Film Spotlight: A Vanishing Act

In June of 2009 a tall, thin man with closely cropped gray hair checked into a hotel in in the town of Sligo on Ireland’s northwest coast. He wore dark clothes and spoke with a pronounced German accent. On the hotel’s registration form, he gave his name as Peter Bergmann and an address in Vienna, Austria.

Over the next few days he kept contacts with his fellow humans sparse and to the point. On his fourth day in Sligo, he checked out of the hotel and took a bus to a quiet, pretty beach a ten-minute drive out of town. The next morning, a father and son heading out for a stroll and a swim saw something on the beach that looked like “a mannequin.” When they realized what they were seeing, they said a prayer and called the police.

A short documentary film, “The Last Days of Peter Bergmann,” hauntingly recreates the final hours of a man who, seemingly, just wanted to vanish.

In Sligo, “Peter Bergmann” went to methodical lengths to erase his identity. The address in Vienna was a vacant lot. He had cut every label out of every stitch of the clothing he wore. His movements at the hotel and around town can be retraced to a limited extent using closed-circuit camera footage. But large swaths of the time he spent in Sligo remained beyond the reach of security cameras. Investigators think Bergmann took great pains to ensure this. Who he really was, why he came to Sligo to die, are still unanswered questions.

His story is a compelling reminder that even in our highly trackable, highly visible modern society, a person can be as hard to trace as any 17th-century yeoman – if they want that badly enough.

“I have to be satisfied with our investigations at this time that Peter Bergmann does not exist,” said Detective Superintendent John Reilly, who headed up the case. “It’s highly likely that he never did.”

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2 Comments on “Film Spotlight: A Vanishing Act”

  1. Pancho says:

    What a haunting story.


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