There remain deceased people in Ireland who are nameless, who are lying in graves and mortuaries because we still do not know who they are, years on from their discovery, many in tragic instances.
Pádraig Hoare explores some of Ireland’s forgotten unidentified remains cases, hoping that an Irish Examiner reader could help to finally bring peace to their souls Complete national policy needed for cold case IT is easy to become transfixed by a mystery, to postulate and dissect theories and speculation, to believe in your own version of truth.
It appeals to the would-be sleuth within us and has been a staple of literature since time immemorial.
However, behind each mystery involving our fellow men and women, there invariably lies heartache, the agony of not knowing what became of a loved one, a helplessness that pervades nightly dreams and consumes the mind.
Along with hundreds of missing persons, unsolved crimes, and cold cases, there are unidentified bodies in Ireland, belonging to human beings with families and friends somewhere in the world who do not know what became of their loved one.
With the advent of social media came platforms where all of us could exercise our right to speak and be heard, for better or worse, but also an opportunity to amplify awareness of seemingly lost causes.
With advances in genetic testing and evidence dissemination through DNA and other science, we have seen countless cases throughout the world finally solved, many after decades of uncertainty.
Gardaí want to put names to faces and unidentified remains, and believe newspaper readers can play a part in some of Ireland’s most baffling cases.
For retired detective inspector Pat Marry, it should not be a matter of choice as to where Garda resources go when it comes to identifying deceased people, but rather a matter of duty.
Mr Marry, now a private investigator after years on the force working on cases such as the murder of Gardadetective Adrian Donohoe, said it is impossible not to become emotionally invested in attempting to give someone back their identity, while also remaining clinically and objectively committed to solving a case.
Mr Marry, who worked extensively on establishing the identity of a man whose skull was found off Lambay Island near Dublin in 2006, said investigators feel they almost know the person, telling the remains and pictures of the dead that they will do their level best to find them peace.
He told the Irish Examiner: “I believe most cases are eminently solvable, because people hold the key to everything. A lot of families have been very good to me since I retired, thanking me for helping them receive justice and closure.
"That resonates with me; you want to do the right thing by families, who feel like they are on their own sometimes.
“We had a case of a man from the Philippines who went missing in 2002. He was in Drogheda and used to go to work in Dublin, yet no trace of him could be found. His brother would contact us, wondering why it couldn’t be solved.
"In 2016, we were able to match the remains of a body taken from the canal in 2002, while the photos of the post-mortem also matched. We could finally give some semblance of closure to his family.
“However, that showed to me that there is a need for a proper protocol and strategy needed when it comes to cases like this.
"Unfortunately, there is a huge lack of coordination in Ireland when it comes to matching body parts with missing persons, DNA, and other evidence.” Mr Marry, who went on to investigate some of Ireland’s most high-profile cases, including the killings of Rachel O’Reilly and Garda Donohue, retired in 2018 at the rank of detective inspector.
His book, The Making Of A Detective, shines a light on some of his most famous cases and gives insights into some of Ireland’s most notorious cases.
He is critical of current policing when it comes to cold cases.
“A comprehensive policy is needed once and for all, where there is a protocol to be able to compare DNA in a time-efficient manner, where Garda divisions work with each other and where a comprehensive national cold case strategy is formulated,” he said.
“We need gardaí in every division dedicated to working on cold cases, otherwise they just got lost in the mix, and justice and closure for families does not come. That torment for families should not be prolonged even one minute more than it needs to be.
“I truly believe any case is solvable, but it needs support from the top down.
“I believe the resources are there, it just needs that support and coordinated thinking from top management.
The advent of social media and online news is also a help in finally giving unidentified people the peace they deserve, he said.
“We are at the height of the social media era, as well as our national media being available all over the world.
I believe that the answers to many of these questions could lie in someone who sees what the Irish Examiner is doing with this piece, and it may just trigger a memory or a reminder.
"With the digital age, it means disseminating information and receiving tips can be greater than ever before. It is an invaluable tool to have at your disposal when trying to unlock a mystery such as an unidentified body.”
