Spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched yet!
The second episode of Netflix’s renewed Unsolved Mysteries volume two is, “A Death in Oslo.” One of the things I liked a lot about the first volume was that the series branched out into foreign true crime stories because goodness knows, criminal mysteries don’t stop at the water’s edge here in America. We found that out with last volume’s episode in France, “House of Terror.”
For those not good at geography (I’m looking in the mirror at myself), Oslo is the capital city of Norway, one of the Scandinavian countries that borders Sweden. [As an aside, I learned they have 9th-century — yes, 9th! — Viking ships in a museum and now I need a few thousand dollars to go to Oslo.] In this episode, on May 31, 1995, a woman checks into a luxury hotel in Oslo, the Hotel Plaza, with no ID or credit card, and then dies from a gunshot wound three days later on June 3, 1995. To this day, somehow, nobody knows who she is and how exactly she died (in a manner of speaking).
Here’s the timeline as I understood it: She checked in to the hotel on Wednesday, May 31, and the maids visited her room the next day, on Thursday, June 1. We then know that the “don’t disturb” sign was on her door at least that Friday, June 2, and then Saturday, June 3, ahead of her death on that same day. As indicated by her key card to get into the room, there’s a 20-hour gap between when the maids visited her room on Thursday and when she returned to her room on Friday. What was she doing for 20 hours?
The immediate question that comes to mind for me: How does someone with no ID and without using a credit card check into the luxury hotel in Oslo? I get that perhaps back then, hotels and motels were a bit different in terms of requiring ID checks and maybe even allowing you to pay in cash, but even back then, I would think the luxury hotels would’ve been on top of that sort of thing, or, perhaps, given a higher-end clientele, discretion was the name of the game? And the end of this woman’s, apparently.
Also, why did it take the luxury hotel in Oslo three days to realize, wait a minute, she didn’t use a credit card for her stay? Although, later we see on the registration card that she indicated she was paying with cash. Well, did she?
Along with how she paid, also on the registration card, she wrote her name as Jennifer Fairgate. If her listed birth date was correct of Aug. 28, 1973, she would’ve been only 21-years-old at the time of her death. Again, if it’s to be believed, she also listed her country as Belgium.
Keep in mind that her room is on the 28th floor of this hotel. So when the hotel is wondering what’s going on with that woman on June 3, a security guard goes to check on her. That’s when the gunshot happens. The security guard takes cover, and then heads back to the security headquarters area, so we have a 15-minute gap when the room isn’t being watched or “guarded.” Again, there’s no security cameras in this luxury hotel? Apparently, in 1995, they have key cards so the hotel can log of every single time you enter the room, but no security cameras?
Also keep in mind, that the room was double locked from the inside. If it was a murder, did this person scale 28 floors down? Was there a secret exit? When the security guard comes back to the room with his security chief after that 15-minute window, why did the security chief say to call the police only upon finding the woman’s body and not 15 or so minutes prior when the other security guard heard the gunshot? Shouldn’t you call the police then?
The other peculiar things about the scene is that the gun was in her hand still, and her hand was backward on how one would typically hold a gun: Her thumb was on the trigger. That’s odd. She was shot between the eyes. And there’s no passport, no other identification, no other items, a briefcase with more bullets (which is odd if it’s an act of suicide), and the clothing labels on the clothes she does possess have been removed.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-8255.
The journalist with the newspaper VG, Lars Christian Wegner, keeps reiterating that the Hotel Plaza in Oslo is a luxury hotel with “tight security and cameras.” But where are the cameras?! If it was a murder, I don’t see how it could have been accomplished given the shooting happened on the 28th floor inside a room with a double locked door, and no indication of a struggle or any other homicide evidence.
All of that information on the registration card doesn’t seem to pan out, other than that she probably had some knowledge of Belgium since she gave a real town in Belgium, but that doesn’t mean much. If I killed myself in the states, I could give a random town in a random state to throw people off of my actual identity.
