On December 12, 2015, an elderly looking gentleman was found dead on Saddleworth Moor.
He was carrying no form of identification. Train tickets in his pockets showed he’d travelled 200 miles, apparently just to die. Despite a national campaign he remained unidentified for more than a year.
As the police went public with the man’s image, 40 different people reached out to claim ‘the man on the moor’ as their missing husband, father or brother. These people are the left-behind, those who pick up the pieces when someone they love leaves and simply never comes home again…
These are the people Max Dickins looks at in The Man On The Moor. Written and performed by Max, the show is at The Capitol, Horsham, on Friday, May 18 (7.45pm).
“I saw the story originally on the BBC website. It was one of those stories you see low down on the right-hand side, and you think nobody looks at that, but I looked at it and I just found it fascinating, the fact that it was so bizarre, that somebody could seemingly just drop out of the sky and turn up dead. You just can’t imagine that in this modern world. You walk around and there are CCTV cameras everywhere; everywhere we go, we leave an administrative trail; we are filling in forms everywhere.”
But just as intriguing were all the people who wrongly, but sincerely tried to claim him as their missing loved one: “I have just done the show in Saddleworth, and the police team who investigated the case came along to see the show and we went out for a curry afterwards. They were telling me that actually there were more than 40 people who were claiming him and all were absolutely sincere.
“You speak to the left-behind of the long-term missing, and the phrase that comes up again and again is that ‘it was so out of character’. For me, that is fascinating. It makes you wonder whether there is any such thing as character, this idea that a person that goes missing can actually be a stranger…this idea that maybe you really don’t actually know the person you are sleeping next to every night.”
Max continues: “What is also interesting is that the left-behind really do have a unique experience to humans. It is not like grief because there is no conclusion, no closure, no funeral that they can move on from. It is always open, and it is the not knowing that is the worst thing. It is like a constant haunting. You can’t really celebrate the person that is missing. You can’t really bring it up in conversation. It changes your relationship to everything and to everyone and not just to the missing person. There is stigma attached. They become defined by their tragedy.
“There is a language around death, the clichés like ‘time heals’ and ‘they’ve gone to a better place,’ but none of that exists for the families of the missing…
“The person that goes missing has maybe betrayed them or is perhaps guilty of something or has maybe been murdered, and people just don’t know how to talk about it. And for the people that have been left behind, there is just no resolution, and that’s what makes it so painful.”
Tickets cost £14. Call the box office on 01403 750220.
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