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Trigger Warning: This article contains mentions of suicide, murder, and intense gore/violence. Please read with caution.
Jennifer Fairgate’s story is that of a tragic life cut too short, marred by mental illness and/or conspiracy. However, ‘Jennir Fairgate’ is not this woman’s real name, and her identity and true cause of death make up one of the most significant unsolved cases in Norweigan history.
Popularized by an episode of Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries reboot from last October, Fairgate’s confusing death has stumped investigators for decades. Theories on her circumstances range from a mentally ill woman committing suicide, to criminal activity, to a serial killer. Public discussion on the case heavily favors the idea that she was a spy.
Fairgate checked into the Plaza Hotel, a luxury resort considered the best hotel in Norway’s capital Oslo at the time, in the beginning of June in 1995. During check-in, she misspelled ‘Fairgate’ as ‘Fergate’ multiple times, and was somehow able to get a room without any identification, cash, or a credit card. She was with a man who, in the registration paperwork, went by Lois Fairgate, but, following their arrival, he was never seen again, and there is no evidence of him staying in the room.
When staff realized they had no credit card down for her half a week later, they sent someone up to check the room, which had had a ‘do not disturb’ sign up for the past couple of days. Upon knocking, the employee was greeted with the sound of a gunshot, and ran to get security. Returning after 15 minutes, they opened the door, which was double-bolted from the inside, to an absolutely rancid smell, and found Jennifer Fairgate dead on the bed.
Right off the bad, the evidence begins to contradict itself. After police arrived, they first assumed it was a suicide, as there was a gun in her hand and a single bullet in her head. However, doubt rose when they looked through her luggage. She had no purse, government ID, passport, credit card, or money, and, while she had several shirts and jackets, all black, brought nothing to wear from the waist down besides what she was already wearing. She had also removed every tag and label from her clothing.
It is still unclear how she even got a room here, as just checking her in with absolutely nothing broke almost every single hotel policy. The police then investigated her death as a murder for the next few weeks, but, finding nothing, relabeled her as a suicide to close the case, destroyed all the evidence, and buried her in an unmarked grave. Investigators also never checked hotel security footage to even see who was coming and going by her room.
With Oslo police doing nothing, Fairgate’s case was picked up by Norweigan journalist, missing persons and Jane/John Doe expert Lars Wegner, who walked people through the tragedy in the Unsolved Mysteries episode. Motivated by Fairgate never being identified or having a gravestone, Wegner wrote the original article on her, and has pursued the case on his own time for the past 25 years, wanting to give her family some closure and give due respect to this woman and her life. After talking to experts around Europe, it is clear that she did not kill herself, but it is even less clear what actually happened.
With no ID, Wegner and investigators traced the address she gave the hotel — a small village in Belgium, Verlaine, with a population of barely over 4,000 people. She provided a real street in the town and a phone number consistent with the local area codes, but her house number was nonexistent, as well as her phone. Locals who had lived in Verlaine their entire lives could not recognize her, and this, alongside her misspelling Fairgate, has led people to conclusively say she used a pseudonym. It is unknown why, though, she chose fake information from a miniscule village that could be easily disproved instead of a larger, more open-ended town or city. Her specific reference to this village during check-in heavily implies that Fairgate had some personal connection to it, but it is unknown what.
Back at the hotel, authorities informed Interpol and the Belgian government, but they had no records of her ever existing, nor any match to her fingerprints across the continent. While looking through her belongings, they discovered that she had 25 additional rounds of ammunition for her gun — overkill, to say the least. Her gun was also found to be a pistol classified as an assault weapon, and its serial number had been professionally removed.
Furthermore, this specific gun was mainly used by the military and high-end criminals, and had all fingerprints on it wiped, even though she was holding it when her body was discovered. A second shot had been fired at some point into the pillow on the bed, but is unclear if that happened before or after, or if anyone even heard it. She had ordered room service the day before she died, which was half-eaten, with the rest only partially ingested, implying that, under the official verdict of a suicide, she left the food for 24 hours before eating part of it. Hotel staff reported that, when ordering, she tipped 500 percent the normal amount; it is unclear why or even where she was keeping this money.
There was also a newspaper in the room with “2816” written on it, a nearby hotel room. Hotel records were not kept long enough to see who was staying there at the time, but the guests in the neighboring room, 2818, came forward, claiming that they did see a couple acting suspicious around Fairgate’s room a week after her death. They also claimed that, during Fairgate’s stay, a Belgian man stayed across the hall, and was also acting very unusually. Police actually tracked this man down, and asked how he learned of Fairgate’s death. He claimed the front desk told him when he checked out that morning. This threw more suspicion on him, as, besides being another Belgian connection, he was lying about this; Fairgate died that night, after this man checked out. He had no plausible way of knowing until he watched the news or was approached by police. It is unclear if this resulted in any new information, however, and the trail went cold.
When recreating her potential suicide, it was deemed virtually impossible. Fairgate was found holding the gun opposite-faced, with her thumb on the trigger and the shot entering the front of her forehead. After considering the fact that this was an assault weapon with heavy recoil, her small stature, the lack of fingerprints, and the fact that she had no gunpowder or blood on her (especially on her hands!), Wegner and investigators determined that she could not have possibly shot herself, and she certainly could not do so with an unstable grip while holding onto the gun and keeping it, and her hands, perfectly clean. She was also dressed unusually for suicide; she was wearing a luxury jacket, fancy top, skirt, stockings, and high heels, fashioned in all black, and had recently showered. Her outfit was compared to somebody getting ready to go to a club rather than someone preparing for their last moments.
