A bizarre case -- even for Kerry
In a county which throws up bizarre stories -- the Kerry babies, court cases about patches of land straight from the scripts of John B Keane, the queue to shake the hand of a bouncer convicted of a sex offence -- last week's revelation about the three-week-old corpse of a 91-year-old, well-to-do Englishwoman whisked in and out of the country by her devoted ageing son, capped them all.
"He didn't want to let her go," Kenmare undertaker John Finnegan remarked. The services of the quietly spoken undertaker were called upon to help pack Gladys Whigham back into her coffin and see the corpse into a large Ford hatchback car.
It had all the elements of a classic Halloween tale -- the wandering corpse, the body of a frail old woman who died of natural causes while on holiday in Malta in late September, but who was still laid out in a terraced house in Kenmare -- only yards from the garda station -- in mid-October, and who then disappeared without trace.
The Whighams, Nathan and his mother, arrived in the Kerry town shortly before Easter, renting a house in the beautiful Blackwater area.
She was frail, white-haired and in a wheelchair, and he -- well-dressed, tall and balding -- was in his early sixties.
He would sit her in the sun during the day and they would chat and laugh together.
Then he would spend hours on his laptop, borrowing a modem for connection to the internet.
Mr Whigham told one local family in Kenmare that he and his mother had arrived from Paris.
After Easter, they rented a house in the town centre and then moved afterwards to another house.
But after Mrs Whigham died while the mother and son were holidaying in Valetta, Malta, on September 14, the son decided to bring his embalmed mother back to Kerry in a "zinc-lined, sealed coffin" -- and then he kept her there, unburied.
It appears that she was brought back from Malta through Gatwick Airport. On October 4, with full documentation, the body arrived through Rosslare into Ireland without being declared -- and apparently without being detected.
In Kenmare, the seal of the coffin had been broken and the embalmed remains were laid out upstairs in the bedroom of the terraced house.
After he had been informed of the case by gardai on October 14, Coroner Casey issued what he called "an ultimatum" to Mr Whigham -- that he would have to either bury or cremate his mother's body or it would be confiscated and put into cold storage to prevent further decay.
The coroner gave the bereaved son four days to comply with his instructions and Mr Whigham indicated that he was doing so during a phone call to Mr Casey at his Killarney office on Friday, October 15.
However, when gardai called to the house on October 18, there was no trace of either Mr Whigham or the corpse.
Mr Whigham was a well-spoken, nice man "who was absolutely devoted to his mother," the landlord of the rented house said.
Apparently Mr Whigham was advised by a local person that going through Northern Ireland meant that he would be back in the UK and avoid paper work as this was already in place for transfer from Malta to Gatwick.