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'This is both a message and a prayer': an investigation into the riddle of a letter in a bottle



The writer has been trying for many years to find the author of the tragic message in a bottle brought by the sea. She checked every imaginable version, rummaged through archives, studied sea currents, found handwriting specialists, determined the origin of the bottle, and even spoke with a clairvoyant. How did her search end?

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The letter was found by a woman named Siu Peto, who lived on the English island of Sheppie, 80 kilometers from London. In March 2002, she was walking along the seashore with her dogs and noticed something blue in the sand. When I came closer, I saw that the waves brought a strange bottle to the beach, like a drop of colored glass.

Peto loved such finds and decided to take this one with her. But the bottle was not that simple. Picking it up, the woman found that the pages covered with writing were visible behind the glass. At home, Peto carefully opened the bottle and removed its contents. Inside were several sheets of paper tied with a ribbon, and a couple of brown curls - one dark, the other lighter.

The text turned out to be in French, which Peto did not know. I had to call Karen Libreich, a friend who once worked at the French Institute in London. She agreed to help.

“To all ships at sea, to all ports, to my friends, as well as to strangers to me,” the first page said. “This is both a message and a prayer. It is about the fact that suffering has revealed to me a great truth. "

The message was written by a woman whose child died - 13-year-old son Maurice.

“For a long time he wandered between two waters, between two fires,” she continued. "He submitted to silence, horror and cold."

His death was a heavy blow to his mother.

“My life began after his birth, and it seemed to me that it ended when he left me,” she wrote. Libreich was scared that she was reading the suicide note and even looked at the end to make sure it was not. But no. The unfamiliar Frenchwoman hoped that the letter in the bottle would help her leave the tragedy in the past.

“As long as God gives me life, I promise you to live to the fullest and enjoy every moment,” she turned to her late son. "I know that when the time comes, we will find each other."

Peto's son was the same age as Maurice, so one time was enough for her - she did not want to reread such a message. Libreich also had a child, but the letter had a different effect on her. She could not help thinking about the stranger who wrote it. Who was she? Why did Maurice die? Did she manage to keep the promise in the last few lines? Maybe she needs help?

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Libreich loved secrets and knew how to solve them. Working on historical documentaries, she unearthed evidence of the crimes of the piarist monastic order in the Vatican library and tracked down fugitive Nazis who had been hiding from the law for decades.

Now she was attracted by the mystery of the bottle from Sheppy Island. It was a very modest secret, hardly interesting to outsiders, a secret that concerns only two - herself and the woman who wrote the message. Libreich wanted to know more about her.

“Then I could not even think that I would spend the next seven years searching,” she later admitted.

In the footsteps of the author of the letter

There were few leads to help you find the author of the message. An unusual bottle, the paper itself, on which the letter, ink, ribbon and hair were written, could say something about her. In addition to her son, the stranger mentioned her friend Christina. The death of Maurice was described in an extremely vague way: he died "at the dawn of summer", and references to the shores, waters and pier suggested that the boy had drowned.

Evian Millennium 2002 says that the bottle used to contain Evian mineral water. Libreich contacted the company and found out that the first drop-shaped bottles were released in 1992 in honor of the Winter Olympics in Albertville. Then they were taken out of production, but at the end of 1999 they began to do it again, this time in honor of the onset of the new millennium (hence the word Millennium). The 2002 number indicated a specific series that went on sale in October 2001. The stranger could not throw her into the water before that date.

When Libreich read the first lines of the letter to an Evian employee, she interrupted her and said, “You know, it sounds exactly like that movie with Kevin Costnercalled “Message in a Bottle” ”. Libreich did not like this comparison, but had to be verified. She watched the movie and found that the Evian woman was right.

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In the film, the journalist played Robin Wright, finds on the shore a bottle with a touching letter addressed to a certain Catherine. Like Libreich, she decides to find his author - and she succeeds. It turns out to be the hero of Kevin Costner, who wrote to his wife Katherine, who died two years ago.

The message from the film, like the one found on Sheppie, began with the words: "To all ships at sea, to all ports, to my friends, as well as to people I do not know ... This is both a message and a prayer!" A stranger from France has definitely seen this movie. Perhaps it was he who inspired her to write to her deceased son, as Costner's hero writes to his deceased wife.

To determine how the bottle got to England, Libreich drove the Sheppie and talked to a lifeguard she knew who knew about currents. He studied the maps, the almanac of the tides, and soon delivered his verdict. If the bottle were thrown from a port on the west of the northern coast of France, it would be carried towards Spain or America. Then she could get into the Gulf Stream or get stuck in the Saint-Malo area.

Chances to reach Sheppie appeared at the bottle only if it was thrown from a French port located east of Cherbourg, or from a ferry plying the English Channel - then it would have hit the island in a matter of days.

