Dangerous psychopathic bogeyman hiding behind the mask of Mr Average
In an extract from his new book, crime correspondent Paul Williams looks into the mind and heart of murderer Graham Dwyer and finds that behind the architect's 'normal' image, there were some telltale signs
Published 28/06/2015 | 00:00
Psychopaths rarely look the part. Those who secretly stalk and plan a victim's destruction for sexual gratification tend to be ordinary, educated people who have never before come to police attention. They hide in plain view behind a mask of middle-class respectability.
People will stare long and hard at the photograph of such a killer after he has been exposed, searching for telltale signs of the evil that lies within, and seeking the reassurance of discovering that he is different in appearance from normal people.
But men like Dwyer are gifted at camouflaging their true nature. The truth is that most predators only begin to look 'obviously' mad and bad after the truth of their horrific deeds has been laid bare.
Dwyer was a classic example of the bogeyman hiding behind the mask of Mr Average. Dwyer was born on 13 September, 1972, and grew up in Bandon, Co Cork. He was the second of Sean and Susan Dwyer's four children. He had an older sister and two younger brothers. The family lived in a modest semi-detached former local authority house in the Deerpark estate on the edge of the town. His father worked as a tradesman and taxi driver to educate his family.
Graham attended St Fintan's National School and was a member of the local Boy Scouts. He loved the outdoors and regularly went camping with his father and brothers.
Young Dwyer then attended Hamilton High, a prestigious Catholic boys-only secondary school in Bandon. Known locally as the Hammies, the school has a proud reputation for academic achievement.
Dwyer was described as a hard-working, bright student who excelled in art, music and English. He was also single-minded and focused in his quest to achieve his goals. Such was his determination to become an architect that when technical drawing was not available in his own school, he took classes at another school in the town, St Brogan's.
Those who knew him growing up saw him as an average, likeable chap. He certainly never revealed any hint of being capable of something as twisted and vicious as the killing of Elaine O'Hara. But there were behavioural quirks and incidents that, with the benefit of hindsight, were signs of another side to his personality, tiny cracks in the mask he wore in public.
After his arraignment, one individual approached gardai with a story about how Dwyer had tried to kill a younger boy when they were children. He pushed the child off the roof of a building while they were both playing, leaving him with broken bones.
While the child was recuperating, Dwyer attacked him a second time. During the research for this book, a friend of the witness revealed: "The one thing that he [the victim] remembers is the look in Graham's eyes just before he pushed him off the roof - he said his eyes were dead and he knew that for no apparent reason Graham wanted to kill him."
It was never mentioned again and was put down to an accident while the kids were playing. But that kid is now a man and he has never forgotten. He confided this to a few people but it never became relevant until the murder. The man grew up in the circle around Dwyer and couldn't really avoid him, so he continued to be a friend of his but secretly he hated him. When Dwyer was arrested, the man went to gardai and told them what he knew.
As a teenager, Dwyer played the left-handed bass guitar with a local band called Strangeways that gigged in the pubs around Bandon. He was a popular kid who was known as a charming lad-about-town and had a string of girlfriends.
During the summer holidays from secondary school and college, he worked in a chicken factory. Here too there was odd behaviour that hinted at a darker side. Dwyer knew the trick for putting a chicken to sleep - tucking its head beneath one wing and then, holding it in both hands, swinging it gently from side to side for ten seconds or so.
However, unlike the average fellow who might do this for a laugh, before waking up the bewildered bird, Dwyer would put a few chickens to sleep and then line them up and kick them to death.
Not only did he find it funny to do this, but he would tell people, including fellow classmates, how entertaining he found it. "At the time it was remarked upon but was generally forgotten," a former co-worker recalled.
"Funny, it was the first thing that some of us remembered when he was accused of murder."
* * * *
In the summer of 1991, Dwyer passed his Leaving Cert with flying colours and earned enough points to study architecture at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) on Bolton Street in Dublin's north inner city. Although he settled permanently in Dublin he still maintained close ties to his home town, regularly visiting his family and friends.
Shortly after starting college, Dwyer met Emer McShea from Ballyshannon, Co Donegal. Emer was studying environmental health in Cathal Brugha Street, another DIT college.
She was introduced to Dwyer through her flatmates, who were in his architecture class. The couple started a relationship in January 1992 and two months later Emer discovered that she was pregnant. Her friends would later reveal that Dwyer was supportive throughout the pregnancy and he was with Emer when she gave birth to their son, Sennan, the following November. She then dropped out of college for a year to mind the baby.
When Emer returned to her studies in Dublin in 1993, the couple and their son moved into a flat. But Emer ended the relationship a few years later and former friends describe how Dwyer was controlling and emotionally abusive.
As she had witnessed his sinister proclivities first hand, it was understandable that Emer continued to live in fear of her former boyfriend.
Over the subsequent years Dwyer played a minimal role in his son's life. In 2007, Emer was forced to call gardai after Dwyer arrived unannounced at her home in Ballyshannon after hearing that his son was smoking.
Dwyer is extremely anti-smoking and he flew into an almost uncontrollable rage when he confronted the teenager. There was only sporadic contact after gardai intervened and no further action was taken.
Two years later, Sennan was diagnosed with cancer, but luckily the teenager recovered after treatment.
