Garda probe whether Kenneth O'Brien was fourth victim of gangland serial killer
Sadistic thug is known to favour dismembering and is linked to several other gruesome killings
The west Dublin man whose torso was found in the Grand Canal may be the fourth victim of a gangland serial killer who specialises in dismembering his victims' bodies, it has been learned.
Sources say Kenneth O'Brien (33), a father of one, was murdered because he may have been suspected of giving information to gardai about a west Dublin gang whose main activities involve stolen vehicles and drugs.
It is believed the gang is associated with a sadistic executioner who is known to favour the dismembering and scattering of his victims' remains.
Gardai yesterday sealed off a section of the banks of the Royal Canal at Carton House outside Maynooth in a search for further parts of Mr O'Brien's body.
The suspected killer has been linked to other murders including that of Christopher Gaffney (37), whose body parts were dumped separately around farmland in Co Meath near Clonee in November 2013.
Gaffney's murder only came to light about a week after he disappeared when an arm and part of a shoulder were found in a ditch in The Mayne, near Clonee. A garda search uncovered the head five weeks after the initial find. Parts of Gaffney's body, which was cut into eight pieces, remain undiscovered.
Gaffney was a well-known heroin dealer in Dublin's north inner city but had moved to the Blanchardstown area after being released from a five-year sentence for possession of drugs in 2001. It is believed Gaffney was murdered because he, too, was suspected of passing information to the gardai. No arrests were made in relation to the Gaffney murder.
There is now a reinvestigation of the other murder and dismemberment of Dun Laoghaire man Mark Burke (37), whose partial remains were discovered at Thornton's waste plant in Ballyfermot in July 2014.
Burke had no known connections with organised crime and it is suspected that he may have been an innocent victim of the serial killer and the murder carried out purely for sadistic pleasure.
Gardai were perplexed by this murder as the killer appeared to have carried out a medical-type dissection and dismemberment. Again, no arrests were made in connection with this killing.
It is thought Mr Burke, who had suffered a head injury in a car accident and lived a transient lifestyle, was murdered somewhere in south Co Dublin and most of his body parts left in rubbish bins. His entire body has not been recovered.
Gaffney's entire remains are still unaccounted for. Cutting equipment was also used to dismember his body.
Gardai are aware of a fourth murder which fits with the pattern of the O'Brien, Burke and Gaffney killings. This cannot be mentioned for legal reasons.
The main suspect is well known in certain criminal circles in west Dublin and is said to be sometimes referred to as 'Chopper'.
Garda sources said last week that the cut marks on Kenneth O'Brien's body suggested that cutting equipment like a chainsaw or angle grinder was used to amputate the arms, legs and head.
The killer apparently derives some form of satisfaction from both hiding body parts and leaving some to be easily found. The suitcase containing Mr O'Brien's torso was tossed into the Grand Canal around the Ardclough bridge west of Lock 13 on the canal.
It would have floated downstream in the slight current and was spotted on January 16 by people walking along the popular stretch of the canal and was clearly meant to be seen as the water is remarkably clear and the canal is only a few feet deep in most places.
Christopher 'Gaffo' Gaffney's severed arm and shoulder were also left in countryside popular with strollers and was found by a man out walking his dog. It may have been the killer or killers' intentions that the bodies be found, sources say.
It is believed the killer has one close associate who may have helped in the murder and disposal of victims and he, too, is known to gardai.
Mr O'Brien returned to Dublin in December after spending three years living and working in Australia. He was a trained mechanic and licensed to operate heavy machinery.
It is believed he fled Ireland after becoming aware he was being targeted by a notorious west Dublin gang that has been linked to over 15 murders - all unsolved - in the past decade. It is not clear why Mr O'Brien chose to return to Ireland but may have felt the threat to his life had been lifted.
He told family members, including his partner and daughter, that he had to meet people about work on Friday, January 15. When he failed to return that evening his relatives contacted gardai. His torso was then discovered on the Saturday afternoon by the walkers on the Grand Canal.
Christopher Gaffney, who was termed a 'rat', or informer, by gang members, was missing for nearly a month before his body parts began to discovered.
Mr Burke's remains were found probably within days of his murder in July 2014 but he was not identified until four months later. He had an alcohol problem and frequently slept rough though he had been supplied with accommodation in Dun Laoghaire and was a familiar figure in the town centre.
