On June 3, 1995, a young woman was found dead at the Plaza Hotel in Oslo, Norway. She had been shot once through the head, the pistol in her hand indicating a clear case of suicide. Indeed, that’s exactly what the death was ruled. However, in a case that has eerie echoes of the Isdal Woman and Somerton Man affair, all the labels had been removed from her clothing and there were whispers of organised crime and international espionage at every turn. 25 years later, investigators may be about to find out the truth behind the woman in Room 2805, putting an end to one of the biggest mysteries in the history of Norwegian crime.
The Radisson SAS Plaza Hotel, now known as the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel, is a towering landmark in the Norwegian capital, standing 384 ft in height as the country’s second-tallest building. It had been completed in 1989 and was the epitome of a modern five-star hotel, with 1,500 beds in 673 rooms across 37 floors. Millionaires, International stars and both the rich and famous stayed at the Raddison. In 1995, Room 2805 would become possibly the most infamous of them all.
It was just after 7:30pm when a receptionist at the Plaza by the name of Evy Tudem Gjertsen became aware something was wrong in 2805. The room was registered to a Belgian couple, Jennifer and Lois Fairgate, and their credit card had seemingly exceeded the limit. The business-class room was located in what was called “the tower”. It was one of the best at the Radisson, costing around $330 per night in current monetary terms and, having stayed three nights, the occupants had not paid a dime, despite messages on previous days. How somebody managed to stay in the hotel without either prepaying or providing any kind of payment guarantee has never been explained. Yet, the lack of diligence by some members of staff has been noted by witnesses.
“It’s incomprehensible to me. We had strict routines at the hotel. It just shouldn’t be possible”
Tudem Gjertsen, former Plaza Hotel receptionist, Verdens Gang
Gjertsen did precisely as she was trained to do and sent a message up to the room via the TV screen asking for somebody to contact the cashier. The system was controlled by the remote control for the television, and somebody acknowledged receipt by pressing the OK button.
Gjertsen wasn’t satisfied, however. After conversing with other staff, she discovered the room hadn’t been cleaned since Thursday and a “do not disturb” sign had been posted on the door. She decided to call security and soon enough, security guard Espen Næss arrived at Room 2805. As he knocked on the door, a noise echoed from within and Næss realised at once it had been a gunshot. Taking cover in a small alcove, the security guard waited it out, fearing the second occupant of the room was armed and had opened fire on the other. He didn’t relay any of this information to other staff, despite believing an active shooter was in the building. Næss didn’t want to cause a panic and instead went back down to the guard station, leaving the room completely unwatched.
The head of security was quickly alerted, and the police called. The superior tried to get a response at the door, having made his own way up to the room. There was no response. He opened the door which was locked from inside and noted a bad smell. What that smell was is not known, though it was likely propellant and the “smell of death” including blood and body fluids. The place was dark, yet on the bed, he could make out the form of a woman in a position that seemed unnatural. The security man called out to no response. Realising she was dead, he exited and waited for the police to arrive. It was around 8:05pm, the police arriving 50 minutes later.
Upon investigating, the police found the victim to have suffered a massive gunshot wound to the forehead, undoubtedly killing her instantly. There was significant blood splatter in the room and on the bed. There were no signs of anyone else being present. The gun, believed to be a Browning 9mm, still rested in her hands. It was unusually positioned, with the thumb on the trigger. It had been fired twice, once into a pillow as a test shot and once more into the woman’s head. While CSI combed the room for clues and other statements were made, privately it seemed that the case was a tragic suicide. Both keycards were inside the room, and the door had been double-locked, meaning that only security had access. The window was open but, 28 floors from the ground, was unlikely to have been an entry or exit point. Subsequent reports all agreed, the woman had committed suicide. The hotel’s own internal report stated that it was “99.9 per cent certain” that she had taken her own life.
That 0.1% of doubt, however, seems to be a lot more critical than anyone wished to admit. While everything indeed points to the fact that the Oslo Plaza Woman was alone in the room, there are oddities. For example, there was no gunshot residue on her hands, nor any blood. The serial number of the gun had been expertly removed with acid. 25 rounds of ammunition were found in her bag and nothing else. All the tags of her clothing had been removed, a feature that is reminiscent of the infamous Isdal Woman and Somerton Man cases. And, just like in both those older deaths, nobody had any idea who the victim was.
“I think it’s very odd that there was no back spatter or singeing on her hands. That is really unusual. We know there was a powerful back spatter, with blood way up on the ceiling. The victim still had her thumb on the trigger and her fingers around the grip. So it’s strange there is no blood trace on her hands. As a forensics expert, I find that striking. I would have expected to find it. Some suicide victims also get scrapes or marks on their fingers from the recoil. In this case, there are no marks on the finger or the trigger. A 9 mm pistol gives a powerful recoil.”