Mystery man disposed of items before being found on beach after Sligo stay
In June 2009, the body of a man, who had arrived in Sligo just days previously, was found washed up on a beach. At the time, it would seem cut and dry. The tallish, thin man in his late 50s or early 60s with the Germanic accent, had checked in days earlier to the Sligo City Hotel, signing in as Peter Bergmann.
On closer inspection, the mystery of Peter Bergmann’s death would only grow deeper. An address given to the hotel in Austria led to a vacant lot. Peter Bergmann did not exist.
The man who would come to be known as Peter Bergmann was first observed at the Ulster Bus Depot in Derry on June 12 between 2.30pm and 4pm, before getting on a bus to Sligo.
At around 6.30pm, Peter Bergmann arrived at the bus station in Sligo, before a taxi brought him to the Sligo City Hotel. He gave staff the name of Peter Bergmann as well as the Vienna address that would both turn out to be false. Carrying a black shoulder bag as well as a run-of-the-mill carry-on luggage, the man paid the hotel in cash.
He would be seen on security camera footage, carrying a purple plastic bag full, but the bag did not return to the hotel with him following a long walk. The clinical and calculated disposal of the items in the bag suggested to investigators that Peter Bergmann was a man who did not want to leave a trail.
The next day, Peter Bergmann would buy airmail stickers and eight 82c stamps in the post office, and the day after that he took a taxi to a beach, asking the driver to take him to where he could enjoy swimming. He was dropped off as Rosses Point, before taking the same taxi back to the bus station.
He left the hotel for the final time on Monday, June 15, handing in his room key at 1pm, with a shoulder bag and purple plastic bag in tow. The carry-on bag was not with him at this point, and he had a different luggage bag.
He would wander around the town, being spotted on CCTV around the shopping centre and other locations, before eating a sandwich at the bus station, discarding paper he had been reading in a nearby bin, and taking a bus to Rosses Point.
A five-month investigation into the identity of Peter Bergmann failed to solve the mystery.
An autopsy would reveal the man had been suffering from cancer as well as other serious health ailments, such as previous heart attacks and the removal of a kidney.
Given his Germanic accent and clothing from popular German and Austrian brand C&A, the man known as Peter Bergmann was obviously not Irish.
However, Interpol have not received any notification of a missing person matching his description from those countries.
With the purchase of stamps and airmail stickers, could Peter Bergmann have mailed loved ones during one of his final acts? Investigators just don’t know.
The short documentary The Last Days of Peter Bergmann can be found on various platforms.
The man who called himself Peter Bergmann was buried in Sligo, after a funeral service attended by four gardaí.
Lambay Island Skull - 2006
Gardaí have over the past 14 years appealed for assistance in identifying a human skull that was recovered from the sea off Lambay Island on February 6, 2006.
The fishing vessel “Our Tracey” made the discovery. Exhaustive enquiries have been carried out to identify these remains, but to no avail, according to gardaí.
Facial reconstruction was carried out on the skull by Dr Caroline Wilkinson, a senior lecturer in Forensic Anthropology at Dundee University, Scotland, who specialised in this area.
Dr Wilkinson made a 3D manual facial reconstruction and she believes the facial reconstruction will be a true likeness as the detail on the skull was good for the reconstruction to take place.
Retired detective inspector Pat Marry was the garda who reached out to Dr Wilkinson.
He told the Irish Examiner: “It was 2006, and it was reported that a skull had been washed up in a fishing net of Lambay. I remember the trawler had a sat-nav system, and was able to show within 20 feet of where the skull was actually netted.
“I sent a sub-aqua team down there, who reported that they had never seen as many crabs in one place. Any flesh that would have been there would not have survived the crabs, unfortunately. Absolutely nothing else could be found, other than the skull.”
Mr Marry, now a private investigator and author after leaving the Gardaí in 2018, said in his book The Makings of a Detective that he arranged for a local undertaker to retrieve the skull, which was done with the utmost respect, as if it were a full human body.
“Then I decided to hit the desk and do some research, because somehow – without a crime scene, a location, a body or a single clue – I was going to have to establish the identity of this person and how he or she had met their demise.
“My research set me on the path of some experts who might be able to help with identification.
