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Chapter 4

A whole new direction

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Recap of chapter 3

The bloody note found inside the carrier bag reveals itself to be a receipt from a bag shop in Oslo. A policeman visits the shop premises, but nobody remembers having served a pregnant Asian woman. 24 hours later, one of the employees recalls two Asian friends visiting the shop at the time specified. One of the women paid with a cheque, which would reveal her name and address. The police visit the bank to track down the cheque. They are in luck. The address reveals that the person who paid for the bag lives directly beside Vestre Aker churchyard, where the baby was found. However, there is no guarantee that this development will clear things up – the person who left the child could well have found the plastic carrier bag with the receipt left inside it quite by chance. The police make their way to the address. Inside the apartment, the police officers find an exhausted woman. “A newborn baby has been discovered in the churchyard just up the road. We suspect the baby might be yours,” one of the police officers tells her.

The woman admits that the child is hers, bursting into tears. “It wasn’t alive. It wasn’t breathing! Please, you have to believe me! The child was stillborn!” she insists.

“But your child is alive, it’s being cared for at the hospital,” one of the policemen tells her.

The woman howls and collapses.

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The woman lies in the apartment, crying and shaking. Rykhus, the team’s crime scene investigator, will remember this moment for the rest of his life: the moment that delight overcame distress, leaving any trace of brutality to be shattered by an emotional outburst in the tiny studio apartment. In his life as a police officer, he is destined to see some of the most gruesome things imaginable, acts committed without restraint, but at this precise moment, inside this tiny, cramped apartment in which it is highly likely that a baby was born only 35 hours previously, he is shaken and still slightly stunned by events. The situation is overwhelming, and not only for the woman who has just been informed that the boy she believed to be dead is alive and well, and being cared for at the hospital. The tears stream down her cheeks.

Rykhus wanders around the apartment, combing it for clues.

“I’ve found something over here,” he tells the others.

A few bloody towels in a clothes basket. Their presence strengthens suspicions that a birth has taken place here, he concludes.

Driving through the streets of Oslo, the police officers first take her to accident and emergency. Later that evening, they take her to the police station for her first interview. The officers want to take her into custody and prosecute her, with expectations that she be charged with the attempted murder of her newborn baby. The woman is assigned Benedict de Vibe as her defence lawyer. De Vibe attempts to calm her down:

“Things will end well. It’s hardly surprising that the police are keen to find out more about what has happened. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Politihuset i Oslo Politihuset i Oslo
Photograph: Scanpix

De Vibe can see that the woman is inconsolable, on the verge of a breakdown. She is clearly struggling with conflicting emotions: it’s wonderful to know that her child is alive, yet the allegation that she tried to kill her baby is a heavy burden to bear. She had been convinced that the baby had been stillborn!

“I had no idea that it might be alive!” she cries.

During the interview, which is carried out in English, the woman states that she is 31 years old, was married in the Philippines, and came to Norway in the springtime with her husband and a friend on a three-month tourist visa. Her husband had returned home in the summer, but she and her friend had stayed behind in an apartment that another Filipino woman had at her disposal in order to continue working.

She concludes her story in the interview.

“The baby was due at the beginning of November. I booked my plane ticket with plenty of time to spare before the due date,” she states.

“I began to feel unwell on Tuesday morning. I stepped outside to get some fresh air. I wanted to take a walk, but I didn’t make it any further than a few metres before I felt contractions. Before I knew it, I was giving birth outside the entrance to the apartment block. The baby was on its way.”

Feeling completely exhausted, she managed to make it back inside the apartment, she tells them. Once inside, she gave birth in the bathroom. The baby didn’t make a single sound, and there were no signs that he was breathing, she claims. She started to panic when she realised that the baby was lifeless – stillborn, as far as she could tell.

 “After that… I found two plastic carrier bags under the sink, both white. I felt so hopeless. I placed the baby inside them, then I left the apartment and carried him to the churchyard. I left the bag by a bush, then I went home, where I cried and prayed.”

“Why did you leave the child there?” Kyrdalen presses her on several occasions.

“I was just so traumatised. My baby was dead, as far as I could tell. I had no money for a funeral, I didn’t know anybody, but I knew that if I were to leave the baby there, he would be found. I hoped so desperately that someone would take care of the body, hold some kind of funeral.”

Kyrdalen senses that she’s nervous, but more than anything else, she seems exhausted, utterly wiped out.

Sitting across from the police inspector, the woman beseeches him once again:

“Please, I just want my baby back! I left him there because I thought he was dead. You have to believe me!”

The police are reluctant to accept her account of events without further clarification, and instead tell her that they want to conduct another interview with her. They are keen to consult with several witnesses to see if the woman’s story holds. “Have we clarified that the husband is the father of the baby?” the police officers ask. Tests are to be carried out.

Once the interview is over, the woman is driven to Ullevål Hospital, where she is admitted to recover as a patient. Even though she isn’t permitted to see her son on that first evening, the decision is also taken not to detain her for the sake of her ownhealth and wellbeing.