Torleiv Ole Rognum, professor of forensic medicine and Norway’s most senior forensic medical expert, Verdens Gang
With the Isdal Woman and Somerton Man taking place in 1970 and 1945, lack of modern policing methods and technology can be blamed for failures to identify the victims. Not so the Oslo Woman, who seems to have gone to expert lengths not to be identified. Her short black hair may have been an attempt to alter her appearance. There was no passport or purse, no ID cards or documents. There was no credit card. No drivers license. Nothing at all to give police a clue to where she had come from except the gun being of Belgian manufacture and the fact she had claimed to be from Rue de la Stehde in the village of Verlaine, Belgium. The street doesn’t exist. Nor did the company she claimed to work for, “Cerbis”. The link to Belgium was strengthened through phone records, however, as she attempted to make two calls to incorrect numbers during her stay. Based on similar working numbers in the area, these calls were to Grâce-Hollogne or Seraing, both neighbouring municipalities of Verlaine. It seems she may have simply got the number wrong, suggesting, perhaps, she had written it down incorrectly after being told or had misremembered.
The Browning 9mm is a popular and powerful weapon, utilised by police, military and criminals alike. Millions of the guns are in circulation, and with a shot being fired into a pillow as a muffled test, it seems likely that the mystery woman was unfamiliar with it. Guns are an incredibly unpopular choice for suicides amongst women. However, even the most inexperienced of handlers will have known that 25 bullets, plus seven in the magazine, was far more ammunition that is required for a suicide. Had they belonged to someone else? Or had the dead woman been planning a crime that would have required such firepower?
“There’s nothing to suggest this was anything but a suicide. But it is very rare to find a woman who has shot herself. I have never seen it, before or since.”
Lennart Kyrdalen, criminal watch commander for the Oslo police, Verdens Gang
Interestingly, no fingerprints were found on the gun or magazine, but this isn’t as suspicious as it sounds, with the lifting of prints from a pistol being the realm of police procedurals and not reality. In truth, getting marks from the surface of a gun is very difficult, and their absence isn’t a suggestion that the weapon had been wiped clean. However, it doesn’t discount that notion either. If the gun was indeed cleaned, it wouldn’t be the only missing evidence from the crime scene.
The manufacturing/laundry labels that were removed from her clothing were not done to prevent irritation, they were systematically cut away, with even the manufacturer’s name on her shoes removed. Only one label remained, that being on a René Lezard jacket that had been sold in Germany. A bag retained the brand of German manufacturer Travelite. Both these labels would have been impossible to remove without destroying the linings of the products.
While René Lezard is not amongst the first rank fashion houses and not overly expensive, the company is noted for its style and shows the woman was concerned for her appearance. Yet, there were no toiletries or makeup in her room beyond an empty bottle of Ungaro’s Pour L’Homme 1 cologne. It was for a man. While the possibility exists that the bottle belonged to the man some reported seeing her with, equally, the bottle may never have contained cologne at all. Or, with empty perfume bottles retaining their scent for many years afterwards, perhaps the bottle was a reminder of lost love. The only fingerprints on the bottle belonged to the victim.
The autopsy, likewise, turned up little. The coroner ascertained that she was older than she had claimed on hotel documents, being between 25 and 35 rather than 21. She had short black hair and blue eyes, being 5 foot 3 inches tall and weighing 147lbs. Her dental work was expensive, being done in porcelain and gold in a fashion utilised in the United States, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland. Despite the quality of the work, no dental matches were ever made, and her fingerprints didn’t match anyone on record. While the deceased was found to have no alcohol in her system, no tests were done for drugs, and no samples were taken from the fingernails or vagina that might indicate defensive wounds or sexual assault. As mentioned, there was no gunshot residue on the hands or blood.
Despite suicide remaining the primary line of inquiry, Assistant Chief of Police Gunnar Larsen was not satisfied with the many questions surrounding the case and five homicide detectives were assigned to investigate the circumstances of the mystery woman’s death and who exactly she was. Indeed, as late as three weeks after the death, police were still unwilling at that point to definitively say it was a suicide.
“We are not sure if the woman took her own life or if she was eliminated by persons unknown. All we’re sure of is that we have a lot of questions, which the investigation has not yet answered.”
