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The Trude Espås Case: The Unsolved Geiranger Murder Mystery

Home » History Blog » The Trude Espås Case: The Unsolved Geiranger Murder Mystery

Despite several investigations, Norwegian police still don't know who killed Trude Espås in the tourist hotspot of Geiranger back in 1996.

It's one of the most picturesque spots in all of Norway. Nestled at the end of the mighty Geirangerfjord, the small village of Geiranger is surrounded by beauty.

Geiranger true crime feature

But in the 1990s, the tourist hotspot was known for a very different reason. After an 11-day search, the body of Trude Espås was discovered close to the village. The case made national headlines as an enormous police investigation was launched.

The full case file includes some 10,000 documents. In total, 4,000 witnesses from almost 40 countries have been questioned. But at the time of writing, no-one has yet been charged with the murder.

The recent popularity of true crime podcasts has renewed international interest in the case. Here's what we know about what's referred to in Norway as the Espås case.

The discovery of the body

On 8 August, 1996, the 20-year-old Norwegian woman Trude Espås was reported missing from her seasonal job in Geiranger.

She had only been in the tourist village for a week, working at the Hotel Union. Hotel management reported her missing to the local police when she hadn't been seen since the previous day, sitting on a rock next to a local road with a view of the fjord.

Ten days later, her body was found hidden under rocks in the vegetation opposite the road. This was just tens of metres from where she was last seen.

Hiking in and around the Geirangerfjord
Geiranger and the Geirangerfjord

The police investigation

Local police mapped all identities of people and vehicles that were in Geiranger on the day of the murder. Guest lists from hotels and campsites were collected, along with data on all debit/credit card use.

Anyone observed in Geiranger on the day in question was also registered by the police. However, the initial problem was that many tourists in Geiranger could freely come and go without leaving some kind of trace.

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At the time, some 270 people lived in Geiranger, but on a typical summer day several thousand people could pass through the village. In total, more than 3,000 witnesses from almost 40 countries have been questioned.

Several witnesses both on foot and in cars saw Trude sitting on the rock, reading a book.

The Swedish couple

After 5pm, a Swedish couple from Uppsala who were regular visitors to Geiranger took a walk to a fjordside campsite. They saw a girl sitting on the rock, reading, whom both they and Police are sure was Trude.

On their return before 6pm, they noted to each other that the girl was no longer there. The Swedish man briefly followed a trail from the road in order to find a spot to “use the bathroom” and soon heard a scream.

Police reconstruction of what the Swedish man saw.
A Police reconstruction of what the Swedish man saw. Photo: Norwegian Police / Åsted Norge

Both the couple were concerned as it seemed a childlike scream, albeit slightly panicked. The Swede followed the trail further and saw what he perceived to be a man and his child playing.

After the Swede had finished his call of nature, he noted that the pair had disappeared. His wife hadn't seen either of them in the meantime.

The place where the body of Trude Espås was later found is just 20 metres above the place where this incident took place.

The main suspect in the Trude Espås investigation.
The main suspect. Photo: Norwegian Police.

The man in question wore a blue and white striped pique shirt. A man with the same description had asked someone else for the time just a few hundred metres from where Trude was last seen. He spoke German.

A tourist photo

Thousands of tourist photos were obtained by Police and studied to look for anything that might help the investigation.

A photo of Geiranger used in the Trude Espås case
This tourist photograph proved central to the case. Photo: Norwegian Police

This photograph was taken by a tourist from Geiranger looking out to the fjord at 5.15pm on the day Trude disappeared. It appears to show someone sitting on the rock where Trude was last seen.

The photo was useful as it gave a more precise date when Trude was last seen. However, Police have never been able to confirm if the person seen sitting on the rock was indeed Trude.

Someone can be seen sitting on the rock where Trude was last seen. Photo: Norwegian Police

A cryptic note in her diary

Trude stayed in a hotel dormitory together with other seasonal workers. Police found a curious note among her things, which would become central to the investigation.

Trude kept a diary, and it was clear she wrote down brief notes on a piece of paper, which she would later write up as a diary entry.

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One of these notes scribbled several days prior to her disappearance stuck out to Police: “German, crutches.” Could Trude have met a German on crutches who left an impression on her?

One Police theory was that the killer may have used the fact that Trude was a naturally caring person and used crutches as a pretext to get her away from the road.

Trude's diary notes.
The notes Trude made.

Another German link?

The note proved interesting because of the man in the blue and white striped shirt. Was it the same person?

Because of the German links, Police were keen to hear from people in Germany. Twenty years after the murder, a TV show featuring a reconstruction was aired in Germany, asking for information.

A key photograph

After the show aired, Police received a photo showing a man on crutches at the ferry dock in Geiranger. He appeared to have one leg missing. The date the photo was taken was the same date that Trude made the diary note.

The German man on crutches.
Was this the man Trude noted in her diary? Photo: Norwegian Police

A 16-year-old girl working in a kiosk described a German man on crutches missing a leg as behaving very strangely on the same day. He lingered and asked in-depth questions.

Police believe Trude came across the man on the same day and likely had a similar experience, hence the note.

However, Police are sceptical that someone in that physical condition would have been capable of the murder and concealment of the body.

The case remains unsolved

Despite all the witness statements and the flood of new information following the German TV show, Norwegian Police still don't know who killed Trude Espås.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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