Following the coverage of the famous “Jennifer Fairgate” case on Netflix’s revival of Unsolved Mysteries, tabloids and other media outlets sought to capitalise on the renewed interest in the affair with new reports and “updates” to attract clicks. While none of these reports offered anything Netflix hadn’t already covered, several articles were adorned with the image of a young woman. However, this isn’t “Jennifer Fairgate”, instead these images are of another missing woman by the name of Camilla Steinaa.
Steinaa, at 23, is around the same age as the Oslo Woman and her short black hair means she bears a resemblance to what “Jennifer Fairgate” looked like in life. However, there is no link between the two women, with Steinaa being aged 23 when she went missing in 1987 and “Jennifer” being around 24 when she died at Oslo’s Raddison Hotel in 1995.
So who then is Camilla Steinaa?
It was in 1987 that Camilla’s sister first reported that she had gone missing, even though nobody had seen her alive since the previous year, her brother being the last person to acknowledge having met her. As an adult and with no sign of foul play or any indication that harm had come to Steinaa, the police in her native Denmark didn’t investigate.
Camilla is described as attractive and fiercely intelligent, with a strong interest in alternative lifestyles. She was from an artistic family, with her father being the cartoon pioneer Bernhard Steinaa. Bernhard had worked on on the first Danish feature film Fyrtøjet between 1943 and 1945. He would go on to work on the classic Lise and Lasse comic strip before his big break with 1958’s Other People’s Children. Steinaa eventually founded his own studio, STEINAA FILM. After the death of his first wife Kirsten in 1980, Camilla’s mother, he and the family moved from the picturesque Birkerød to Olufsvej, one of the most attractive streets in the capital. This house was also soon sold, and he moved with his new wife, Lundsgade, to another place in the same Østerbro district.
He would die in March of 1987, and it seems likely this may have been when the first reports of Camilla’s disappearance were made. She was 5 foot 8 inches tall with a slight squint. She had a white spot on one of her front teeth but also had extensive dental work before her disappearance. Perhaps lost after the death of her mother, she became involved in the punk scene in Copenhagen. Tomas Ortved, a drummer in the band Sods, later known as Sort Sol, claims that she was “a legendary face in the punk scene”. It was here that Camilla likely formed her first relationships, and one ex-boyfriend, Per Buhl, was the bassist in another band, No Knox. Buhl describes a woman that was fierce, committed to both the punk scene and the anarchism of life in such a community. She partied hard and lived life in the fast lane.
“She was a strong woman and fucking violent. She was in control of her shit. She partied completely insanely through, and the rest of us had to try to follow. Then she could get up the next morning and continue again and go to work”
Per Buhl, ex-boyfriend
Another former boyfriend was the noted poet Michael Strunge Jensen who dated Camilla in the winter that spread 1981 and 1982. Jensen is regarded by many as one of the most influential Danish postmodern poets with his work covering subjects such as sex, death and modernity. He was influenced by romanticism and symbolism and his poems are still widely studied around Denmark. He was one of the elite circle that surrounded Poul Villiam Borum, the editor of the influential Danish literary magazine Hvedekorn and in 1983 he received the prestigious Otto Gelsted Prize. Savage even dedicated a collection of poetry to Camilla, Popsange. However, on March 8, 1986, during a manic episode caused by bipolar disorder, Jensen leapt from a 4th-floor window yelling “now I can fly!”, he died of his injuries and was just 27 years old.
While Jensen and Steinaa were not together at the time, their association offers some insight into Camilla, showing a world of alternative learning, one of romanticism and independent punk rebellion. Dying not long before Steinaa’s disappearance, the publicised tragedy may have influenced her mindset, yet this is mere conjecture. This was a time when the alternative scene in Denmark was colliding with society, as punk had done in other countries such as the United Kingdom in the genre’s formative years. The ethos was grounded, perceptive and centred on individualism, while Danish society was failing to embrace individual thinking and creativity. Cold War youth felt disenfranchised and that there was no answer forthcoming to the world’s problems such as rampant poverty, racism, sexism and the shadow of all-out war.
Around 1983, Camilla has been described as changing her outlook, starting to move away from this scene and becoming involved with groups taking the psychoactive drug LSD. She also began to espouse views associated with green and “back to the land” movements, however, later developments suggest these may have been religiously motivated asceticism. She moved toward a vegan lifestyle and stated that she wished to forsake technology and live off the land. A friend, Jørgen Fog, was given a book by her that was said to be influential in these ideas by the name of Fredens Evangelium (“Gospel of Peace”) and, later, he was also sent a postcard with a religious motif from Hornbæk, where Camilla had rented a summer cottage. She took to wearing a sheet canvas, sleeping under duvets of hay and began to cook her food over open fires.