Gunnar Larsen, Assistant Chief of Police, Dagbladet
Interviewing staff at the Plaza Hotel, police ascertained that the woman had checked in at 10:44pm on May 31 under the name Jennifer Fairgate, incorrectly signing her assumed name as “Fergate”. She was asked for no identification and stated that a Lois Fairgate would be staying with her. While the receptionist believed that she was alone, others questioned indicated that they thought they had seen her in the company of a man between the ages of 35 and 40. She spoke English while making her initial booking and when calling to confirm, spoke German. Investigators found that she had mostly stayed inside her room for the entirety of her stay except for the early morning of June 1 through June 2 when she stayed out between 12:34 am, and 8:50 am. What she was doing in the middle of the night and following day has never been ascertained.
A maid at the hotel recalled that she had seen a nice pair of shoes in the closet of Room 2805 during this period of absence and they were no longer amongst the items thought to belong to the deceased. Indeed, a considerable amount may have been missing from the room, with “Jennifer” found to have a very odd assortment of clothing. These included four jackets but only one blouse. She had one sweater, but no trousers or skirts. She had pyjama shorts, pantyhose and four bras, but no panties. Equally, the clothing wouldn’t fit in the Travelite bag. A witness reported that “Jennifer” had arrived at the Plaza Hotel with a wheeled suitcase and wearing a suit jacket with a skirt, leading her to assume that the victim had been a flight attendant as it was typically airline crews that had this type of luggage at the time. The witness believed she was from British Airways. Neither the suitcase nor the skirt was in the room.
“She was an elegant lady. Why did she come to Oslo and check into the Plaza? Was there something else she had in mind doing? We looked into many groups and social backgrounds but found nothing. We thought maybe it was a drug case, or that she was supposed to carry out a mission for someone. Lots of police units were involved. If she was sent to kill someone, who was it? We searched but never found any answers… That she went to such lengths to not be identified. That is very unusual. She must have been in a desperate situation, but it’s hard to say why because we don’t know who she was. There may well have been something criminal about it”
Tom Storm Olsen, a retired policeman, Verdens Gang
Police had several theories as to who “Jennifer” might be, including the missing wife of a mafia boss. That was quickly debunked. Others believed that it might be a drug matter, with some suspecting the hand of the intelligence services or that the woman was even an assassin. However, all of these ideas quickly fizzled away to nothing, and on June 26, 1996, the Oslo Woman was buried in an anonymous grave at Oslo’s Vestre Gravlund Cemetery. Just two months later the police ordered the destruction and/or sale of all the evidence, including the clothing, jewellery, luggage and even the gun.
The gun was later found to have been saved with the police forensics department looking to display a weapon that showed evidence of having its markings removed. The gun was found by the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (“The course of the world”) in 2017 amidst a new investigation by the journalist Lars Christian Wegner who has followed the case since 1998. Experts who contacted Wegner following the finding suggested that the weapon was not an authentic Browning 9mm at all and was, in fact, a Hungarian copy composed of differing parts. While the barrel was genuine, the rest of the gun was likely to be much older than the suggested 1991 date of manufacture. Experts believe it likely had its origin in the 1960s or 1970s, being an ex-military issue.
Subsequent inquiries by Wegner have highlighted another intriguing factor, that being a man who stayed in Room 2804.
Known publicly only as “Mr F”, the man is Belgian and at 8:06 pm on the day of the death, “Jennifer Fairgate” ordered food to be taken to her room, a “Hotbite” of bratwurst and potato salad. Kristin Andersen, the room service supervisor, brought the food up but had seemingly been given the wrong number, taking the food to 2804 instead of 2805, the room across the corridor. That was occupied by Mr F. The “mistake” was cleared up and the food delivered to the mystery woman directly opposite. She gave a massive tip of 50-kroner.
Crime scene investigators discovered the majority of the food in the room, with little having been eaten, despite it seemingly being the final meal of someone’s life. The “mistake” is interesting as it serves to let 2805 know that 2804 is in residence and while it might be easily dismissed, police also found a USA Today newspaper in the dead woman’s room. These newspapers had been given free to all guests in the hotel. Only, this wasn’t for Room 2805 or 2804 and was, in fact, the newspaper that had been intended for Room 2816. Another mistake or had the woman been spying on other residents and entering their rooms? A fingerprint was recovered from the bag containing the newspaper and was recently sent to Interpol. Whoever stayed in 2816 has never been traced.
Police documents show that “Mr F” was in Oslo for work and was from the French-speaking part of Belgium. He was never questioned as he had already checked out on the morning of the apparent suicide. Lars Christian Wegner attempted to speak to the man as part of his investigations, with the individual being hesitant to say anything, cutting off contact when he was informed that journalists wished to discuss the Oslo matter. Insistent, the tenacious Wegner travelled to Belgium and spoke to the man directly.