But, of course, that brings up the question: If she did kill herself, why did she go to seemingly great lengths to obscure and hide her identity? That’s a lot of effort, and that only seems like something someone would do if they were running away from a past, but if there’s a past to runaway from, then someone surely knows who she is, right? Or, she could have been in a such a deteriorated mental state, that she wanted to literally scrub herself from existence, both in name to others and in a literal sense with the act of suicide.
If it was an act of suicide, why wait three days and then do it the second the security guard is approaching? If it was a murder, same question?
All of that said, while I think he’s sensationalist (VG is a tabloid newspaper) and repetitive, Wegner’s impetus behind wanting to find out the identity of this woman and what happened in that hotel room is a commendable one. In particular, this quote stood out to me:
I honestly can’t think of too many fates worse than dying (whether by an act of suicide or homicide) and nobody seeming to care or be actively looking for you. To be fair, if she was from Germany, as is later suspected, then perhaps the family never knew she went to Norway, never heard of her death, were actively looking, and because it’s 20 years later, they’re either dead now or just stopped looking. But that there are so many such people in unmarked graves like her’s all over the world with stories we will never know the answers to is sad.
Wegner seems to think it’s odd for someone ahead of an act of suicide to shower and get dressed up nice, but that seems … quite ordinary to me? I can imagine it going either way, where someone is in such a state that they don’t bother, and someone else, like her perhaps, who wanted to look nice on their way out.
Some of the “characters” that come in later in the episode don’t inspire much confidence. For example, as I said, the thumb on the trigger is weird and still holding it after firing because of recoil, but why did the crime scene investigator, Geir Skauge, not try shooting the gun with his thumb to even see if it’s possible? Or when they recreated the crime scene, why didn’t they try holding the gun in that way?
Then the Oslo pathologist, Torleiv Ole Rognum, had a weird theory about how someone would shoot themselves, both that their hands would be shaky and that they would grip the barrel with their hand to cause blood splatter on said hand. I’m not a pathologist, obviously, but I don’t think either of those elements are a given. For starters, someone who is at that point to take their own life, I’m not sure they would be shaky about it. Secondly, the thumb on the trigger is weird, but just as weird would be holding your hand over the barrel. Why would you do that?
As usual with these true crime mysteries, it goes to the most grandiose theory: Intelligence operation execution. The Norwegian intelligence officer, Ola Kaldager, sounds like another sensationalist type, who, in my opinion, has read too many spy novels. One way to explain the absence of homicidal evidence is to do as Kaldager says by saying “all evidence was removed.” Okay, how? And even removing evidence would leave some trace evidence!
Finally, one last “character” was Henrik Druig, professor at Karolnska Institute in Sweden, who had this peculiar teeth analysis that put her age at 24. Again, knowing whether she was 21, as indicated by her fake registration, 24 as indicated by this teeth thing (which I haven’t looked into how legitimate that is), or whether she was as old as her early 30s, as the autopsy speculated, doesn’t seem to help much to ascertain who she is.
Wegner then does all that work to get DNA by exhuming her body, and it tells you she was … of European ancestry. We basically knew that much. And then, this late in the story, Wegner mentions that a front desk operator said she spoke with an East German accent. Huh?!
One last irritation of mine is that Wegner talks about how there are no paths to figuring out her identity, but there is a glaring path that isn’t being followed up on that’s driving me batty: How did she check into this luxury hotel and be able to stay there for three days? Who let her in? Talk to the hotel! He apparently did enough to find out she supposedly had an Eastern German accent, but the mystery I want solved is how she was able to check in at all.
I know I get ornery in reviewing these episodes and it may not seem as if I like Unsolved Mysteries, but I do! I’m just a skeptical person, particularly as it concerns methods of criminal investigation, and methods of journalism. And at first, I was thinking this episode wouldn’t have much meat on the bone after the first 10 minutes, but it did bring up a lot of questions I have, particularly for the investigators.
Overall, to get back to what I think happened: I think she killed herself, and the act of suicide, no matter the extenuating circumstances, like in this case of removing clothing labels or doing it with a thumb on the trigger, will always seem baffling to those of us who, as David Foster Wallace said, aren’t trapped in a burning building and can’t understand leaping from the window.
What did you think of this episode? Do you think it was an act of suicide or something more nefarious? What am I missing?