"I contacted Dr David Sweet at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, who was a highly respected forensic scientist. He had worked with governments in various countries to identify remains found in mass graves, using the bones or teeth as a source of DNA. I sent him a sample of the teeth for testing.
“In Ireland, I contacted the state anthropologist, Dr Laureen Buckley, and the state pathologist, Dr Marie Cassidy, who both examined the find. Dr Cassidy couldn’t derive much information from the remains, but Dr Buckley was able to furnish me with some details.
She concluded that the skull was that of a male Caucasian, between 25 and 45, and it had been in the water for around six to 12 months.
“I also contacted the state forensic dentist, Dr Paul Keogh, to ask him to conduct an examination in tandem with the work going on over in Canada.”
Mr Marry said that Dr Keogh told him that the skull had no fillings and that the teeth were healthy but slightly ground down, which suggested a foreign person, such as a North African, who was possibly partial to chewing nuts.
“From Dr Sweet, we eventually received a full DNA profile from the teeth supplied to him. This was something our forensics lab wasn’t equipped to do, but Dr Sweet was a world leader in his field and I was grateful for his input.
“The breakthrough came when I discovered the work of forensic anthropologist Dr Caroline Wilkinson, who was then based at the University of Dundee in Scotland. Her work comprised full facial reconstructions based on partial evidence, and it was fascinating.
"I contacted her and she agreed to work on helping to solve the mystery. After an examination of the skull, she confirmed that it was within a forensic timeframe and therefore a full reconstruction would be possible.”
A month later, he travelled to Dundee to see the results of Dr Wilkinson’s work.
“I walked into her lab and came face to face with the man I was looking for.
"It was incredible – from the data extracted from the skull, Dr Wilkinson had rebuilt the man’s facial features and moulded an exact likeness in clay. He was suddenly a real person.
"I took the clay head back to Balbriggan with me, and I looked at it a thousand times in the weeks that followed as I tried to put a name to the face. But, try as I might, I couldn’t progress the investigation any further.
“The experts had yielded all the information they could divine from the skull, and that was all I had to go on.”
It remains on Mr Marry’s mind to this day, he said.
“It’s one of my regrets that I couldn’t identify this young man. To this day, the only name for this victim is ‘the Lambay man’; his true identity has been washed away by the waves.
"As with my other unsolveds, I still hope that one day I’ll get one of those unexpected phone calls and a path will open up once again, this time leading to the truth.”
Gardaí at Salthill Garda Station are still hoping for information in relation to the discovery of human remains at 158 Upper Salthill on April 17, 2002.
According to gardaí, the owner of the property was carrying out excavation work in the back garden and discovered human remains wrapped up in a sleeping bag buried in a shallow grave. There were also a number of items of clothing including, boots, as well as jewellery and hair ties in the sleeping bag.
A full examination of the scene was carried out and a post mortem on the remains. An investigation was launched with gardaí establishing that the property was used as a squat over the years by a number of people.
Their enquiries led them to a man known as “Dave”, who busked around Galway, particularly on Shop St, an area known locally as “the four corners”. He played guitar and tin whistle. He always had his pet collie dog with him.
Gardaí believe Dave was originally from the UK and the last known sighting of him was in 1999. They believe he was buried at 158 Upper Salthill almost two years before his remains were discovered.
They also believe he may have been known as “Dave Rawson” or “Dave Tang”, but are unsure if that was his real name.
Gardaí appeared on the British version of Crimewatch, where more than 5m people tuned in.
New information was received that gardaí hoped may develop the investigation.
The mystery is no closer to a conclusion.
It has been suggested that since ‘Dave The Busker’ had no injuries on his body, he may have died of natural causes and buried by a person or persons unknown as an act of compassion, to give him a resting place in death.
According to the Irish Unresolved Mysteries blog, Dave The Busker may have been an English native who arrived in Ireland around August in 1998.
“He had arrived in Ireland in August 1998 and spent time in Limerick, Kerry, and Clare before settling in Galway.
“It is believed that Dave was possibly from the Tunbridge Wells area of Kent in England and may have trained as a classical musician in London. He may also have a sister in Exeter but gardaí have been unable to trace her and he also told friends that he had been married at one point.
