May 29, 2012

05/20/12: Nathan Bihlmaier, 31, Portland, ME

Nathan Bihlmaier
Nathan Bihlmaier, 31, traveled from Cambridge, Mass., to Portland, Me., with two classmates to celebrate their upcoming graduation from the exclusive Harvard Business School. Bihlmaier, who was to earn his MBA degree on May 24, disappeared after being asked to leave the the Ri Ra Irish Pub on the Portland waterfront on May 20.

Bihlmaier and his friends spoke several times by phone in an attempt to meet back up with each other. Bihlmaier, who was still near the bar, described the area, but friends were not able to find him. They last heard from him around 12:15 p.m. 

When Bihlmaier still hadn’t returned to the hotel by 9 a.m. the next morning, friends reported him missing.

Michael Sauschuck, Portland’s police chief, told The Boston Globe that Bihlmaier had been asked to leave the pub after a customer reported that he was acting inappropriately. The paper reports, "Scott St. Ours, the security manager at the Portland pub, offered [several times] to procure Bihlmaier a taxi from a nearby cab stand, but Bihlmaier declined because he was staying at the Hilton Garden Inn across the street."

Out of respect for Bihlmaier's family, Ri Ra officials have declined to describe in detail what actions caused Bihlmaier to be asked to leave.

Bihlmaier, described as likable and gregarious, left the bar without incident at 11:30 p.m. According to the Bangor Daily News, St. Ours witnessed him turning west on Commercial Street at that time. He noted that Bihlmaier wasn't staggering; he was walking straight, speaking clearly and his eyes were not glassy. In fact, on a scale of 1 to 10, he judged his intoxication level to be a 2.

Bihlmaier's friends were initially unaware that he had left the bar. They later spoke to him several times by phone in an attempt to find each other. In the final call around 12:15 a.m., Bihlmaier said he was in front of a large, official-looking building that he didn't recognize. Police now believe that the building may have been the US Custom House on Commercial Street, a short distance from the bar. Yet, his friends were still unable to find him.

Not long after that call, at 12:54 a.m., Bihlmaier's mobile phone stopped sending signals.

The Search for Nathan Bihlmaier

When Bihlmaier hadn’t returned to the hotel by 9 a.m. the next morning, friends reported him missing. Investigators learned that his car and belongings were untouched, and banking and cell phone records indicated no activity.

While friends and family searched for Bihlmaier and distributed fliers, investigators focused their search on the waters of Portland Harbor, where they found one of Bihlmaier's tan flip flops.

Photo Credit: John Patriquin, Press Herald
"Portland police dive teams Monday, May 21, 2012
as they search the waters near the State Pier for Nathan Bihlmaier."

On Tuesday, May 22, just before noon, police divers recovered Bihlmaier's body from the floor of Casco Bay in Portland Harbor, fairly close to the shore. Authorities identified his body by his clothing – a black windbreaker, blue pants, a gray T-shirt and a blue webbed belt – which witnesses and security cameras confirmed he was wearing when he went missing.

The area where the body was found was a short distance from the Ri Ra Irish Pub where Bihlmaier was last seen, but because of the tides, it may be impossible to tell where he entered the water.

Michael Sauschuck, Portland’s police chief, told The Boston Globe that there were no signs of an altercation or foul play. The cause of death has since been determined as accidental drowning.

It remains unclear whether the phone stopped transmitting because its battery was drained or because it was underwater.

According to The Boston Herald,  Nathan Bihlmaier's wife, Nancy, who is pregnant with the couple's first child, "had come to Portland to assist police efforts to find him, including handing out fliers around the city."

Nathan and Nancy Ho Bihlmaier

The missing man's parents, Cheryl and Steven Bihlmaier, also flew in from Kansas on Sunday.

Harvard Business School spokesman Brian Kenny told David Hench of the Press Herald that the family was “very upset, stressed. I think we were all holding out hope he was alive.”

About Nathan Bihlmaier

Dennis Hoey of the Portland Press Herald reports, "Bihlmaier grew up in Osborne, a small farming community of about 1,400 people in north central Kansas." He worked at the community pool as a lifeguard, became an Eagle Scout, and excelled as a student at Osborne High School. According to the paper, "He graduated from Osborne High School in 1999. After graduating, he enrolled at Kansas University. He just completed a two-year program at Harvard Business School, where he was expected to graduate with a masters degree in business administration."
Bihlmaier was very passionate about health care, and had started work as as director of Accountable Care Solutions at Optum, a hospital and health care agency in the Greater Boston area. He had worked there for about two months. Boston is about two hours from Portland.

Kenny said Bihlmaier "was thrilled about the prospects of being a new father" and started a blog in which he wrote about what it meant to be a father for the first time. (Portland Press Herald, 5/22/12). He had planned to break the news about his wife’s pregnancy when his parents flew in for his graduation.

The paper also reports that the tight-knit community within the Harvard Business School is also reeling from the tragedy. "Bihlmaier is a popular student and some 18 to 20 fellow students drove to Portland to offer support to his wife and parents," reports the paper.

“This is a very sad day for all of us at Harvard Business School,” the school said in a statement. “There is a tremendous sense of community here, of camaraderie among students, faculty, and staff. We are all in a state of shock and grief, and our hearts and prayers go out to Nate’s family at this terrible time.”

