To put ‘Death In Ice Valley’ in the same category as ‘Serial’ (like all other crime podcasts that have followed the behemoth) would be unfair. This outing from BBC World Service has its feet in more historical territory with an age-old crime lacking in material and forensic evidence and even fewer witnesses.
This podcast, told in ten episodes, investigates the death of a mystery woman in 1970. The anonymous victim was discovered by accident in the unforgiving valleys near Bergen, Norway. The location of her body gave birth to a name that has stuck ever since – The Isdal Woman. Her body was found burned, her mouth full of sleeping tablets, and with few clues to confirm her identity or origins, the local police shut down their investigation soon after the body’s discovery.
‘Death In Ice Valley’ makes it clear from the start that this mystery has been held in the psyche of Norway for many, many years, with several attempts to resolve the crime having been undertaken since the original investigation proved futile. In an extensive collaboration from BBC World Service and Norway’s public broadcaster NRK, attempting to unpick the 48 year old mystery of who Isdal Woman was, and where she came from, are the BBC’s Neil McCarthy and NRK’s Marit Higraff.
From the beginning it’s clear that the case is a thorn in the side of Higraff. She has spent many years searching for new leads and evidence that might ultimately determine whether Isdal Woman was in fact a spy, a prostitute, a courier or maybe a loner who took her own life on the side of the desolate mountain. All these possible scenarios are explored with the sensitivity they deserve, with Higraff never letting the listener lose sight of the fact that the victim still remains someone’s daughter, sister and maybe wife. Despite Isdal Woman now lies in an unmarked grave, she is given the full respect of the human being she once.
McCarthy’s role here is to move the story between the many locations that the story takes the duo. Between them they track down, and speak to, possible witnesses who crossed paths with the Isdal Woman, ex-police officers who may be able to help rediscover lost evidence and forensic experts who can shed new light on the case with modern scientific techniques.
McCarthy and Higraff are by no means naïve to the importance of the internet and social media for finding new information and possible avenues of investigation and they actively encourage listeners to spread the word and help them solve the case – a large proportion of the final episode is handed over to online contributors who have offered up their own theories on the mystery.
Using an unnerving mix of music and sound editing, each episode of ‘Death In Ice Valley’ maintains a steady pace with a decent amount of unexpected discoveries and twists to pique interest. Standout episodes include the dark and quite startling ‘Remote Archive’ and the forensic heavy ‘Case Closed’ which stays just the right side of the line when blinding the listener with science.
Without over staying its welcome, or attempting to flog the material beyond interest, Higraff and McCarthy sign off with heartfelt thanks to all the people who helped them bring the story of Isdal Woman back into the public consciousness. Having a platform such as The World Service may indeed lead them to a second series full of new revelations and an eventual resolution: I hope so, for Higraff’s sake.
All 10 Episodes of 'Death In Ice Valley' are available to download here.