How rapist Murphy's trail ran cold
Uncommunicative and unresponsive, violent sex offender has continued to baffle investigators, writes Maeve Sheehan
LARRY Murphy is living in a Probation Service house, largely confined to his room by choice. Sources say he shuns company, therapy and treatment and usually emerges only to accept his meals. A decade behind bars hasn't changed him: the convicted rapist who tried to kill his victim by wrapping a bag around her head in the Wicklow Mountains is the same unresponsive and uncommunicative enigma who baffled detectives when he first emerged as a suspected serial killer on February 11, 2000.
Garda sources recalled this weekend how within hours of a bruised, cut and traumatised woman stumbling into a country garda station in north Wicklow that night, a man they had never before heard of became their prime suspect for the disappearances of at least three women.
The woman was shaking and distressed but even the bare details of her terrifying ordeal were enough to alarm the garda on duty that night.
The attack was extraordinary in its calculated execution. The victim, a businesswoman, had returned to her car in a Carlow car park, the days takings in her hand bag, when Murphy came up behind her, punched her in the face, bundled her into her car, transferred her to his car and drove up the mountains.
He raped her repeatedly. He put a plastic bag over her head and she would be dead but for two huntsmen who stumbled upon the shocking scene on the dark hillside. Murphy fled. Her rescuers brought her straight to Baltinglass garda station.
Gardai surmised early on that the woman was lucky to be alive. They immediately contacted the assistant commissioner for the region, Tony Hickey, one of the force's most experienced investigators who also led Operation Trace.
Six women vanished between 1993 and 1998, all from the same provincial Leinster hinterland. Operation Trace was set up to find the serial killer thought to be responsible for at least some of the disappearances. After two years of bogus tip-offs, leads that ran cold and five false confessions from three Irish men, a man in Bristol and a Canadian, this could be the break that Operation Trace had been waiting for.
"The moment it became apparent what he had done to this women, we knew he was a potential suspect for the other disappearances: he had abducted her, raped her, stripped her, tied a plastic bag over her head," said a source.
Although Murphy had never featured on the garda radar, one of the two hunters knew him as a carpenter from Baltinglass. They knew that Murphy also hunted, that he was familiar with the mountainous terrain, and that for much of the previous 10 years he had traversed the Leinster countryside as a jobbing tradesman.
When gardai, armed with a search warrant, arrested him at 7.30 the following morning, his demeanour added to their suspicions. Murphy came to the door compliantly. Before they left for the station, he asked if he could have a private moment with his wife, Margaret. He told her he had raped a woman but couldn't explain why.
At that time, the law dictated that he could only be held for 12 hours. It was sufficient for some of the country's most senior officers to form an opinion of him. Murphy said as little as possible under questioning. His expression was inscrutable.
Halfway through the interview, the questioning changed tack. "It was explained to him that he was an obvious suspect for the other women's disappearances because of what he had done to this woman," said a senior officer. "You offer suspects the chance to eliminate themselves from a crime by offering an alibi."
Murphy offered no alibi and answered none of their questions, other than to say he had nothing to do with the disappearances of the missing women.
Then it was Murphy's turn to change tack. With hours to go to his release, he made a statement confessing to the rape of the Carlow woman, claiming he had "flipped".
Investigators suspected that he only confessed because the weight of evidence against him made it impossible to deny his involvement in the crime. For one thing, he had been positively identified by the hunters. He had left his fingerprint on the woman's boot. He forced her to take them off -- probably so that she couldn't run away -- and when she struggled to remove one of them, he impatiently pulled it off. Her handbag with the day's takings of IR£700 was in his car. He also knew they had DNA evidence, which although it would take weeks to be processed, would prove his involvement.
But while he admitted to rape, he denied that he had tried to kill the woman and insinuated that the initial motive for the attack was robbery. Some investigators believe that it suited him to claim robbery as a motive. It helped defray suspicions that he could have been a serial killer. Serial killers aren't known for going around robbing people, unless it helps to cover their tracks: murder is the only motive.