“We now know the identity of the baby’s mother, but it has not yet been ascertained whether the case can be closed,” police inspector Geir Wangensteen Øye states from police headquarters in Grønland. At the same time the police conclude that the man observed carrying a plastic bag in the churchyard on the morning of 8 October does not represent a valid lead.

Kyrdalen has several conversations with the woman at the hospital over the course of the next three days.

“I want my baby”

“Believed it was stillborn”

Headlines in the newspapers Dagbladet and VG from 9 October 1991, translated from Norwegian.

In another room in a different part of Ullevål Hospital, the baby remains in his incubator. He is fed with breast milk from the hospital’s central supply bank. He cries and sleeps.

The doctors are on guard against several potential infections in the little boy’s body, given the fact that he was found outdoors in less than sterile surroundings. Professor Langslet does not believe it unlikely that the mother might have thought the boy to be dead after his birth.

Barn i kuvøse Barn i kuvøse

“Labour is a stressful experience for mother and child alike. Under certain circumstances, the child might appear so lifeless that a distressed and frightened mother might well believe the child to be stillborn. I wouldn’t necessarily dismiss the woman’s version of events. She had no help during delivery. It must have been a brutal experience for her, all in all,” the paediatrician explains to the media.

On the Tuesday morning, the pregnant woman had been alone in the apartment, she claims.

The woman is very clear about the fact that she acted alone. Two of her acquaintances are interviewed to determine whether they played any part in leaving the child where he was found, or whether they had any knowledge about this. One of the woman’s friends is suspected, but the police dismiss these charges after a short period of time. They played no part in events, they insist. She had not hidden her pregnancy from them, but after giving birth, she had kept herself to herself, spending most of her time lying in bed.

“Please, I’m the only one who knew. Nobody else!” she says.

The police discuss charging the woman in accordance with paragraph 234 of the Criminal Code, attempting to take the life of one’s child:
“Should an act […] be committed by a mother against her own child during childbirth or in the 24 hours following this event, she will be sentenced to serve a term of 1 to 8 years in prison. In severe cases, a prison term of up to 12 years can be imposed. Attempts to take the child’s life can go unpunished in such a case that the child has no physical injuries and has sustained no harm to its health.”

But the Oslo police opt to change tack where charges are concerned. Kyrdalen explains this to the woman, reading and translating as he goes, starting with the basis for the charges: “On the 8th October 1991 in Vestre Aker churchyard in Oslo, the accused left her newborn baby boy in a condition of helplessness, placing him inside a plastic bag and leaving the area.”

He stops.

“As such, we are charging you in accordance with Criminal Code paragraph 232, ‘leaving an individual in a condition of helplessness.’”

Kyrdalen reads the legal explanation aloud for the woman:

“Any individual who leaves another in a condition of helplessness, or who contributes to initiating this condition, is to be imprisoned for up to 3 years. Any person who unlawfully leaves an individual for whom they are responsible in a situation of helplessness, including any individual they are obliged to accompany, guide, receive or care for in any other way, is to be punished with the same sentence…
Should the crime lead to death, injury or significant harm to the health of the victim, the guilty party is to be punished with up to 6-year prison sentence.”

Should the crime bring danger to the life or wellbeing of the child, the guilty party is to be punished with anything up to 8 years’ imprisonment, and a minimum 3.

The woman sits in an interview room in Oslo police station in Grønland; she shakes her head, clearly overcome. Is this where she’s destined to end up? In a Norwegian prison? Will she really never see her child grow up? And will she ever see her family back home again?

“Nevertheless,” Kyrdalen continues. It’s clear that he has more to say on the matter. He reads paragraph 244 of the Criminal Code.

“A mother who wilfully commits a criminal act such as those outlined in §242 or §243 against her own child within 24 hours of the child’s birth will not be punished any more severely than outlined in §234. Provided that death does not occur, and that the child suffers no harm to its physical health or general wellbeing, the crime may go unpunished.”

“So…” says Kyrdalen.

“The child didn’t die, you see. And there are still no perceptible injuries. As such, you may yet go free.”

As things stand, it remains too early to draw any conclusions.

Friday 11 October: The woman is permitted to see her child at the hospital. Their reunion is a powerful sight. She cradles her son, who is dressed in a white bodysuit. My boy, she weeps. My little boy! She had left him in the graveyard just three days earlier, hoping that someone might find him, take care of him, bury his tiny, newborn body, but now he’s here, resting in her arms. She hears a whimper, followed by soft cries.

Moren med barnet sitt

She is able to begin breastfeeding straight away. A painting on the wall shows a little girl fishing by a lake. The curtains are brightly coloured, printed with impeccably green trees and blue skies, and through the window of the neonatal unit on the first floor she has a view out onto a garden.

The fate of mother and son still rests with the Norwegian police and child protection authorities. The mother has not yet been granted custody. Things are not yet over.

On Tuesday 15 October, the woman is called into the police station once again for yet another interview.

“Are you willing to show us where you left the child and the route you took that day to the churchyard?” Kyrdalen asks her.

“Yes, I am,” she replies.