The date and place were known, it remained to find Maurice. Libreich thought it would be the easiest. Are there many 13-year-old boys with that name in France, especially those who drowned in early summer? Probably not. She began phoning French government agencies, hoping that someone would tell her the next step. The officials really liked the story about the message in the bottle, but they were of little use.

Libreich wandered in the intricacies of the French bureaucracy until someone finally explained that she was up to the impossible. The fact is that in France there is no central database on the deceased, where the records of Maurice could be found. Since the death was not violent, it was unlikely that the police recorded it. Local archives remain, which are maintained in each locality. But there are more than 36 thousand of them, you can't go over everything.

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The woman did not want to give up and went to Paris. She hoped that the drowned boy was mentioned in the newspaper files kept in the National Library of France. Searches can be limited to local newspapers that print on the country's northern coastline and only look at the summer months over the past ten years. This is quite a feasible volume.

The librarian listened incredulously to the story of the bottle and immediately announced that Libreich was wasting her time.

“A movie lover of this kind could travel a decent distance to throw a bottle in the water, so there is no point in looking at regional newspapers,” she explained. Browsing newspaper micro-posters over the past ten years had to be under her disapproving glances.

The results were not comforting. The closest in age was 14-year-old Jerome, who, before his death, took second place in the French Kung Fu Championship. Maurice also met occasionally, but almost all died at a ripe old age. Libreich returned to London with nothing.

Detective and fortune teller

At first, Libreich was quite sure that the boy had drowned, but now she was overcome by doubts. She could take the text too literally. What if the “shores” and “waters” that held her theory are poetic metaphors? In truth, there was no guarantee that the letter was not a hoax, and there really was no Maurice.

When Libreich came across an ad advertising the services of a private detective, she decided to try her luck. He could take a fresh look at the letter and suggest new versions. She had never had a chance to go to detectives, but this occupation had always seemed very tempting to her. She believed that she herself would be a good detective. After all, her historical investigations were also a kind of detective work.

The private detective became interested in the message in the bottle and even agreed not to take money for the consultation. Apparently, this was a rare chance for him to escape from the tiresome routine. Most of his clients were either spouses suspecting each other of treason, or creditors looking for debtors. Against their background, the Libreich case seemed a real outlet.

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The detective studied the interlinear translation of the letter and immediately remarked: "Maurice was her first son." Then he came up with several hypotheses that Libreich never even thought of. Maurice could do drugs. He could commit suicide. Or this line: "I'm sorry I was angry at your disappearance." It seems that the author of the letter and her son had a quarrel. If we assume that the nautical theory is still correct, then, perhaps, after a quarrel, Maurice sailed on his sailing boat or, say, windsurf, overestimated his skills and could not return.

In addition to reasons for reflection, the detective gave practical advice. He suggested that the stranger could write her address or name on another sheet of paper over the letter. Libreich detective advised to turn to experts who know how to restore such a text from barely visible prints.

The woman continued her search and gradually bypassed all imaginable specialists - even those who otherwise would not have turned.

To the doctor, the words of the author of the letter that her late son "wandered between two worlds" reminded me of a symptom of meningoencephalitis. An expert in hair root analysis promised to find traces of drugs or minerals characteristic of certain places in the curls from the bottle, but faced an insurmountable obstacle: the hair was cut above the roots. The psychoanalyst attributed the adolescent's self-destructive behavior to an attempt to avoid stifling maternal love and suggested that Maurice was traumatized by the absence of his father.

In the hope of learning about the stranger something else, Libreich visited a specialist in graphology - the doctrine of the relationship between handwriting and a person's character. The graphologist was a poet and lived in a high-rise building on the outskirts of Paris.

“Her apartment was filled with flowers and scraps of paper with short, illegible phrases,” Libreich recalled. The woman studied the letter and began listing her observations.

“Respects the rules: the fields are very clear, especially on the left. This demonstrates the desire for clarity, it leaves nothing to chance. Also indicates a lack of imagination, she commented. - Slightly noticeable fault. Perhaps an element of masochism. Probably obsessive neurosis. She led a very organized life, leaving no room for fantasy. It seems calm, but a storm is raging inside. "

Serious scientists consider graphology a pseudoscience, but Libreich was interested in any clues that would help her stalled investigation. On the advice of friends, she even visited a fortune teller, although she did not believe at all in psychics, predictions and the like. The fortune-teller's name was Christina - the same as the friend mentioned in the letter.

"It's a sign! - she exclaimed. - Everything was foreseen!

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The woman laid out the tarot and turned over the first card - "The Hermit". This means that the stranger was alone when she threw the bottle. The second card is "Death". Throwing down the bottle, she ended her mourning, which may have been long. What about Maurice? When it came to his death, the cards "Justice", "Devil" and "Hanged Man" fell out. According to the fortuneteller, this meant that death was not peaceful. The "Chariot" and "Devil" cards indicated that the boy was in a hurry and lost control. There may have been a road accident.

