The spy who never died (Part 1)
Like thousands of others David listened to the ten weekly episodes of the BBC and NRK podcast called Death in Ice Valley and thought about how he could solve it. He built timelines, researched old documents and trawled genealogy sites for people who could match specific birth dates and locations. None would fit with the so-called Isdal Woman who died in Norway on the 23rd of November 1970 in the Isdalen Valley.
A professional criminologist messaged David and said for him stories didn’t matter — only the facts. David had been trying to find interesting stories to tell about Isdal Woman on the Facebook group. Someone in the group even suggested it was attention seeking.
David went back over the evidence and specifically the police sketches. Initially he thought they were like a cartoon with no real value. He thought no-one would look at them and know who they were. Then a light was switched on. If the facial dimensions of the police sketches were correct a computer wouldn’t be blinded by colour of eyes or style of hair. It would simply try to match on facial measurements — the facts. Most people have a biometric passport that measures the dimensions of their face so when they pass through customs the computer is checking their unique data not looking at a picture of a human being. If the biometric numbers don’t match it is not the same person. Even with wigs and glasses it can still recognise people. It will not be blinded by disguises.
With this in mind, David started to use different free facial recognition software. First he used Betaface as it allowed him to provide it with an image and it trawled wikipedia for matching images.
It gave him face match scores some over 80%. It would often match strange things like sign posts and statues with an Isdal Woman sketch. David found it very frustrating. He was about to give up with Betaface when he started to use it with another facial recognition tool called MS Azure. It allowed him to then compare the near match images with the original search picture to get closer to an answer. Initially his aim was to find a country of origin for Isdal woman. For example if all the women it found were Mexican he could focus all his efforts on women born in Mexico between 1925 to 1935. David did start to see some patterns — for example jewish Hungarian/Albanian women seemed a strong pattern. He confirmed this with old pictures of women from Shkodër in Albania. As far as MS Azure was concerned these were a very close match. As close a match to the sketch as any family member could ever be apart from a twin.
Then David realised that the clever people in the Death in Ice Valley Facebook Group had already researched various people from history. He decided to try the faces they suggested against the Isdal Woman sketches using MS Azure. There were characters like Patty Hearst who could be cross-checked with facial recognition software against the sketch and quickly rejected because of their low scores. But eventually three key faces remained that scored reasonably well:
One was the suggestion of a Facebook group member named Mannfred. He suggested a woman called fake Aud Rigmor detailed in a German magazine.
The story detailed how Stasi spies assumed the identities of so-called Lebensborn children — these were children of Nazis and local women. The Stasi used those names to gain an identity in that country of origin. After the war the Lebensborn children were often driven out of their communities as they were a regular reminder of a terrible war. The problem for the Stasi, the East German secret police, was in this one case Aud Rigmor was still alive in Norway. Also the woman who was trying to steal her identity was being tracked by secret service agents across Europe. Then the secret service agents lost her trail in Brussels. For David the fake Aud Rigmor had become a real prospect he had checked with facial recognition to give a reasonable match score — high enough to keep her on a target list.
Then there was his own idea. David had looked at British Pathe videos of 1970 trade fairs and by chance he saw a woman he thought matched Isdal Woman — with the same wig, clothes and jewellery as in the Isdal Woman’s suitcase or at the crime scene. He created his own screen capture of her, colourised it and called her Trade Fair Tania and added her to his target list.
The video is: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/VLVA5XWZJMVBCAU792KOTU036F6WM-FRANCE-PARIS-TRADE-FAIR-OPENS/query/TRADE+FAIR
His final suspect was Tamara Bunke — identified in the Facebook group by Will. Tamara Bunke had been a Stasi agent recruited in Leipzig who met with Che Guevara in 1960 at a trade fair where she was employed to translate for him. Tamara was born in Argentina and spoke Spanish fluently. After the spark was lit, the Stasi wanted her to follow Che Guevara back to South America and infiltrate the Cuban government as a spy. She was a gifted woman who played guitar and accordion and spoke four languages fluently. The only problem for David’s investigation was she was already dead before 1970. The facts said to reject her. Don’t waste any more time on her story. The Facebook Group hated this subject. But he added her to the target list.
As he was carrying out his searches using facial recognition software David started to see a relationship. Two of his key suspects didn’t match that well with the Isdal Woman sketch — they matched with Tamara Bunke — the dead spy. Two women in 1970 closely matched with a woman killed in 1967. Perhaps they were her relatives he thought.
Then using Betaface again but this time using images of Tamara Bunke as the source image he started to find more and more images of women in Leipzig who looked like Tamara Bunke as a child or young woman aged 26 in University before 1970.
He was getting swamped with Bunke face matches — not Isdal Woman. He was getting very confused.
Then Anthony joined the Facebook Group looking for solutions to the Isdal Woman story. He saw David’s problem firsthand and declared he would develop facial recognition software — later called FaceHunter www.facehunter.co.uk to help resolve some of the problems with the other software.
The first version of the software took Anthony just several weeks to develop. David started to re-test all the suspect images again using FaceHunter. At last he felt he was getting closer to a solution to finding the Isdal Woman.
The software confirmed several of the Leipzig women were similar to Tamara Bunke and the highest score matches were added to the target list. David asked Anthony to build those suspects into the target groups in FaceHunter.
Then going back to previously tested old images David tested one again. It was a picture from a Berlin worker’s protest in East Germany in November 1989. A woman alongside protesters.
David called her ‘the face in the crowd’. A woman wearing what looked like a black or blue leather jacket and grey hair or a grey hairpiece.
Then there it was a 100% match.
The FaceHunter software was saying this woman in the November 1989 protest was Tamara Bunke — definitely, not maybe. Otherwise her genetic twin. The woman killed in the jungle in Bolivia was alive in November 1989 in a Berlin protest. No doubt about it. Tamara Bunke didn’t have a twin — unless the GDR cloned her — says facial recognition software.
David asked Anthony to add more Tamara Bunke faces to the software to test against — hoping that somehow it would reduce the FaceHunter match score. But each time Anthony confirmed adding more Tamara Bunke images made the match score stronger not weaker.
According to facial recognition software:
Tamara Bunke was the face in the crowd in Germany on the 4th November 1989. She did not die in the Bolivian jungle in 1967.
David and Anthony think it will be only a matter of time before the woman at the Paris Trade Fair — Trade Fair Tania — is also 100% matched in FaceHunter. Trade Fair Tania in 1970 is potentially either Tamara Bunke, Isdal Woman or fake Aud Rigmor.
Then that leaves the inevitable question — was Isdal Woman also Tamara Bunke. David and Anthony hope that one day FaceHunter will help prove 100% that Tamara Bunke was the woman in the Bergen hotels — but not the woman who died in the Isdalen Valley. They hope people will test their own holiday pictures in Bergen and other cities in Norway in 1970 to find an Isdal Woman — a face in the crowd, then they too will have helped solve a crime using FaceHunter.