The word mystery can be defined as something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.
Ireland has had its fair share of mysteries and in this feature, journalist Ger Leddin takes a look at five unsolved Irish cases — mysteries which still baffle us today.
On the 8th of February 1983, the family of Jim Fitzgerald were held hostage while the stud farm in Ballymany Stud near The Curragh, Co. Kildare were Jim worked as the head groom was raided by an armed and masked gang.
The retired and then at stud racehorse Shergar valued at £10million was taken and a ransom of £2million was demanded for the horses’ safe return.
While negotiations did commence between the kidnappers and representatives of the Aga Khan who was the majority shareholder in the syndicate owning Shergar, they were never finalised as the remaining thirty-five shareholders refused to pay a ransom fearing that by doing so they would encourage further kidnappings of this type.
After ransom negotiations broke down nothing more was heard from the kidnappers and despite nationwide Garda searches nothing further was ever learned or substantiated about the whereabouts of Shergar.
Many possible explanations and theories have been put forward as to what actually happened to this magnificent and distinctive racehorse. Rumours of the involvement of the American mafia to Colonel Gadaffi have been mooted.
The most plausible theory of this unsolved Irish Mystery, however, is that the kidnap was organised by an IRA splinter group who either out of inexperience with handling thoroughbreds injured the horse or deliberately put it down and buried the remains as due to intensive garda surveillance it would prove too risky to simply release the horse.
2. Aer Lingus Flight 712
On the morning of the 24th of March 1968, an Aer Lingus operated Vickers Viscount flight from Cork to London crashed into the sea near Tuskar Rock off the County Wexford coast killing all sixty-one persons on Board.
An immediate multi-agency investigation involving both Irish and British agencies was launched; however, after two years of investigation, the cause of the crash was never fully determined.
Many possible reasons for the crash, ranging from bird strike structural failure and inadequate maintenance have been put forward but the mystery surrounding the crash deepened after two separate sources claimed two distinct and separate reasons for the crash. One is that a rogue missile strike from a nearby Welsh missile test area brought down the plane. And the other being a never reported mid-air collision between flight 712 and a French/Irish Air Corp training flight.
Interestingly, some years after the crash a crew member of the British ship HMS Penelope alleged that part of the recovered wreckage was secretly recovered and removed to the UK.
3. Peter Bergmann: The Man Who Never Was
Not many people in Ireland are aware of the obscure case of Peter Bergmann; an alias used by a man who checked into the Sligo City Hotel on the 12 of June 2009.
Bergmann, whose true identity has never been established travelled by bus from Belfast to Sligo and is seen on hotel CCTV leaving the hotel each morning of the five days he stayed there day carrying a plastic bag full of what are assumed to be personal belongings.
Bergmann was also recorded on CCTV around Sligo Town disposing of the bag’s contents at various locations. Each night he would return to the hotel minus the contents of the bag.
On Sunday morning the 14 of June Bergmann left the hotel got in a taxi and asked the driver to take him somewhere where he could have a quiet swim. The driver took Bergman to Roses Point on the Atlantic Coast. Bergmann just viewed the location and asked the driver to return him to Sligo.
The following morning Bergmann was seen acting strangely around a cafe and at Sligo Bus Station. It is reported that he spent some time taking pieces of paper from his pockets, reading them, and then carefully tearing them up before depositing them in various separate litter bins. Later that afternoon he boarded a bus for Roses Point, where he was seen walking on the beach.
The following morning Bergmann’s naked body was found on the beach. His clothes were found scattered in various locations on the shore.
The questions as to why he gave a false name and an address which didn’t exist along with removing all identifying labels from his clothes and took other elaborate measures to hide his identity have never been answered.
His true identity, despite both a painstaking Garda investigation and the involvement of other international police agencies, has never been established and is therefore an unsolved Irish mystery.
4. Ireland’s Vanishing Triangle
Ireland’s Vanishing Triangle is the name adopted by the media to refer to the strange occurrences surrounding the disappearances of eight surprisingly similar young women in a roughly triangulated area mainly in the province of Leinster between 1993 and 1998.
Annie McCarrick, 26, Eva Brennan, 39, Imelda Keenan, 22, Josephine “JoJo” Dullard, 21, Ciara Breen,17, Fiona Pender, 25, Fiona Sinnott,19, Deirdre Jacob,18, all disappeared without a trace despite constant and ongoing investigations by the gardai.