“I remember it well because they asked me about it at the front desk when I checked out. Someone asked if I had heard or seen anything since it was in the same corridor. But I slept well that night and knew nothing about it… I stayed there from Friday to Saturday. When I checked out, they told me about the lady who died. I’ve stayed at thousands of hotels, so for me, this was no big thing”
“Mr F”, a former customer of the Oslo Raddison, Verdens Gang
However, with the suicide happening in the evening, there is no way that the front desk could have informed Mr F of a death that had not yet happened when he checked out in the morning, a fact confirmed by records. Mr F hasn’t responded to further enquiries by Wegner and there is no explanation as to why he would lie. Of course, he could simply be mistaken or not wish to get involved.
In November of 2016, there were new developments in the case when the body of the Oslo Woman was exhumed to secure DNA analysis. Blood samples, like the rest of the evidence, had been discarded in 1996.
Investigators took samples of both teeth and bones. They obtained a complete DNA profile, sending the material for analysis at the Institute for Legal Medicine at Innsbruck Medical University, in Austria. The samples confirmed that she was most likely European and a study of her teeth by Professor Jurian Hoogewerf at the University of Canberra in Australia narrowed the area to Germany. Yet further analysis, this time by Professor Druid in Stockholm, suggests the woman was born in 1971 and was aged 24 at the time of her death, with a small margin of error of just 1.1 years.
The information generated ties with what little evidence was found in the room. As you may recall, her jacket and bag were both of German origin and the woman said to be speaking the language without an accent on the phone to hotel staff. Her dental work may also have originated in Germany. While she clearly had some level of knowledge of Belgium, particularly the region around Verlaine, there is no evidence to suggest that the mystery woman was actually from that area.
As the mystery of who the Oslo Woman begins to slowly unravel, so might the actual circumstances of her death. While suicide remains the official position of Oslo Police, the questions that homicide detectives were initially tasked to answer, remain unsolved. How, for example, did the woman get into the country? Was she an existing German immigrant, or did she travel to Norway? Was the gun smuggled through customs or bought in the country? What happened to her missing belongings and documents?
One possibility is that the Isdal Woman case directly inspired events in Oslo. The affair remains Norway’s most well known unsolved case, centring on a mysterious woman who died after being set on fire at Bergen on November 29, 1970. Police at the time judged the matter to be a suicide. Yet, details such as missing clothing tags meant that the mystery lingered. The possibility that the security services were involved has always seemed likely, and neither police nor the public have managed to identify the woman. The case was certainly known in 1995, and it’s possible that somebody, wishing to remain anonymous, may have taken inspiration from the successful methods utilised by the Isdal Woman. Like “Jennifer”, the Isdal Woman consistently gave her nationality as Belgian when she was actually German, and she was likely raised in French-speaking Belgium. The Oslo Woman had expensive gold and porcelain work done on her teeth, while the Isdal Woman also had unique gold-filling dental work. Could it be that the woman in Room 2805 was deliberately trying to make her own suicide echo the Isdal Woman? If she was trying to create these false echoes, it would explain the failed calls to the Belgium and simple mistakes such as street names.
In the Isdal case, police eventually found her belongings in two suitcases at Bergen railway station. If the Oslo Woman was indeed a partial copycat, it seems likely that the suitcase missing from the Radisson likely ended up close to Oslo Central Station which, coincidentally, is in view of the hotel. Equally, if the echoes had originally been intended greater, she could also have travelled to Bergen during the 20 hours she is unaccounted for at the hotel. Bergen is a 7 hour journey by train. Fearful of being found with the gun, she may have ended her plan prematurely.
Copycat suicides, also known as the Werther Effect, are defined as the duplication of suicide methodology from public knowledge of the original act. This knowledge can come from personal or local information or depictions in the news or accounts across books, television and film. Most cases happen within a short timeframe of the original death, but not universally. This “suicide contagion” is often linked to young people and famous cases such as the suicide of Kurt Cobain or the Japanese musician Hide. It may be possible that the Oslo Woman had become obsessed with the Isdal case, being a copycat. However, this explanation might not account for the presence of the gun. As mentioned, the Isdal Woman burned to death.
As in many cases with mysterious elements and unidentified bodies, the spectre of espionage was raised early, with the police said to have entertained the idea before dismissing it. The theory is also prevalent in both previously mentioned cases, the Isdal Woman and Somerton Man. Removing the labels from garments makes them far harder to trace, and the lack of any identifying documents suggests somebody with something to hide. While some tellings of the tale highlight the role the Raddison played in the Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestine, with Yasser Arafat and Yitzahk Rabin signing the document in the Royal Suite alongside Bill Clinton, these events happened in 1993, some considerable time before the death of “Jennifer Fairgate”.