“Dave once purchased a dog licence for his collie and gave the name ‘Dave Rawson’ on this.
"However gardaí are unsure if this is his real name. He also sometimes went by the nickname ‘Tang’. In addition to the fact that Dave has not been seen since 1999, his guitar, tin whistle and collie have also never been found. He also carried a small notebook with him which was full of addresses and numbers which has also not been recovered.”
Good luck McGinty
One of the greatest advocates for missing people in Ireland, RTÉ reporter Barry Cummins, is adamant that we should never stop looking for answers for those who no longer have a voice.
His heavily-detailed works on behalf of missing people, as well as families whose loved ones have been victims of the worst crimes, can be found on Amazon Kindle, as well as Audible.
Mr Cummins has been instrumental in highlighting the torment among families, as well as giving a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.
In his book, Without Trace — Ireland’s Missing, Mr Cummins highlights one of Cork’s least-known mysteries, the discovery of a body in Ballincollig in 1999.
“In Co Cork, mystery still surrounds the identity of a man whose body was recovered from the River Lee at Ballincollig, west of Cork city, on July 23, 1999.
"The body was taken from the water by the Cork Fire Brigade, and it was clear that the man had been in the water for some time. His facial features were unrecognisable and it was not possible to get fingerprints due to decomposition.
“Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster carried out a post-mortem examination, which established that the cause of the man’s death was consistent with drowning. He was aged between 40 and 60, was 5’ 10” tall, of strong build and short hair.
"He was wearing several layers of clothing, including two pairs of trousers, and this led the Gardaí to consider that the man might have been homeless.
“He had no personal documentation but had a number of items of jewellery which still hold out the prospect of him being one day identified.
“He wore a ‘Philip Mercier’ silver watch with a gold face. He had wooden rosary beads and three religious medals. He also had another small horseshoe-type medal which had a distinctive description which read ‘Good Luck MacGinty’.
While MacGinty may well be the man’s surname, or his mother’s maiden name or the name of another close relative, the Gardaí have also considered the possibility that MacGinty may have been a nickname by which the man was known.
“It is a potentially good clue to the man’s identity, and detectives urge anyone with any knowledge of the name MacGinty to contact them.
“DNA has been extracted from the body and filed away if ever a potential family member can be found. Until the case is solved, the unidentified man remains buried at a cemetery in Ballincollig.
“This man must have family and friends somewhere. Someone must know who he is,” says Seán Duggan, one of the firemen who recovered his body from the River Lee. From the terrain surrounding where the Ballincollig man was found, the Cork Fire Service was able to say that the man had entered the water close to where his body was located.”
Private Sean Lawless
For those who are sceptical about reconstruction of a face using just a skull, consider the cases around the world that have been solved due to the technique.
One such case involved a young Irish soldier, who lost his life in the First World War, and remained lost for generations, until forensic science gave him his identity back, and a final resting place among his fallen comrades in France.
Fallen soldier Thomas Lawless was born in April 1889 in Dublin, before he emigrated to Canada in 1908.
According to the Government of Canada website, in November 1915, he enlisted in the 89th Overseas Battalion and in August 1916, he embarked for Britain.
He disembarked in France a month later. Thomas Lawless served with the 49th Battalion until his death on June 9, 1917.
Following the war, Private Lawless’s name was engraved on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial commemorating Canadian soldiers who died during the First World War and have no known grave.
In October 2003, two sets of remains were discovered by two workmen in a construction site near the city of Avion, France.
Artefacts found with the remains indicated that they were those of a soldier from the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
These artefacts included battalion-specific buttons which indicated that the remains were those of soldiers from the 49th Battalion.
Using facial reconstruction, as well as historical, genealogical, anthropological, archaeological, DNA and stable isotope analysis, the Casualty Identification Program was able to confirm the identity of one set of remains as Private Thomas Lawless in January 2011.
This case also allowed the program to explore the use of facial reconstruction.
The other set of remains was successfully identified as Private Herbert Peterson in 2007.
Private Lawless was buried in March 2011 in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s La Chaudière Military Cemetery, in Vimy, France alongside Private Herbert Peterson.