Cat portrait: Ambrose
dolls at an estate sale, Mt. Kisco, NY

The strange hunt for an Icelandic woman in Plattsburgh, NY


For a couple of days I've been following a series of creepy news stories in the Plattsburgh, NY Press Republican. In the first one, there were helicopters over Plattsburgh looking for a fugitive. On the afternoon of November 3rd, they posted the story headlined, Helicopter search on in Plattsburgh. It was very brief but suggestive of the possibility that something deeply unpleasant was going on:

PLATTSBURGH — Helicopters were searching the area around Route 3 just outside the City of Plattsburgh’s West End Tuesday afternoon.

State Police and Homeland Security helicopters were assisting with a Border Patrol search in that area, according to State Police based in Plattsburgh.

Helicopters could be seen circling around Cogan Avenue and Healey Avenue.

No further information was available Tuesday afternoon.

The first thing I thought of when I saw the story was an author's remark, declining an invitation to come from Montreal to come visit us in Westport, NY, that, "We do not go to your country for fun."

The next story, on November 5th, was headlined, Woman escapes custody downtown; search ensues.

It explained that an Icelandic woman named Linda Bjork Magnusdottir had escaped:

City Police, State Police and Plattsburgh State University Police assisted federal agents looking for 42-year-old Linda Bjork Magnusdottir, who was taken into custody by federal agents as an illegal alien, according to a City Police news release.

She was in the process of being arraigned on that charge when she escaped at about 6:30 p.m.

The woman, who was apparently detained for some kind of infraction when she was coming into the country at the Champlain border crossing, allegedly got away when she told authorities that she needed to use the restroom.

The woman is described as white, about 5 feet 10 inches, with long, straight blond hair and a slender build. She was last seen wearing black clothing.

Authorities said the woman is not believed to be dangerous.

Police blocked streets surrounding the Clinton County Government Center and were using a helicopter believed to belong to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to conduct the search.

So let me get this straight: This woman, who is not dangerous except for being 5 ft. 10, was trying to enter the US at a border crossing and the Border Patrol decided to arrest her. The cops did something dumb, and she got away.

(A couple of years ago, a Spanish science fiction editor was detained for a while at the US border when trying to come into the US to be a Guest of Honor at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. After several hours, as I recall the story, he managed to convince them to let him go by showing them a story note in an anthology he had with him; the story note mentioned him and so they were convinced to let him go and proceed on to the convention.)

And so now the giant blonde, who bears a passing resemblance to the woman on the poster for Attack of the 50 ft. High Woman, is in custody, thanks to the vigilance of some local citizens who had seen her picture on TV and knew she was a wanted fugitive. Here is today's headline news: Escapee caught in store after tip - Icelandic woman sought transport out of region.

"She came up to us and asked where we were headed," Mrs. Whalen said. "We said home, and she asked if that was going toward Albany. We told her no."

The woman went on to say that her car had broken down and she was in a fight with her husband and had to get out of town.

"I looked at her, and I knew who she was, and my husband knew who she was," Mrs. Whalen said, adding that they had heard about the search over the scanner and later saw her picture on the news.

She said Magnusdottir had paper towels in her shoes because she didn't have any socks on. She was wearing all black, with a tear in her shirt.

"She was nervous — very, very, very, very nervous," Mrs. Whalen said. "She was looking out the (store) windows when we got in the truck .... She wanted out really bad. She wanted a ride really bad."

So, other than trying to enter the US without the right papers, just why were there helicopters after this woman?

Gunnar Jonsson from the National Icelandic Broadcasting Service said Magnusdottir was once a leader of a religious cult in Iceland, which later went "belly up" after she allegedly had an affair with a younger member of the congregation. Her former husband was the preacher of that group.

Apparently Magnusdottir had been dating an American and living in America until recently, Jonsson said. She reportedly had temporary work in Canada.

She had been coming into the United States at the Champlain border crossing when she was detained.

In all this is very strange and unsettling. Immigration could have simply turned this woman away at the border crossing.

Maybe, just maybe, there is something there in the cult story. But what seems to be going on here is that Homeland Security is using the heavy equipment just because it's there. 

What is news here? That a giant blonde woman with cult-like religious beliefs and no American citizenship is on the loose in Plattsburgh, or that Homeland Security is all dressed up with no place to go and breaks out the helicopters at the slightest excuse because they're bored?

Just why was Magnusdottir worth hunting? Is there an answer? Or is this a story about the pernicious effects of Homeland Security money?