He had a fake name, he destroyed tracks before he died. Ireland is still solving the mystery of the dead man

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The mysterious man arrived in the Northern Irish city of Sligo on June 12, 2009, and the same evening checked into the Sligo City Hotel for the second time. “The first hotel was full – it was a Friday night in the peak summer tourist season – but he had better luck at the Sligo City Hotel on Quay Street. He paid three nights in advance,” Vice’s Francisco Garcia wrote of the man’s move.

The hotel reception staff later recalled that the man spoke with a foreign accent, according to them apparently German or Austrian. He introduced himself as Peter Bergmann and gave the Viennese address “Ainstettersn 15”, which later turned out to be false – there is no such place in Vienna. Even the name was fake. The mysterious stranger was apparently trying to hide his true identity for some reason.

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In time it turned out that he had arrived in Sligo by bus, which he boarded in the city of Derry. The bus station in this city remains to this day the first place from which the man’s existence is documented. How he got there and when and where he even set foot on Irish soil has never been established. Nor has anything else been ascertained about its previous existence. His life until he got to the north of Ireland is one big question mark.

He swept his tracks behind him

This unknown man behaved quite strangely even in the hotel where he stayed. When police later checked security camera footage, it emerged that he left the hotel thirteen times in total with a full purple plastic bag, only to return empty-handed each time.

It was obvious that he disposed of the contents of the bag somewhere in the city each time, and then put the bag in his pocket. However, none of the street cameras caught him during this activity, which was not a coincidence – the man systematically avoided the cameras during his movements and used their blind spots. What was he up to? According to the investigators, he apparently methodically got rid of personal belongings so that they could not identify him later. All indications were that he had come to Sligo with the intention of disappearing and sweeping away all traces of his ever being.

On Saturday morning, the mysterious man went to the post office in town, where he bought eight stamps and airmail stickers. The next day he left the hotel between eleven and twelve thirty in the morning and hailed a taxi. He asked the taxi driver if he could recommend a nice place to swim. The taxi driver suggested a beach in the nearby town of Rosses Point, and when the man agreed, he took him straight there. The man looked around the beach and let himself be driven back again. He got out of the taxi in front of the bus station.

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On Monday after one in the afternoon, he checked out of the hotel and handed in his room key. He left with three bags – the familiar purple plastic bag, a black shoulder bag and another black bag in his hand. But he didn’t have the carry-on bag he came to Sligo with.

From the hotel he headed to the bus station, where he took it via the Quayside shopping center, where he parked along the way. He left the center at a quarter to two and continued along Wine Street to the station, still carrying all three bags with him. He ordered a cappuccino and a ham and cheese sandwich at the station shortly before three quarter to two. While he ate, he studied some papers taken out of his pocket. After reading it, he tore it up and threw it in the trash.

He boarded a bus that left for Rosses Point at 2:20 p.m. There, according to 16 witnesses, he appeared on the beach, looking in good spirits and greeting random passers-by. It was the last time anyone saw him alive.

Corpse on the beach

The next day, Tuesday June 16, 2009, the father and son Kinsells, father Arthur and his son Brian, went for an early morning run on the same beach. A human body washed up in the wet sand suddenly emerged from the tearing wisps of morning mist over the ocean. It was Bergmann and he was already dead. Adding to the mystery of his death was the bizarreness of his clothing, specifically his underpants pulled over a purple striped bathing suit and a navy T-shirt tucked into it. “It was a strange bathing suit,” glossed Rosita Boland of the Irish Times.

The body was taken for an autopsy, which revealed death by drowning, with no signs of foul play. The man was also found to be suffering from advanced prostate cancer and bone tumors. He had a heart attack in the past and was missing a kidney. However, a toxicological examination found no traces of drug use in his body, despite the fact that he suffered from severe pain.

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All the pockets of his clothes were empty. “No money, no wallet, no ID,” Francisco Garcia said. And what was even stranger, all the clothes found had the product information crudely cut out with scissors. The man didn’t seem to want anything to be known about him.

In an attempt to find out the man’s identity, the police left his body in the morgue for a month and released footage from security cameras across Europe and other continents. But no one came forward with any testimony of knowing this man. In September 2009, the unknown drowned man was buried in the local cemetery in Sligo in an unmarked grave paid for by the Ministry of Health.

A really strange case

A five-month investigation followed, during which Irish police, with the help of witnesses and CCTV footage, reconstructed the unknown’s movements around Sligo fairly accurately, but were unable to find an answer to the question of where he actually was and where and how he lived his life before boarding the bus in Derry . The address he had given at the hotel did not exist, and the letters for which he had bought stamps and which he apparently sent had never been traced.

In 2019, journalist Francisco Garcia met with Detective Inspector Ray Mulderrig, who is the third investigator to take responsibility for the Bergmann case (the first being John O’Reilly, who has since been promoted and moved elsewhere).

According to Mulderrig, the stranger apparently did not choose Sligo by chance. “It seems there was a purpose,” the detective informed Garcia. “Everything the man did seemed to have a purpose, from cutting off the tags on his clothes to everything else. The question we have to ask is: Why Sligo? If you want to die somewhere picturesque, you have the whole west coast of Ireland to choose from, or even Scotland if you’re spoiled for choice. So why Sligo? Something must have brought him here, though we’ve never been able to tell what it was.’

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According to the detective, the Bergmann case is really extremely unusual. “When investigating cases of missing persons, we follow a standardized procedure. Sometimes people only go missing for a short time. There are cases where they take their lives in such a way that we never find the body. In 2008 we dealt with a missing person who we suspected might have been murdered and identified her eight years later with the help of the Welsh Police through fingerprints. But Bergmann is different. We have no report of anyone missing like that, and never have. No one ever came up with the idea that it could be his father, brother or cousin,” Mulderrig said.

The case was never closed and the police followed up on a number of leads. He knows Bergmann’s DNA, has his clothes and the autopsy report. None of this led to the man’s identity being revealed. Now the police are waiting for any new lead that would restart the search. “I liken it to a computer that has gone into ‘sleep mode,'” Mulderrig said. “As soon as something new comes up or a credible witness comes forward, we move the mouse and the computer jumps into action again.”

The mystery sparked conspiracy theories

Of course, years of futile searching have spawned a whole host of conspiracy theories. “At the time I was writing about this case, I counted nine separate threads on Reddit dedicated to this mystery,” Garcia notes (Reddit is a social network based on user submissions of content, which is then rated by voting, note. aut.).

According to some conspiracy theories, Bergmann was an intelligence agent or a gangster on the run from a secret organized crime group, others say he tried to arrange his death as a murder or an accident so that his loved ones could be paid life insurance.

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One Reddit user even suggested that the whole thing was an elaborate hoax orchestrated by Irish filmmaker Ciaran Cassidy – whose 2013 documentary The Last Days of Peter Bergmann was until recently the only media coverage of the case. Garcia asked Cassidi about it on Twitter, and he denied it.

According to Garcia, the unknown man may have been trying to take full control of the end of his life in a very extreme way. “We know that he chose everything himself, from his pseudonym to the place and time of his death. He was gravely ill and wanted to die, so he did so with rare premeditated thoroughness. He had a death sentence deep in his bones and heart, but the rest of time was his alone.’