Here is where her time at the hotel begins to piece together. While there was no way of knowing when somebody left the room, since security cameras were never checked, every time a key card was used to enter was logged with dates and times. She only had a handful of records entering the room, implying she spent almost all of her time in there. However, her logs combined with cleaning staff accounts were highly suspicious. The biggest gap between logs was from Thursday to Friday morning of that week, before her death on Saturday. This was almost exactly 24 hours, and one could assume it meant she was in her room the whole time. However, cleaning staff entered the room Thursday afternoon and found it empty, with barely any evidence even one person was staying there. This meant, from at least that time to the next morning, a gap of 20 hours, she was either wandering nonstop throughout Oslo, or was staying at another location in the city.
With no one coming forward to claim they knew her, the effort to identify her quickly went cold. The only thing known was that she had some connection to Belgium, and she claimed she was 21 at check-in, although the autopsy reported that she was 25 – 35, but most likely 30. This changed, however, in 2016. With technological advances in the then two decades, her body was exhumed for dental and DNA analysis. The results heavily narrowed down the almost infinite possibilities, but also made the evidence even more unclear. Her dental records were impressive, considered extremely expensive and only possible in rich nations; investigators said her dental work had to have come from the U.S. or western Europe, but it is unclear when or how long she lived there. DNA, on the other hand, resulted in a full genetic profile, her heritage, and age. Hotel staff claimed she had a slight East German accent, and spoke both German and English, and this was finally confirmed; she had eastern German ancestry and was most likely born there, and was 23 – 25, most likely 24, pinning her birth date as 1970 – ’72.
Counting out the first and main theory of suicide, since the evidence showed that was basically impossible, there are still several theories proposed by investigators and online sleuths.
Wegner proposed two possible theories, both centering around the belief that she was a professional in the criminal underworld: she was heavily involved in international drug smuggling, or she was a highly sought-after sex worker/prostitute. Both of these explain the weird timeline and her extended periods away from the hotel, as well as explain her ammunition stash, a possible accomplice checking in with her, and the violent business causing her death. This does not, however, explain how she got into the country or hotel with no passport or any identification, why nobody has ever recognized her, or her strange behavior and luggage.
The Plaza Hotel itself proposed that she was a flight attendant, explaining her all-black wardrobe, but this fails to explain her lack of passport, weird behavior, why she was never identified, or why, and by whom, she was killed. Online sleuths have proposed that she was the victim of serial killer Marc Dutroux, who was actively kidnapping and killing people at the time, and is another connection to Belgium. He was such a terror in the area he caused Belgium and surrounding countries to completely upend how they process missing persons cases because of his murders. This could possibly explain Lois Fairgate and some of her weird behavior, but does not explain her lack of identification. This theory, while plausible, has the least evidence, as there is nothing actually connecting Dutroux to this crime.
The most popular theory answering who Jennifer Fairgate was, supported both by experts and the public, suggests involvement in espionage — specifically, that she was either an international spy or a contract killer, and was executed for her work. This does explain almost everything: her lack of identification, how she got a room for free, her weird behavior, her gun and ammunition, her never being recognized, and the reasoning behind her murder. This is also supported by the fact that Norway, being a major peacekeeper in the UN, was using the best hotel in the city, the Plaza, for international negotiations. The Plaza Hotel, specifically, was being used for then-secret peace talks between Israel and Palestine around the time Fairgate was there, giving a motive for spying.
In addition, supporters of this theory believe that the horrible smell in her room was because she was killed a day before being discovered, not 15 minutes, and that the spy that did so stayed there, fired the warning shot into the pillow when they heard a knock, and left in the 15-minute gap afterwards. Former head of the war department of the Norwegian Intelligence Service, Ola Kaldager, claimed during Unsolved Mysteries that he was absolutely certain she was a foreign spy. He asserted during the episode that the professional removal of the gun’s serial number and clothing tags were standards in intelligence agencies, and that the entire day she was missing was because it is also standard procedure for spies to have multiple locations to stay.
As for the murder itself, Kaldager said to Wegner that the door could be easily locked from the outside in a way that, seemingly, is only possible from the inside — that the technology to do so is widely available for international authorities — and that no family members ever came forward because their home government would usually keep them financially secure and well-off for the rest of their lives as long as they never came forward. The only thing this cannot explain is why no former friends, classmates, partners, etc. ever came forward saying they knew her either.
It is crucial to remember that there still is barely any evidence for any of these possibilities, specifically for spying. While it is the easiest answer, many people are biased when coming to this conclusion, as it falls into a stereotype of spies from Russian-controlled East Germany during the Cold War, painting a broad brush over anyone born into those conditions. In addition, many people may have a predisposition to this answer because of Norway’s history with similar cases — namely the ‘Kambo’ man and Isdal woman, both people who went out of their way to completely hide their identities and died under mysterious circumstances in the country during WWII and the Cold War.
There still is no solid evidence on any explanation, and even Wegner admits the only way to find the truth is if someone comes forward identifying her. While the possibility may have been broadened now with a complete DNA sample to compare to databases across the world, that, too, has come up with nothing. There is only one thing for certain: this woman, whoever she was, was abandoned during her life and died in the loneliest way possible, and she absolutely deserves the respect of having a gravestone with at least her name on it. If there is any slim chance this woman is familiar to you as a long-lost family member, please contact Unsolved Mysteries.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Elaine Chung from Esquire Magazine