Who was Peter Bergmann, and why had he come here..?
In June 2009, a man boarded the number 64 bus at Strand Road, Derry, heading to Sligo, with a black rucksack.
Three days later, on the desolate and windswept beach at Rosses Point, five miles along the coast from Sligo town, his body was found. He was stretched out on the wet sand in a dark t-shirt and swimming trunks. His feet were bare.
The man seemed to be in his late 50s, about 5ft 10in tall, with an athletic build. He had blue eyes and neat, grey hair.
But that was all anyone knew about the tragic and mysterious body on the beach.
There weren’t even any labels in the clothing found on the man’s body – he’d cut them out.
The authorities put out an appeal for information but no-one came forward. Then they started trawling through all the city’s CCTV footage.
And soon, a bizarre picture started to emerge…
For it appeared that the mystery man had come to Sligo to die.
As soon as he’d arrived on the evening of Friday, 12 June 2009, the man checked in at the Sligo City Hotel. He wanted a room for three nights, and paid in cash.
When the receptionist had asked for his details, he’d given the name Peter Bergmann. He had a German accent, and he gave an address in Vienna, Austria.
The next morning, Peter took a walk around the city centre. He seemed to pay particular attention to the position of the city’s CCTV cameras. After that, he made his way to the post office, where he bought eight stamps.
On the Sunday, Peter Bergmann took a taxi and asked that the driver take him to a quiet beach.
They drove to Rosses Point. Peter Bergmann surveyed the scene.
He nodded to himself and got back into the taxi. Then, he asked the driver to take him back to the city.
Those two mornings, Peter had left the hotel with full carrier bags, but he’d returned empty-handed. He’d dumped the bags, and their contents, somewhere out of sight of the CCTV.
Monday came. Peter Bergmann checked out of his hotel room with his suitcase and his rucksack. He went to a cafe and sat looking at a piece of paper he’d taken out of his pocket.
And then Peter Bergmann boarded a bus to Rosses Point – it would be the last time he was seen alive.
The next morning, his body was found. But there was no suitcase or rucksack with him. Nothing from which he could be identified. There was no evidence of foul play. In fact, a cause of death couldn’t be determined.
Peter Bergmann’s body was wet, but he hadn’t drowned.
Soon, the investigators hit a brick wall. They’d found no records that matched a Peter Bergmann. And the address he’d given to the hotel was false.
An autopsy revealed the stranger had prostate cancer and bone tumours. He must have been in agony, but tests showed no trace of any painkiller in his system.
And, whoever he was, the stranger hadn’t wanted his body to be identified.
In the months and weeks after the unknown man’s death, officers hoped that someone, somewhere, would fill in a missing-persons report that matched the stranger’s description.
No-one ever did.
So who was Peter Bergmann? And why had he chosen to die so anonymously and so alone?
And yet, only the day before he’d died, he’d bought those eight stamps… The stamps were never found, which surely meant he must have sent eight letters – to loved ones? Friends? Associates?
Some people think the stranger must have been a spy, explaining his detailed efforts to hide his identity, and his false name.
Yet, still, the true story behind the death of the stranger who’d called himself Peter Bergmann remains a mystery.
The man had come to Sligo to die. In his last moments, perhaps he’d hoped the tide would carry his body out into the Atlantic Ocean, that he would simply disappear forever.
In a way, his wish was fulfilled. Because although the body of a man was found on that desolate beach, it seems his true identity may never be known.
In 2013, Irish film-maker Ciaran Cassidy released a short, 19-minute film based on the last days of the stranger, called The Last Days of Peter Bergmann. The film uses some of the actual CCTV footage of the unknown man.