Fredens Evangelium promotes back to the earth concepts as divine and righteous. The book had two volumes and was a translation by Nils Tørsleff of The Gospel of Peace of Jesus Christ. The Danish translation was only published in 1982 and never reprinted. The original English version was written initially by Edmond Szekely and Purcell Weaver and is part of a more extensive work that also includes The Unknown Book of the Essenes, Lost Scrolls of the Essene Brotherhood & The Teachings of the Elect. This series is an account of Jesus Christ allegedly by the Essenes, a Jewish-Samaritan sect during the Second Temple period. Scholars believe the Essenes to be the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Based on the idea that Jesus had been one of the Essenes, the books have never formed part of the official canon of Christian literature and tell of a very different Christ than official accounts, focusing on natural healing, health, diet, the “brotherhood of man” and “Mother Earth”. For example, the book suggests that “thou shalt not kill” was meant to apply to all living creatures, making vegetarianism a religious requirement. Other aspects of the book, such as fasting and a rejection of material things, were taken up by Camilla as told by friends and family at the time. Describing the last time he saw her, Camilla’s brother suggested she had taken to wearing white, another commonality with Essene groups.
“[Jesus’] words became half-forgotten… They have been misunderstood… hundreds of times rewritten… It is a heavy responsibility to proclaim the present New Testament, which is the basis of all the Christian Churches, as deformed and falsified, but there is no higher religion than the truth.”
Edmond Szekely, The Essene Gospel of Peace
Edmond Szekely stated that his work is translated from Aramaic into English and the sources are documents that he found in the Vatican archive while studying there in 1923. However, most scholars reject the books as a complete fiction, solely written and created by Szekely. Coincidently, the books all agree with Szekely’s vegetarianism and promotion of “biogenic living”. They have been heavily pushed by New Age Movements as the “true” word of Jesus, often also finding favour amongst religious conspiracy theorists.
“The [Essene] Gospel of Peace is a sheer forgery, written by Szekely himself. It is one of the strangest frauds we know of in the biblical field, as it has been carried through by stages during a whole lifetime and has been built onto an entire body of research based on imagination only.”
Per Erik Beskow, Swedish biblical scholar and associate professor at Lund University
In a clue toward what might have been going on with Camilla before her disappearance, ancient Essenes did not allow people into their community before they had undergone one year of trials. These trials would follow specific rules and regulations in-keeping with their beliefs of vegetarianism, frugality and virtuousness. If someone was deemed worthy, they were gifted a spade, an apron, and a white garb. Following this, further trials would take place before baptism as a sign of purity and liberation from materialism.
There are several churches of the Essene, including the Essene Church of Christ and the Nazarenes of Mount Carmel. The largest and possibly near “official” church, however, is The Essene Foundation, formed by Edmond Szekely and taken over by Archbishop Garry White after Szekely’s death in 1979. Originally known as the First Christian’s Essene Church, followers are encouraged to follow a path of enlightenment beginning by adopting practices that, by their book, perpetuate physical, mental, and emotional health. The church eschews religious dogma, and freedom of choice is a high priority. Dr Emmanuel M. Winocur currently leads the foundation and, like both other churches, it is based in the United States. There is no evidence any of the churches have been active in Denmark.
“The only qualification to be an Essene is an absolute belief in a higher power, of whatever name, for everyone shall be left in freedom.”
The Essene Guide
While the book and it’s themes may raise an alarm of religious cults, that should not be inferred, and there is no suggestion that any the churches mentioned are in any way dangerous. However, movements such as the French Christian Essene Church led by Olivier Manitara (born Olivier Martin) do ring alarm bells. Manitara is described by the church as a “prophet” and “the son of the sun” who has seen visions and who is under the direct command of angels. Following his formation of a compound in the late 1990s by the name of Terranova, French authorities moved against the group in November 2000, making arrests. They were concerned at the apocalyptic messaging from the group following a string of cult mass-suicides throughout the previous decade. Manitara and his wife were sentenced to eight and ten months in prison for misuse of corporate assets. In 2008, Manitara emigrated to Quebec, Canada.
Now going under the name “The Order of the Essenes”, the group is described as a “sect” by the leading French organisation supporting victims of religious abuse, the National Union of Associations for the Defense of Families and the Individual (UNADFI). Followers, all dressed in white, are said to believe in “apocalyptic theses” that have drawn comparisons to the Order of the Solar Temple (OTS) who became notorious in the mid-1990s for a series of murders and mass suicides that claimed 74 lives across France, Switzerland and Canada.
Despite these alarming sidenotes, however, most Essenes live healthy and well-adjusted lives and the book, while undoubtedly a fraud, has been an inspiration to many seeking spirituality and both personal and environmental fulfilment. Many followers of the books are known to live off the grid lifestyles. Both the Danish Fredens Evangelium and original English version of the Gospel of Peace were incredibly common and widespread at environmental events and festivities. It was commonly sold at folk festivals, art installations and other places that someone like Camilla is likely to have attended. The book is not to be seen as cult literature or exclusively associated with organised worship and its believed as little as 2,000 individuals have been followers of New Age Religions in Denmark since 1945. However, that is not to say that there weren’t others who may have been influencing her newfound spirituality in a personal capacity, possibly during her time at Hornbæk.