Kyrdalen and Rykhus, the crime scene investigator, drive her to Ullevaalsalléen 5. They want to set off from outside the block where the baby is said to have entered the world.

“We want to re-enact the walk you took that day to see how long it took you to travel between the apartment and where you left the child in the graveyard,” Kyrdalen says.

They start the clock, setting off at one thirty-four.

The mother goes first. She crosses Sognsvannsveien, following the road for 20 metres and turning off onto a tarmacked path leading towards Ullevålsveien 117 and further, on towards the church.

The road to the Churchyard

She passes the church itself, then carries on 50 metres, following the footpath through the graveyard and pointing resolutely at a shrub planted half a metre from the path.

“There,” she says.

“That’s where I left the baby, inside the plastic carrier bag.”

They approach the spot. Kyrdalen asks whether she placed the baby behind or beside the shrub, which is around 50cm in height. She points at the ground in front of the plant.

“Right here.”

The bush where the baby was found The bush where the baby was found

She points at a clearly visible spot beside the path. Kyrdalen and Rykhus discuss the site; the baby in the bag “would surely have been seen by anyone passing by”, they agree.

“The path is narrow, which would mean that the bag was only around 30cm from the pathway,” Kyrdalen concludes.

The location does not coincide with that given by the man who found the baby - there is a difference of ten metres between the two sites.

“You’re quite sure it was here?” Kyrdalen asks.

“I'm sure. I sat here and prayed for him. It was my own private moment of mourning before I returned to the apartment.”

In the meantime, one of the woman’s friends has been charged as an accessory to the crime, but the charges are ultimately dropped. 

“Nobody helped me. I acted alone,” the mother insists.

The accused is asked about whether she knew the churchyard well and how many times she had been there.

“I’ve never been, not before coming with the baby,” she replies.

Kyrdalen notes that it was 13:42 when they arrived at the location she identified as the place she had left the baby. The mother had taken eight minutes to make her way from Ullevaalsalléen to the spot in the graveyard where she claims to have placed the infant. But the police investigators point out that she was moving very slowly; at a normal pace, this time might easily be halved, they conclude.

It is as they stand here, looking at the car park by the church, that she suddenly speaks up.

“There was a white car parked there when I passed with the baby.”

“Really?” Kyrdalen responds.

“I think there was someone sitting inside.”

“Do you have anything else you want to tell us about your visit to the graveyard?” Kyrdalen asks her.

The woman stops. There is something. Something she hasn’t mentioned before, she tells him. But it’s only just come back to her now, standing here in the graveyard.

“I began to feel worried an hour or so after I returned to the apartment. I came back to the churchyard to see if the bag was where I had left it. By the time I got here, my baby was gone.”

The police officers exchange a meaningful glance.

Continue reading:

Text, idea and research: Bernt Jakob Oksnes
Translated from Norwegian: Rosie Hedger
Design and development: Anders Sandøy Wiik and Guro Lindahl Flåten
Photography and video interviews: Lars Myren Holand
Assisting video: Lars Eivind Bones
Archive photography from 1991: Lars Eivind Bones, Hans Arne Vedlog and Arne V. Hoem
Photography and video for chapter-covers: Jørn H. Moen, Lars Myren Holand and Julo Cope.
Video editing: Anders Stai Fougner, Ingrid Cogorno and Anna Ingeborg Näumann
Assisting video editing: Øystein Norum Monsen
Sound: Anders Stai Fougner and Jørn H Moen
Archive video: NRK
Creative consultant: Sigmund Nordal

Supported by the Dagbladets Foundation, 2014/2015.

The scene to take place in the apartment is based on the following research:
Interviews with Lennart Kyrdalen, Laila Back and Knut Rykhus, present or former investigators and crime scene investigators in Oslo Police District.

The scene depicting the two police interviews at police headquarters in Oslo is based on:
Interviews with Lennart Kyrdalen and Laila Back of Oslo Police District, as well as an interview with lawyer Benedict de Vibe

The scene depicting police interviews in the hospital is based on:
Interviews with Lennart Kyrdalen and lawyer Benedict de Vibe. Reports from the police documents on the case.

The scene depicting the reunion of mother and baby in hospital is based on:
Interviews with lawyer Benedict de Vibe and Tor Schou Nilsen, and an e-mail interview with the baby’s mother.
Interviews with Hilde Follestad, Ingrid Helen Ravn and Tove Eikrem, all current or previous employees of the neonatal intensive care unit of Ullevål Hospital.
Reports from police documents on the case from October 1991.
Studies of 94 unpublished photographs from Dagbladet’s coverage of the story.

The scene depicting the reconstruction in the churchyard is based on:
Interviews with Lennart Kyrdalen and lawyer Benedict de Vibe. Police documents on the case from October 1991.

N.B! Dagbladet acknowledges the fact that specific aspects of this case can be difficult for those involved to recall in precise detail after 25 years. As such, we have made every effort to speak with as many individuals as possible and to gather information from official sources (police interviews, medical journals, etc) and newspaper articles, in order that the various chains of events depicted are as authentic and accurate as possible.