The 2007 incident was reported in the Garda PULSE computer system and appeared when the investigators first searched for a Graham Dwyer. It provided a useful lead in their investigation.
Shortly after the relationship with Emer ended, Dwyer began dating another architecture student, Gemma Healy from Sligo. Dwyer was anxious to shake off his modest working-class background and his dream was to own a nice house in a fashionable Dublin suburb where he could rub shoulders with the right kind of people.
Gemma was everything the socially ambitious Cork man aspired to in a future wife. She was bright and beautiful and came from a family steeped in medicine. Her parents were both respected doctors - her father, Dr John Healy, was a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon and a former chair of the Irish Medical Council's fitness-to-practise committee - and some of her siblings were also entering the medical profession.
As the investigating gardai would discover, Dwyer did not reveal his dark predilections to his future wife, perhaps fearing that he would frighten her off and he would lose the social status that she brought him.
They married on September 21, 2002, and became a stereotypical golden couple of the Celtic Tiger era - young, educated, professional and going places.
During the credit-fuelled property boom, architects were in high demand. In 2001, Dwyer joined A&D Wejchert, a Polish-owned firm, and he studied part-time in UCD, where he completed a master's degree in urban design.
Dwyer worked on several major projects and his diligence paid off when he became an associate in the company two years later and a full partner in 2006 - one of five in the company.
At the same time Gemma's career was also ascending -she was working as a project director with another major architecture firm in Dublin.
Over the years, the redesign and refurbishment of their Rathmines cottage became the couple's pet project. When they put it on the market in May 2007 it featured on the front cover of The Irish Times' property section.
The young couple, who had not yet started a family, were described as members of the "trendy architect set". The feature included a picture of them in their crisp white kitchen, both smiling warmly.
She looked petite and pretty and he proud and protective as he stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders. The article detailed how they had snapped up the pint-sized two-bedroom cottage for €200,000 and spent €60,000 to turn it into a "smart city pad", ideal for the up-and-coming Celtic Tiger cubs.
They sold the cottage for €590,000 and moved to a four-bedroom detached house at 6 Kerrymount Close in Foxrock, which they bought for around €1m plus stamp duty. When the economic crash hit Ireland a year later the couple found themselves in crippling negative equity.
Gemma was made redundant and in the same year gave birth to their first child, a boy. Over the next few years Dwyer also suffered a succession of pay cuts as his company struggled to survive in the worst recession in the history of the State.
* * * *
Dwyer's apparent all-consuming passions were fast, expensive cars and flying model aircraft. He bought and sold high-performance cars and at various times owned a Porsche 911, two Audi A3s, an Audi estate and an Audi A4. He was now driving a blue Audi TT and also owned a jeep.
Dwyer's first love was his hobby as a model aircraft enthusiast. He became interested in model aircraft while in college and in 2000 joined the Model Aeronautics Council of Ireland, with the registered number IRL3543.
He had passed two exams, one a certificate for the first level of competency and the other allowing him to fly in competitions abroad. He worked on the planes almost every day, regularly ordering parts from specialist websites, and flew them in races most weekends.
Shortly after moving to Foxrock, he joined the Shankill Radio Flying Club, which had a small clubhouse and runways for the aircraft in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain.
Ironically, that was the club Detective Garda Colm Gregan encountered while walking on the mountain, the memory of which ultimately led to Dwyer's identification.
When detectives began making enquiries following Dwyer's arrest, members of the club recalled a dead sheep being found not far from the clubhouse one time. (Goroon [the name Dwyer had used when registering the mobile phone he had bought to contact Elaine O'Hara] claimed he had stabbed a sheep to death close to where he had been flying.)
In 2011, when he had acquired the necessary proficiency, Dwyer was invited to join the Roundwood Model Aeronautical Club, for advanced enthusiasts.
The club grounds were situated on 20 acres of land, a short distance from Vartry Reservoir and Sally's Bridge. Dwyer regularly took part in competitions at the club and would fly his model aircraft there at least once a month.
Everything about Dwyer and his life looked normal, including the struggle to juggle the bills in recessionary Ireland.
He appeared pleasant and competent and to be a loving husband and father. However, just as he had shown a different side in his childhood and student years, sometimes another side of the adult Dwyer emerged.
All kinds of stories emerged after his arrest. His short fuse. His status obsession. His uncontrolled envy.
He lost one of his early jobs because of the fallout from an argument with a colleague in the pub after work one Friday evening. The following Monday morning the person with whom he had clashed found his desk trashed. The company sacked Dwyer following a disciplinary investigation. Apparently his employers were so concerned about his behaviour that they changed the locks on the doors after he left.
Another former colleague told a story about Dwyer's fixation with colleagues' earnings. He hacked into the computer system at the firm where they worked to look at the payroll figures and went "berserk" when he discovered that some people were being paid more than him.
However, nothing about Dwyer's less attractive traits could have prepared anyone who knew him for what was starting to emerge and being talked about in shocked conversations in Dublin's professional circles. There were rumours about some BDSM element to the crime of which he was accused, though initially nobody could really imagine that, horrific as it was, the situation was anything more than Dwyer having hidden kinky sexual interests and something having gone badly wrong with the woman who had died.
Investigating gardai, on the other hand, knew that they were dealing with a very dangerous man who fitted the same kind of profile as some of the worst killers in history.