Local gardai described him as a 'decent skin' and could not fathom why he would have met such a grizzly death. Some of his body was probably dumped in a skip in an alleyway off Clarence Street and made their way to the Thornton's recycling plant in Ballyfermot.
Workers at the waste facility discovered a lower leg and foot. Part of an upper leg was found the following day. Mr Burke was last seen in Dun Laoghaire, coming out of the courthouse on July 28, 2014. One of the clues that led to his identification were the surgical screws left in his head after surgery for the wound he suffered in a car accident. Local sources said that Mr Burke left his family and began living an itinerant lifestyle after suffering the head injury.
Gardai said yesterday there is no 'logical' reason for the dismemberment killings other than possibly to instil fear in anyone who was considering giving evidence against the Dublin gangs.
Sources say there is now systematic intimidation of witnesses in west Dublin and that this is the main contributory reason for the non-prosecution of gang-related murders in Dublin.
The Garda Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) West, which covers an area from Finglas and Coolock to Lucan and Ballyfermot, has the highest level of gang-related murders in the State and the lowest detection rate. Sources say this is because there has been no increase in resources since the population expanded massively from the 1970s onwards.
Following the discovery of Mr O'Brien's torso, a search was carried out in a complex of warehouses and sheds along a stretch of the canal a few hundred metres to the west of the scene of the find. These are owned by a well-known and respected local retired garda, aged in his 80s, who has rented out the property for more than 20 years. It had previously been used as a turkey farm.
Local people said the retired garda, Christy Maughan, is in his mid-80s and lives in Straffan, some miles away from the complex of sheds, and rarely visits. The complex of sheds contains several workshops and storage units.
There were signs that the buildings were being used to dismantle cars and other vehicles. One contained dozens of dismantled motorbikes and quad bikes and others had large numbers of cars in various degrees of dismantlement.
Local people said the men who rented the premises often held lively parties on Friday evenings, with loud 'rebel' music being played. There is no suggestion that anyone associated with the premises was in any way connected with the murder of Mr O'Brien or other crimes.
Mr O'Brien lived at Lealand Road in the Bawnogue area of Clondalkin about six miles from the scene where his remains were found. He was described by friends and neighbours as a hard-working man who they believe left Ireland apparently seeking work in Australia. He had no criminal convictions and was not a known gang member.
The gang, which sources say includes 'The Chopper' among its associates, has been connected with at least 15 murders, including the double murder of Darren Carey (20) and Patrick Murray (19), two small-time dealers whose bodies were found on New Year's Day 2000 on the banks of the Grand Canal at Kearneystown near the scene of last weekend's discovery. Murray had been stripped naked and shot in the face with a shotgun before being dumped in the canal.
Gang violence has been growing for years in the area of west Dublin as gangs from the city move out into the countryside, some to escape the attentions of dangerous rivals. It has also become popular with gangs to dump bodies in the countryside as the gangs believe the landing of murder investigations in country garda districts reduces the chances of the crimes being solved. The west Dublin-Kildare area is also experiencing a growth in organised crime by Eastern European gangs who are as violent as their Dublin associates. In March, the body of Silvestras Stoskus (20) was found beaten to death in a field in Cornamucklagh, Co Kildare. He had been missing from his nearby home in Kinnegad, Co Westmeath, for 10 days.
In March 2012, two men, both involved in the drugs and stolen car trades, were shot dead at a house in Kilcock, Co Kildare.
Andy Barry (31), originally from Tallaght, and Lithuanian national Zilvinas Varnauskas (33) were both associates of members of the gang suspected of being involved in the murder of Kenneth O'Brien.
According to local garda sources, there is a severe shortage of resources and that this has hampered murder investigations generally in west Dublin and, increasingly, the countryside from Co Dublin out towards Kildare and the surrounding counties.
The sources say the investigation into the double murder of Andy Barry and Zilvinas Varnauskas produced important links to organised crime around the west Dublin area, but that this did not lead to any evidence sufficiently strong to merit prosecutions. As in the other investigations involving the gangs in Dublin, there were very few people prepared to assist the gardai out of fear.
Several potential witnesses in this case were known to have been intimidated.
There is no known connection with the murders and dismemberments in west Dublin with that of Farah Swaleh Noor, the Somali immigrant whose remains were dumped in the Royal Canal in north inner Dublin in March 2005. Sisters Linda and Charlotte Mulhall, remain in prison, having been convicted of killing the violent and drug-addicted Noor.
His head has never been discovered after it was buried in a different city location.