"It has created so much curiosity and speculation in so many places"
June 19, 2019 12:10 AM   Subscribe

“There are so many unanswered questions that will probably never be answered, but the one I would love to get answered is, Who was Peter Bergmann?” Ten years ago this week a man calling himself Peter Bergmann checked in to a hotel in Sligo town. Five days later his body was found on Rosses Point beach. Who was he?
posted by Grinder (26 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
What a strange, sad story. Thank you.
posted by Emmy Noether at 3:49 AM on June 19

Brillant read, thanks for making my lunch.
posted by fordiebianco at 5:03 AM on June 19

I'm pretty impressed by the thoroughness of the investigation, both the one conducted by LEO and the one mounted by the author.
posted by carmicha at 5:49 AM on June 19

These kinds of mysteries are even more alluring today, when everyone is so highly visible and trackable (for better and for worse....mostly worse). So being able to arrive somewhere that's so highly recorded, with no real trace of how you got there, what you did when you were there, or who you were....it's fascinating.
posted by xingcat at 6:15 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

Intriguing, but on reflection if he wanted to remain anonymous, I’m prepared to let him.
posted by Segundus at 6:21 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

The accompanying podcast is also worth a listen - it's as much about Rosita Boland did her research for the story as it is about the case itself. It includes the interviews with the locals and the Guards as well as her impressions of the area.
posted by scorbet at 6:23 AM on June 19

Nobody gets to be close to 60 without gaining friends, colleagues, neighbours and acquaintances along the way, let alone a possible family. At the absolute least, he was someone’s son.
Well... No. This is entirely wrong. Lots of people don’t have living parents by the time they reach 60. My parents didn’t. It’s eminently possible that “Bergmann” had no children, had no (living) spouse, was retired, and hadn’t had any particular connections to his community. And then he discovered he had terminal cancer and decided that the only way he was going to be remembered was as a mystery. Maybe he left clues that no one caught at the time. Maybe he left clues that haven’t quite been assembled the right way yet. Maybe he didn’t leave any clues so the mystery will live forever.

Or maybe a dozen other things. But there are a lot of lonely people out there who could just... vanish.
posted by Etrigan at 6:25 AM on June 19 [18 favorites]

Also, doesn't making friends drop off sharply after one's mid-20s, and existing friendships formed in one's youth often fade or disintegrate? It's quite possible, if not probable, to end up at 60 with no functioning social relationships.
posted by acb at 6:37 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]

It's quite possible, if not probable, to end up at 60 with no functioning social relationships.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that "Bergmann" was a widower, but probably not a recent one. His wife did all of the emotional labor in maintaining social relationships (possibly even familial ones), and when she died, he just drifted away from everyone to the point that no one was in a place to notice that he vanished.
posted by Etrigan at 7:08 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]

Before we get super deep into how this unknown old man had no relationships, he also seemed to be from a german-speaking part of the world, and while lots of people in Europe speak english, it's also possible that this case didn't make much of a splash in the Germanophone world and there's dozens of other old people back home who just don't follow online news who'd recognize this guy in an instant.

If my grandma went to Brazil and died with no papers and they couldn't figure out who she was and put out all the postings they wanted, odds are very slim that we'd see any of that, because it would not be inherently part of the anglophone internet and news. It's not that she doesn't have friends, it's that they wouldn't see that news.

But yeah I think Etrigan is probably right, that's not uncommon at all.
posted by neonrev at 7:12 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]

The lack of tags on his clothing makes me think of two things - the detagged clothing of the Somerton man or the sensory sensitivities of someone with ASD.
posted by fFish at 7:34 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

Maybe the tags were just uncomfortable? Does everything have to be pathologized?
posted by fluttering hellfire at 7:49 AM on June 19 [8 favorites]

So by the thinking here, by the age of 60, having no living parents and no children, my social relationships will have fallen away and I’ll be alone?

Not only is that some serious projection, it’s flat wrong for most people, and assigning that to this guy seems a really forward thing to do.

I lean toward the idea that he went to Sligo to die. Maybe he was alone in life, or maybe he was sparing his family or friends the pain of his death by disease. In any case projecting hat he was an elderly, lonely man with no connections to anyone, and that it’s really very common to be alone at the age of 60, is a really weird thing for metafilter’s audience to presume.
posted by disclaimer at 7:57 AM on June 19 [5 favorites]

Not only is that some serious projection, it’s flat wrong for most people, and assigning that to this guy seems a really forward thing to do.