Hornbæk is a seaside resort town on the island of Sjælland. Looking out across the sea toward Sweden, Hornbæk is an old fishing village and has a melancholic romance. It is a place to think, and while here she led a frugal life. The atmosphere of the town once attracted all manner of artists in the late 17th century. Amongst these noted artists were Peder Severin Krøyer, Holger Drachmann and Carl Locher who eventually formed part of the art colony at Skagen. After her stay, she failed to pay the full bill and left a note to the owners apologising for her actions.
In 1987, Camilla’s sister reported her missing to the police and, through a misunderstanding, believed they were investigating. However, this wasn’t the case. As mentioned, the police will not investigate a disappearance when the “victim” is an adult, and there is no sign of foul play. With most disappearances being by people’s own free will, police believe that investigating would not only infringe personal rights but be a waste of resources. This misunderstanding, however, meant that it wasn’t until 2010 that the police received a second report when nobody could find her. Camilla was, at this time, wanted in connection to payments she was owned from her father’s inheritance.
Her last known plans were that she would travel from Zealand to Jutland to live on a farm that produced organic food. Some have taken this as a reference to Thylejren, a well known Danish hippie community that is considered to be a micronation. These claims seem to have been reinforced in January of this year when Denmark’s TV2 broadcast a new documentary on the case entitled As Sunk in the Ground. Research for the show produced dozens of new leads, and several people reported having seen her in Thylejren, with another man saying he drove her to the North Sea in the late 1990s. Yet another came forward to say that she was at a monastery in Germany. This one was quickly debunked.
Thylejren is a collective hub for artists, hippies, new age movements, activists, anarchists and environmentalists. There are few rules or expectations, and both free love and nudity are commonplace. The only regulations are that no hard drugs be taken there, no violence, no theft or vandalism and no fighting dogs. There is art, music and dancing. The commune comprises around 100 people and is mostly self-sufficient and living off the grid would be little problem, certainly before the invention of modern technology.
Around the time that Camilla Steinaa may have visited Thylejren, the collective was transforming into a legitimate village, with houses becoming firmly constructed and both electricity and water being connected. There were around 70 permanent residents, including children, with between 100 and 200 summer guests. Throughout the 1990s, there was an influx into Thylejren. Many people came from the city, all seeking an escape from the trials of modern life.
The team behind the TV2 broadcast investigated the claims of Camilla being at Thylejren. Still, it came up empty-handed, despite one resident, Hanne, being suggested by viewers to be Camilla Steinaa under a new name. Yet, the evidence that Camilla did at least once reside at Thylejren stacks up, with video footage and photos from the community showing a woman that appears to be Camilla. However, there is no confirmation that the woman is Steinaa and Ulrik Skotte, the producer of the documentary, says he is unsure whether it’s her or not.
As far as the police are concerned, the case can only be reopened if there is new information that is considered strong enough for a possible result in the case. TV2 and the producers have handed over their findings to authorities.
“If a case is to be reopened, the new clues and information must be strong enough for us to believe that we can uncover what has happened”
Hans Christian Hansen, head of Copenhagen Police’s Search Section
With dental records on file and living relatives for potential DNA, it seems unlikely that Camilla Steinaa is deceased and unidentified, as in the unconnected Oslo Woman case. That is not to say she is alive, however. The possibility of murder and a secret burial is undoubtedly there. Yet, Camilla’s lifestyle and desire to live off the grid seems telling. With potential sightings at the hippie community of Thylejren, it seems highly possible that she at least travelled there at some point, perhaps long since having departed for parts unknown. Her possession of The Essene Gospel of Peace and taking on many of the traits associated with followers of the book seem a clear indication of new spirituality in her life. While the ideas of the Essenes may alarm traditionalists, there is no reason to believe that any harm came from her involvement, nor any evidence of cults.
With her picture becoming associated with the tragic “Jennifer Fairgate” case, Camilla deserves to have her own unique story told. And, while so many such disappearances end without hope, the affair of Camilla Steinaa appears to be one where life seems more likely than death, all be it with no evidence. And here is where moral ambiguity enters the picture. With a possible goal of living frugally and off the grid, it seems possible that Steinaa wished to leave the hard-partying and worries of Copenhagen long in her past, hoping to vanish into the Danish wilderness and be on her own. And, while she never stated this to be the case, with no evidence of foul play, perhaps she should be left to whatever peace she desired, no matter where Camilla might now be. Yet, the pain of her family remains, even after all these years. There seems no way to balance the peace of her loved ones with her rights to possibly live a new and spiritual life.
After successfully passing their trials and being baptised, the original Essenes would make a sacred vow. It stated that the follower would always be “of a true and pure heart” and “exercise justice and honesty to all men”. Essenes swore to never “harm or hurt any man… by impulse nor influenced by others” and pledged to “shun injustice” and “further truth and justice.”
Perhaps someday soon, in that spirit, the truth of what happened to Camilla Steinaa might finally be known.
I am a freelance long-form writer who writes on true crime, politics, history and more. I am entirely self-funded and if you liked this article, please consider a donation via Patreon as a token of appreciation or directly via PayPal. You can join my mailing list for the latest articles and also like my Facebook page. I’m also active on Twitter. I can be contacted for projects through my website MichaelEastWriter.com where you’ll also find lots more content.