“We had follow-up meetings after the Oslo Agreement both in 1994 and 1995, but not at the end of May/early June. Nor were there other peace talks or processes in that period where tensions were so high that an attack would have been a concern.”
Jan Egeland, then a state secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Verdens Gang
Many of these theories fail to understand how the security services actually operate and are based off Cold War fiction as opposed to fact. When undercover, agents will always guarentee their backstory is watertight, not transparently false as the Oslo Woman’s was. They would undoubtedly have ensured they paid for the hotel room so as not to raise suspicion. Equally, they would have had no need to own a firearm said to be a relic of the Cold War, cobbled together as the “Browning” was. And, finally, unless killed in an operation likely to cause a major international scandal, an agent would not be disavowed and left to rest in an anonymous grave had the woman been MI6 or CIA. However, this is not the case for some other services.
While the newspaper from Room 2816 may seem suspicious, it stands at odds with the belief that a killer was thorough enough to make a murder look like a suicide. While Mr F’s behaviour and statement is also suspicious, he may simply fear being linked to a potential crime or have his own reasons for not wishing to be in the public eye. One theory, after all, is that “Jennifer Fairgate” may have been a high-class escort.
“Norway, Sweden and Austria were typical ‘safe-havens’ where intelligence services could hold meetings and work in peace,” Kaldager says. “They were open, benign and naive countries, easy to travel to, with good infrastructure and little police control. A lot probably happened that the public never heard about.”
Ola Kaldager, former head of the top-secret Norwegian intelligence group E14, Verdens Gang
However, one factor involving state apparatus may explain why no record of the Oslo Woman can be found. If she was from the former East Germany, as many believe, her records might have been destroyed by the Stasi, the former Ministry for State Security. The Ministry pulped hundreds of thousands of files during the period that saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification including many birth records and police files.
This period of political chaos following the fall of the so-called Iron Curtain, led to a considerable increase in crime in Germany and Eastern Europe, with weapons and organised crime flooding the market. Equally, as the German police force was purged of communist personnel, many precincts lost up to 40% of their officers. In 1991, neo-Nazi violence returned to the streets, with killings, beatings and persecution of ethnic minorities and the gay community being pushed down the list of legal priorities. Following reunification, East Germany was far from the western paradise than many thought it would instantly become and somebody fleeing the turmoil for better pastures in Norway, is not unlikely.
Equally, given the amount of ammunition the woman had, the possibility exists that she herself had been planning a killing for reasons unknown. This may have been an action against an individual, or even many. The poor condition of the gun and test into the pillow seems to discount a professional hit and such a murder would have been a personal matter. While mass shootings are primarily carried out by men, Sylvia Seegrist and the infamous Brenda “I Don’t Like Mondays” Spencer shows this is not a universal truth. Likely conflicted, “Jennifer” may have chosen to not carry out her plan.
The most likely explanation, however, is that the case was indeed a “simple” suicide. If the mystery woman had been in the country for a while, obtaining a gun might not be an issue. While the use of such a weapon in a suicide is traditionally masculine, the man’s aftershave and short hair may suggest the Oslo Woman might have been gender curious or displayed masculine traits. While “Lois” is a male name in French, it is female in English and “Fairgate” is an English surname. Equally, the cologne may have been a reminder of lost love, perhaps connected with the Plaza Hotel as a place of significance in her past. She ensured that her identity will never be known, possibly believing that her loved ones might handle a disappearance better than suicide. Perhaps inspired by the famous Isdal Woman, she cut the tags from her clothes and began discarding her belongings about Oslo on her the time away from the room. She shot herself dead as security knocked on the door, never having time to get rid of the rest. Perhaps she believed it was the police and that she or the gun may be about to be discovered. Sadly, it may have been that the calls she failed to make to Belgium were a last cry for help.
No matter the real reasons for the death of the woman in Room 2805, somewhere out there a mother has been waiting for her girl to come home for twenty-five years. Friends, brothers and sisters wonder whatever happened to their beloved “Jennifer”. While they retain hope they may see their loved one again and are spared the grief of the truth, they have no closure or moment of goodbye. We do not know their name, nor their pain over a quarter of a century. Nor do we know the anguish of whatever it was that led to the events that fateful night in Oslo. While it may, in one way, seem cruel to snuff out this glimmer of hope, perhaps soon technology may allow the Oslo Woman’s unknown family to know the truth and put a name on that anonymous grave at the Vestre Gravlund Cemetery.
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