Are we really doing a #notallunidentifiedmen here? Really?

I said "Lots". Not "Most". Not "Very common". And certainly not "A population that definitely includes MetaFilter user disclaimer", so please don't take it quite so personally that I believe that some people exist with very few social connections in our modern world.

No, I said "Lots", as in "Enough that this person, if this was his situation, wouldn't be unique". As in "Enough that I thought of it pretty early in this story".

But let's imagine that you're correct and I've libeled this man who had a vibrant, fulfilling life and was simply removing himself from his multifarious friends and loving family to spare them the pain of watching him wither away. Why is his body still sharing a box in a pauper's grave? No one has bothered mentioning to their local Polizei that dear, beloved Onkel Fritz just hopped on a train back in '09 and never came back? His spouse just took his name off the deed to the house and no one bothered asking why? That no one of the many people that you appear to be certain knew and interacted with and loved this man ever bothered to file a report of a missing person or a suspected death in a foreign land? That this information never filtered its way to Interpol, an agency which pretty much exists for the exact purpose of identifying crime victims outside of their home country?

Sorry, but I still think that "He had no remaining strong social connections" seems more likely -- and incredibly less cruel -- than "He had a lot of social connections, but none of them has bothered to report him missing for a decade".
posted by Etrigan at 8:29 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]

the detagged clothing of the Somerton man

Thanks--I was racking my brain for what this reminded me of.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:31 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]

Some discussion on this German forum on this case. Generally they find the choice of Ireland puzzling for a Central European.

Many (though not all) commentators there assume that he must have friends and family, since he must be sending the postcards to somebody. Hence a lot of speculation as to why those family and friends haven't come forward to claim the body. One possibility I found compelling was that he wanted to disappear to ensure that his family got his pension for as long as possible.
posted by crazy with stars at 10:40 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]

Thanks--I was racking my brain for what this reminded me of.

The Tamam Shud case is a fascinating one that was loosely fictionalized by Stephen King.
posted by Gelatin at 10:43 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]

Etrigan, that’s a pretty harsh criticism of what I said, since I was really reacting to this and not what you posted.

I think this guy had people he didn’t want to burden with his death, which I kind of get. Go to an obscure place, send some letters or postcards home explaining what’s going on and asking that no one try to find you, and be done with it all.

Just my opinion, but I felt comments like the one I linked were ascribing a “well, once you’re sixty you’re done with having friends anyway” kind of thing and I felt it was worth pushing back on that a bit.
posted by disclaimer at 2:30 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]

Thanks--I was racking my brain for what this reminded me of.

I'm thinking of another story, just in the last few years. I thought it was also in that part of Europe and thought it might be the same story, but I don't think it involved the ocean, I thought it was on a hill somewhere.
posted by bongo_x at 8:47 PM on June 19

I'm going with dying bank robber, traveling to far away place with his remaining loot and passing it out to random strangers - what was in the purple bag?

The postcards were sent to his various criminal associates that have been trying to find him for years, letting them know they never will and the money is gone.
posted by each day we work at 10:55 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]

I'm thinking of another story, just in the last few years.

Maybe David Lytton, who was found in 2015 in Northern England? He was called "Neil Dovestone" until he was identified.
posted by scorbet at 11:40 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]

That's it. I don't think I ever knew the end of that story.
posted by bongo_x at 1:23 AM on June 20

Here's a previously about Lytton.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:38 AM on June 23

I was racking my brain for what this reminded me of.

That's what I thought this post was going to be about (I wasn't reading carefully). We've done Tamam Shud before.
posted by pracowity at 12:41 PM on June 23

Did anyone link to this video yet?
posted by pracowity at 12:50 PM on June 23

I wonder whether there's a sort of Werther-style effect here. In the classic Werther Effect, coverage of suicides causes other suicides to increase, presumably as people sitting on the fence are motivated to think in that direction. Perhaps it could also be that, when there's coverage/publicity of an unnamed traveller's body being found somewhere, meticulously stripped of identifying marks and/or with some strange paraphernalia, there may be a small number of people (typically near the ends of their lives, possibly bored or isolated) start thinking of making their inevitable deaths into a mystery that will be talked about by others.
posted by acb at 1:33 AM on June 24

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