Murphy's actions were said to match those of other serial sexual offenders. According to one experienced former detective, many rapists and sexual offenders return to their wives and girlfriends after the crime. That was the case with Murphy. His wife described how the night before his arrest, he returned to the family home. She was washing up by the kitchen sink, having had visitors earlier that evening. He put his arms around her and then walked down the corridor to look in on the children. He remarked on how lucky they were, before going to bed. Murphy had claimed too in his garda statement that he hadn't slept well that night. But according to his wife, he slept like a baby. She told them that he started snoring almost as soon as his head touched the pillow.
Without Murphy's co-operation, detectives from Operation Trace scrutinised the boxes of work records, invoices, paperwork and tax returns they removed from his family home in Baltinglass. The aim was to pinpoint exactly where he was when three of the missing women in particular were last seen.
Annie McCarrick, an American student, had been in Johnny Fox's pub in 1993; in 1995, Jo Jo Dullard rang her mother from a coin box in Moone in Carlow, and was later supposedly sighted in Castledermot that night; Deirdre Jacob was last sighted on an afternoon in July 1998 at the gateway to her home in Newbridge, Co Kildare.
The records were incomplete and Murphy didn't keep a diary. He appeared to operate on the hoof and and he was sometimes paid in cash, leaving no paper trail.
Nevertheless, detectives scoured the paperwork trying to find out, through his erratic invoicing, where he was on the relevant dates.
Almost everyone who knew him was interviewed, including his unsuspecting wife. Equally unsuspecting were his former partner in the carpentry business, his siblings and the scores of clients dotted around Leinster who had employed him since 1993. They included Tracey Piggott, who hired him to work on her new house outside Kilcullen, in Kildare, in the mid-1990s. She recalled this weekend that she was "mortified" to think that she had made tea and sandwiches for Murphy and the other tradesmen, and sat down to sup with him during the eight months he was working there.
At one point, investigators thought they had Murphy in Newbridge close to the time that 18-year-old Deirdre Jacob disappeared in July 1998. The dark-haired and green-eyed woman was home from London. That afternoon, she had called to the bank, the post office and visited her grandmother before leaving for home. She was last seen at the gateway of her house at 3.30pm. She never made it to the front door.
An invoice showed that Murphy was hired to do the carpentry work for a disco bar in Newbridge that was being renovated the summer she disappeared. The manager thought the work had been done in July.
Detectives re-examined the CCTV footage that had been taken from the pub when Deirdre Jacob was first reported missing. They hoped to see Murphy's van parked outside the pub. Instead they saw a truck belonging to another company of tradesmen, who had done the preparatory renovation work. Murphy could not have started work until the other tradesmen had finished. That wasn't until August that year. While Murphy had visited the pub months before he started the job, to give a quote for his work, gardai could not establish when exactly that was.
Detectives had a connection between Murphy and Newbridge but the lead went nowhere. Leads for Jo Jo Dullard and Annie McCarrick met a similar fate. Murphy had lived for a short period in Castledermot in the mid-1990s while waiting to move into his house in Baltinglass. Jo Jo Dullard was apparently sighted in the Kildare village on the night she disappeared but they could not pinpoint where Murphy was when she vanished.
As for Annie McCarrick, reports that Murphy had worked in Johnny Fox's pub or had been drinking there on the night she vanished proved to be unfounded.
Despite a forensic trawl of his records, detectives could not say with certainty where he was at the crucial times. They had no evidence -- not even circumstantial -- to link him to the crimes. All that was left was a young man who lived in the vicinity, who raped a young woman with extreme brutality and never expressed remorse.
Some time after Murphy was sentenced to 15 years in May 2001, officers from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations made a request through the prison service to visit him.
To their surprise, Murphy consented to the visit. When they called on the appointed day, Murphy listened to their questions but declined to answer them, a tactic he continues to deploy to this day.