Finally, the fortuneteller advised not to limit yourself to tarot and find out what the stars are saying. Although the cards only reinforced Libreich's skepticism, she decided that there was nothing to lose, and went to the astrologer. She drew up a horoscope entirely consisting of intriguing but completely meaningless phrases like "the carrier pigeon has achieved its goal", "a woman watering flowers in the garden" and "saving a drowning man."

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The words of the clairvoyant, to whom Libreich went later, were much clearer.

“The bottle was thrown from a sailboat,” she said dramatically. "Violence on a boat ... a child committed suicide, a woman loses a lot of blood ... a woman drifts alone ... abandoned by men ... a mother or grandmother from Brittany ... a name starts with J or G ... she is unlikely to be found ... she is no longer alive."

Meeting with a stranger

The search for the author of the message has reached a dead end. To close this page of her life, Libreich decided to write a book. In the last lines, she admitted that she hopes to continue.

“Perhaps the fortune teller was right, and the Frenchwoman died. Strangely, despite my best efforts, I have not found any trace of her continued existence. Did I really believe the words of the clairvoyant? I don't know what I was thinking at that moment. But if the woman who wrote the message is still alive, perhaps this book will serve as a clumsy response to her "letter in a bottle."

To: Maurice's mother, wherever she is.

The sea brought your bottle to me. I read your letter and it touched me. It made me cry for you and with you. Hopefully over time the pain of your loss has subsided. I hope with all my heart that you have found happiness.

Will she receive my message? "

The story of a fruitless search for the author of a letter in a bottle appeared first in Great Britain, then, three years later, it was published in France. And one fine day, Libreich's phone rang. On the other end of the line was the French psychologist Olivier Roussel, one of the specialists who helped to find the stranger. He said that he received an email with the words: "I am the person who threw the bottle in 2002." Below is the telephone number.

“People have already approached me with similar statements, but then I immediately realized that it was true,” Libreich recalls. Later, the Frenchwoman will show her the evidence: she retained the tape recordings made when composing the letter, drafts and even tickets for the ferry from which she threw the bottle.

The woman did not think that her message would be found and published. She did not expect that strangers would delve into the main tragedy of her life, and the lines that were given to her with such difficulty would be read on TV and solve like a crossword puzzle. This came as an unpleasant surprise to her. She agreed to answer Libreich's questions, but not right away: she needed time to sort out her feelings.

A few months later, Roussel called again and said that the author of the letter was ready to speak. Libreich immediately boarded a ship bound for France. They met at a bar in one of the coastal towns.

"" It is unlikely that she will be found ... she is no longer among the living, "- quoted the woman clairvoyant. "Well, I am alive and you have found me."

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Maurice died on August 27, 1981. Parents went to the store, he went for a bike ride and was hit by a car.

“When we returned, the son was lying on the edge of the road, his eyes were open, but he had already fallen into a coma,” said the stranger. "Maurice never woke up."

It did not even occur to Libreich that the boy had died so long ago. That is why she was unable to find mentions in the newspapers.

“My marriage was not particularly happy, so all my love went to my son,” the woman continued. Because of this, his death was especially painful. She went to a psychotherapist for ten years and broke up with her husband, who reacted much more calmly to the death of the child, but could not stop thinking about Maurice.

The woman hoped that the message in the bottle would help her leave his death behind. She wrote the lyrics for almost two months, carefully choosing the bottle, ribbon and ink. One curl that she attached to the letter was Maurice, the other her own.

On March 29, 2002, a woman boarded a ferry between Calais and Dover. In addition to the message, she was carrying a parcel with her son's clothes and flowers. She had a friend with her - the same Christina whom she mentioned in the text.

“When the ferry went to Dover, I tried to throw the bottle, but I just didn't have enough strength,” the woman recalled. - On the way back, Christina said: "This must be done, throw the bottle now." We went to the bridge, but it was too crowded. I couldn't do it in a crowd. But soon the bridge was empty and we were left alone. The moment I was preparing for has finally arrived. First, I threw overboard his clothes - the same one in which he died. That was hard. I screamed and cried, it seemed that I was ripping out my heart, ripping out a part of myself. Then I took out three white lilies, which I brought with me. They flew into the water after. Finally I threw the bottle into the sea. She instantly disappeared into the wake. And then I came home and tried to get back to my normal life. "

Libreich and the author of the letter met several more times.

“We have other things we talk about,” she explained in The Guardian... - We correspond by e-mail. Our friendship is not connected only with my book and the death of her child. "

To end the story of the message in a bottle, which was included in the second edition of Libreich's book, the author of the letter agreed to add a kind of postscript to it.

“I couldn't even imagine that the letter would be found ... and read,” she wrote. “But if it helped parents who had experienced the same tragedy, or brought attention to how fragile and precious life is, it was worth it. And one more thing: trials help us grow and move forward. Life is the way we want it to be. Give her a chance. "

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