A stranger showed up in Silgo, Ireland on 12 June 2009. He was nice enough older man that kept to himself. He wandered the town, mailed some things, had his meals, snuck cigarettes in the hall instead of going outside, and went to the beach. Nothing really odd about that until he checked out with less luggage than he had checked in with and was found dead on the beach he’d visited the next morning. Then it turns out he’d given a fake name and address to the hotel. Who was the man that said he was Peter Bergmann? The police turned to CCTV to find him on the footage. What they saw raised more questions than it answered.
Peter Bergmann or Bergmann as I’ll call him because I have nothing else. Was a 5’10”, slender , balding man in his 50s – 60s. He was very tan and spoke with a heavy German accent. He was a chain smoker. He always paid in cash. He was polite but kept to himself. That’s about all anyone who met him could say about him. The rest we know about him either came from weeks of gleaning CCTV around Silgo and Derry as well as his autopsy. Here’s the last days of Bergmann as best we know.
12 June 2009 – This is the earliest finding of Bergmann on CCTV. He is in the Ulster Bus Station in Derry at 2:30pm. He has a black shoulder bag and carry on rolling luggage. He gets a ticket to Silgo then boards the bus at 4pm.
He arrives at the Silgo bus station at 4:28pm. He hails a cab and goes to the Sligo City Hotel and checks in as Peter Bergmann giving an Austrian address. He pays for both the hotel stay and cab ride in cash. The address he gave was a vacant lot. I could not find if he had to give a phone number and if so what it proved to be.
13 June 2009 – Bergmann starts moving about the city. He notes every CCTV camera and stares into many of them. He goes to the post office buying stamps and airmail stickers. He mails an unknown quantity of items. By the time this is discovered the mail had gone so they were not retrievable. In that afternoon he starts his purple bag runs. He leaves his hotel with an opaque purple plastic bag full of things. He goes to a blind spot on the CCTV and comes back in sight carrying nothing. Police think he was disposing of his material goods in the trash. His morning walk looking at CCTV coverage was to determine these spots. They also think he folds up the purple bag tucks it in his pocket then refills it in his room as he has it again, full, when he departs for the next blind spot. Again by the time this is discovered on the footage the trash in these places has long gone to the landfill.
14 June 2009 – Bergmann hails a cab. He asks the cab to take him to a quiet beach that’s good for swimming. The cab driver takes him to Rosses Beach. Bergmann gets out for a few moments looks it over and then gets back in. “It’ll do.” he tells the cab driver and asks to be taken back to the Silgo bus station. He pays for his ride with cash.
Later that day Bergmann resumes his purple bag runs. It is this day or the day before a maid accidently walked in on him. He spun as if expecting to be attacked. She apologized explaining she had come to make up the room as the privacy lock wasn’t on and the do not disturb notice was not out. He apologized for that and indicated he would be out in a moment for her to do her job. When he leaves the room he goes to an isolated hall and furiously smokes a cigarette.
15 June 2009 – Bergmann checks out of the hotel at 1:06pm. He now has his purple plastic bag and black shoulder bag. He again moves about town with that but arrives at the bus station after visiting a blind spot with only his distinctive purple plastic bag. Some reports have him disposing of the rolling bag to some have it found empty in the room I couldn’t verify which it was but no leads there apparently either way. Majority have him leaving with only the two things, reducing his load as would be expected.
That afternoon Bergmann is in the bus station and gets lunch. There he reads the paper while eating. He takes a paper out of his pocket, reads it, then tears it up. It is tossed in the bin with the purple bag and the garbage from his lunch. He then boards a bus to Rosses Beach.
On Rosses Beach he is seen by 16 people. He is casually walking the beach and greets them politely as one does passing other walkers on a peaceful stretch of beach.
16 June 2009 – Very early in the morning a triathlete in training and his trainer father find Bergmann’s nude body on the beach. Bergmann’s clothes were scattered along the beach and he appeared to have been washed back to shore. No ID, no wallet, and no money were found with the clothes. His clothes were new and purchased from C&A a mid-price European clothing chain available in many countries.
An autopsy was done. Bergmann, who was quickly determined not to be Bergmann really, had died from drowning. There was no signs of a struggled on him so it was ruled a suicide. He had excellent dental work done in gold. He had had multiple previous heart attacks. He had only one kidney the other had been expertly removed, as if he was a donor some time ago. He was suffering from advanced prostate cancer. Toxicology showed he was on no medications. The coroner and doctors agreed a man at that cancer stage without medication would be in a significant amount of pain. After many attempts to identify the man, he was still a mystery. He was buried in Silgo Ireland.
He was not recorded in Interpol as they don’t have a database for unidentified. (USA just recently got an official police one NamUS. It includes missing and unidentified). Interpol only has a database for the missing or the wanted. Mr. Bergmann is neither to Silgo police and he does not match anyone in either of those databases. Austria was not contacted by Sligo police but instead by a French reporter in 2015. Despite wanting to help identify their potential citizen they could be of no help, he did not match any known missing person.
So the question remains who was Peter Bergmann? Why did he choose to die in Sligo?
First off he obviously did not want to be identified or found. Had it not been for his washing back up to the beach, he wouldn’t have. So let’s assume he wasn’t familiar with tides and didn’t check for outgoing ones to schedule his own demise. However he was familiar with surveillance. He could find blind camera spots easy once seeing the camera type, direction, and movement, if there was any. He seemed to know to wait a few days after posting so the dispatches would be gone. He gradually got rid of his things in multiple places of a period of time. He even got clothes that were untraceable. Went off his medications so records or indications could be gleaned from that. He either was familiar with how to do covert movements in society like a spy or he spent a long time thinking of how to do this. If that is so why drown on an incoming tide?
I can’t help feel for his family. I hope they know he did as he wished and aren’t left with the hole of wondering what happened to him. Yes it would be hard not to say good bye but if you knew, at least you wouldn’t worry he succumbed to a horrible disease alone in pain somewhere.
I wonder if the address to the empty lot had significance? You know like the Blues Brothers giving the Cubby stadium as their home address. Could clues be gleaned from that by Austrian authorities? Where had he been that he was so tan? Were places like that checked?
In the end my armchair quarterbacking is that he was either a spy alone in the world after the Cold War died and he was dying. Giving me echoes of the Somerton Man case. Or maybe he was a criminal and didn’t want to be found. Though it seems that in this day and age his DNA and prints would tell that. I do wonder if the other country databases were checked. Sadly we don’t know. I do hope that there’s a genealogy geneticist working with his DNA somewhere. Cases have been broken by such talented specialists. It seems this is a prime one for such efforts.
There is a documentary about the case entitled The Last Days of Peter Bergmann. Here’s the trailer for it.