she smoked cigarettes and smelled of strong perfume. She was described as strange. The housekeeper only serviced the room occasionally and recalled that a chair from the room was often placed outside the room. IW ordered a taxi when she checked out of the hotel on 23rd November.

How was the Paris hotel identified?

Episode 5

This episode introduces a previously unseen ‘intelligence file’ about the IW case. This was not an extensive document and there was nothing particularly new or, of great significance. There was however a reference to an interview with a trawler fisherman named Berthon ROTT on 22nd December 1970. 

ROTT claimed that he recognised the IW from the publicity and the artist’s impression of her. He claimed that he saw her on one occasion (presumably Nov 1970) speaking to a Norwegian Naval Officer. This had been at a location near Stavanger during some military testing of The Penguin anti-ship missile system. The intelligence file only referred to ROTT’s account rather than the actual statement (which is not available in the investigation file either). ROTT has since died, but the Podcast team traced his son. His son was aware of his father’s claims and understood that he saw the IW woman walk passed him while he repaired his trawler net. ROTT’s son stated that they visited London that Christmas (as a family) and his father was taken to one side and spoken to by officials at the port. His father claimed that they had issued him with a gun for his own protection.

Without seeing all the documentation relating to ROTT’s interview, his account should be treated with extreme care. As a witness, he does not appear to have had anything more than a brief glimpse of the woman. This was also at least a month prior to him reporting the matter. Identification cannot be reliable. In addition to this, the claim about being provided a gun is fanciful in the extreme.

What enquiries were made with the Naval staff?  

Did ROTT speak to the media and risk undermining the investigation? Was he warned about this by investigators?

This episode then introduces that a DNA profile of IW has been obtained from the teeth. So far the profile has only been submitted via Interpol to the crime scene and wanted suspect databases.

Episode 6

This episode contains an interview with an elderly Norwegian Intelligence Officer asking him about the theory of IW being a spy. His views revealed nothing remarkable and in some areas he lacked knowledge. He did however, rightly state that using eight false names suggested the person was not a spy, even more so that none of the purported identities would withstand any scrutiny.

The episode then continued with scientific work using the DNA and IW’s teeth. Mitochondrial DNA H24 revealed that IW was of European descent (maternally). Isotopes from the teeth showed that as a child IW originated from southern Germany but as a teenager was living in the French/German border areas that includes Belgium.

Episode 7

This episode details the three occasions when witnesses describe IW being in the company of another person. All these were men and occurred during her final five day stay in Bergen. 

No 1. A grey haired man was sat with IW for dinner at the hotel. IW looked serious and sad. They had little conversation. They spoke in German and the man spent was reading something.

No 2. A woman believed to be IW (but wearing a curly wig) was with a man (with dark complexion) in a home furnishing shop looking at a wall mirror. They spoke in an unrecognised language.

No 3. A man (blond hair 25-30 yrs) was with IW in her room at the first hotel in Bergen (18th Nov). They remained silent when the cleaner was in the room.

The episode also details that a table in her room was moved and placed it upside down behind the door.

Episode 8

This episode deals with the carbon dating of IW’s teeth, using the Carbon 14 method and amino acid testing. IW is assessed as possibly up to 45 years old.

The original police investigation was closed after three weeks (Christmas 1970) and the press conference concluded that she had taken her own life. Despite the speculation that she may have been a spy, there was no evidence or this.

A handwriting expert explained that IW’s handwriting indicated a French style of teaching.

Episode 9

This episode focussed on the indication that IW’s early childhood was in the Nuremburg area of SE Germany. The presenter travelled to the area and explained that this would have been during the rise to power of Hitler and Nazism.  It speculated that she could be Jewish and one of those that fled Nuremburg on the Kinder Transport. It also described how some local children were also fostered in a large facility in SW Germany.

The episode also described a spoon that was recovered from IW’s suitcase. The spoon had an engraving on the rear, and was possibly a cherished item. This needed more investigation. In Episode 10 this investigation revealed that the spoon was in fact a mass produced item, manufactured by a company in Vienna, Austria.

Episode 10

In this episode, the son of the original Senior Investigating Officer (now deceased) was interviewed. He revealed that his father was not happy that the case was closed so early.

There was also an interview with a Professor Dorrell, and lecturer in surveillance methods. He dismissed the likelihood of IW being a Mossad Israeli agent as pure speculation. He did however state that Intelligence Agents can be prone to depression due to their role and lifestyle.

The episode revealed that IW was not pregnant at the time of her death, nor had she previously given birth to a child.

