UPDATED: The body of a woman believed to be a 21-year-old student missing in Ålesund since Wednesday was found on Saturday in the area where Anja Weløy Aarseth went jogging that evening. Police believe the dead woman was murdered, launched a murder investigation and were asking all men who were in the area on Wednesday to submit to DNA testing.
Aarseth’s disappearance in the west coast city of Ålesund set off a massive search that had attracted nationwide media attention by the weekend. The area where she went missing is popular with locals and tourists alike, known for its panoramic views over the city, the sea and surrounding mountains.
Police were slow to formally identify the dead woman as Aarseth but did so on Monday after an autopsy was performed. More than 30 police officers and technicians were working on the case, which has shocked residents of the small city. Despite more than 600 tips, police told media on Sunday that they still lacked information that could lead them to a suspect.
Body found near historic café
The body of the dead woman was found early Saturday afternoon in the terrain not far from a trail in the forested, hilltop area known as Akslafjellet, close to the city center and only around 200 meters from the popular Fjellstua, billed as Ålesund’s oldest café and party location.
Police couldn’t immediately confirm that the body was Aarseth’s, but website VG.no quoted a police lawyer as saying that “we have no reason to believe the body can be anyone else but her.” The formal identification was announced Monday afternoon.
Aarseth reportedly spoke with her mother on the phone around 5pm Wednesday and left her grandmother’s apartment, where she was living, to go jogging on Akslafjellet a few hours later. The last trace of her was the discovery of her grandmother’s car, found parked in a lot at a local day care center for children at one end of the narrow Akslafjellet ridge. Police believe Aarseth’s plan was to jog over the mountain and back to the city. The body they found was around four kilometers from the parked car Aarseth had borrowed from her grandmother, at the other end of Akslafjellet.
‘Unknown assailant,’ no immediate suspects
Police cordoned off the area around Fjellstua where criminal investigators launched their probe. The search for Aarseth was called off after the body was found.
Police said they were searching for “an unknown assailant,” and asked for tips from the public. They later said they were asking for DNA samples from men who were in the area because “with this type of serious crime, it’s normally men behind it,” Yngve Skovly of the Sunnmøre Police District told newspaper Aftenposten. The local police were also getting assistance from inspectors from state police crime unit Kripos.
Some tips have involved observations of allegedly suspicious persons who “didn’t fit in” with the joggers, hikers and families who use Akslafjellet as a recreational area. Police were gathering what video surveillance material they could find of the area.
Aarseth was a student at the local college, Høgskolen i Ålesund, majoring in shipping and logistics. Friends and classmates were among the many searching for her, and they gathered at the school on Saturday afternoon to support one another after police announced the discovery of what’s believed to be her body.