Some of the missing-cases similarities particularly that of Deirdre Jacob, are disturbing in that the women involved went missing in broad daylight. The combination of similarities in the cases fostered the belief among the public that a serial killer may have been responsible for some of the murders.
This belief was strengthened when in 2001 a man was convicted of abducting, repeatedly raping and attempting to murder a woman in a forested area of the Wicklow Mountains and after his arrest and subsequent imprisonment, the pattern of missing-women crimes ceased.
5. The disappearance of Amy Fitzpatrick
Amy Fitzpatrick was a fifteen-year-old North Dublin girl then living on Spain’s Costa del Sol with her mother, brother and step-father when she disappeared on the 1st of January 2008.
Amy’s mother Audrey had moved to Spain, along with Amy and her older brother Dean, with her partner Dave Mahon a few years previously to live and work.
Amy had spent the day helping her friend Ashley Rose babysit Ashley’s younger brother.
Amy left Ashley’s house at about 10.pm that night and began the walk home that should have taken a few short minutes — a walk that she had taken hundreds of times before. Police were told she never arrived.
Despite massive police searches around the vicinity and surrounding province no trace of Amy or a body was ever found.
Interestingly, Ashley and her mother Debbie say that they are 100% positive that Amy was in possession of her mobile phone when she left their house that night. They report that Amy used it in order to retrieve her mother’s number and call her using the Rose’s landline.
The phone was later found in Amy’s home but then later disappeared during a subsequent break-in of the Fitzpatrick’s Spanish solicitor’s office.
Audrey and Dean along with Dave Mahon returned to Ireland where some year’s later Mahon was charged with stabbing to death the then twenty-three-year-old Dean on May 26 2013.
On June the 13th 2016 the Dublin Central Criminal Court found Mahon guilty of manslaughter and he is currently serving out the remainder of his sentence. Amy is still missing.
Above you have just a teaser of five Irish mysteries. Each case has its own catalogue of anomalies which are far too detailed to go into in this short piece but are definitely worth reading further on.
Bonus Mystery: The Northern Bank Robbery
On the twentieth of December 2004, the headquarters of the Northern Bank in Belfast City was robbed. An amount totalling 26.5 million pounds sterling was taken in what was Ireland’s most audacious bank robbery ever.
Not only did the thieves get largely away the vast amount of money but the robbery and subsequent events and allegations threatened what was then an extremely fragile and infant peace-process.
It is obvious from police reports that the gang responsible for carrying out both the tiger style kidnappings and the robbery itself had been planning the crime for months prior to that late December day, the actually series of events leading to the heist began on the night of the nineteenth of December when the homes of two bank officials were broken into and the officials and their families were held, hostage.
Junior bank official Christopher Ward was watching television with his parents and girlfriend when gunmen broke into to his house and threatened his family. Ward was then driven to the home of the bank’s senior official Kevin McMullan while his family remained hostage.
McMullen’s wife was taken from her home to an unknown location and kept at gunpoint.
Both bank officials were given mobile phones by the robbers and told to go to work the following morning as normal.
During the course of the day, gang members kept in touch with both McMullen and Ward via the mobile phones.
At lunchtime, Ward was ordered to remove a sum of money, thought to be around one-million, and carry it to a nearby bus stop in Queen’s Street where he handed it over to one of the robbers. This act was seen to have been a test-run for what was to follow.
Later that afternoon acting under instructions from the gang McMullen informed his staff that as it was nearing Christmas they could finish work and leave early. This left only him and ward along with two security staff in the bank.
Telling the security staff that they were arranging to get rid of some rubbish, Ward and McMullen proceeded to load crates of bank notes on to trolleys, covered them with some broken furniture and using the banks internal lift carry them to the loading bay at street level where they were met by members of the gang who after loading the cash drove away.
Sometime later the gang returned and the same procedure was carried out, again the gang drove away, leaving McMullen and Ward to tidy up and return home.
On finding his family safe Ward contacted the PSNI and the police action commenced. McMullen’s wife was released a short time later.
Despite years of investigation by police forces both north and south of the border and while some convictions for money laundering have taken place and a small amount of the cash recovered no successful prosecutions have taken place and the gang is still at large.
Police and political figures both in the North and South have openly alleged that the robbery was carried out by the IRA but this has always been denied by Sine Féin.