It revealed that checks had been made with Belgian authorities and all missing persons at the time were discounted.

Summary

What do we know now about the IW?

She was born around 1930.

Early childhood in Nuremburg area of southern Germany.

Later childhood in the area of the French – German border (includes Belgium).

She wrote in a French style suggesting that she went to a French speaking school.

Nothing is known about her adulthood, other than she had never given birth to a child.

She had a gap between her top teeth and spoke with a lisp.

In 1970 (at the age of around 40), she travelled around Europe using a random series of false names, birth-dates, addresses and occupations. She purported to be 10-15 years younger than she actually was.

She visits Norway and Bergen twice, apparently travelling alone.

She consistently claimed to be a Belgian national.

She spoke English with a foreign accent.

She appeared serious and sad. She revealed nothing about herself in conversation.

She removes labels from her clothing.

She recorded her travel and unexplained events in a notepad using some kind of code or shorthand.

She checked out of her hotel (23rd Nov) and her luggage was stored at Bergen railway station.

Her badly burnt body was found on 29th Nov. Evidence of accelerant and overdose of barbiturates.

The case was investigated thoroughly for 3 weeks then closed with a conclusion of suicide.

Factors for Consideration.

IW almost certainly grew up during the rise of Nazi Germany and the war in Europe. Her childhood may well have been disrupted as a result. She may have even been raised by an adoptive family. She may have had an early personality disorder. She may have suffered abuse during her childhood.

Whilst her adulthood is unknown, she was physically in good health. She was described as having broad hips and strong legs. This has prompted speculation she could have been an athlete such as a skier.

There is no evidence that she held more than one passport, although she did provide false details at hotels. The original inquiry does not appear to have thoroughly investigated any immigration records, nor her likely Belgian nationality.

Whilst we do not know her lifestyle prior to 1970 (or the periods between her travel in 1970), she had the means and character to visit different countries. She did not appear to draw attention to herself. Had she not died in these circumstances, her travel would have been unremarkable and unnoticed.

The incident described by the fisherman (ROTT) cannot be relied upon.

The espionage theory is discredited.

We do not know why she chose to visit Norway (Stavanger and Bergen).  It is possible that Norway was a good place to remain anonymous and to avoid scrutiny. It has its own unique language and therefore she could use other languages to get by. It is possible that she may have been revisiting the area (although she did not reveal this to anyone) for nostalgic reasons. For instance, if the ‘skier’ speculation is correct, she may have visited Norway in 1952 for the Winter Olympics, when she would have been in her early 20s. She was in possession of tourist maps showing locations where the height above sea level had been added to mountain railway stations.

The Isdalen Valley had a reputation locally for suicides. It is a 1 hour walk from Bergen.

My Personal Theory.

Likely that she was suffering from a psycho-affective disorder that included paranoia and delusions.

Likely that she would have been treated for this condition at some point in her life.

Probable that she was estranged from what family she had.

Probable that she was self supported and maybe living off an inheritance.

Probable that she was someone who does not form close relationships.

Probable that people (neighbours) regarded her as an eccentric and a loner.

Probable that the trips she made in 1970 were a consequence of her psychiatric illness.

Highly likely that IW deliberately took her own life whilst the balance of mind was disturbed.

Likely her suicide was planned and had been for some time. The remote location for the suicide and the destruction of anything to identify her was calculated and deliberate.

Possible that she considered other locations at higher altitude.

Likely that the use of false names were a consequence of her deluded belief that she was under surveillance or being followed.

Possible that using dates of birth that suggested she was 10-15 years younger may have been a consequence of her not recognising her abusive childhood.  

Possible that the men that she was in the company of (in Bergen) were casual encounters. A woman travelling alone and with an outward appearance of confidence, she would have attracted attention from local men. These men may soon have realised that she was mentally unwell. Their personal circumstances meant they would not come forward after news of her death.

Possible that the purchase of the rubber boots was part of her planned suicide. That she used them to store/hide the documents that she planned to destroy, as she made her way to the secluded location. 

Thanks for taking the time to read my initial interpretation of this case.

My next priority is to understand the Belgian nationality issue in some detail.

Exactly what enquiries were made about this in 1970?

What was the process and type/s of Belgian passport issued prior to November 1970?

Did they use a metal rivet to secure the photograph?

What data is still available for Belgian passports issued prior to November 1970?

Any help with this would be appreciated.

Let’s hope that the mystery of the Isdalen Woman will be solved.

Best wishes, Jacques

The anonymous grave of the Isdalen Woman