– It is a very sloppy way of handling evidence, but it was more common in the 90s than it is today, says lawyer John Christian Elden to TV 2.
In 2016, it was 20 years since the murder of Trude Espås (20) in Geiranger. Elden represents Espås’ mother.
No one has ever been arrested in the case. The investigation is among the most comprehensive in Norwegian police history.
This is the Espås case
* On 8 August 1996, 20-year-old Trude Espås disappeared in Geiranger.
* Espås was from Orkanger and had a summer job at Union Hotell. She had been in Geiranger for just under a week when she disappeared.
* 11 days later she was found raped and killed. The body was hidden under 52 stones near the center of Geiranger, 100–150 meters from the place where she was last seen alive.
* 98 percent of everyone who was in Geiranger on the day of the murder were tourists, most of them foreigners.
* The investigation into the murder has been one of the most extensive in Norwegian history.
* The police registered 5,000 people who were in Geiranger on the day of the murder. The case has been investigated in 37 countries. After more than 3,000 interviews, almost 2,000 tips and more than 4,300 inquiries, there has been no breakthrough in the case.
* The investigative material contains 14,400 images and 300 videos collected in connection with the investigation.
* Murder cases in Norway never expire, and the murder is still under investigation at the Møre og Romsdal police district.
Source: NTB / TV 2
Called a DNA expert
Eleven days passed from Espås’ disappearance until she was found dead. The young woman was well hidden under a total of 52 stones.
TV 2 is aware that some of the clothes that Espås was wearing were found at the scene. At the same time, there were other items of clothing that were never found.
When the police went through the seizures in 2016, they found some of Espås’ clothes rolled up in plastic. The clothes had probably been stored at room temperature, according to a report that TV 2 has seen.
In that connection, DNA expert Bente Mevåg traveled to Ålesund to assess whether it was possible to carry out new examinations of the clothes or other items in the case.
According to the report, it was obvious to the police that the 20-year-old clothes could no longer be used for anything. The clothes were very rotten.
It was therefore decided that the clothes should be destroyed.
Hope for technology
At the same time, the police decided to send some other items, including Espås’s white shoes, to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI), which at the time was responsible for forensic science.
Both the shoes and the other material they sent have been examined previously. The hope was that new technology would make it possible to get new answers in the case.
In the police’s submission to FHI, they write: “The police want a new assessment and analysis to see if it is possible to obtain human DNA. Furthermore, it is desirable to have a review of the material found in your possession from previous investigations, with a view to whether new investigations can be carried out on any of it in order to obtain human DNA.”
The response that the police received from FHI was disappointing. It was still not possible to find human DNA that could be analyzed further.
The few samples that were nevertheless analyzed did not yield any results.
– Stored as they should
– The fittings were stored as they should be stored according to the instructions that applied at the time, says Skovly.
– Is it reasonable to assume that the clothes, if they were stored in the same way similar items are stored today, could provide some answers in the case?
– No, there is no reason to believe that. The material was also examined at the time, but it took many days before it was found, and that made it difficult for us to get good answers, he says.
DNA expert Mevåg, who is now retired, says she completely agrees with the police attorney.
– The fitting was packed and stored in a way that was done at the time based on the nature of the material. It took a long time before it was found, and then there is reason to believe that the circumstances will contribute to the breakdown of the biological material, so that it will not be suitable for biological research, she says.
Examined hair clip
Skovly, who has been in charge of the prosecution in the case since 1996, says that the police are in continuous dialogue with Oslo University Hospital (OUS), which is currently responsible for forensic medicine.
In other words, new assessments have been made of various fittings and old sample material also after 2016.
The hair clip belonging to Trude Espås, which was found in two parts at the scene, has also been tried to be re-examined in recent years, without results.
The same goes for her two white shoes, which have stains on them.
– Naturally, we cannot rule out that the technology of the future can give us answers, says Skovly.
Elden: – Seems unmotivated
Lawyer John Christian Elden therefore believes that the police’s handling of the seized clothes is “slummy”, and points out that this applies to several investigations from the 1990s.
– The police simply did not believe that it was possible to get as much evidence out of this as we know in 2023 that there is, he says.
– We know from other criminal cases that DNA traces are found now that were not found at the time of the murder. There is every reason to believe that a murderer might have left some traces when he must have been close to her.
Elden was appointed as legal counsel for Espås’ mother in 2021. He then gained access to the police documents in the case.
– What is your impression of the investigation?
– The police seem unmotivated and are probably dependent on getting some kind of breakthrough or something new to work with. It is very important in Norway that murders are not forgotten, but that they are investigated until they are solved. Fortunately, we don’t have that many murders a year here, he says.
Skovly does not want to respond to Elden’s comment.
Elden emphasizes that the mother’s biggest wish is for the matter to be resolved.
– She does not want constant drips and speculations in the matter, but if something new comes out, she will be very happy about it.