Nathan Bihlmaier was honored at the graduation commencement ceremony on May 24.

Case Details
Name/age: Nathan Bihlmaier, 31
Hometown: Osborne, Kan.
Residence: Cambridge, Mass.
College: University of Kansas graduate, and Harvard School of Business
Last Seen: Ri Ra Irish Pub and Restaurant, 72 Commercial Street, Portland, Me.
Last Wearing: a black windbreaker, blue pants, a gray T-shirt, a blue webbed belt, tan flip flops
Recovered:  05/22/12 Portland Harbor, Portland, Me.


Byrne, John A. (n.d.). The Tragic death of a Harvard MBA. Poets and Quants Web site. Retrieved November 9, 2012 from

Hench, David. (2012, May 23). Missing student's body headed to Augusta for autopsy. Portland Press Herald. Retrieved May 29, 2012 from

Hoey, Dennis. (2012, May 22). Small town in Kansas worries after native son disappears. Portland Press Herald. Retrieved May 29, 2012 from

Koenig, Seth. (2012, May 25). Harvard student asked to leave bar for ‘bad behavior,’ not drunkenness. Bangor Daily News. Retrieved May 29, 2012 from

McShane, Larry. (2012, May 22). Body of Nathan Bihlmaier, missing Harvard Business School student, discovered. New York Daily News. Retrieved May 29, 2012 from:

Schworm, Peter. (2012, May 22) Body of missing Cambridge man found in water. Boston Globe. Retrieved May 29, 2012 from


Anonymous said...

Nicely written.

Besides not being intoxicated enough to topple into the water and die, Bihlmaier was also a highly-skilled swimmer and a certified lifeguard in his youth.

It would be informative in these questionable cases, and critical in determining foul play or not, if police and rescue divers would kindly report the posture of a victim at the time of their recovery. True drowning victims are always found at the bottom in a semi-fetal position, or else floating face down when putrefaction has caused them to resurface again. Anything other than these poses is flat out suspicious. Let alone that none of these men were engaged in water recreational activities at the time of their cold weather "accidental" drownings.

Putrefaction, by the way, plays an important role in refloat and is dependant upon water temperature and depth. So pinpointing when a body finally surfaces (usually in the vicinity it went under) is also vital in ruling against or in favor of foul play. The colder that water is then the longer it will take for the corpse to rise. But, with the exception of very deep bodies of water, like some oceans and the Great Lakes, it will never take months, as has happened in these cases a number of times.

Just saying--

Lisa said...

Great points! As a skilled swimmer and certified lifeguard, Bihlmaier probably would have had a healthy respect for water. It seems hard to believe he would have been walking close to the water's edge--intoxicated or not--in the dark when he was alone.

The Boston Herald reported on May 24 that at family members’ request, the police showed them where Bihlmaier’s body was found to help provide them with more information for closure. Perhaps this information will lead the family to investigate further with a private investigator.

Lisa said...

A note regarding drownings and recreational activities:

I try to post cases of young men who go missing mysteriously after leaving a bar alone at night. Under these circumstances, it would be unlikely for them to be the victim of drowning during a recreational activiity. Other times, I post cases about missing people after they have been found, which in almost all the cases, has been a drowning case. So this would also account for why there aren't more drownings due to recreation on my site. To get a clear picture, we would need to compare recreational drownings in a particular state to non-recreational drownings.

I have briefly looked into drowning statistics for Minnesota only going back several years. In all of the drowning cases reported by the DNR, all were the result of a recreational accident (e.g., swimming death), household accident (e.g., bathtub death), or suicide. There were only a couple of cases in which a person was found drowned for a reason that wasn't readily apparent. (Two of these cases are listed on this site--Chris Jenkins and Dan Zamlen.) I would like to compare the MN results to other states to see how the numbers compare.

Anonymous said...

Well, except for the sham database cobbled together by the Center For Homicide Research in their 2010 effort to debunk the 'Smiley Face' serial killer theory, there really is no authoritative non-recreational drowning database to rely on. That's because, outside of suicide and bath accidents, such deaths are virtually nonexistent.

When I researched this issue myself--the serial drownings in the northland--I examined many different resources for my report. For instance, the Center For Disease Control compiles drown statistics and they consistently find that only about 4000+ water fatalities and related emergencies occur annually in the USA. The vast majority of these involve small children and occur in backyard pool settings in warm weather. But, most importantly, ALL of the drown events are the product of recreational activities...

(I've posted a more lengthy forensic analysis of a true drowning event on my weblog, should anyone want to compare a particlar victim's recovery condition, etc. with what are the norms for such corpses. Of course, all of us already know this one small detail: that the norm in the I-90 and I-94 Corridor is NOT to drown in spring or winter!)


P.S. I think if you click on my 'KillingKillers' tag above this post it'll take you to that page.

Lisa said...

Yes, I also found problems with the CHR study. And from what I saw researching it on my own, the statistics are incredibly hard to find and not all that well organized. But I agree with what you found--almost all drownings were the result of a recreational activity and actually, most didn't even seem to be in this age group.